Thomas DiLorenzo says the Civil War was unnecessary. Peter Rinaldo says just about every war America has ever fought in has been unnecessary.

Jimmy Carter long ago pronounced the war to overthrow Saddam unnecessary. Of course, he also thinks the American Revolution was unnecessary.

Carter doesn't go into detail about what he thinks makes for a "necessary" war. Neither do most other Iraq War critics I've seen who invoke the "unnecessary" cry. What would a "necessary" war look like, in their eyes?

I'll give you my version of a necessary war: The brief 1936 conflict between Germany, alone, and France, Britain, and Czechoslovakia.

It began when Hitler, the German dictator now little remembered in history, marched 20,000 troops into the Rhineland demilitarized zone, in violation of articles 42 and 43 of the Treaty of Versailles. France pulled itself out of a political crisis and united behind this threat from its old enemy. It used the treaty violation as a pretext to declare war. France's stauch allies in Czechoslovakia joined them, secure in the fastness of the Sudeten mountains, thus tying down Nazi troops in central Germany.

Britain, too, stood with its French ally, though not without some debate over France's unilateralism. The British in the end provided key air support and blockaded German North Sea ports, though relatively few British troops crossed the Channel until the fighting was almost over.

When war began, French divisions crossed into the Rhineland at several points, and the overwhelmed Germans, after brief resistance, retired across the bridges. They set up a defense on the east bank, but when the French penetrated this at several points, the German army rose up under von Blomberg and von Fristsch and overthrew Hitler and his gang. The top Nazis were executed after trial in German courts in which horrible crimes -- and even more horrible plans -- came to light, along with evidence of their vast corruption. The German military leaders negotiated a new settlement with the Allies, revising several provisions of Versailles that no longer reflected realities on the ground. Nazi functionaries were purged from local offices, extremist parties were banned from German politics, and, with the aid of the occupying powers, after much difficulty and insurgency, Germany gradually returned to a democratic system of self-government, more robust than the failed Weimar Republic.

Why is this war "necessary?" Because it prevents World War II in Europe, the Holocaust, and the deaths of tens of millions of people, from the North Sea to the Russian steepe.

But would it stand up to the modern anti-Iraq-War activists' definitions of justified? Put him in the Wayback Machine and set the dial to 1936. Remember, he doesn't know there's going to be a World War II in Europe. Like the pacifists Orwell scorned, he probably thinks Hitler is not such a bad guy as he's made out to be in the press, and anyway the leaders of Britain and America are far more dangerous to world peace.

What will he say, in protesting this "unjust and unnecessary" war?

  • Hitler was provoked. Just a month before the remilitarization of the Rhineland, France and Russia had signed a mutual assistance pact that was a direct threat against Germany. France had engaged in a massive build-up of fortifications right on the border of Germany, and it was denying Hitler's right to defend himself. It was the old hegemony double standard.

  • What Hitler did was merely an internal matter. The French violated German sovereignty without just cause. Why, Hitler had never attacked France. Hitler was just moving troops in his own backyard. As G.B. Shaw said, "It was as if the British had reoccupied Portsmouth."

  • Hiding behind the Versailles Treaty was a red herring. It had already been violated. Germany had effectively renounced it a year before by bringing back the draft, and France and Britain had done nothing but make diplomatic protests.

  • Even worse, Britain herself had signed the Anglo-German Naval Treaty with Hitler that allowed Germany to build a battle fleet that included submarines, something forbidden by Versailles. Britain itself already had participated in a violation of the treaty!

  • There was no public support for the war in France and Britain. The people were solidly against war. They remembered the betrayed ideals of 1914, and they had indicated again and again their revulsion with the very idea of warfare.

  • By contrast, the remilitarization was wildly popular with the German people. In the Rhineland, women tossed flowers and priests showered blessings on German troops marching under the Swastika flag.

  • The door was still open for negotiation. Hitler, in announcing the resumption of German authority in the Rhineland, had said unequivocally, before the whole world, "we pledge that now, more than ever, we shall strive for an understanding between European peoples, especially for one with our Western neighbor nations .... We have no territorial demands to make in Europe! ... Germany will never break the peace."

  • France did not go first to the League of Nations and attempt to use its authority to condemn the German action. Thus, its invasion lacked legitimacy. Instead of evicting the Nazis at once, France should have gone the Leage route and then put its military forces entirely under control of the League, to be bound by whatever the League decided to do.

  • False pretenses! A scare that never materialized. The British were told over and over that they would be at the mercy of German bombers. Churchill asserted that the first week of the war would kill up to 40,000 Londoners [Nov. 28, 1934]. Baldwin warned the "man in the street" that "Whatever people may tell him, the bomber will always get through." Yet in the lightning defeat of Germany's small military, the air force never got off the ground. The mighty swarm from the skies that struck fear in so many in Britain and France existed only on paper.
The excuse offered by the French leaders would be absurd:
Monsieur Flandin [French Foreign Minister] emphasized that the next challenge would not be an attack upon France or Belgium, but very likely an attack upon Czechoslovakia or Austria. If we failed to meet the present challenge, who could possibly say that Germany would be stopped in her next venture?
Necessary war? More like pre-emptive, illegal, immoral war. More like, "He was going to hit me first!"


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© August 28, 2005 Douglas Harper Moe: "Say, what's a good word for scrutiny?" Shemp: "uh ... SCRUTINY!"