Re-Enacting Wilson’s Folly

by Patrick J. Buchanan – October 16, 1998

Watching America march, step by step, ever deeper into the Balkans brings to mind Hegel’s observation that the only thing we learn from history is that we do not learn from history.

“My mind-set is Munich,” Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has exclaimed. Yet she and the Clintonites seem to have misread the deeper lesson of that ill-fated conference between Adolf Hitler and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain.

To liberal internationalists, the lesson of Munich is that we must stand up to every new Hitler, go to war, if necessary, to deny aggression any reward, and never again “isolate America” from any crisis or conflict on the continent of Europe. But the road to Munich began back in 1919 at Versailles, where 3 million Sudeten Germans were put under Czech rule in flagrant violation of Woodrow Wilson’s own principle of self-determination. Unless Germany was to be forever occupied by Allied soldiers, the Germans were going to rise up one day and take back what had been stripped from them in violation of Wilson’s Fourteen Points.

The Versailles treaty was the first blunder. The second was in Britain’s ever going to Munich. After the British had allowed Hitler to overturn the terms of Versailles with his march into the Rhineland and his Anschluss unification with Austria, no vital British interest was left in Eastern Europe to justify another all-out war with Germany.

Hitler, after all, was now heading away from France and the Channel — toward Josef Stalin. Yet when Hitler marched into Prague in 1939, Chamberlain began handing out war guarantees — as America is today — all over Eastern Europe. Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax urged Poland to reject Berlin’s d emand for secure road and rail lines to Danzig, a city that was 90 percent German. Halifax promised the Poles that if they rebuffed Hitler, Britain would fight at their side.

It was these British war guarantees to Poland that ex-Prime Minister David Lloyd-George at that time called “the most reckless commitment any country has ever entered into. I say more — they are demented.” Thus did Britain go to war in a near-hopeless cause that had little to do with its vital interests. Poland lost 6 million people and was Stalinized for 45 years. Western Europe was overrun. France got Vichy, and Britain lost 400,000 soldiers and an empire. That is what comes of handing out war gu arantees to regions where one’s vital interests do not lie and where one’s military power does not extend.

Had Britain isolated itself from the coming clash in Eastern Europe, Hitler would have had no cause to attack the West to secure his back door. The first great blows of the Nazi war machine would have fallen on Stalin. Instead, Britain and France, by declaring war on Germany, drew Hitler’s attack on the West, giving Stalin two years to prepare and thereby saving Russia for Bolshevism.

U.S. policy in the Balkans replicates the folly of Versailles. True nations are not created by treaties, as Czechoslovakia was in 1919 and Bosnia was in 1995. They grow organically, out of a people’s history, traditions, faith and culture.

Bosnia is as artificial a creation as the so-called “international community,” for which no sane nation would risk its life. When NATO departs, Bosnia will dissolve along its ethnic frontiers. In trying create an autonomous Kosovo, America will only interrupt the inevitable struggle between Albanians and Serbs for control. We will end up being hated — either as the power that presided over the severing from Serbia of its cradle land or as the power that denied Kosovar Albanians their independence.

In their hubris, our internationalists cannot see the world as others see it or see themselves as others see them. What they see as reasonable, Serbs view as intolerable, what they call stability, Kosovars reject as a perpetuation of injustice. As in Vietnam, our Balkan antagonists have captured the banners of nationalism, while we lecture them about a democratic order that appeals to the rational mind but not to the passions, the heart or the soul of a people. As in Lebanon in 1983, we will one day discover that the real superpower in the Balkans is the one willing to pay the most for its dreams — in the currency of blood.

The Wilsonian temptation, whether at Versailles, Yalta or Dayton, or whether rooted in a League of Nations, a United Nations or a New World Order, almost always ends in disillusionment.

That the temptation recurs in every generation suggests this malady of Western man is incurable. Let us pray that the price in American lives for our having yielded to this temptation yet again is not high.