Howard Buffett: Anticommunist and Anti-interventionistTags SocialismU.S. HistoryWar and Foreign Policy
Howard H. Buffett is a relatively obscure figure today, unfortunately. He remains well known only to a small crowd of libertarians (many of them at the Mises Institute), goldbugs, and perhaps the most elderly residents of Omaha, Nebraska. A quick, online query on Buffett—using any popular search engine or encyclopedia—would inform the reader, rather briefly, that he was a US congressman representing Omaha in the 1940s and the early 1950s. Often the most prominently featured biographical detail of his life is that he was father to the world-famous investor and asset manager Warren Buffett. This is an interesting fact, especially given that Howard Buffett was himself an investor and an investment manager; one wonders the extent to which Warren Buffett learned the business and tradecraft from his father. But Howard Buffett’s progeny are not his only legacy or his most important legacy. Howard Buffett was a great American hero in his own right.
Born in Omaha in 1903, he attended primary and secondary school there; he went on to study at the University of Nebraska. After college, he made a living in the financial services industry—investment (asset) management. He married and started a family. In 1942, at the age of thirty-nine, Buffett decided to launch a political career. He ran as a Republican challenger for a congressional seat representing his home district of Omaha. He campaigned strongly against the New Deal, and he won. He was off to Washington. This is where Buffett showed himself, time and again, to be an ardent defender of human liberty against all manner of usurpations and indignities.
The congressional record for the years in which Buffett served in office, four terms in all, features numerous essay-length speeches which Buffett delivered to his peers on the floor of the House of Representatives. The contents of these speeches are remarkable for two reasons. First, Buffett’s convictions—his Christian morals, his appreciation for free market principles, and his constitutional legal scruples—often compelled him to publicly oppose the policies of the federal government and the views of his peers in Congress. He did so with great courage. Second, Buffett made numerous predictions in these speeches (and his other writings) regarding the future of the United States that, with the benefit of more than seventy years’ hindsight, have proven to be astoundingly prescient and insightful.
Buffett in 1947: Against the Cold War
In March of 1947, Buffett rose to speak on the floor of the House of Representatives. Being debated that day was a proposal for “large-scale intervention in the political, economic, and military affairs of the Balkans” and, by implication, similar interventions in other parts of the world. In the congressional record, his speech that day was recorded with the title “Is Truman Playing Into Stalin’s Hands?” Buffett began it with a quote from Lord Welby, England’s former secretary to the Treasury in the years before and during World War I: “We are in the hands of an organization of crooks. They are politicians, generals, manufacturers of armaments, and journalists. All of them are anxious for unlimited expenditure, and go on inventing scares to terrify the public and to terrify Ministers of the Crown.” Buffett went on to say, “As an American, I am ashamed and appalled by the recent record of failure in foreign affairs. So, I cannot remain silent while new and more ghastly blunders are concocted.”
Buffett lamented the results of World War II, “It is tragic to have to confess that American blood and treasure [were] used to deliver into communistic tyranny the lands of Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Hungary, Manchukuo, and large parts of Germany, Austria, Finland, China, Korea, and Japan. But it is true.” He found it hard to believe that more than “400,000 American boys died for the Atlantic Charter and that instead their sacrifice was used to expand communism over two continents.” He quipped,
A man from Mars reviewing it would come to one or the other of two conclusions – either our government has been in the control of Communists, or it has been in the hands of terribly stupid people completely fooled by the Communists.
He went on to accuse the “New Deal Party” of having “brazenly carried water for communism in America and throughout the world” for more than a decade. “Now we are asked to believe that overnight it has changed into the world-wide champion of anticommunism.” It was with this record in mind that Buffett warned: “Congress and the people should remember that the Good Book says, ‘By their fruits ye shall know them.’ A [government] which has committed 14 years of blunders for communism is hardly qualified, because of an almost overnight reformation, to be given a blank check for a crusade against communism.”
Buffett implored his colleagues in the House to consider history, that history might help them to fully understand and appreciate their current situation. He insisted that “the one lasting consequence” of World War I, and America’s participation in it, was “the establishment of communism in full control of a powerful government – Russia.” Buffett then alleged, essentially, that Roosevelt and his administration—whom he sometimes referred to collectively as the New Deal—were in league with the communists. First, in 1933, “Roosevelt gave communism a tremendous boost by official recognition.” Then,
When Hitler attacked Russia in 1941, Roosevelt immediately pledged the communists unlimited materials from America, with no questions asked and no pledges made in return. Billions of our resources went to Russia….All through the war the New Deal high command, both civilian and military, catered to Russia’s every whim and every demand. War materials reportedly went to Russia ahead of the necessities of our own troops….The Communists saw that the longer the war lasted the greater would be their victory. Accordingly, they cunningly insisted on the barbaric demand for unconditional surrender to prolong the enemy resistance. When hostilities ceased…the real triumph was Stalin’s—achieved with the aid of 400,000 Americans who died believing they were fighting for the Atlantic Charter.
Buffett went on to explain that American foreign policy in the wake of victory, in both Europe and Japan, “remained perfectly attuned to the wishes of the Kremlin.” With foreign aid, the administration’s initial support for the Morgenthau Plan, and various other concessions in Europe, American foreign policy was enabling Stalin “to extend his mastery over Europe.” In more direct terms, “The New Deal party carried out Moscow’s order.”
Buffett’s history lesson then brought them to their own time. By the recent Republican sweep of House, Senate, and gubernatorial elections in 1946, “The American people demonstrated overwhelming opposition to a foreign and domestic policy which, knowingly or unwittingly, was following the Communist Party line. So, the conspirators in the Kremlin had to revise their strategy for world conquest.” And with that, Buffett turned his eyes toward the future and made a series of astounding predictions, all during this same speech, delivered in March 1947:
Perhaps [Stalin’s] mind would recall the famous prediction of Huey Long, who declared that “if fascism ever comes to America, it will come in the name of antifascism.” What better tactic could Stalin now develop than to promote communism in American, in the name of anticommunism? This tactic, of course, would require the continual creation of communistic scares outside America.
Buffett predicted that the communists would begin to
needle us and play hit-and-run infiltration wherever America could be sucked in….With American attention on an external campaign against communism, [Stalin’s] army of stooges in the New Deal could quickly be enrobed in a concealing mantle of anticommunism. So, besides involving the American people in bankrupting commitments abroad, a communistic drive would divert suspicion and attention from Stalin’s agents in the New Deal.
Regarding the day’s concern, the debated proposal to send military aid to the Balkans, Greece, and Turkey to help combat the threat of communism in those places, he foresaw that:
Most certainly we will apparently stabilize the situation there for a while….Then after we have spread ourselves in Greece and Turkey, and our leaders are patting themselves on the back for their successful firm stand, a new alarm will come in. Communist outbreaks will be reported serious in another area. We will rush to that alarm. A billion-dollar call will come from Korea. There will be renewed demands from China. All over the world we would soon be answering alarms like an international fireman, maintaining garrisons, and pouring out our resources.
But, what about the home front? Buffett offered yet another warning to the House, and to the American people:
In the pattern developed through the war years of deficit spending, this administration…would dress up every spending scheme as vital in their anti-Communist program. Attempts at economy would again be smeared as reactionary efforts to save dollars at the cost of the lives of American boys. Patriots who try to bring about economy would be branded as Stalin lovers. The misery of the people, from continued militarism and inflation, would soon become unbearable. As their anguished protests became vocal, the shackles of regimentation and coercion, so lately thrown off, could be refastened in the name of stopping Communism at home.
Of course, all this spending over the world will both make certain and hasten a financial collapse in America….That is the ultimate goal of the current Red needling. Stalin knows, as Lenin taught him, that the surest way to overturn an existing social order is to debauch the currency…the very condition which Stalin is counting on to give the communists victory in America.
Buffett prophesied the dreadful long-term consequences of an American foreign policy based upon militarism and interventionism. He said,
If America is now sucked into a state of undeclared war…we would seem to be paving the way for world triumph of communism….In World Wars I and II our noble objectives vanished when military victory was won. So it will be again if we take the road to war….We should consider now what some of the ultimate consequences would be. Here are a few of the probable results:
First, the truth would cease to be told in the media, the press, and the arts. “The totalitarian tactics of smear, censorship and lying propaganda would overwhelm those who resist.”
Second, “Military conscription would soon be demanded to fill the ranks of garrisons.”
Third, “As inflation mounted, class struggle, which the Communists have never yet been able to create in America, might rapidly develop. Every hidden force of inflation would be adding to the distress of the people as far-flung military and economic operations exhausted our economy.”
Fourth, price controls, rent controls, rationing, and other forms of “regimentation and coercion” would follow.
Fifth, compensation and benefits for the military, combined with all of the proposed foreign aid, “would soon be an almost impossible financial load for the budget.”
Sixth, Buffett predicted that US war bonds would be “frozen in the hands of their owners.”
Seventh, “Within a few years, our currency would become so diluted by inflation that it would have only a fraction of its 1939 purchasing power.”
Eighth, and finally, Buffett believed that these conditions—the scourges of war and economic ruin—would ultimately create the circumstances wherein “the people, beaten and bankrupt, would be ripe for a communist dictatorship.”
Buffett told his colleagues in the House that
As these consequences begin to unfold, all effective political opposition will end. In fact, passage of this scheme…might indicate that one-party government has already been largely accomplished. The smear terrorism long used by the New Deal would be directed against every patriot who resisted successive moves in this so-called Anti-Communist drive.
Finally, he arrived at his closing remarks—sage, evergreen counsel for generations of American, though, tragically, most have never heard it.
Even if it were desirable, America is not strong enough to police the world by military force. If that attempt is made, the blessings of liberty will be replaced by coercion and tyranny at home.
Next, he invoked the supreme moral authority and summoned the most spirited argument conceivable by a God-fearing, freedom-loving, Middle American family man. He said,
Our Christian ideals cannot be exported to other lands by dollars and guns. Persuasion and example are the methods taught by the Carpenter of Nazareth, and if we believe in Christianity, we should try to advance our ideals by His methods. We cannot practice might and force abroad and retain freedom at home. We cannot talk world cooperation and practice power politics.
His final line in that marvelous speech was a challenge to the Truman administration: if they were finally, truly interested in stopping the spread of communism, then they ought to take heed of “advice from the Founder of the only effective antidote for communism, the Christian religion.”
Perhaps the elder Buffett, too, is worthy of the honorific title bestowed upon his son: the Oracle of Omaha.