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Regime change and Nazi Germany

By Bruce Walker
web posted June 9, 2003

During the international debate over Operation Iraqi Freedom, American Leftists and the international community expressed horror at the notion of "regime change" as a new American policy. The fact that Saddam Hussein was the cruel master of an enslaved nation was not considered justification for warring against him and his henchmen.

Should America refrain from regime change as a foreign policy? Clearly the world would prefer this -- at least those who wield heavy cudgels within nations -- but what should Americans do? What was the American policy regarding Hitler, Nazism and regime change? Does anyone -- Mousier Chirac, Herr Schroeder, V. Putin -- question the wholly evil nature of National Socialism?

If Hitler was too wicked to govern Germany, what should the democracies have done about it? Once war began, the answer became easy: Britain and America could define the terms of peace and these nations insisted that no peace could occur without the end of Hitler and the end of Nazism. But if Nazism was as evil as all sensible people understand, then the invasion of Poland did not create the rationale for regime change.

Indeed, German national demands regarding Danzig, which had a democratically elected Nazi government independent of Hitler's government, were not rapacious. Hitler's prewar demands, and the acquiescence of the democracies, in Saar, Rhineland, Austria, Sudetenland, Memel and finally Danzig and the Polish Corridor, were likewise perfectly reasonable if Hitler and the Nazis had not been so ghastly.

Annexing Bohemia and Moravia between Munich and Memel was wrong per se -- Germans had no claim to what is today the Czech Republic -- but considering what the Soviet Union had done, what Italy had done, what Britain had done and what France had done, this German imperialism was a modest crime.

When would have anti-war activists thought it prudent to go to war against Hitler?
When would have anti-war activists thought it prudent to go to war against Hitler?

Surely the great question was not whether to insist on the end of Hitler and Nazism, but at what point that demand should have been made. Should that demand have been made at the time of the Saar plebiscite? When the Rhineland was occupied? At Anschluss? When Hitler threatened war if the Sudenten Germans were not allowed into the Reich? After German troops moved into Bohemia and Moravia? Or perhaps when Memel was annexed to the Reich?

All of these events occurred without the democracies declaring war on Germany, yet at some point the democracies had determined that war was inevitable. Suppose that Hitler had stopped after his last bloodless conquest, the annexation of Memel in late March 1939? Using the logic of leftists today, there would have been no causus belli for regime change.

This is not inconceivable. Hitler survived several attempts on his life before 1939. Had he died, his successor would have harbored the same vile anti-Semitism, but probably would not have sought more territorial acquisitions. Even if Hitler had not died, the Poles had a choice about whether to accept the annexation of Danzig, which predominately German and strongly pro-Nazi, and if the Poles had accepted this, war might never have broken out.

What if the Holocaust had begun in without war in a German dominated Eastern Europe by a nation that was militarily robust and was led by a very popular Hitler? Should the democracies have been quiet while genocide took place in Europe? If the Holocaust was among the most wicked deeds in human history (and it most assuredly was) then how was this character changed if done in peacetime, according to German law, and with popular support?

Legalisms cannot trump morality. Crimes as odious as the Holocaust cannot be "made" proper by laws or by popular support or by any means at all. Evil of that character is evil per se. The world has stood still while a pathetically weak Khmer Rogue viciously exterminated millions of Cambodians, an utterly preventable holocaust.

The world also stood still while Stalin killed tens of millions in the Gulag and while Mao killed tens of millions in this Great Leap Forward and other Orwellian nightmares. Should the democracies have changed the regimes of these odious communist prison lands? Should the democracies have changed the regime of Hitler, if he had began his genocidal campaign against Jews, Gypsies, Poles and other untermenchen?

Part of the answer comes from the dramatic shift in the public opinion of democracies before and after Operation Iraqi Freedom. Virtually every democracy -- even those which dislike America and which dislike President Bush even more -- shifted dramatically in the direction of supporting regime change, once the regime was changed.

Brits and Americans were not in favor of regime change in Nazi Germany until war began, and after the war was over and the horror of Nazism revealed to the world, that bias against Hitler's government rolled into universal condemnation. But would democracies have been so changed in sentiment if a few brave men in these democracies had not done what President Bush has done in Iraq?

The question after regime change in Iraq has been this: where do we stop? If Iraq, then why not China? Why not North Korea? Why do we not impose by force our values throughout the world? The answer, of course, is that we should. This does not mean that we should childishly and wastefully attempt to impose our values throughout the world. An attempt to end the gulag of China today would involve a bloody, costly war and the Chinese people might well end up unhappy with freedom imposed from without.

Part of the brilliance of Operation Iraqi Freedom and part of the virtue of the democracies stopping Hitler in the Rhineland or Sudetenland is that there was an absolute certainty that the democracies would succeed, that the result of any fighting would be relatively bloodless, and that Hussein and Hitler would destined to humiliating defeat.

Regime change, in cases like Hitler and Hussein, was only attainable by outside force crushing the powers of the tyrant. The disgrace was waiting while millions suffered, while needless wars against weaker neighbors were endured, and while the tyrant was embolden. Regime change -- Elliott Ness throwing out Al Capone -- is good and we should do it wherever we can.

That means precisely the sort of "bullying" that seems to perversely offend the Left. Why do we allow Mugabe, that Marxist thug, to ruin the lives and economy of the black African nation with the greatest chance of flourishing? Why do we tolerate Castro continuing the torment of a land that could be the richest and happiest Spanish speaking nation on Earth? Why is Ghadifi still in power in Libya?

American, alone or with good hearted allies, should begin to unseat these despots one by one. Provide options -- let them live out their lives in luxury in Switzerland -- and then provide the grim choice of certain defeat, war crimes trials or summary execution, and the perpetual hatred of the people who they have tormented.

Hitler, Hussein, Mugabe and all their ilk have no moral right to power. Their regime is simply terror and democide. Each one overthrown sends a chill down the backs of all the others. Until we do so, the world will never be safe. Once we have done so, then the world may not be always happy -- Schroeder, Chirac, Chretien and their ilk will win power democratically, and we are obliged to honor, if not like, that result -- but the world will be at peace. It will be prosperous. It will be free.

Regime change is not some last resort used only after Hitler, Stalin or Mao become threats to us. It should be the first resort against Hitler, Stalin and Mao as soon as it becomes clear that they are monsters. Had we ended these three horrors when they were weak, a hundred million innocent dead would thank us.

Bruce Walker is a senior writer with Enter Stage Right. He is also a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.

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