As if some neocon were setting out to parody dovish thinking on contemporary issues, paleocon Pat Buchanan has gone and written a “blame Britian first” account of the origins of World War II. Apparently, according to Buchanan, Hitler was just seeking to unify the German-speaking people in one country by annexing Danzig and had no intention of fighting a wider war:
Indeed, why would he want war when, by 1939, he was surrounded by allied, friendly or neutral neighbors, save France. And he had written off Alsace, because reconquering Alsace meant war with France, and that meant war with Britain, whose empire he admired and whom he had always sought as an ally.
As of March 1939, Hitler did not even have a border with Russia. How then could he invade Russia?
This last line is the giveaway. After all, it’s perfectly clear that Hitler did want to invade Russia. The need for a German-Soviet war to obtain lebensraum was long at the center of his thinking. That’s why Generalplan Ost was prepared in the early years of the war and called for German occupation of vast swathes of Soviet territory. The answer to Buchanan’s riddle of how Hitler intended to invade Russia when Russia and Germany were separated by Poland is, of course, that Hitler intended to conquer Poland, the very thing that Buchanan is perversely trying to deny he intended to do.
The real question for Buchanan is why, if Hitler had no intention of marching through Poland into Russia, did he follow up his conquest of Poland by breaking the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and invading Russia? The answer, of course, is that Hitler wanted to conquer Eastern Europe and the western USSR from the beginning.
I think that if you want to try to run the case against World War II, your best route is not to deny that Hitler wanted war with Poland and Russia. You should deny that Hitler wanted war with Britain and France for any reason other than to secure his western flank against the USSR. Then you can say the western powers should have just let Hitler and Stalin fight it out and prepare for a Cold War-style campaign of containment against the eventual winner. I think for that to be even remotely persuasive requires you to import a lot of 20/20 hindsight about the Cold War into 1939, but it’s not nearly as ludicrous as this “Hitler was just misunderstood” theory.