Buchanan, McCain go head-to-head

GOP presidential hopefuls debate whether U.S. had any business stopping Hitler.

By Jake Tapper
September 23, 1999 11:15PM (UTC)
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Pat Buchanan Wednesday decided to play victim. Claiming to have been offended by fellow GOP presidential aspirant Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., -- who took umbrage with Buchanan's assertion that the U.S. made a mistake by fighting against Adolf Hitler's Germany in World War II -- Buchanan demanded an apology from the Vietnam War hero.

The flap began with the release of Buchanan's latest isolationist screed, "A Republic, Not an Empire," in which the on-again, off-again host of CNN's "Crossfire" asserts that Hitler and the Nazis posed no threat to the United States, and thus the U.S. had no business interfering in his plans to conquer Europe -- the slaughter of 12 million innocents, including 6 million Jews, notwithstanding.


"Hitler's real ambitions lay in carving out an empire in the east," Buchanan writes. "He had given up the idea of global empire ... Hitler saw the world divided into four spheres: Great Britain holding its empire; Japan, dominant in East Asia; Germany, master of Europe; and America, mistress of the Western Hemisphere." Thus, he argues, the U.S. should have allowed Hitler to conquer Poland and Czechoslovakia, since he could have served a greater good for the U.S. by balancing the power of Stalin's U.S.S.R.

In the book, Buchanan does concede that the U.S. did the right thing by fighting in World War II -- but only after Germany declared war.

But on Sept. 22, McCain took umbrage with Buchanan's views on Hitler. "Defeating Hitler's Germany and Tojo's Japan was a very noble cause," McCain said in a statement. "I would not want any Republican to think otherwise, or any American for that matter."


McCain comes from a line of Navy royalty. His grandfather, Adm. John "Slew" McCain, commanded an aircraft carrier force in the 3rd Fleet during World War II. His father, John McCain II, served as a submarine commander during World War II and also eventually became an admiral. A Navy flyer during Vietnam, John McCain III was shot down and imprisoned for five and a half years in the infamous Hanoi Hilton, a POW camp.

Buchanan, conversely, a legendary teenage brawler who was arrested for fighting while at Georgetown University, sought and received a medical deferment for rheumatoid arthritis during the Vietnam War.

That didn't stop Buchanan from trying to play up his military bona fides in a statement he issued yesterday. "Like John McCain, I have family that served in combat in World War II," Buchanan said, citing four maternal uncles and the father of his wife, Shelley, "who won a Bronze Star under kamikaze attack on the Carrier Cabot."


"For John McCain to suggest that I thought that the great cause for which my four uncles and Shelley's dad and millions of veterans fought and bled was ignoble is baseless, false and contemptible," Buchanan continued. "John McCain, a friend, owes my wife Shelley and me an apology."

McCain has no intention of apologizing, says his spokesman, Howard Opinksy. "What for?" Opinsky asks. "Buchanan's views were clearly stated in his book and Sen. McCain feels that they fall well beyond either the mainstream or even the minority position in the Republican party."


Buchanan, of course, has a whole history of questioning the veracity of Holocaust history, defending accused Nazis, and engaging in anti-Semitic rhetoric. His assertion that the U.S. should never have entered World War II is part of a larger world view where Jews are insidious and nefarious, Nazis misunderstood.

McCain sees Buchanan's rhetoric as further proof that he has removed himself from the Republican Party, Opinksy says -- whether or not he follows through with his threat to bolt the party and pursue the Reform Party nomination. "These views are not shared by most Republicans -- or most Americans, for that matter," the spokesman says. "Fighting in World War II was a noble mission. There's no room for [Buchanan's] kind of view in the Republican Party."

Jake Tapper

Jake Tapper is the senior White House correspondent for ABC News.

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John Mccain R-ariz. Religion Republican Party U.s. Military