Victor Davis Hanson

NORMANDY, France -- Questioning the past is a good thing, but rewriting it contrary to facts is quite another. In the latest round of revisionism about the Second World War, the awful British and naive Americans, not the poor Germans, have ended up as the real culprits.

Take the new book by conservative pundit Patrick Buchanan, “Churchill, Hitler and ‘The Unnecessary War’: How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World.” Buchanan argues that, had the imperialist Winston Churchill not pushed poor Hitler into a corner, he would have never invaded Poland in 1939, which triggered an unnecessary Allied response.

Maybe then the subsequent world war, and its 50 million dead, could have been avoided. Taking that faulty argument to its logical end, I suppose today a united West might live in peace with a reformed (and victorious) Nazi Third Reich!

On the left, the novelist Nicholson Baker in a book of nonfiction, "Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization," builds the case that the Allied bombing of German cities was tantamount to a war crime.

Apparently there was no need to, in blanket fashion, attack German urban centers and the industry, transportation and communications concentrated inside them. From Baker's comfortable vantage point, either the war was amoral or unnecessary -- or there must have been more humane ways to stop the flow of fuel, crews and equipment for the Waffen SS divisions that invaded Europe and Russia.

In the luxury of some 60 years of postwar peace and affluence -- and perhaps in anger over the current Iraq war -- Buchanan and Baker and other revisionists engage in a common sort of Western second-guessing. The result is that they always demand liberal democracies be not just better and smarter than their adversaries, but almost superhuman in their perfection.

Buchanan and others, for example, fault the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I as too harsh on a defeated Germany and thus an understandable pretext for the rise of the Nazis, who played on German anger and fear.

Those accords may have been flawed, but they were far better than what Germany itself had offered France in 1871 after the Franco-Prussian War, or Russia after its collapse in 1917 -- or what it had planned for Britain and France had it won the First World War. What ultimately led to World War II was neither Allied meanness to Germany between the two wars nor an unwillingness to understand the Nazis' pain and anguish.


Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.