Cowboy Diplomacy & ‘Wonderful Anglos’
by Gwydion M Williams
- How the USA and the British Empire mismanaged the world up until 1939
- How Hitler nearly won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1938, and why most Britons at the time would not have disapproved of the man or the award
- Churchill as pro-Fascist—his actual policies were nothing like the myth
- How the USA chose to repeat old errors after the end of the Cold War (and how ‘Mild Bill Clinton’ was not much better than the brace of Bushes)
- Why there have been many different versions of Globalisation across the centuries, seeking to remould the world in different and mutually hostile ways
- How Keynesian Globalisation was more successful economically than the policies that have been pushed since the 1980s
- Why the current ‘McLunatic’ Globalisation will fail—but may lead on to something even worse
We have engrossed to ourselves, in times when other powerful nations were paralysed by barbarism or internal war, an altogether disproportionate share of the wealth and traffic of the world. We have got all we want in territory, and our claim to be left in the unmolested enjoyment of vast and splendid possessions, mainly acquired by violence, largely maintained by force, often seems less reasonable to others than to us.
Winston Churchill in a confidential cabinet paper, written in the run-up to the 1914-18 war
Little-Man Bush and the Last Crusade
George Bush spoke from the heart when he talked about this crusade, this war on terrorism after September 11th. He did it at the same time as he was seeking moderate Muslim allies against Bin Laden and al-Qaeda—if he felt it was safe to insult them and bully them, then nothing has so far shown that he was mistaken. But I’d guess that ‘Little-Man Bush’ is just one more in a long line of US politicians who cause deep resentment by never troubling to think about foreigners’ feelings or traditions.
Despite the hastily updated vocabulary, it is a crusade, not religious but cultural. And the long-term aim is to rid the world of anything un-American, beginning with the relatively vulnerable Islamic world. A gutted and trivialised Islam might have a place in the final picture: Islam as understood by most of its believers would not.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989-91 was taken to vindicate the Thatcher-Reagan line. Yet the key victories had been won in the 1950s and 1960s, when the enormous bureaucracy of NASA successfully put a man on the moon, discrediting Soviet claims to be the ‘inevitable future’. A Soviet collapse—or at least a transition to Social-Democracy—very nearly occurred in the late 1960s, and would have vindicated Keynesianism rather than capitalism. It was Leonid Brezhnev’s success in preserving a dying system for another 20 years that made the Thatcher-Reagan line look like wisdom.
George Bush Senior was handed the world on a plate, and he knocked the plate over. If he’d been serious about a New World Order he could have built it then. Dictators like Ceaucescu and Saddam could have been offered an amnesty if they had quietly retired and allowed a transition to democracy. Past repression could have been handled by a ‘truth and reconciliation’ commission’ of the sort that has successfully been applied in South Africa.
The opportunity to build a stable and peaceful world was there, and it was missed. Instead there has been an extension to new territories of the established pattern of US hegemony over ‘banana republics’. Foreign countries remain nominally sovereign, but are disrupted or invaded if they ever dared to try to do things their own way.
George Bush Senior was quite unworthy to serve as elected monarch of the world’s strongest nation. Bush Junior is even less qualified, and yet got the job. And this sprouting of worthless Bushes is a measure of how massively American liberalism has failed.
Whole books have been written about the personal deficiencies of George W. Bush, who’s a natural target. Often, it’s the liberal-left showing just that it’s learned nothing and forgotten nothing since the 1960s. Liberal-left appeals to ‘common sense’ against characters like the Bushes are not going to work, because ‘common sense’ as of 2002 is not what it was 20 years ago, or 50 years ago. It’s predictable that in 20 years it will be something else again. And there’s a struggle going on right now to determine what the ‘common sense’ of the Twenty-Twenties will be, with the ‘certainties’ of the 1990s suddenly in doubt.
American liberalism of the Kennedy sort was abandoned by the USA in the 1970s, and this happened for excellent reasons. The decline of American liberalism has been systematic, not accidental. Kennedy’s ‘new frontier’ philosophy did get the US to the moon, the key victory in the Cold War. But then the dream faded, the moon was abandoned and the ‘new frontier’ was inherited by characters who deserve to be called ‘new backwoodsmen’.
The liberal-left sees Bush Junior’s presidency as some sort of accident within a sound system. But there have been far too many such ‘accidents’, beginning with Ronald Reagan. It has to be seen as the substance of the society.
America was disruptive in the 1914-18 war, preventing a peace advantageous to Germany by joining the war in 1917, promising a new world order to get Germany to surrender while its armies had not been clearly defeated, letting the promised new world order be betrayed at Versailles and then withdrawing into isolationism. In 1945-50, they rehashed the schema of 1917-19 and did it much better. But after the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union, they drew the wrong lessons and became a positively malignant force in world politics.
Mr Blair wants us to be horrified at unauthorised terrorism, such as September 11th or the Bali bombings. But not authorised terrorism, which the USA retains as an instrument of power. As several commentators have noted, September 11th was also the anniversary of the US-backed coup in Chile, which overthrew a democratically elected Marxist government and then pioneered New Right economic policies under a brutal dictatorship. This was just one in a series of dishonest actions, beginning with the USA’s abuse of UN power in the Congo. That was back in 1960 when Mr Lumumba tried to treat the UN as an authentic ‘global police force’. The option existed to respect democratic elections that had produced a candidate disliked by Western business interests. But it wasn’t taken then, nor did the US ever respect democracy among foreigners when it produced the ‘wrong’ result.
The USA is being attacked by monsters of its own creation. All of its current problems are ‘blowback’, enemies who were built up in the belief that they’d be useful. We are now told that the only answer is to trust the very people who caused the original mess. Critics and supporters are much the same people as opposed or supported the original short-sighted measured, except that some of the ‘hawks’ who have expert knowledge of Iraq and Muslim extremism have decided that Bush is blundering and that no one will benefit from the planned war.
In the main British media, such voices are not often heard. And in the main news bulletins, no connection is made between unauthorised terrorism and exactly the same people practicing authorised terrorism a few years before. The USA did a great deal to build up the narrow, sectarian and violent version of Islam that they are now at war with. You are not supposed to connect the Western-sponsored defeat of progressive and secular regimes in Muslim lands and the unhappy, un-progressive and non-secular politics that was the result.
The USA has learned one lesson from past errors, it nowadays prefers the direct application of terrorism by its own armed forces, and those of a few trusted allies, most notable Britain. There is also a preference for attacking soft civilian targets instead of hard military sites that can fight back. After reluctantly accepting a ban on land-mines designed to kill people, they then introduced ‘cluster bombs’—which are really air-dropped landmines, there is nothing selective about them.
The Anglo-American military tradition has never liked the formal and civilised rules that allowed war to be waged between professional military men with as little damage as possible to civilians. Other and crueller methods are part of the state traditions of England, developed over the centuries, kept by the USA when it seceded from the British Empire. Examples of terrorism and mass repression include:
- The original Norman conquest of Anglo-Saxon England (mass slaughter, laying waste of rebellious regions, use of mass mutilations.)
- The same methods used by Norman-ruled England on Wales, Scotland and Ireland.
- The Cromwellian re-conquest of Ireland (much harsher than anything done on the mainland.)
- The Highland Clearances after the 1745 Jacobite ‘rebellion’—by normal rules, the Stewarts were still the lawful kings.
- The encouragement of Spanish guerrillas when this was the most convenient way to weaken Napoleon.
- Continuous genocide against the Native Americans by the United States (a continuation on a larger scale of what they had done when they were British colonies).
- Similar policies in Australia, and to a lesser degree in New Zealand.
- The North crushing the South in the US Civil War, especially Sherman’s famous March to the Sea.
- The British invention of the Concentration Camp in the Boer War.
- The British navy’s closing of the seas to normal commerce during World War One, which eventually produced hunger, breakdown and mass death from epidemic diseases.
- Development by the USA and Britain of ‘strategic bombing’—attacking the enemy society rather than enemy troops. Used by Britain in Iraq before it was borrowed by Nazi Germany and applied at Guernica.
- Another closing of the seas against Europe in World War Two. (Note that this began before the mass deportation and killing of Jews, which started in 1941.)
- Two atomic weapons used against Japan.
- Sponsorship of local genocide and mass repression in Indonesia against a Communist Party with mass popular support.
- Allowing a pro-American regime in Indonesia to conquer and colonise unrelated peoples in East Timor and Western New Guinea. (Reversed in East Timor, as Indonesia became a less necessary ally.)
- Sponsorship of local genocide and mass repression in Latin America all through the Cold War.
- The casual destruction of Cambodia’s existing political system as part of the Vietnam War. (Khmer Rouge crimes are hardly ever linked to the USA sponsoring a coup to destroy a traditional and peaceful way of life.)
- Support for Iraq in its mass repression of the Kurds.
- Support for Iraq in its aggressive war against Iran, when Iran opted for militant Islam with overwhelming popular support.
- The callous decision to leave Iraq crippled and blockaded but still run by Saddam and the Baath, when the Gulf War threatened to become too expensive in Western lives.
- A callous indifference to Afghanistan, after various factions armed by the USA overthrew the secular modernisers who had been in alliance with the Soviet Union.
- The same again in Afghanistan now that the Taliban are overthrown.
Strategic bombing as developed in the 20th century is not meaningfully different from terrorism. In fact ‘terrorism’ is now applied very loosely to any irregular warfare, even when it remains within its own territory, or when it attacks very specific targets in the territory of some foreign foe.
The claim by Britain and the USA to be a global defender of democracy is a straightforward lie. Democracy come a very poor second to securing a ‘friendly’ regime. In the 1930s, Britain and France stood officially neutral in a military revolt against the duly elected government of Spain. In practice, their ‘neutrality’ helped the Nationalists to win, while giving Germany and Italy military experience that the Germans, at least, put to good use.
Britain is now a minor player in the game of Global Interference. But no other power, past or present, can match the USA’s record in overthrowing democracies and subverting duly elected governments.
The USA has a deep-seated belief that everyone is supposed to be an inferior copy of themselves. They assume that people should not be choosing anything outside of the USA’s own range of possibilities, and will use any method to correct such ‘errors’.
It’s also notable that the USA has a poor record when it comes to building democracies in foreign parts, even among fairly willing subjects. Of three cases where they had a free hand, the Philippines is poor and violent, Liberia suffered a disastrous civil war and Cuba violently rejected US tutelage. Successes were mostly when they were forced to support those they saw as the lesser of two evils, Christian Democrats in Italy and the Liberal-Democrats in Japan, both de facto one-party states. The USA’s record compares very badly even with European colonialism, where both Britain and France can point to some successful de-colonisations leading to effective states.
The USA offers ‘freedom’, but this is only freedom to choose to be like the USA. Not freedom to live some other way, nor even freedom to use the same methods of subsidy and tariff that the USA actually used to make itself economically superior to Europe.
Looked at straightforwardly, it is impossible to have any sort of social order without restrictions on freedom. Some people will always choose to do things that you’d sooner not have them doing, and which you may have to stop to save your own way of life. And this is not different in kind from another way of life stopping people doing things that your own social order finds OK. That is to say, every possible social order will include serious limitations on freedom, assuming that ‘freedom’ is seen in the vulgar sense of people able to do what they want to do.
The standard solution to this problem is not to look at anything straightforwardly. A restrictions on freedom may be deemed not a restrictions on freedom, for esoteric reasons. And with a gross or two of lawyers, anyone can justify the will of the strongest as Higher Truth.
The current struggle is against the use of terrorism without US permission or against US interests. The offence is for people low down on the USA’s global power pyramid to dare strike out against their betters. Mass terrorism using aircraft is a standard US tactic, as are covert operations. No clear distinction is drawn between civil war and attacks on non-military targets; no clear distinction is sought. The USA has always preferred to use ‘total war’—terrorism conducted by a recognised state.
British and American policy in the first half of the 20th century also created the conditions in which more than half of the Jews in Europe were killed. This was not the intent of policy, of course. But something of the sort was foreseeable. The war that was launched against Germany was aimed just at limiting German power in Eastern Europe, the issue of Jews was quite secondary. I found just three mentions of it in The Gathering Storm, Churchill’s enormously long account of the build-up to war.
German and East-European persecution of the Jews would not have turned into mass murder had it not been for World War Two. It was only afterwards, with Eastern Europe under Soviet rule, that Nazi genocide became a respectable excuse for a war that had accelerated the decline and fall of the British Empire.
Pro-globalisation historians have created a modern chimera, a fictitious beast made by joining the world of the 1910s onto the utterly different world of the 1980s. By seeing the 1980s as the ‘natural’ continuance of the 1910s, real history can be ignored. The processes that actually created the modern world are dismissed as an error. It is supposed that European imperialism, racism and upper-class privilege would have quietly faded out in the absence of all of the massive battles that actually did occur.
In the real world, the Old Order did not die quietly, and Britain up until 1940 was dominated by politicians who wanted to preserve it at all costs. Refugees from Hitler—most of them Jewish—were rounded up as ‘enemy aliens’. There was no more interest in their fate in Britain than there was about the fate of their cousins in Germany.
War policies that included the blockade of food and raw materials had produced millions of deaths in the First World War, yet were repeated in the Second World War. President Wilson’s 14 points had included:
“Absolute freedom of navigation upon the seas, outside territorial waters, alike in peace and in war, except as the seas may be closed in whole or in part by international action for the enforcement of international covenants.”
This would have provided the basis for a less brutal and destructive mode of warfare, but also one that Britain and America were less likely to win. So it was not done. You could also blame Britain and America for their failure to bomb railway lines to Concentration Camps and Death Camps, especially those about to be freed by the Russians. But that was a secondary point: Nazism would never have developed without the brutalisation produced by a war that was taken far beyond any sensible limits.
The USA has used its power to act as ‘global boss’. Not a ‘policeman’, police are a subordinate force obeying rules and controlled by some distinct and superior power. The UN was supposed to be the real ‘global policeman’, subject to majority decisions by all the world’s sovereign states. But the USA has made it clear that it does not respect the UN nor wish to be limited by UN rules.
The USA is not looking to create a proper Empire; empires have duties towards those they rule. Instead, the USA demands that the rest of the world lay itself open to US influence, as the price of being allowed to participate in world trade. It’s not Imperialism, but an hegemony, a desire to make the rest of the world into a series of weak copies of US culture.
September 11th 2001 has sometimes been presented as an assault on democracy, which is also nonsense. The point at issue is not how the US governs itself, but what it does to other countries. This includes knocking down democratic regimes when it suited them—coups in Greece and Chile, coup and mass murder in Indonesia, threats of a coup in Italy if the Communists had ever been included in government.
With the Cold War over, the USA’s ‘Cash Crusaders’ have destabilised a lot of place. They even tried unsuccessfully to replace a successful secular regime in majority-Muslim Malaysia with a variant of Islamic extremism that was willing to accommodate Globalisation.
It’s done in the name of ‘freedom’—but this does not include freedom to be un-American, not in the long run. Complex commerce cannot exist without an intricate legal and financial framework, a framework once run by Britain and taken over piecemeal by the USA. While the Soviet Union was there as the centre of a rival globalisation, the USA took a flexible view of allies with un-American attitudes, traditionalists in Japan and Saudi Arabia and anti-Communist socialists in Europe. But with the USA now unchecked, the squeeze is on.
Capitalism is not a system but an economic method, and the functioning of the economy depends on other older and non-capitalist value still existing. Moreover, the various systems now called ‘capitalist’ were not built by the methods that our current globalisers now present as normal.
The first system of industrial capitalism emerged in Britain between the 1760s and 1830s: it had nothing to do with ‘Victorian values’, which developed well after Britain was rich and dominant, and which prevented Britain from reacting sensibly when other countries started industrialising.
Our current ‘Globalisers’ credit the successes of earlier systems to abstract capitalism, and reject other necessary features of those same systems as ‘burdens’. The twin slogans of ‘anti-Terrorism’ and ‘Free Trade’ are used to let the USA interfere almost anywhere that is too weak to shut them out. They can break down the protections that other cultures need for their own survival, while keeping their own subsidies and trade barriers whenever it suits them. It’s only free if they are running it.
‘Free trade’ really means tariff-free trade, but the language carries the unproven assumption that this is freedom. Critics of the system adopt the language and then try to criticise the system from within its own terms of reference, which is to concede most of what’s at issue. Not, indeed, that tariff-free trade is actually on offer. In practice, a ‘free market’ is a market where the rules suit the dominant powers, where they can do much as they please and keep just those restrictions that suit them.
The ‘rights of money’ have been asserted strongly since the 1980s, with Thatcher in the UK and Reagan and Bush Senior in the USA. It’s not authentic Free Trade, Adam Smith’s 18th century vision of a removal of all barriers, allowing free movement of labour as well as capital and without ‘intellectual property’ rules. The existing version of globalisation gives huge advantages to giant corporations that can hire a gross or two of lawyers, and make their claims and opinions much too expensive to challenge.
The globalisers talk as if they were aiming at a totally unregulated system. Some of them may even believe it. But if you look at how the system actually works, the people in charge do not allow unregulated systems when they might have to suffer the consequences.
So should we be calling for authentic ‘Free Trade’ on the Adam Smith model? I don’t think so. For one thing, there is no reason to suppose that unregulated trade would be a better generator of material wealth than the existing system. Adam Smith’s claims are slipped in without proof, as I showed in my book Wealth Without Nations. And secondly, if total deregulation was carried through, it would be even more destructive, a global homogenisation that would rapidly destroy the richness of hundreds of different and independently developing cultures.
Immigration and trade are stimulating up to a point, disruptive or damaging beyond that point. Communities should have a right to protect themselves. A free-trade utopia would be a world full of weak copies of late-20th century America (which is how most modern Science-Fiction visionaries have seen it, of course).
Neo-liberal principles applied honestly and consistently would be even worse than the current shysterism. But the ‘McLunatic Globalisation’ should not be allowed to get away with labelling their own chosen system of rules as ‘freedom’, or as the only possible form of Modernism.
‘Anglo’ culture and the English language have been accepted by most of the world as the Hub Culture, the standard means of interacting, and this in itself is fine. The existence of a Hub Culture can permit a great diversity of different people connected via that hub, without giving up their own identities and distinctiveness. But US culture is intensely homogenising, the United States created itself by stamping out most of the diversity of its immigrant populations, and is now out to do the same to the rest of the world.
The influence of the USA has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished. There is still time for the USA to switch back to the UN framework of agreed International Law, rather than each US president making it up as he goes along. Fighting terrorism with terrorism is brutalising the whole world, it is not a meaningful defence of democracy. If followed through determinedly enough, it might even kill off democracy.
The current trouble is with a version of Islam that is globalised, sectarian, technological and ultra-violent—that is to say, the Islam of people strongly influenced by US culture. It’s different from traditional Islam, and is flourishing precisely where there is no other coherent ideology to reshape people whose traditional life-style has been disrupted.
The lack of a coherent and functional ideology outside of China, India and a few other Third World countries is very much down to US influence. Indonesia was doing OK under the left-wing secular nationalism of Sukarno, until an apparent attempt at a take-over by left-wing officers led to a right-wing coup and the mass murder of Indonesian communists, who in the 1960s were a large mass movement with every prospect of winning power democratically.
After the coup, General Suharto moved Indonesia in a different direction, a rather uncertain direction, but with some prospect of following the ‘Asian Tiger’ pattern of fast authoritarian development and a secular nationalism that holds down ethnic and religious divisions. But with the end of the cold war, the USA began breaking up and disrupting political systems that they had previously supported. Ceaucescu in Rumania went very suddenly, Saddam Hussein had reason to think he was next on the list, which is the main reason why he took the risk of invading Kuwait.
Those authoritarian rulers who still thought the USA was their friend have faired worse than Saddam. Suharto never knew what hit him, and his functional system has been replaced by a multi-party democracy that can only exaggerate the deep ethnic and cultural divisions. The clear message of the 1990s is that surviving dictators should hang on as long as possible. There is no safe way to step down, and the USA will rat on any deal that may appear to have been made.
It’s not just outright dictatorships that have been hit. The USA and its NATO allies succeeded in breaking up multi-ethnic Yugoslavia, a valued ally while the Cold War was on. The Christian Democrats of Italy were destroyed by a sudden rush of scandalous revelations from who-knows-where, justifying what the left had been saying for ages, but rebounding to the advantage of the pro-market right. In parallel with this, German Christian Democrats suffered unexpected damage after their success in absorbing East Germany. Meanwhile Japan continues to suffer from a strange economic malaise, and no longer looks like a threat to US hegemony.
One or two countries suffering a sudden reversal of fortunes after they cease to be vital to US interests as Cold War allies could be just an accident. But there have been far too many cases, open and covert. It’s clear enough that the USA seeks hegemony, an arbitrary right to disrupt and reshape anything that displeases it.
The US system cannot stabilise on what it has now, a secular state where 45% of the population believe in the Devil. But it could get very much worse, the kind of electronic feudalism that has often been speculated about. I don’t suppose that this is the desire of the present US administration—at least not the people we see—but it is a logical end-point of the policies they are following.
George W. Bush is widely despised by Labour Party activists. Bill Clinton, with a nice style but not much substance, is seen as the positive alternative. But not by the Ernest Bevin Society—our protests are not at the failings of one particular US administration that may well be voted out in 2004. (A prospect that grows stronger now that Al Gore has run away from the Presidential race.)
With or without ‘Little-Man Bush’, the US as a whole is seeking hegemony over the rest of the world. And Clinton continued Bush Senior’s line that the USA has an authority superior to the United Nations. As US President, he considered that he had both a right and a duty to act when the United Nations failed to do what the current US president thought it should be doing:
The United Nations is not what I hope it will be in five, 10 or 20 years. There are still people who vote in the United Nations based on the sort of old fashioned national self-interest views they held in the cold war or even long before, so that not every vote reflects the clear and present interests of the world and the direction we are going.
I take it almost everybody in this room supports what Prime Minister Blair and I did in Kosovo. It was a clear and present emergency, you had a million people being driven from their homes, but in the end, even though we had all the Muslim world for it and most of the developing nations for it, all of Nato for it, we could not get a UN resolution because of the historic ties of the Serbs to the Russians. So we went in anyway and as soon as the conflict was over the Russians came in and did a very responsible job participating with the United States in an international UN sanction peacekeeping environment. Why? Why did that happen? Because the UN is still becoming. (Speech by Bill Clinton, former US President, to the Labour Party conference, 3 October 2002.)
Sentiments like that make me glad that I opposed Clinton’s policies on Kosovo. I was not in any way pro-Milosevic or pre-disposed to support the Serbs, I had actually raise the issue of the Serb take-over in this mainly-Albanian region long before it became major news. I kept reminding people about it in my Newsnotes over the years. Yet it was also clear that the Serbs were being treated unjustly in the division of Yugoslavia, with legality invoked to cut the Bosnian Serbs and Croatian Serbs off from Serbia, and then ethnicity invoked to cut Kosovo off from the rest of Serbia, and then legality yet again to stop a partition of Kosovo on ethnic lines.
If the British Labour Party still had any spirit in it, Clinton would have been hissed when he spoke of a new resolution, and again when he claimed for the USA the right to go it alone without a UN resolution. It’s not that I every had much hope for the UN, its potential as a true Global Police ended when the USA managed to used it to overthrow the democratically-elected Patrice Lumumba in the Congo, doing damage to the Congo and to Africa that has not so far been undone. But even bad law is better than the Superpower Lawlessness that the USA now favours. Ex-President Clinton has served as the acceptable face of McLunatic Globalisation, a retreat from the Keynesian semi-capitalist system which actually won the Cold War in the key decades of the 1950s and 1960s.
Clinton condemns old fashioned national self-interest, which seems to mean anything which gets in the way of the USA’s new-fashioned global-hegemonic self-interest. The pretext for breaking up Yugoslavia and letting Bosnia and Croatia retain their Serb minorities was that these were sovereign states with a legal right to secede and a legal right to stop their own minorities from seceding. But Kosovo was legally part of Serbia, and Serbia refused to dismantle what it had built under Tito and surrender to foreign investment. So some other pretext was needed.
The reassertion of Serbian authority in Kosovo after peace was made in Bosnia involved nothing unusual. It was no different from what any government anywhere would have done in the face of armed rebels. Milder than some of the things that US governments had done in the past and will undoubtedly do again—and what they did to their own secessionist states in the American Civil War. (And the Confederacy was probably right from a legal and customary point of view, however bad their reasons for wanting to leave the Union.)
Before NATO and Clinton stepped in, there was no Serbian intent to drive ethnic Albanians out of Kosovo. But the Rambouillet Agreement was intentionally designed to provoke them, using NATO rather than the UN and insisting on NATO having access to the whole of Serbia. The Serbs under Milosevic fell into the trap and began expelling Albanians, making US actions appear to be justified by events that would never have happened had the US behaved more reasonably. Despite which, the Serbian military were holding their own, so the US switched to softer targets, managing numerous ‘accidental’ strikes on civilians until the Serbs gave in.
The main aim was to break Serbia, which insisted on hanging on to Tito’s socialist system, while other parts of Yugoslavia were keen to open up to foreign investment and be absorbed into the European Union. It was the conquest of a former ally that was no longer needed with the Cold War over. And it was done through NATO, because it is out of the question that the UN could have been used that way. Not even Milosevic’s worst enemies have suggested that he was sponsoring International Terrorism or planning to attack the USA. But the resistance-is-illicit school of US policy managed to assert the right of the USA to interfere whenever the UN is not acting as the USA thinks it should.
Everything that ‘Little-Man Bush’ is attempting in Iraq was pioneered by ‘Mild Bill Clinton’. Bush Senior threatened to act alone in the 1991 Gulf War if he could not get a suitable UN resolution, but in fact got the agreement he wanted. Kosovo was a new departure, a demonstration that the USA can simply ignore the UN. The existing norms on International Law were treated as unimportant when the US President decided that these mechanisms had produced the wrong answer. As Robert Fisk notes:
“It’s the same old trap. Nato used exactly the same trick to ensure that it could have a war with Slobodan Milosevic. Now the Americans are demanding the same of Saddam Hussein – buried well down in their list of demands, of course. Tell your enemy that you’re going to need his roads and airspace – with your troops on the highways – and you destroy his sovereignty. That’s what Nato demanded of Serbia in 1999. That’s what the new UN resolution touted by Messrs Bush and Blair demands of Saddam Hussein. It’s a declaration of war.
“It worked in 1999. The Serbs accepted most of Nato’s Interim Agreement for Peace and Self-government in Kosovo, but not Appendix 8, which insisted that ‘Nato personnel shall enjoy … free and unimpeded passage and unimpeded access throughout the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.’
“It was a demand that Mr Milosevic could never accept. US troops driving through Serbia would have meant, in these circumstances, the end of Yugoslav sovereignty.
“But now we have the draft UN resolution which Presidents Bush and Blair insist the UN must pass. Arms inspection teams, it says, ‘shall have the right to declare for the purposes of this resolution … ground and air-transit corridors which shall be enforced by UN security forces or by members of the UN [Security] Council’.
“In other words, Washington can order forces of the US (a Security Council member) to ‘enforce’ these ‘corridors’ through Iraq – on the ground – when it wants. US troops would thus be in Iraq. It would be invasion without war; the end of Saddam, ‘regime change’, the whole shebang.” (Robert Fisk: Nato used the same old trick when it made Milosevic an offer he could only refuse. 04 October 2002.)
The big difference between Kosovo and Iraq is that Little-Man Bush does not have Slick Willy’s gift for glossing over bad behaviour. No one has ever accused Bush Junior of being slick. But he was the clear choice of about half the voters, out of a wide range of possible candidates. One has to recall Forrest Gump, and decide that it’s a case of life imitating art.
Forrest Gump itself was clever and entertaining, but should have been given a special award for Outstanding Moral Cowardice on every issue that the USA badly needs to face up to. The dead microphone that allowed the film’s hero to avoid taking a distinct position on the Vietnam War is just the most blatant example. Everything from racial segregation to the sexual revolution was simply evaded.
Forrest Gump is closer to the heart of the culture than the stuff that appeals to mainstream Britons. And Clinton had his eight years in office by showing difference faces to different audiences, a trick that Al Gore wasn’t wily enough to repeat.
After the USA’s mid-term elections of 2002, it’s clear that the USA is dominated by a coalition of rich shysters and bigoted dopes. I’d already decided that it was Clinton who was the exception, but 2002 confirmed it, Reagan and Bush Senior and Little-Man Bush are the true representatives of their nation. The other sort of America, the part Europeans have something in common with, is both weaker and in decline.
It would be excellent if the more traditional and reasonable side of American recovered its former dominance. But the sensible expectation is that it will not.
In 1900, Britain and the USA had rather more in common than they do today. A key difference was that Britain in the 20th century saw the Nonconformist/Puritan collapse, along with an extensive growth of socialism. This did not happen in the USA, where functional religion has declined but malignant right-wing sects continue to flourish. Noisy creeds grow at the expense of social coherence.
Right-wing Christians—people who ignore all that the Bible says about poverty, forgiveness and peace, people who in no sense merit the title ‘Fundamentalist’—serve as voting fodder for an Overclass that just pays lip-service to their beliefs. The Bush administration does have a demented aspect, and does include people who maybe think that they have a direct line to God. They are vastly more likely to upset the process McLunatic Globalisation than when it was being fronted by nice moderate Mr Clinton. Likewise in Britain, it would be vastly easier to oppose what Blair is doing, if it were being done instead by Iain Duncan Smith.
Direct democracy on topics outside of the experience of most of the voters produces poor results, government by sound-bite. And this means that business interests exert an undue influence, since they are the main vendors of sound-bites and the main suppliers of advertising revenue. Advertising serves as an invisible Purchase Tax and makes pro-business viewpoints much more available to the population, cheap or even free. (Free in the sense of no cash up front: the business-dominated system means that ordinary people pay much more in the long run, of course.)
It’s worth noting that the US Constitution tried to prevent direct popular contests for President. An Electoral College was to be elected by the people and then make its own informed choice of who was fit to be President and Vice-President. The people you trust to run your own locality are the ones who can best decide which of their number is fittest for the top job, and a majority of modern democracies do elect legislatures that then choose their own leader. The Electoral College was however a rather poor design, because the Electoral College had nothing else to do. And so a work-round was found that allowed popular elections via candidates for the Electoral College who were pledged to a particular candidate. Direct democracy was introduced, and has favoured leaders who cater to as many bad habits as can plausibly be combined on a single political platform.
US culture has never had much of a sense of grandeur: its normal mode is pettiness on a gigantic scale. Which is why we are now heading towards a live-action thriller starring Little-Man Bush, with Saddam Hussein as a suitably swarthy, sinister but charismatic villain. Millions of unwilling Iraqis will be drafted in as extras, and we can expect soon to see them blown to bits on CNN (self-glorification every hour on the hour).
The ‘thriller’ is a US variant on the ancient tradition of adventure stories. Thrillers in the Anglo tradition mostly match the Puritan notion of individual enthusiasts acting on the assumption that they have a direct line to God. The Upholder of Righteousness engages in semi-random acts of violence in defence of Saintliness, the spirit that has helped make the USA one of the most violent and crime-ridden countries in the world. (Britain has been catching up as we become more Americanised in our world outlook.)
The power of US leaders derives from the inherent power of US society. And the power of that society does not derive from any particular virtue, but from having got hold of the biggest and best block of thinly-populated territory suitable for European settlement. It was virtually a second Europe, with an inherently rich mix of Temperate and Mediterranean climates. And it was held only by fragmented tribal peoples who were easily pushed aside and slaughtered, a process of democratic genocide.
Given the additional boost of a vast existing European market for raw materials—mostly slave-grown up until the 1860s—North America was bound to produce a strong society. But without slavery, the USA would have developed much more slowly—it might even have ended up the nation of self-sufficient farmers that the Founding Fathers wanted.
Slavery and its consequent racism are embedded in the culture of the USA as it actually developed.
US racism is underground rather than dead. The Republican Party gets the votes of racists because they know that Republicans will always find some excuse to stop effective anti-racist measures. Thanks to Republican obstruction, racial separation remains acute. The military, under political pressure, enforced racial integration and this is the USA’s one area of success. Britain has so far failed to do this, Britain’s history of military racism was much older and deeper and also it still gets lots of ‘tough lads’ from the white working class, not all of whom would want to join a multiracial force. But in other areas, housing and love/marriage, the USA stays segregated, and Britain is becoming unexpectedly integrated despite a lot of racism and unofficial discrimination.
The USA is indeed an impressively strong industrial power. Mostly not innovatory—ironclads and automobiles and aircraft and radar were all European ideas, as were space-rockets, computers and atomic weapons. Most of these found their best or strongest expression in the USA, which is brilliant at realising ideas that come from outside. Extreme conformism combined with rootlessness are the perfect mix for an industrial or commercial workforce, in a society that also generates a large stratum of entrepreneurs.
The USA had no justification for seeing its own ways as inherently superior—whoever got control of North America was bound to be strong. It could easily have been the Dutch or the French, and Britain might have kept its colonies loyal by granting Benjamin Franklin’s request for North American representation at Westminster. In the 1760s, little more wisdom and modesty by Britain after its spectacular triumph in 1759 would have produced a very different future. But throughout history, the current crop of ‘Lords Of Creation’ have always supposed themselves to be the culmination of humanity and have always done too little to actually preserve what they have.
In our own era, Middle America is heavily dependant on ideas that began elsewhere, creativity that will be snuffed out if Middle America ever succeeds in turning the rest of the world into a weaker copy of itself. Anyone creative or interesting to the outside world is likely to be gay or Jewish or Afro-American or not born in the USA (sometimes several of these things).
The USA is being irrational and unjust. Foreign countries are not allowed to be foreign, because this is a restriction on freedom. But also it has no ambition to expand itself into a ‘United States of Everywhere’. Even Canada is too exotic and disruptive for US tastes, and Latin America much more so. The ‘North American Free Trade Agreement’ retains existing barriers to people, while opening up for goods and money. The same system is now being extended beyond Mexico to the rest of Latin America, with the long-term possibility of treating the whole world the same way (though even Latin America is currently giving difficulty).
The USA aims at hegemony—not an empire that gives them direct power and full responsibility, but the right to interfere at will. Anyone ‘doing the wrong thing’ can be stopped, but if the result is chaos and misery, that is the fault of corrupt local politicians. It’s a system that has done as much as home-grown folly to keep Latin America backward, and it is not working out well in the new territories to which it is being applied.
During the Cold War, the USA was heavily reliant on traditionalist Islamic states, countries that were much less willing to adapt to the modern world than leftist nationalists like Nasser. But now US cultural influence has pushed into almost all of the world, an unparalleled cultural hegemony. Saudi Arabia was a very necessary ally when the USSR was there as an alternative. But now Saudi Arabia is an unwelcome hold-out against US culture. With US power now unchecked, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States are logically on the list of former allies to be disrupted and force to adapt to American norms. Saddam today, the Saudi dynasty tomorrow.
But to do that needs bases outside of the territories of the existing allies who are scheduled to be ‘phased out’. Besides, there was trouble when it came to the conquest of Afghanistan. Iraq conquered by the US and run by a puppet regime is just the place to put a really big US military base safe immune to foreign limitations or control.
Weapons of mass destruction are a thin excuse. We have had the farce of the UN weapons inspectors being stopped from working until Britain and the USA have changed the rules to something Saddam hopefully cannot meet. Failing which, they can get some spying done before the attack which the USA can launch anyway, following the Kosovo precedent.
But even though the methods are dishonest and violent, wouldn’t this be for the best for everyone in the long run? Doesn’t the history of the 20th century show Britain and America repeatedly helping out the rest of the world and saving small nations from tyranny?
No, history shows nothing of the sort.
The 20th century might have been much less destructive and genocidal if Britain had not joined in the European war that began in 1914, or if the USA had not stepped in to prevent a German victory in 1917. But it also would not have been likely to end with Anglo culture and the English language dominant on a global scale.
The merits of the Leninist challenge used to be acknowledged. In the 20 years before Leninism collapsed, there was a widespread rejection by Western Europe of its Imperialist past. People on the left assumed that that particular perversion of history was dead and discredited, that the standard left criticism was vindicated.
It is still true that no one wants to restore the empires as such. But there has been a lot of justification and glorification, a crediting of all human achievements to the West and a denial of the actual human cost.
The British Empire was the main cause of the disasters of the first half of the 20th century. The British government made and broke alliances in a vain attempt to save its Empire and world hegemony. Between 1870 and 1943, late-Imperial Britain muddled away its Empire, while America stayed on the sidelines and joined in only when America’s own global rise would be helped.
Britain and America were not the only guilty parties, but they had the most power and always had the option to take some other course. And it is the supposed virtue of these two powers that underpins the contemporary politics of Globalisation—what I call ‘McLunatic Globalisation’.
Globalisation is something different from traditional international trade. Trade of that sort was between sovereign nations, each acting in their own best interests. Under globalisation, the strong powers protect their own national interests but the weaker powers have to submit.
Globalisation has been seen as:
- Any sort of connection between separate peoples over a wide area
- The creation of interconnections over the entire globe
- One dominant culture pushing out and reducing other cultures to local variants.
- The specific policies of the USA since the 1970s.
I’d say (1) and (2) are just ‘networking’, while (3) is a logical extension of the very old pattern of a dominant culture in one large part of the world gradually imposing its customs and politics on everyone in reach. Greek culture spread in Central and Eastern Europe, West Asia and North Africa, and then into large parts of Western Europe under the Roman Empire. A similar pattern occurred at much the same time in East Asia, where a Chinese culture that began along the Yellow River became an empire as large and powerful as Rome under the Han and Tang dynasties. These two developments were far-separated, of course, the main connection being that the Han Chinese drove off some hostile nomads who are thought to have crossed Asia and become the Huns who were so fatal for Rome.
You could also call this Regional Globalisation. The aspiration was to rule the world, but the world was much too big a place in those days for any one state to rule. Alexander’s conquest ran out in what is now Pakistan: he did not in fact weep that there were no more worlds to conquer: he wept when told of the Greek philosophical belief in other worlds beyond his reach, when much of the world he knew still defied him. His empire was large but finite, and fragmented after his death.
Rome ruled territories in Western Europe where Alexander had never been, but their power in Asia ran up against a revived Persia and ended somewhere in the middle of modern Iraq. Tang power at its peak reached as far west as Samarkand, but was defeated by an expansionist Islam that overthrew the chain of Buddhist states that China supported. The Tang were also attacked by Tibetans, then an aggressive Central-Asian Empire, which is why subsequent rulers of China have normally tried to keep Tibet under control.
The ideologists of McLunatic Globalisation like to cite Tang-dynasty China as an example of a cosmopolitical China that was open-minded in a way that later dynasties were not. They overlook how very alien the core values of that civilisation was, and how the Tang were successfully imposing them on other Asians with entirely different languages and cultural traditions. Even Japan, far beyond the military power of the Tang Empire, chose voluntarily to adopt many aspects of Tang culture, including the writing system and some Chinese versions of Buddhism (including the well-known school of Zen).
Tang Chinese openness to the wider world was based on the idea that the world could be Sinified. But in the end the Tang were not strong enough to permanently expand into new territories, or even hold what they had. Which is a sensible explanation as to why later dynasties were more inward-looking. Meantime other patterns existed—Hindu empires remained within their own subcontinent, but local elites in Southeast Asia willingly copied Hindu forms.
There is not just one Globalisation. There are many possible ways in which the world could be assembled into some sort of collective entity (not indeed that there is any need to do this: human diversity has great merits in itself).
The post-1945 ‘Keynesian Globalisation’ was different from the rival Global Imperialism that flourished before 1914. This in turn was built on other older systems—‘Capitalist Democracy’ and Protestant culture resting on foundations made by the Spanish Conquistadors and Portuguese and Italian navigators. Before discussing if we should globalise, it is worth emphasising that there are many ways in which it can be done.
Perhaps the first authentic globalisation was in the early days of Islam, which successfully imposed its culture and religion on an empire even larger than Alexander’s, before its own fragmentation into warring states. The Mongols Empire went beyond the achievements of Greeks, Romans, Chinese and Muslim imperialists, though it did not touch India or Africa and only raided Western Europe and South-East Asia. This Nomadic-Imperialist expansion effectively ended at the Battle of Ain Jalut (Goliath Spring), where a Mongol army under a Christian commander was allied to Christian Crusaders, but was decisively defeated by a Muslim army based on Egypt. Soon afterwards, the Mongol empire split into several regional realms.
The next big push was Conquistador Globalisation, from the 1480s to 1640s, dominated by Spain. This was defeated by the English, Dutch and French and led on to Enlightenment Globalisation, 1640s to 1760s, dominated by France. France’s attempts to unify Europe were defeated by the Dutch, Austrians and British, though these same powers then fought among themselves.
After this came Steam-Age Globalisation, 1760s to 1860s, dominated by Britain, but with republicanism and democracy as growing powers. This is presented nowadays as the emergence of ‘capitalism’. But when Britain was creating the first industrial society, it was one of the most protectionist nation in the world, and one of the most heavily taxed. (It also never had the independent city-states that some of the New Right are so fond of.)
Britain became a convert to Tariff-Free Trade only from the 1830s, and this was of doubtful benefit to Britain. Because though its share of industrial production actually peaked in the 1840s, other European powers were already deciding that they had no choice except to copy Britain’s methods if they wanted to stay powerful.
From the 1870s onwards, the world changed again, especially with the emergence of a unified Germany in 1871. This was the era of Ironclad Globalisation, the growth of democratic imperialism and popular militarism. Opposing these within Europe, you had the growth on the margins of society of the subversive forces of feminism, anarchism and socialism.
Ironclad Globalisation self-destructed in the 1914-18 war, and was followed by a brief Jazz-Age Globalisation which discredited itself with the Wall Street Crash and the subsequent Great Depression. The rejection of classical capitalism in the 1930s was based on its dramatic failure in the 1920s. And all of the talk about ‘free markets’ since the 1970s has stopped short of replacing the Keynesian financial reforms needed for the welfare of the rich.
The Cold War began as a struggle between two rival versions of Globalisation, the Keynesian Globalisation of the West and a Soviet Globalisation that was a worthy competitor up until the 1970s. Keynesianism included many controls that would have been anathema to the classical capitalists of Ironclad Globalisation, and was all the better for them.
Keynesianism was semi-capitalist, a mix of state power, corporate power and middle-class power. It was also quite good at sharing the benefits of the modern world with a great variety of different peoples. The Cold War was primarily won by NASA, IBM and Microsoft, America’s demonstration of its technological and organisational superiority after Russia’s brief flourishes with Sputnik. But despite winning the race to the moon and despite the revolution in Information Technology, there was a near-collapse by the West in the 1970s, a loss of confidence, especially after the USA’s clear military defeat in Vietnam.
The West was rallied by the New Right, who set about junking large parts of Keynesianism and building something new, what I call McLunatic Globalisation.
The label ‘globalist’ is of uncertain origin, but the Oxford English Dictionary suggests it came from Marshal McLuhan’s babble about a ‘Global Village’. McLuhan is deservedly forgotten nowadays, the essence of a village is that everyone knows each other and have a fixed set of relationships. McLuhan’s analysis could not distinguish a village from a railway station, a football crowd, the head office of a corporation or the customers and staff at a rather large nightclub. McLuhan’s analysis is pompous junk.
McLunatic is a phrase used by critics of McLuhan, and even by some of his disciples. But nothing is deader than yesterday’s modernism, and it’s much too good a word to waste on this trivial usage. Given that the current flavour of Globalisation is epitomised by McDonald Hamburgers, McLunatic Globalisation seems the right label to use.
The specific policies of the USA since the 1970s has been an addictive blend of aggressive commerce, hostility to state planning and reduced welfare. This has been made acceptable to the wider population by a seductive culture of fetishised violence and sleazy sex, as well as the widespread use of recreational drugs, legal and illegal. Plus a commercialised populism, which led many working people to turn their backs on organisation and solidarity and seek to fight life’s battled using their own resources. (Which is not at all like the actual practice of the advocates of commercialised populism, who know the actual benefits of corporate power.)
Poor and disorganised people have been treated like dirt by rich and well-organised people. But most of the poor and the ‘underclass’ still think that commerce is their friend and that the state is their enemy.
It’s not about freedom, at least not ‘freedom’ understood in the crude sense of actual people doing what they actually want to do. Global Anglo culture would not have won out against the alternatives if it had not made extensive use of slave labour right up into the 19th century, with ‘contract slavery’ lasting rather longer.
Britain only abandoned conscription in the 1957-60, the USA only dropped the ‘draft’ in 1973, after it proved a major motivation for protests against the Vietnam War. Foreign adventures became much less alarming once it was established that only volunteers would be put at risk.
In the 19th century, at least in Britain, foreign adventures seemed to be just that, things you could do if you were adventurous. Even the military did not really expect to see a return to the mass slaughters of the Napoleonic Wars and the wars of the 1860s and 1870s. Winston Churchill gives an excellent account of this vanished world in My Early Life, which I’d rate as much the best of his writings.
Churchill, of course, played a big part in the catastrophes of the first half of the 20th century, and not the role which modern mythologizers have defined for him. Churchill was anti-German but not anti-Fascist, his admiration for Mussolini went beyond what was normal in Tory circles in the 1920s. His hostility to Hitler was based on an understanding that he would make Germany stronger than Britain: it was this rather than dictatorship or anti-Semitism that made Nazism unacceptable.
Though Churchill became the archetypal Tory, his rise to cabinet rank came as a Liberal and as a follower of Lloyd-George. The social-welfare and state-interventionist aspects of Churchill get overlooked, people don’t always know that he was part of the 1905 Liberal government that introduced a basic welfare state.
Winston Churchill’s nationalism was functional, unlike that of Thatcher and Reagan, whose net effect has been to damage the very things they were trying to preserve. Approval of Mussolini was quite consistent, corporatism was in tune with his approach.
It’s a poor historic memory that starts in the 1970s and is very selective before that. Why, for instance, are you continuously reminded of the Chinese famine that happened under Mao, but not of the unending pattern of famines and civil war under previous pro-Western governments? Why so little about the various famines in India, where the vast resources of the British Empire were conspicuously not marshalled to help a dependent population, just as the Irish had been left to die in 1847.
The current McLunatic Globaliser view taps into people’s natural tendency to put themselves at the centre of the universe. What we have now was inevitable, so that there is no need to credit the Soviet Union as the pioneer of female equality, racial equality, the replacement of traditional middle-class restrictions on sex, the removal of class barriers etc. Even some of the anti-globalisers supposed that all of these things would have happened anyway, whereas anything bad can be blamed directly on Communist wickedness. People credit the successful emergence of the modern world to those historic figures they like and blame the others, regardless.
The BBC’s search for ‘Great Britons’ ignores the reckless and self-serving policies by the political elite, including Winston Churchill, that led to numerous disasters, including the death of more than half of Europe’s Jews and many other Europeans, plus many Asians and Africans. When it comes to dragging Britain into the 1914-18 war, the guilt definitely does lie with the political elite. There was no popular pressure to join the Great War, it had to be worked for, and sold on a basis that the political elite knew to be untrue.
A world order dominated by democratic free-market states ripped itself apart in the 1910s. On the present drift, the 2010s could be a repeat performance
The 20th century saw warfare get very much worse and more destructive than it had been. And it was not only a matter of technology. Britain and America were as guilty as the Nazis in blurring the hard-won distinction between military and civilian targets. Rules of war had been painfully established in the 18th century: wars were to be fought between rival professional armies and navies, instead of the mass slaughters of whole populations that had occurred in the 17th century Wars Of Religion. Prisoners need give only their name, rank and number rather than be tortured for their valuable knowledge. In as far as warfare could be decent, civilised and limited, that was what it became. For a time.
Britain was not the only power that de-civilised warfare, but Britain’s record is seriously unclean. When Europe’s regular armies were no match for Napoleon, Britain funded and encouraged irregular warfare, the original ‘guerrillas’ in Spain. In its next big war, Great Britain with its dominance of the world’s seas chose to impose a total blockade on Germany in World War One, knowing that this was going to produce mass starvation. Its decision to bomb open cities in World War Two would have happened even if the Nazis had not brought the tactic to Europe at Guernica, using the same methods on members of the White Race that the British Empire had applied in Iraq with little wider concern.
In a similar spirit, the USA in the Cold War era funded and supported the Islamic extremists throughout the Arab world. It saw them as a counter to left-wing secular regimes that offered a non-religious sense of dignity to their people. The West perhaps supposed that the ‘Islamic Fundamentalists’ would be as docile towards established wealth and power as the ‘fundamentalists’ of US Protestantism. But the Islamists were something very different; US Protestant fundamentalists are a militant minority within US culture, and are overawed by the power of the US Overclass. Whereas the Islamists look back to traditions alien to US values and to all other derivatives of the Latin-Christian tradition, the culture that spawned the Crusaders.
The exact relationship that once existed between Bin Laden and the CIA remains disputed. But no one doubts that the USA played a big part in encouraging Islamic extremism, funding and arming Afghans and Arabs to fight the pro-Soviet regime in Afghanistan. The war was not un-winnable: the USSR was close to victory at times, and the USA had to organise a steady flow of weapons to keep the mujahedin going, while turning a blind eye to the drug-trafficking and the reactionary politics that were a part of it.
But the USA has made less mistakes during the second half of the 20th century than Britain made in the first half. Britain by 1900 was losing its dominant role and needed to copy the industrial methods of Germany and the USA. But rather than reform at home, it was easier to look to the Empire and hope that Britain’s position could be preserved by the same methods that had worked for the previous 150 or 200 years.
The British Empire was central for Britain’s ruling class, and accepted with varying degrees of enthusiasm by the rest of British society, with home-grown anti-imperialists a small minority before the 1920s. Attitudes changed after the Japanese inflicted some spectacular defeats on Western forces and discredited the myth of European superiority. (A process that began with the Anglo-Japanese Alliance of 1902 and was strengthened when Japan defeated Russia in 1904-5, with Britain’s broad approval.)
In the 1960s, people remembered quite clearly that European imperialism had been based on a sincere belief that Europeans could run things for the natives, much better than the natives could manage for themselves. And it was admitted that this had been a gross error, and that the world had entered a new era of equality. It was even acknowledged that Leninist Communism had been the main pioneers of this view, a fact which has now been written out of history.
Since the end of the Cold War, there has been an attempt to rehabilitate Imperialism, the British Empire in particular. It is noted that this was how the modern world came into existence, but the question to ask is whether a better world system would have emerged without imperialism. In Asia, at least, the richest and most secure states are those which never had the ‘benefit’ of European rule.
Although Europe as a whole gained by subordinating the rest of the world, it is less clear how much any particular state benefited. Switzerland and Scandinavia shared in the general rise of Western Europe without ever having any significant colonial possessions, as did the divided small states of Italy and Germany. Meantime Spain, Portugal, France and Holland were alternative colonial powers. Belgium—at various times attached to Spain, France and Holland—made its own extensive and destructive colonisation in the Belgian Congo.
Germany was something else: both Prussia and Austria having an extensive Empire over other European peoples—and one in which Slavs and others could be accepted into the German elite, in a way that Hindus and Muslims never were in Britain’s Indian empire. Russia had its own Asian empire reached by direct land expansion, with other European peoples mostly part of someone else’s Empire. This made Germany and Russia natural enemies, whereas Prussian-led Germany was seen as a natural ally of Britain until they made their own venture into global imperialism.
During the 19th century, Germany was unified by Prussian and became more like Britain. People sincerely thought that it would lead to peace, but in fact it led to war.
Germany might have been wiser not to have built such a big navy, it made Britons uneasy. Of course Germany had become dependant on overseas trade, and Britain’s understanding of ‘Free Trade’ included Britain’s right to impose navel blockades as and when Britain so wished. But Roy Jenkins’ recent biography argues that Churchill up until 1911 did not see Germany as a threat to British interests. What changed his mind was Germany’s copying of British ‘gunboat diplomacy’: it converted Churchill to the viewpoint of those Liberals and Tories who had been quietly preparing for an anti-Germany war for many years before 1911.
Clive Ponting’s biography of Churchill draws attention to an extremely frank assessment that Churchill wrote:
“We are not a young people with an innocent record and a scanty inheritance. We have engrossed to ourselves, in times when other powerful nations were paralysed by barbarism or internal war, an altogether disproportionate share of the wealth and traffic of the world. We have got all we want in territory, and our claim to be left in the unmolested enjoyment of vast and splendid possessions, mainly acquired by violence, largely maintained by force, often seems less reasonable to others than to us.” (Ponting also notes that the italicised words were omitted when he published the paper in the 1920s in The World Crisis.)
In 1914, with Churchill now an ardent war-monger as First Lord of the Admiralty, imperial rivalry with Germany was sold as a defence of this British way of life. This was a completed untruth. The Kaiser’s Germany wanted a share in Imperial power, Germany’s own ‘place in the sun’. A military invasion of Britain was never really feasible, but the public did not know this and were persuaded otherwise.
The Great War did a lot to destroy traditional hierarchies. It had not been a ‘war to end war’, as H G Wells had promised it would be. It was discovered that a lot of the much-publicised German atrocities had not in fact happened. Ordinary Britons wondered why they had been dragged into a European war that need not have concerned Britain—France was the traditional enemy in the English patriotic tradition, while Prussian militarism had saved Wellington from defeat at the Battle of Waterloo. And direct experience of fighting taught a lot of people that the traditional military leaders were not really not very good at modern warfare.
Winston Churchill was one of those who emerged from the war with a damaged reputation. The Gallipoli landings were a sound idea, but wholly mismanaged, and he was the man in charge. He let the navy go in ahead of the troops, alerting the Turks to British intentions. But the navy then failed to press the attack, showing a concern for saving their ships that was utterly unjustified in a global conflict dominated by trench warfare. Leaders who threw away millions of young lives got absurdly sentimental about some floating heaps of ironmongery.
There was also an odd sense in which the slaughter on the Western Front was treated as ‘off balance sheet’. Gallipoli could be seen as a particular error by particular leaders. But to call the Western Front an error was to admit that Capitalist Democracy of the early 20th century vintage was not just in error but criminally foolish.
Despite which, entrusting the 1939-45 war to the man who organised Gallipoli was a questionable idea. And it’s moot how good he actually was: the war was mostly won elsewhere, thanks to Hitler choosing to start wars with both the USA and USSR in 1941. Since the tide turned a little after Churchill became Prime Minister, and since victory justified his stubbornness when Britain’s cause looked hopeless, he naturally got the credit.
The Battle of Britain was won by Spitfires, Hurricanes and radar, all of which Baldwin and Chamberlain had prepared. Churchill’s repeated protests at government air policy were mistaken, it was the one area where Britain was well prepared. Ponting details how Churchill listened to the wrong scientific advice and discounted radar. His idea of building large numbers of extra aircraft to match the new German air force would have tied up cash and resources for biplanes that would soon be obsolete. In the event, he got the credit for other people’s work.
Churchill’s half-forgotten British venture into Norway could have been presented as Churchill repeating his errors at Gallipoli with a horrible precision. But that’s not how it actually was seen at the time. Chamberlain got the blame and Churchill was held up as the authentic voice of Toryism and heroic anti-Nazism. Churchill was out of power and had very little influence when the decision for a war with Germany was taken by Chamberlain’s government. Myself, I suspect a ruling-class ‘fix’, a conscious decision to preserve and build up Churchill, the only substantial right-winger who was not tainted with the earlier policies of compromise with Hitler.
Churchill’s other Big Idea was the invasion of Italy, the supposed ‘soft underbelly’ of Europe. Italy is actually two relatively narrow land-corridors separated by a central mountainous spine. These lead onto a rich northern plain that is cut off from France and Germany by the Alps, Europe’s most formidable natural barrier. In the event, the Germans in Italy fought a long delaying action and only surrendered when Germany itself was finished.
Churchill was part of the victorious coalition, one of the ‘Big Three’, but in a changed world. He had saved something but lost more, from the ruling class point of view. The Labour government elected in 1945 ensured the end of the British Empire when they gave full independence to India and Pakistan. I doubt if the Empire would have lasted much longer, regardless. But it might have been much slower and messier if Churchill and the Tories had been in power 1945-51. With India gone, the remaining Empire made much less sense. But it took Suez 1956 and massive pressure from the USA before most Tories accepted that the remaining colonies must go free.
Britain did not suffer the drastic military defeats that France suffered in Indochina and then Algeria. The major fights were Malaya and Kenya, with a final half-forgotten war in South Yemen. Malaya and Kenya were military victories; Malaya was also a political victory, in as much as power passed to the pro-British side. In Kenya, the defeated rebels won politically but opted to be pro-British.
Britain’s withdrawal in 1967 from South Yemen was a clear defeat, but not traumatic. The pro-British side simply collapsed, but since power had passed to anti-revisionist Communists (‘Maoists’) at the expense of the pro-Egyptian faction, it was wisely decided to accept this and just pull out. This worked out much better than the American decision to prop up similar collapsing allies in Vietnam. But it did carry the risk of the whole Arab world going Communist: this was resolved by the successful campaign against similar insurgents in Muscat & Oman, helped by a disgraceful lack of interest by the British Left. (They focused on romantic terrorists who were more a liability than an asset, neglecting substantial revolutionaries whose politics were unacceptable to the dominant Trotskyists and pro-Moscow Communists.)
Winston Churchill eloquently expressed upper-class dreams of a ‘Thousand-Year Britannia’, but this was never the view of the nation as a whole. Most people had gone along with the idea of an Empire when it seemed glorious and inexpensive, but there was no willingness to make sacrifices to preserve it. Having abandoned the last significant bit of Empire with the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997, the whole Imperial enterprise can now be seen as just one brief episode in the life of the nation.
Thatcherism was an attempt to reassert Britannia, but Britannia as understood by a shopkeeper’s daughter. And as Adam Smith put it:
“To found a great empire for the sole purpose of raising up a people of customers may at first sight appear a project fit only for a nation of shopkeepers. It is, however, a project altogether unfit for a nation of shopkeepers; but extremely fit for a nation whose government is influenced by shopkeepers.” (The Wealth Of Nations, section IV. vii. c).
It’s moot how fit it ever was, and it’s easy to underestimate the amount of amateurish bumbling that existing throughout the Imperial period and goes on in these latter days. Sometimes it’s comical: even at the height of 1970s international terrorism, no one thought of trying to snatch the Queen, the most valuable conceivable hostage. Presumably everyone supposed that the totally ineffective security at Buckingham Palace was just a front for something much more deadly: you’d have to be mad to try it. Only then someone who was genuinely made did try it was it discovered there was no serious defence. Typical British smugness–no one was supposed to do that.
It’s been said after one or other scandal that the security people had been reading too many ‘Boys Own’ adventures, and this is probably true. These characters were raised on a diet of stories where heroes do not pay the price of gross rashness, and seem genuinely surprised when the real world does not work out like that. They are Paperback Tigers, celebrating the Empire as it never actually was.
Britain up until the 1914-18 war had managed to avoid the destructive wars of Continental Europe. Only a small fraction of the society ever got involved in the armed forces, which was a viable way to wage war up to and including the Napoleonic era. But when Continental armies got bigger and bigger, Britain did not adjust and was willing to pitch into a war in which their regular armed forces would be far too few.
The immediate cause of the Great War was the Serbian claim to the ethnically-mixed region of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Given that this claim was redefined as a war-crime in the 1990s, it is worth remembering that Britain in the 1910s went to war rather than allow Serbia to be punished for the assassination by Serb terrorists of the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Serbian government of the day had at least as much to do with the matter as the Taliban government in Afghanistan had to do with the mass terrorism of September 11th 2001, but Britain never has cared to play by the same rules as are applied to foreigners.
Long disputes over who started the war have never been resolved. Each of the parties to the war had ‘war’ factions and ‘peace’ factions and there was a lot of accident involved. But Britain’s attitude was unhelpful, or else it was a deliberate plot to trap Germany into a war. There was no clear statement ahead of time that Britain would go to war over a violation of Belgian neutrality (which was well known to be a likely German war plan.)
The outbreak of war between Germany-Austria and Russia-France-Serbia was an accident, though made likely by the general rise of militarism. Britain’s decision to join this war was an unexpected and wholly voluntary decision, though ‘necessities’ were invented later on, after the war turned out much slower and more costly than anyone had expected. Britain had been making secret agreements with France that would make no sense unless a war with Germany was planned. But there was still a choice, and the sudden outbreak of war-enthusiasm surprised everyone.
British historians mostly avoid the question why the war was not called off when it had bogged down into hideously destructive trench warfare. The answer is much simpler and clearer than the question of why the war started, and is not favourable to Britain. When Germany failed to achieve the quick victory they had hoped for, Germany was ready to accept that the war had been a draw and that the status quo of 1914 should be restored. Had Britain been willing to agree to this, France and Russia could hardly have prevented it. But Britain strongly resisted the idea:
“In 1916 President Woodrow Wilson of the United States, at that time a neutral nation, attempted to bring about negotiations between the belligerent groups of powers that would in his own words bring ‘peace without victory’… In December the German government informed the United States that the Central Powers were prepared to undertake peace negotiations. When the United States informed the Allies, Great Britain rejected the German advances for two reasons: Germany had not laid down any specific terms for peace; and the military situation at the time (Romania had just been conquered by the Central Powers) was so favourable to the Central Powers that no acceptable terms could reasonably be expected from them.” (Microsoft Encarta 2001, article on World War One.)
Britain was not ready to risk a peace that would have maintained a ‘balance of power’ rather than eliminate the rising power of Germany. It was not a very moral decision, and it also accelerated the decline of the British Empire.
There is a deep assumption in modern politics that the Western world of the 1900s and 1910s was inevitably on course to produce the Western world of the 1990s and 2000s. The two systems can both be called globalist, liberal and capitalist, but equally a small quiet tabby and a man-eating tiger can both be called ‘cats’. Names can be used to conceal important difference.
The ideologists of McLunatic Globalisation need to bridge the gap between the 1910s and the 1990s. All of the things that the West no longer upholds—racism, imperialism, sexual inequality, militarism, inequality of religions—have to be viewed as accidental. All practical measures to oppose them before-hand become unnecessary, the evils of the Western are incidental while the benefits are intrinsic.
For rival systems, of course, the benefits are accidental and the evils intrinsic. Likewise the older evils of slavery and famine are pushed aside. Everyone gets reminded of China’s final famine, the one that happened under Mao’s rule. How many of them know of dozens of earlier famines, several under the Western-backed Kuomintang? Or those in British-ruled India, where a system that was already in crisis got considerably worse as the East India Company performed it step-by-step take-over.
All of this is ‘off-balance sheet’ for our modern McLunatics. Everything good and nothing bad is to be associated with ‘globalisation’ or ‘capitalist democracy’. Everything bad and nothing good is to be associated with rival systems. It was unforgivably wrong that left-wingers living in the 1920s and 1930s did not to anticipate changes in Western culture that no one was then expecting, that had to be fought for from the 1940s to 1990s, and that are still incomplete.
In the 1930s, very few people dared to hope that the Western world could even get back to the peace, security and relative prosperity it had had in the 1900s, never mind produce something better. And it is doubtful if the West was strong or stable enough for another bout of rampaging capitalism before the 1980s. (The West since the 1980s has grown more slowly than it did under Keynesianism, though a privileged Overclass is doing much better.)
Though the West did not improve, the Soviet Union did start to come apart in the 1970s, and got worse in the 1980s. This is seen as proof of the ineffectiveness of socialism, with the highly effective Soviet industrialisation from the 1930s to 1960s ignored. If it must be mentioned, then the human cost is emphasised. But not that the USA’s growth was enormously boosted by cash crops grown by slaves, nor than Britain’s early growth was subsidised by the even more brutal slave plantations of the Caribbean, as well as by plunder from India.
Of course growth in GNP is not the only factor. Social reforms that began as demands by the Far Left and which were identified as communist in the 1950s are nowadays seen as natural, and therefore as reforms that would have happened anyway in the absence of a strong Soviet Union. This plays on people’s natural tendency to put themselves at the centre of the universe—obviously the whole of world history was intended to lead to us.
In the 1900s, much of modern technology was expected. But very little of modern politics, and if someone had forecast it back then, they would not have been believed.
In the early 20th century, there was a widespread belief that politics had become a kind of ‘musical chairs’ in which the number of global empire would be steadily reduced until there was only one. Most of Britain’s ruling class saw Germany as the most threatening rival, precisely because it was more similar to Britain than any of the other Empires. All of this is detailed in Brendan Clifford’s pamphlet 1914: England’s Darwinist War On Germany, available from Athol Books.
There were strong elements in the British ruling class that desired a war with Germany from at least 1895. The specific events of 1914 allowed them to bring along less hard-line elements, most notably Lloyd George. Which in turn meant that almost the entire ruling class was implicated in the war and could not end it with less than a decisive victory. Yet the war did more damage to their power and their values than a victorious Imperial Germany could ever have contemplated.
The ‘capitalist democracy’ of the 1900s was totally different from the ‘capitalist democracy’ of the 1980s. The current system has kept a great deal of the Keynesian semi-capitalist system, but our modern McLunatics do not admit it. All of the successes of that era are classified as ‘capitalist’ or ‘globalisation’, while drawbacks and out-of-date aspects are ‘corporatism’.
Britain was definitely not a ‘capitalist democracy’ when it built the first industrial society—a process normally dated from 1760 to 1820. It was a parliamentary oligarchy, and the dominant elements up until the 1830s were the gentry. ‘Democracy’ was a term of abuse. Before 1832, less than one-tenth of adult males had the vote, and the richest portion of that rich one-tenth had disproportionate influence. Some landowners could choose one or more MP without the need to consult anyone else. Elsewhere, a small self-selecting body might have that power. A few seats had a fairly broad electorate, but only a few.
The 1832 reform reduced the franchise in a few seats, but broadly extended it to one in seven adult males, the richest one-seventh. There it stuck till the reform of 1867, which used a ‘householder’ qualification to give the vote to a third of adult males. Only in 1885 was the vote extended to just over half of adult males. Universal suffrage for men was delayed till 1917.
It was also in 1917 that women over 30 also got the vote, no British woman had voted before that. The exclusion of women from democracy had been normal up until the 20th century, the ‘age of extremes’ in which the mass of the population ceased to meekly obey the traditional governing class. Historically, women were occasionally hereditary rulers when there were no close male kin, but democracy excluded them. The radical notion of formal legal equality for women spread very slowly, and socialists played a major part in the long-term agitation that finally won it.
In Britain, the House of Commons was only one element in government. As a rule-of-thumb, you could say that the Commons counted for about half the power after 1688. The aristocrats in the House of Lords played a major role, with actual politics depending on rival parties with members in both Houses.
The power of the monarch had been limited by the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688, but William III and even Queen Anne were definitely in charge, though they needed a parliamentary consensus. This got lost under the first two Hanoverians, who spoke no English and relied just upon the Whig party, since Toryism then was touched with treason and Jacobitism. The monarch’s power grew steadily stronger under George III and in the regency and reign of George IV. The monarch’s role was then weakened by the unimpressive William IV, and ceased to matter much when the teenage Victoria succeeded.
History was changed by the death in childbirth of George IV’s daughter Princess Charlotte. Had she lived, Charlotte would have succeeded as a woman in her 30s, vastly better prepared than the teenage Victoria, who was kept in a ceremonial role for the whole of her long life.
Britain in 1914 was still dominated by its traditional ruling class. They had the prestige, and also most working men and all women were denied the vote. The British and German empires were not so different, except that the Germans did not have hundreds of millions of non-white subjects who were given no real voice.
Germany’s big error was to delay a war with Tsarist Russia, which they could have fought and won in the 1880s or 1890s with British approval. Instead Kaiser Wilhelm, a grandson of Queen Victoria, foolishly let the German Empire become much too similar to the British Empire for co-existence to be possible. Germany became dependent on imported food, and then built up a navy that was strong enough to worry Britain, though not to actually end Britain’s hegemony. Germany would have been much wiser to have left its fleet small, built costal forts to defend itself, ensure it could feed itself and had access to necessary raw materials.
The 1914-18 war was presented as a war of principle, but that was just propaganda. It was actually all about power, about ending the threat to Britain’s global hegemony that Germany presented just by existing as a budding Global Empire.
Britain did also try to use the war to snatch more overseas possessions, as they had done in previous European wars. With the British Navy converted from coal to oil, there was a sudden strong interest in the oil-wells of Persia and in the Arab or Kurdish territories of the Ottoman Empire. Iraq and Kuwait were both inventions based on Britain’s desire to control the oil that fuelled the new military and business machines.
Complaints about disorder in the Muslim world overlook that it was European powers that created this disorder. In the 1910s, the Ottoman Empire was being modernised by the ‘Young Turks’, pro-Western and often pro-British, hoping to make the same sort of transformation within traditional forms that had been managed in Japan with Britain’s strong approval. But Japan was far away, while the Ottoman Empire lay between Britain and India.
The oil wealth that has made a few tribal rulers obscenely rich could have helped bring into being a large Muslim state committed to absorbing as much of Western values as was compatible with their way of life. But Britain and France in 1914 wanted no such thing: they were still committed to the idea of the White Race ruling the ‘lesser breeds’. And it was convenient to split a great Muslim empire into tiny states that would let the West take the oil far too cheaply—a much lower price than the cost of running an oil-based economy without Middle Eastern supplies. In the long run—though this took decades—cheap oil also allowed Britain and other Western countries to dismantle their own coal mining industries, a continuous source of industrial militancy.
Oil was a factor, but one must not forget the power of myth. Liberal Imperialists were still rooted in Puritan Biblical tradition, and though the British conquest of Mesopotamia had a geopolitical and an economic logic, it was also seen as incorporating the Garden Of Eden into the British Empire. Shaw somehow picked up and included this notion in Back To Methuselah, in which the British Empire eventually translates there.
Myths like that served to make bearable the tragedy and squalid brutality of actual warfare. As I mentioned earlier, Britain had paved the way for ‘Total War’ in the Boer War, inventing the Concentration Camp to deal with a hostile Dutch-speaking population that regularly defeated much larger numbers of British troops. A war that could not be won on the battlefield was turned into a war against the entire population, helping to blur the traditional distinctions between military and civilian targets.
Britain was not the only guilty party. The Spanish in their attempts to hang on to Cuba built up systems of fortified hamlets with barbed wire and watch-towers that do resemble the later concentration camps. But this was a case of fortifying or enclosing people in their existing homes—very different from sending them to camps elsewhere, just as there is an enormous difference between going to jail and being under house arrest.
Besides, Spain lost whereas Britain won. Spain was generally looked down on, seen as backward, weak and decayed. Whereas the British Empire was modern, strong and successful. Just as many in the 1920s to 1950s saw the Soviet Union as the ‘land of the future’, so the British Empire before 1914 was often cited by foreign progressives as the best example of the way the whole world should be going.
Britain did indeed set an example, a very bad example, and the rest of the world duly followed. So why did Britain descend into such barbarism? Because the only alternative was a decline and fall, the historic process that has actually happened. And history as it happened was not something that the ruling class in the 1900s and 1910s could have contemplated:
“There was but a shallow historical background to the European mind in the nineteenth century, and no habit of penetrating criticism. The quite temporary advantages that the mechanical revolution in the West had given the Europeans over the rest of the Old World were regarded by people, blankly ignorant of such events as the great Mongol conquests, as evidences of a permanent and assured European leadership of mankind. They had no sense of the transferability of science and its fruits. They did not realize that Chinamen and Indians could carry out the work of research as ably as Frenchmen or Englishmen. They believed that there was some innate intellectual drive in the West, and sonic innate indolence and conservatism in the East, that assured the Europeans a world predominance for ever.
“The consequence of this infatuation was that the various European foreign offices set themselves not merely to scramble with the British for the savage and undeveloped regions of the world’s surface, but also to carve up the populous and civilized countries of Asia as though these people also were no more than raw material for exploitation. The inwardly precarious but outwardly splendid imperialism of the British ruling class in India, and the extensive and profitable possessions of the Dutch in the East Indies, filled the rival Great Powers with dreams of similar glories in Persia, in the disintegrating Ottoman Empire, and in Further India, China, and Japan.” (Wells History Of the World, P 287-288)
Europe in the 1910s considered that its world domination of the non-European world was natural and likely to continue for centuries to come. The strategic and geopolitical thinkers also felt that Europe had too many rival Empires, and that some of them had to go.
The First World War was three Empires against two, all five seeking to expand at the expense of someone else. Britain was the key player: Britain had a long record of helping to keep Europe divided, always joining in against whichever power looked likely to unify Europe—sometimes Spain, sometimes France, sometimes Russia, and finally Germany when it became an Empire under Prussia. This process has been dignified with the name of ‘balance of power’, but what it actually amounted to was permanent European instability. A victory by any one of the rival unifiers would have offered peace.
The idea of European unification under British leadership was never seriously considered. England’s mediaeval Norman-French monarchs did use English resources to expand their claims in the disunited kingdom of France. But this was dynastic rather than national—a ‘family estate’, as Simon Schama aptly put it. England under Henry 8th was still making forays, but the loss of Calais under his daughter Mary was actually advantageous for England. Dreams of continental conquest were abandoned in favour of an Empire overseas:
No single office and no single brain had ever comprehended the British Empire as a whole. It was a mixture of growths and accumulations entirely different from anything that has ever been called an empire before. It guaranteed a wide peace and security; that is why it was endured and sustained by many men of the ‘subject’ races—in spite of official tyrannies and insufficiencies, and of much negligence on the part of the ‘home’ public. Like the Athenian Empire, it was an overseas empire; its ways were sea ways, and its common link was the British navy. Like all empires, its cohesion was dependent physically upon a method of communication; the development of seamanship, ship-building, and steamships between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries had made it a possible and convenient Pax—the ‘Pax Britannica’, and fresh developments of air or swift land transport might at any time make it inconvenient. (Wells, page 294)
The Victorian era in Britain was supposedly the heyday of capitalism, yet it saw a massive growth in a British ‘Imperial war-machine’ that was deeply non-commercial in its origins and way of life. The British ruling class looked down on those in ‘trade’, in a way that the would-be gentry in the USA were never able to manage. And the servant class that Adam Smith had condemned as unproductive in the 18th century had grown massively in the 19th century, to the point where every middle class household had at least one resident servant and saw the possession of servants as a necessary mark of social respectability.
Britain by the 1910s had lost the industrial advantage that it had won in the 18th century. The heritage of the Georgians had slipped away during the Victorian era, with most Victorians unable to believe that foreigners could easily assimilate the lessons of the Industrial Revolution. Britain’s brief hegemony—destined to last just from the 1760s to the 1940s—was deemed to be the natural order of the world, ‘an empire on which the sun never set’. And when this cosy picture was threatened by the rise of Germany as a successful industrial rival, there was a growing opinion that this threat must be snuffed out by warfare as soon as a convenient pretext could be found.
When war began in 1914, each side had excellent reasons to suppose its own strategy would produce a decisive win and leave the victor much stronger than before. This had been the pattern of earlier wars: Prussia had won against Austria in 1866, won again against France in 1870, and expanded itself to be a German Empire with the consent of most other Germans. By Prussia/Germany’s own criteria, these were profitable and successful wars.
The American Civil War (1861-65) had showed that modern technology could also produce a lethal stalemate. But it’s much less clear that it foreshadowed the stalemate that happened on the Western Front 1914-18. The American Civil War was from first to last a war of movement, with armies advancing hundreds of miles before running out of supplies or else getting bogged down against fixed defences, mostly the Confederate defences of Richmond.
European observers reckoned that the slow and costly nature of the American Civil War was due to a low level of military competence among the American armies. And the Prussians in 1866 and 1870 proved that the same technology could produce decisive victories against first-class European foes.
Britain took note of Prussian effectiveness, and saw this rising German Empire as a threat. This was expressed in works of fiction like the Battle of Dorking, warning in 1871 of a future defeat of Britain by Germany. Britain in the late 19th century was the world’s only Superpower and yet did vastly less than the modern USA to build up some sort of sustainable structure that would suit everyone. Bad as US global politics have been since their Cold War triumph in 1989-1991, it is infinitely better than Britain’s approach from 1870 to 1914.
Germany for its part chose to copy Britain by acquiring any left-over territories and building a big fleet. This was a direct consequence of Germany’s expanded economy and larger role in world trade—the New Right notion of trade favouring peace is the very reverse of the truth. Traditional and locally-orientated Germany aroused no hostility: it was when Germany began getting more like Britain that Britons began to worry.
Britain was unconcerned by the much larger armies of Continental Europe, because it saw the Royal Navy as a secure protection. Only the USA had a possible rival fleet, and the USA seemed very unlikely to get involved in a European war against Britain, or any European war at all.
In the years leading up to 1914, the German fleet became a plausible rival. It may not have been intended as such, that is not the point. Germany had the combination of close proximity, strong army and strong fleet. If you imagine playing the history of the time as a war game in which almost anything might happen, the British player must inevitably see the emerging German Empire as a mortal threat in the way no other European power was. A typical British viewpoint was expressed by H G Wells:
“The downfall of the ’empire’ of Napoleon III, the establishment of the new German Empire, pointed men’s hopes and fears towards the idea of a Europe consolidated under German auspices. For forty-four years of uneasy peace the politics of Europe centred upon that possibility… All these nations armed. Year after year the proportion of national production devoted to the making of guns, equipment, battleships and the like, increased.” (Wells, page 295)
Some members of the British ruling class saw great advantages in luring German into a war with the French-Russian alliance—and Wells himself served as a propagandist war-monger, surprisingly enough. H. G. Wells originated the idea of a ‘war to end wars’, promoted the standard myths in Mr Britling Sees It Through and never admitted that this was an error. His main contribution to practical politics directly contradicted the utopian visions that he is best remembered for.
And what of the USA? There was a calculation in 1915 by some Americans that the USA would need to fight the winner of the European war. Such a victor would be dominant in the world outside America and would be bound to interfere. By 1917, when America did in fact join in, it was clear that Britain and France must loose without American aid. And when victory was won, there was a general understanding that this victory left the USA as the world’s ‘top nation’.
Despite which, the war nearly did end with a unified Europe under German-Austrian hegemony. Such an alternative course of events would have meant a vastly less damaging and brutal 20th century: the Kaiser’s Germany was a civilised law-abiding state and would have prevented all of the destructive local wars and ethnic massacres. The position of Jews in Germany and Austria at the time was not much different from what it was in the USA of the same era, Jews were socially excluded but also safe and prosperous. It was mainly Russian Jews facing Tsarist pogroms and persecution who had been seeking refuge in the New World.
In a world where Germany had won a 1914-1917 war, Hitler would have remained marginal or perhaps become a minor Austrian artist. Nothing like Nazism would have emerged. Lenin and the anti-war Russian Social Democrats (Bolshevik) might have made excellent collaborators with Germany in breaking up and transforming Tsarist Russia, but they could not have opted for Communist extremism with Germany there to supervise them.
The worst thing the USA has done to date was to pitch into World War One so as to give Britain and France an unconditional victory over Germany. If they had to intervene, it should have been with a view to imposing a balanced settlement, as Woodrow Wilson perhaps wanted. But the USA changed the outcome of the war and then went back to isolationism.
In 1918, the German Social-Democrats were the best prospect for a peaceful non-expansionist Germany. They would have been given unstinted support if Britain, France and the USA powers had actually wanted such a future. Instead, the West conspired with Hindenberg and Ludendorf to make them fall-guys for Germany’s defeat.
The German Social-Democrats had taken an independent line in the 1870 war with France, refusing to support it when Napoleon III had been defeated and it had become a war of aggression against the French. In 1914 they split, with the majority deciding that it was a genuinely defensive war against France and Russia. But when America joined the war and President Wilson officially proclaimed his 14 principles, they fell for it.
It might have needed another year’s hard fighting to have imposed an unconditional surrender on the Kaiser’s Germany. If this had been done, there would have been no question of a ‘stab in the back’, Germany would clearly have lost. What actually happened was that an armistice was agreed with the moderate and democratic element in Germany, who were then treated as if they had surrendered unconditionally.
Those to whom evil’s done do evil in return said Auden in the 1930s. The man himself un-boldly scuttled off to the USA well ahead of danger. But others who stayed and fought did take the point seriously. Nazism was a predictable product of Allied abuse of victory in the Great War, and the USA’s foolish retreat from responsibility after ensuring German defeat.
People in the 1940s also recalled the much wiser settlement that was made after the Napoleonic Wars—including Britain making a moderate peace with the USA in 1814, when Napoleon was at Elba and it seemed as if the victorious powers could have made any sort of peace they chose. Britain might have chosen to try to reconquer North America, since the USA had started the 1812 war and had nursed an ambition to conquer Canada, which most Canadians bitterly resented. But for the British Empire to attempt to reconquer North America would have been a formula for endless war, and peace was preferred instead.
The Soviet Union collapsed in 1989-91, in part because it abused its limited victory in the 1970s, when America ran ignominiously from South Vietnam and Western power seemed to be falling apart. Their 1979 invasion of Afghanistan was also a clear signal that they were not just content to hold what they had (which was how some people excused Hungary 1956 and Czechoslovakia 1968). And while it may have appeared necessary to the Soviet leadership, events were to prove that it was the worst thing they could have done.
All through the 1980s, the Soviet Union appeared close to world domination, despite internal troubles and global unpopularity. A revived USA was seen as a lesser evil. This was the situation up until the collapse of pro-Soviet regimes in Eastern Europe in 1989, which surprised everyone. Right-wingers—and even some on the Left—had been predicting a collapse every year since 1917. But I don’t know of anyone who said in 1988 that the Soviet Union was finally on the eve of destruction.
The USA’s choice in 1989-91 resembled the folly of 1919 rather than the wisdom of 1815 and 1945. Thatcher and Bush Senior saw their new-won strength in 1990 as a reward for their own virtue. And an excellent opportunity to punish unloved former allies like Saddam Hussein.
There was also a growing desire to redefine the Versailles Peace as something other than the colossal injustice and gross blunder. People in the 1930s were living with the consequences and knew it. But present-day right-wingers seek to rewrite the past, so that folly becomes wisdom and their own policies a continuation of that ‘wisdom’.
The break-up of the German and Austro-Hungarian empires was botched and unfair. Having officially upheld Wilson’s principle of national self-determination, the Allies then ignored it when it came to whittling down Germany and Austria to the smallest possible borders. Versailles-Czechoslovakia violated the official rules of national self-determination, the Sudetenland Germans should not have been put under Czech rule in the first place. So there was little stomach for war during the crisis of 1938.
The West has repeatedly caused chaos through a policy of enragement followed by appeasement. First you treat people unfairly, then you feel guilty and try to make up—at someone else’s expense. I think the USA began it after their Civil War: the North first of all mistreated the conquered South, and then betrayed the Afro-Americans when they decided that the Southern whites had suffered enough. The North let racist rule be established in defiance of the Constitution, which had been amended to ensure that no one could be legally denied a vote on racial grounds.
Britain between 1910 and 1922 managed to bungle away its ties with Ireland by similar misjudgement. In 1914 the majority of Irish Nationalists were Redmondites, keen on a self-governing Ireland that might have been as pro-British as Canada, New Zealand or Australia. But this would have meant Catholics ruling Protestants, which went against existing hierarchies within the ‘White Race’. Ulster’s willingness to rebel got a lot of sympathy among the Tories, and the World War in 1914 was in many ways a welcome escape from a threatened Civil War within the British Isles.
The 1916 uprising was handled quite irrationally. It had been unpopular with most of the Irish, but the executions changed that—as well as some murder of some non-rebels, most notably the pacifist nationalist Sheehy Skeffington. Even from a selfishly English viewpoint, nothing was gained by taking such an extreme line, and much was lost.
This was particularly true in the case of Sir Roger Casement, who had wisely warned Britain against joining the European war in 1914, and then taken up the cause of Ireland as he saw Britain leading all Europe into barbarism. He had returned to Ireland in a German submarine with the intention of taking part in a War of Independence, but had not actually fought and there was a widespread desire for mercy among the ruling class. For reasons unknown, Asquith’s government was so determined to get him that it circulated the ‘Black Diaries’ of supposed homosexual promiscuity by Casement, which helped to repel those who’d spoken against him being executed.
Whether or not the Black Diaries were real, circulating such stuff was a total breach of existing standards. The ruling class turned a blind eye to obvious homosexuals in their own class so long as there was no public scandal: to notice the obvious would not have been good for the Royal Navy, and would have wiped out the British Secret Service.
It is entirely possible that Casement was indeed homosexual, but remained within some covert upper-class circle that his foes could not make public without seriously fouling their own nest. So maybe someone forged the diaries on the pretext that they were ‘virtually’ true. (It is also possible that it was all a big lie and that Casement was actually celibate: we may never know the full truth.)
Quite apart from Casement, Britain’s response to the 1916 uprising followed the classic formula for ineffective rule, punishment is harsh but inconsistent. There is much to fear but little to respect, and such government is always intolerable. For reasons that are hard to follow, the British government released the bulk of the rebels of 1916 after the war. This totally demoralised the Royal Irish Constabulary, who correctly saw it as senseless if the intention was to retain Ireland within the British Empire.
If those executed in 1916 had been traitors rather than enemy soldiers, then their followers remained traitors when the war ended and could justly have been kept in jail for the next 20 or 30 years. Instead they were set free, treated according to their own claim to be legitimate soldier in an Irish army fighting its own oppressive Empire, much as the Czech Legion fought with the Russians against Austria-Hungary, or Pulsudski’s Polish Legion fought for Austria against Russia. The rank-and-file of the Easter Rising had been treated as murdering criminals in 1916 but after the war were then redefined as soldiers on the losing side. They were left free to join with returning soldiers from British-army Irish regiments to form the IRA, after Ireland gave Sinn Fein a clear democratic mandate for separation from the British Empire.
Ireland was only one of many bungles made by the decaying Empires in the second quarter of the 20th century. Britain and France had little stomach for defending the Versailles order, even when Germany went to extremes. They let the Germans mistreat Jews and East Europeans because of guilt for Versailles. A similar sentiment applied after 1945—it was remembered that the West shut its doors against Jews trying to flee the Nazis, and so a blind eye is turned to a clear Israeli policy of pushing as many Palestinians as possible out of the new state of Israel. Guilt over the 1930s is still used to allow the same process to continue, with Israel pushing into the West Bank, land that was supposed to be an independent Palestine under the Oslo Agreements.
Margaret MacMillan’s recent book Peacemakers has been proclaimed as proof that Versailles was not really as bad as it’s been portrayed. That’s not at all what the book shows, even on its own selection of evidence. Massive bias against Germans and Hungarians and in favour of Serbs, Czechs and Greeks is clearly documented—but then a verdict of ‘not guilty’ is delivered.
We are told that the Germans might or might not have signed an armistice in the belief that the war would be settled on the basis of President Wilson’s 14 point. And if they had believed this (which they might not have) then they might or might not have been correct in this belief. Immense vagueness is spread on the central issue. Peacemakers does not allow facts to stand in the way of ‘correct’ conclusions.
The book records how Britain and France were happy to use President Wilson’s principles to avoid keeping promises made to Italy and Romania, but were equally happy to ignore them elsewhere. Alsace-Loraine was mainly inhabited by French-influenced Germans. Most had objected to being annexed in 1871, but by 1919 they were largely German in outlook, yet were taken by the French.
The West at Versailles also insulted Japan, which had been a loyal ally to Britain during the 1914-1918 war. The Japanese asked for a declaration of racial equality to be included in the new League Of Nations agreement, and it was refused. Most Westerners were profoundly racist in those days, convinced that White was superior to Yellow and Black. This explicit world hierarchy encouraged those Japanese who felt that they must conquer or be ground under—that the anomaly of a non-white Great Power would not be tolerated for ever.
It was only after 1945 with the United Nation that racial equality was officially recognised. And I doubt that the still-segregated USA would have conceded it without the need to lure the Third World away from Soviet-style Communism, the first Great Power to seriously seek to build a society based on racial and sexual equality.
Race also played a part in the decision to detach Palestine from Greater Syria, with the obvious intention of opening it up to Jewish settlement. Zionism had cultural resonances among British and American politicians:
“Like Balfour, Lloyd George had grown up with the Bible, ‘I was taught far more about the history of the Jews than about the history of my own land. I could tell you all the kings of Israel. But I doubt whether I could have names half a dozen of the kings of England, and not more of the kings of Wales.’” (Ibid, p 426).
Wales only ever had princes, never kings, a detail that Margaret MacMillan does not comment on. She also takes the Romanian custom of allowing up to three divorces per individual to be some local peculiarity, (page 139, paperback edition), not recognising this as the standard policy of all branches of Orthodox Christianity, which is an older and more valid tradition than either Protestantism or Roman Catholicism. Her view is parochial, all credit belongs to the West and all other versions of human culture are peculiar and bad. And she prefers to take no notice of the huge changes in Western attitudes that have happened over the last 100 years.
In the first quarter of the 20th century, Jews ranked much higher than Arabs from a typical Western viewpoint: this was agreed even by those who wanted to exclude Jews from the higher ruling circles. Jewish influence was of course much less than it is nowadays:
“The Zionists did not have the influence or power of the Czechs or the Poles, nor was there in the public mind a Jewish cause like the Armenian one.” (Peacemakers, page 421.)
Given that the Arabs were to be swindled anyway, it made sense to include a reward for Jews at Arab expense. Also the USA did not want to take in any more displaced Jews, the WASP elite resented the existing mass of recently arrived East European Jews. These were the people whose children and grandchildren were to give the USA a lot of its best scientific and cultural achievements in the 20th century, but the ruling elite disliked them, as did many small-town voters.
The problem in our uncertain world of the Twenty-Hundreds is not so much that Bush compares himself to Churchill, but that anyone should wish to compare themselves to Churchill.
True, Churchill did have a sense of grandeur in a way that today’s leaders do not. Slightly staged and theatrical, yet the last echo of the substantial British gentry of the 18th century. These characters had been in full decline all through the 19th century, the era which rather too many people take to be Britain’s true age of greatness.
After Churchill, the grandeur departed, though the forms remained. One is reminded of the Chinese phrase about an ape dressed up in the robes of a philosopher-king. None of them can match the dignity of a man who grew up as a member of the British elite in an era when Britain was the world’s only true Superpower.
Churchill was the last gasp of a British world order that had outlived its original energies and purpose. The British Empire had hung on to an early 19th century vision of industry and trade, a rich middle class living off impoverished workers and hoping to rise into aristocratic circles. This world vision was under threat from both Germany and the USA, which had developed industries that were as good or better than anything that Britain had.
The first half of the twentieth century saw extremes of warfare that could have been avoided if the British ruling class had accepted back in 1900 or 1910 that it should no longer try to rule the world. Most Britons outside of the ruling class were not hugely bothered, but found themselves flung headlong into terrible wars that the ruling class created by its power politics (and which were even worse for the non-British world).
It is conventional now to speak of Britain facing a ‘Nazi threat’ in the 1930s. But the British government and a majority of voters saw Nazism as both a threat and an opportunity. The economic model that came to be called Keynesian was then associated in Britain with politicians who were close to Fascism or sympathetic with fascism. Notably Sir Oswald Mosley, who’d begun as a Tory, switched to Labour and then founded a ‘New Party’ before switching again to Fascism.
Mosley, Lloyd George and Churchill briefly considered forming a kind of ‘National Opposition’ when Ramsey Macdonald and Baldwin formed the National Government. It was part of the general fluidity, after the system of the 1910s had discredited itself with the 1914-18 war and the unjust and unworkable peace they made at Versailles.
If upholders of ‘Capitalist Democracy’ in the 1930s had been as hostile to Fascism as they were to Communism, Hitler would have been stopped much sooner and much more cheaply. As it was, there was an attempt to fit him in as a right-wing ally, as Mussolini had been and as General Franco and other right-wing dictators were accommodated during the Cold War era. The Left protested, Centrists sighed and the Right got on with business as usual.
The dismantling of democracy in Germany did not change Tory attitudes. Comprehensive discrimination against Jews did not change Tory attitudes. A crack-down on Germany’s relatively tolerant attitudes to sex was quite attractive to many Tories, as was a clear assertion of male superiority and female subordination.
Germany choosing to re-arm and overturn of the Versailles limits was alarming but acceptable, for as long as it was thought that Hitler was just restoring Germany as a nation. It was also hoped that he would join with other right-wing nations in the conquest of the Soviet Union, Churchill’s failed project of 1920-21.
Churchill himself was opposed to the scheme—opposed in the sense that he did not want Hitler getting the glory and the benefit for doing a job he saw as necessary—but he was fairly isolated at the time. I’ll show later that it was the annexation of the Czech territories that caused a sudden reversal, in a way that seems baffling today. The point I want to make now is that Nazi Germany was the biggest ‘blowback’ so far in world history, with the West building up Hitler as a fighter against Communism and ending up having to ally with Stalin to stop Hitler and Germany from dominating all Europe.
An important stage in the rise of Fascism was Spain, where Britain and France decided to stand neutral when General Franco led a military rebellion against democracy. A moderately progressive government was denied military aid and found no help except from the Soviet Union—those who nowadays say it’s incomprehensible that people would work with Stalin are pig-ignorant about the actually existing alternatives. The Tory Party and the ‘National Government’ stood neutral while Fascism was spread at the expense of existing multi-party parliamentary systems.
After 1945, with Britain’s ‘Imperial War Machine’ much weakened, it was convenient to pretend that Britain was helpless in the face of the Fascist beast. Regarding Spain, the excuse is Communist role on the Republican side, but that is another case of confusing cause and effect. The Communist role grew because only the Soviet Union would help the democratically elected government against a military revolt that began with large numbers of Moroccan troops from Spain’s residual empire. And yet Franco and his mixed bag of Fascists and right-wing Nationalists still needed massive German and Italian intervention to succeed against the popular radicalism of the Republic.
Britain and France could have supported the Republican side, kept it non-Communist and ensured its victory. It would have needed no commitment of troops and would have carried very little risk of war, and the actual Second World War would almost certainly have been avoided. But in the 1930s, the ruling classes in Britain still had a very different notion of the world and did not like radical republicanism of the Spanish sort. They sympathised with Franco’s coup, much as the USA since 1945 has backed right-wing military coups against democratic left-wing governments, most notably the overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile on September 11th 1973.
The most distinctive thing about 1930s Fascism is that they did things in the home territories that all European empires had applied overseas for centuries. This trend may have begun in the USA, with the American Civil War being won by Union generals like Grant and Sherman applying to the South the same methods that had been developed to clear away Native Americans from lands where the White Race wanted to settle.
Sherman and Grant broke the Confederacy by large-scale destructiveness, after conventional methods of warfare between armies had failed. The Federal side got their main aim: the USA was confirmed as a federal nation rather than an association of sovereign states. Also the embarrassment of slavery was removed: it might have lasted much longer had the South not seceded.
Racial equality was not what the Federal forces had been after; Abraham Lincoln was a racist whose opposition to slavery was based on a desire to limit the spread of black people, ideally to remove them from the USA entirely. If he hadn’t been assassinated, he might have gone on to establish formal segregation, which in fact just happened piecemeal.
In the USA, the South was broken, but afterwards politics got back to an aggressive populism that made actual fascism unnecessary. Besides, in those days the USA had no real Empire, just territories that it owned despite the wishes of inconvenient local inhabitants.
Things were rather different among the European Empires. The 20th century war-machines stopped recognising existing distinctions between privileged and subordinate groups, when the privileged got in their way. All of the European powers had caused the deaths of millions of their colonial subjects, but that was only ‘natives’. Jews were always classed as part of the ‘White Race’, classified as a low or middling or high element within the White Race depending on where you were, but quite high up in the racial hierarchy that was seen as normal up until 1945.
The mass extermination of a million or more gypsies by the Nazis receives vastly less attention than the killing of Jews by the same extermination-machine. Likewise Japanese torture, massacre and rape of other Asians was mostly overlooked whereas crimes against Europeans received the proper punishment.
The only authentic and serious case of lethal scientific experiments on prisoners was Japanese, but the subjects were merely Chinese and Russians and so the US authorities let them off in return for the data. Japanese war-crimes were systematic, whereas the stuff done by some Nazi doctors in the Concentration Camps was cruel and demented without ever being very scientific.
Gestapo methods were standard police methods of the time, except that the customary distinction between the working class, middle class and ruling class was no longer observed. Once repression was democratised, there was suddenly much more enthusiasm for entrenched global rights. There had always been some idealists, but now they were joined by many who would have always supposed that they themselves were ‘off limits’. But that was much later, after Britain’s two anti-German wars had ruined the European empires and forced changes that would have seemed impossibly radical in 1914.
But surely Winston Churchill was the shining exception to the weakness and collaboration of the 1930s? Like hell he was! Churchill’s objection to Hitler and the Nazis was that they were making Germany too powerful. Nothing else bothered him much and he regularly spoke of it as an anti-German war rather than ‘anti-Nazi’—a view that is once again being pushed now that West Germans have ceased to be key allies in the Cold War.
Up until he became Prime Minister in 1940, Churchill’s biggest contribution to world history had been to turn Lloyd George into a partner in the anti-German war. And this was a war that part of the British ruling class had been planning for years. It would have happened regardless of how Germany had handled the particular crisis over the Serbian claim to Bosnia. And while solid evidence is lacking, it is interesting to speculate whether Churchill had played a larger role in the pre-planning for war than the standard histories suggest.
Lloyd George had opposed the Boer War, which the young Winston Churchill had enthusiastically supported. The people planning Britain’s war with Germany must have known he’d be a major obstacle—or else a great asset if he could be won over. And ex-soldier Churchill was famous after his ‘miraculously lucky’ escape from a South African prisoner-of-war camp—did he have more help than was ever admitted? In any case, he then entered politics as a Tory, and appeared first as a rather overmatched orator opposing Lloyd George.
Churchill as a Tory MP was a maverick, much as his father Randolph Churchill had been. In 1904, he was part of a small defection of Free-Trade Tories to the Liberals, and therefore benefited from their dramatic and unexpected victory in 1906. And as a Liberal, he became almost a disciple to Lloyd George, very surprising in view of Churchill’s general attitudes, his aristocratic connections and Lloyd George’s mundanely middle-class roots. Together they oppose the plans for naval expansion, with an unexpected lack of success, as Roy Jenkins notes:
“Churchill and, to a lesser extent, Lloyd George had allowed themselves to be isolated… The two ‘economists’, as they were known in those days… had fought a remarkably ineffective battle. Their opponents had asked for six ships [dreadnoughts]. The ‘economists’ tried to hold out for four. And the result of the ‘compromise’ was eight.” (Churchill, by Roy Jenkins. pages 156-7 of the Pan Books paperback.)
From his background and general viewpoint, Churchill should have been enthusiastically for such policies from the beginning. That he was an opponent and then an unexpectedly ineffective opponent is suspicious.
Nothing can be proven, of course, and perhaps an odd series of changes of view reflect no more than an energetic and ambitious personality. Conspiracy theorists claim to know inner secrets that have otherwise remained secret, and also hatch melodramatic plots without regard for human motivation. Yet real establishment plots exist, are mostly quiet and clever, though not always successful and not always hidden from history. A well-ordered conspiracy among the nation’s elite is unlikely to be found out. But Churchill was later welcomed as First Lord of the Admiralty, and several times in his later career he was saved from near-ruin, which was either very lucky or due to accumulated credits with the ruling elite.
That much is speculation: the hard facts are that in 1911, after a dangerous confrontation between France and Germany over Morocco, Churchill went back to being what one would have expected from his background, an enthusiast for war and navel power.
“This conversion in 1911, however, produced no immediate break with Lloyd George. Instead Churchill contributed to getting the Chancellor to insert in his annual Mansion House speech… robust warning to Germany which was as surprising from Lloyd George at the time as it was a remarkable foretaste of his dogged militarism of five years later.” (Ibid, p 202)
“The shift of [Churchill’s] interests therefore preceded his change of posts… The main object of the shake-up was to create a War Staff at the Admiralty, such as had already been imposed on the War Office.” (Ibid, 205).
As Home Secretary, Churchill had shown no scruples about being ready to use the army in mainland Britain. By 1911, strikes were less of an issue, but there were doubts about whether the navy was organisationally ready. So Churchill moved from the Home Office to be First Lord of the Admiralty, preparing for the expected war.
In 1914, Lloyd George joined the warmongers reluctantly, but turned out to understand modern warfare rather better than Churchill, Asquith or Kitchener. The 1914-18 war did immense damage to ruling class prestige, not just because it seemed pointless when people looked back with cooled passions, but also because many of the working-class and middle-class participants found that they understood fighting and strategy much better than the governing class that had been bred for such things.
Churchill’s own reputation suffered from the failed landings at Gallipoli in 1915, which was perhaps unfair. In 1914-18, there was an odd sense in which the slaughter on the Western Front was treated as ‘off balance sheet’—to call it an error was to admit that Capitalist Democracy of the early 20th century vintage was not just imperfect but criminally foolish. Gallipoli was distinct and could be condemned as a diversion from the ‘necessary’ sacrifice on the Western Front.
People mostly overlook what would have happened had Gallipoli succeeded. With more support from the West and with the key goal of a Russian-controlled Constantinople now achievable, the prestige of Tsarism would have been restored, the failure of 1905 wiped out. That is just one of many alternative histories that might have occurred.
In 1916, Britain might have agreed that the Great War had ended in a stalemate. This would have been fine if the intention was just to uphold civilised standards, and not to ruin Germany before Germany displaced Britain as the world’s strongest nation. But the ruin of Germany was the key war aim and was not abandoned in 1916, nor 1917 either.
The first Russian Revolution overthrew Tsarism and introduced a pro-Western government that is normally described as ‘moderate’. But carrying on with a ruinous war did not seem very moderate to the soldiers who were fighting it, which is why the Bolsheviks triumphed. People lost faith in the old order, because the old order had insisted on fighting a war that made no real sense.
Lloyd George led Britain to an expensive victory and an unworkable peace. In the process he destroyed the Liberal party and himself fell from power in 1922. Churchill fell with him, but bounced back in 1924 as a ‘Constitutionalist’, soon redefined as Tory. Baldwin as Tory leader unexpectedly made him Chancellor of the Exchequer, a higher post than he had ever held before. Lloyd George, by contrast, remained in the political wilderness, leader of one section of a diminished Liberal Party. He also expressed an enthusiasm for Hitler in the mid-1930s, though like many others he came back into line when the ruling class decided Hitler must be fought.
Churchill remained Chancellor until 1929, when Labour under the leadership of Ramsay Macdonald defeated the Tories. When Ramsay Macdonald split Labour and formed the ‘National Government’ with the Tories and the Liberal remnants, Churchill was one of several prominent Tories who were left out.
Recently the term ‘National Government’ with its semi-fascist overtones has been vanishing from the reference works. At the time it was used with pride, and Roy Jenkins is presumably old and distinguished enough to use it without regard for modern sensibilities. But in the Encyclopaedia Britannica 2002, it has become just a ‘coalition’, as if it were nothing new in peacetime politics.
In the 1930s, the bulk of the nation liked the National Government and gave it large majorities in elections where all adults living in Britain had the vote. Churchill was seen as a man whose time had past, someone who’d learned nothing and forgotten nothing since the 1910s, a man who had not adjusted to Britain’s loss of superpower status. It was only the rise of Nazism that brought him back.
There were several differing agendas among those Britons who permitted the rise of Nazism. There was naive pacifism, people who failed to realise the social order they were living in was not a natural phenomenon. There were a small number of right-wing eccentrics who approved of Nazi ideology as such. But the politically dominant force was those who thought that Hitler could be used and controlled as an anti-Communist champion. German rearmament would be fine if the new weapons were to be used just for the conquest of the Soviet Union.
Churchill and Chamberlain were following rival strategies, both of which failed. Churchill’s stand was based on the false belief that it was possible both to fight Hitler and to preserve the British Empire. Chamberlain understood rather more of how the world had changed since 1914, so he wanted to give up part of Britain’s power and position, so as to save the rest.
It has been occasionally noted that Churchill’s opposition to Hitler was not different in kind from his refusal to accept Dominion status for India, which might have preserved a kind of Empire for much longer than actually happened. It is useful now to hype his contribution against Hitler and ignore the degree to which Churchill was trying to preserve the fatally-weakened British hegemony.
Churchill was not an anti-Fascist, he rather approved of Mussolini, saying in the 1920s that the Italian Fascist movement had “rendered a service to the whole world”. (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1966 edition) And what he did at Tonypandy in 1910 broke a rule that had been established in 1688 and still holds today: that troops are never ever used in internal disputes on the British mainland.
In the Encyclopaedia Britannica DVD edition of 2002, the whole topic of Churchill and Mussolini is absent from the rewritten text. And while the 1966 edition speaks of him “calling in the military to aid the police in the Welsh miners strike in Tonypandy”, the current edition says that “he had to devote himself principally to coping with a sweeping wave of industrial unrest and violent strikes. Upon occasion his relish for dramatic action led him beyond the limits of his proper role as the guarantor of public order.” Clarity has been replaced by vagueness, troops and Tonypandy are no longer mentioned as such. And the Microsoft Encarta also dodges both topics, while citing an obituary from the Times which omits Churchill’s role as a strike-breaker.
The left has kept the memory of Tonypandy alive, quite properly, though some on the left have crapped up by exaggerated talk about ‘massacres’ which allows smooth-talking Tories to dismiss those claims and ignore the substantive issue.
Of course massacres are just as bad regardless of who they are applied to. Using troops against demonstrators outside of the British mainland was not at all unusual—the Amritsar Massacre against Indian nationalists in 1919, for instance. The man responsible was criticised by a Commission of Inquiry, but also praised by the House Of Lords. It was a willingness to apply the same methods back home that was seen differently, which is why I’d see Churchill as the man who’d have probably led a Fascist development in Britain had the ruling class seen it as necessary. (Sir Oswald Mosley was always marginal.)
Churchill as Home Secretary in 1910 was willing to use troops to support police who were protecting strike-breakers. The troops didn’t shoot anyone, but he had broken the existing understanding that there was one set of rules for mainland Britain and another for the British Empire (including Ireland). There had been breaches of this standard—Peterloo in 1819, and a handful of other incidents. But it was always a matter for protest, and the ruling class was always unhappy about taking things to such an extreme. But Churchill himself had small respect for existing rules when they got in his way.
In the 1920s, Churchill approved of Mussolini and Italian Fascism because he had been prepared to do much the same in Britain, if it had been necessary. He opposed Hitler as part of the same anti-German struggle that he had helped launch in 1914. It was only later that mainstream opinion chose to re-define the war as anti-Fascist, at a time when Germans were needed as Cold War allies.
You’ll find very little about Churchill’s 1920s support for Mussolini in most histories—Roy Jenkins’s huge biography skips over it in just one sentence. Fortunately there are other sources:
“Mussolini had another ardent English admirer, whose name is known universally, and who, while holding a seat in the British Cabinet, went on pilgrimage to Rome to express his admiration two years after the murder of Matteotti, when the character of the Fascist regime was well established. Here is the account of that pilgrimage which appeared in the Times on 21st January, 1927:
“‘Mr. Churchill On Fascism.
“‘Antidote to Soviet Poison.’
“(From Our Own Correspondent)
“Rome, Jan 20
“‘Before leaving for London by the mid-day train to-day, Mr. Churchill received representatives of the Italian and foreign Press. Mr. Churchill informed his audience that he had prepared what he, an ex-journalist, considered the questions and answers most likely to help them in their work, and that a typed copy of this would be given to whomsoever desired one. The following are extracts in his own words from the impressions made upon him by a week’s visit to Italy.
“‘You will naturally ask me about the interviews I have had with Italian statesmen and in particular with Signor Mussolini and Count Volpe. Those interviews were purely formal and of a general character. It is a good thing in modern Europe for public men in different countries to meet on a friendly and social basis and form personal impressions of one another. It is one of the ways in which international suspicion may be diminished and frank and confident relations maintained.
“‘I could not help being charmed, like so many other people have been, by Signor Mussolini’s gentle and simple bearing and by his calm detached poise in spite of so many burdens and dangers. Secondly, anyone could see that he thought of nothing but the lasting good, as he understands it, of the Italian people, and that no lesser interest was of the slightest consequence to him.
“‘I am sure that I am violating no confidence when I say that a large part of my conversation with Signor Mussolini and with Count Volpe turned on the economic position of the Italian wage earner… I was very glad to have it proved to me by facts and figures that there is a definite improvement month by month over the preceding year…
“‘I have heard a great deal about your new law of corporations which, I am told, directly associates twenty millions of active citizens with the State and obliges the State to undertake very direct responsibilities in regard to these dependents. Such a movement is of the deepest interest, and its results will be watched in every country. It will certainly require the utmost good will and cooperation of all the people, as well as the wise and clear guidance of the State. But at any rate, in the face of such a system, ardently accepted, it is quite absurd to suggest that the Italian Government does not rest upon popular bases or that it is not upheld by the active and practical assent of the great masses.
“‘If I had been an Italian I am sure that I should have been wholeheartedly with you from the start to finish in your triumphant struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism. But in England we have not had to fight this danger in the same deadly form. We have our way of doing things. But that we should succeed in grappling with Communism and choking the life out of it-of that I am absolutely sure.
“‘I will, however, say a word on the international aspect of Fascismo. Externally, your movement has rendered a service to the whole world. The great fear which has always beset every democratic leader or working-class leader has been that of being undermined or overbid by someone more extreme than he: It seems that a continued progression to the Left, a sort of inevitable landslide into the abyss was characteristic of all revolutions. Italy has shown that there is a way of fighting the subversive forces which can rally the mass of the people, properly led, to value and wish to defend the honour and stability of civilised society. She has provided the necessary antidote to the Russian poison. Hereafter, no great nation will be unprovided with the ultimate means of protection against cancerous growths, and every responsible labour leader in every country ought to feel his feet more firmly planted in resisting levelling and reckless doctrines. The great mass of people love their country and are proud of its flag and history. They do not regard these as incompatible with a progressive advance towards social justice and economic betterment.’” (The Times, 21st January, 1927.) Republished here from The Reason For Irish Neutrality, by Brendan Clifford, included in the publication of Elizabeth Bowen’s Notes On Eire, Aubane Historical Society 1999.
Roy Jenkins manages just one bland phrase about Churchill’s whole-hearted support for Mussolini, in a book of some 900 pages with many detailed examinations of Churchill’s words and deeds. He does at least take note of the matter, which most other ‘experts’ do not. But all he says is that Churchill had “two encounters with Mussolini in Rome, after which he issued much too friendly statements”. Even this is buried in a paragraph dealing with other matters: Churchill’s support for Mussolini may be a fact, but Roy Jenkins was not going to let it be elevated to the status of fact of history, a truth that forms part of the general world view.
Born in Abersychan, the son of a miners’ union official and Labour member of Parliament, he ended his life as Baron Jenkins of Hillhead and had totally absorbed a 1950s version of the ruling class viewpoint. Though I have no great regard for former House Of Commons Speaker George Thomas, he did make a point of sorts by becoming Viscount Tonypandy. Jenkins preferred to celebrate Glasgow Hillhead, which returned him as an MP during his time as leader of the Social Democrats.
Jenkins does say quite a lot about Churchill’s 1910 actions as Home Secretary during the confrontations at Tonypandy—he’s several decades ‘off-message’ and doesn’t know that it’s supposed to be forgotten about. But even on this matter he is ‘much too friendly’ to behaviour by Churchill that was seen as outrageous even in the much rougher and more hierarchical world of the 1910s.
Jenkins treats Churchill’s anti-left hysteria as if it were an amusing oddity, not as part of a formidable system of global imperialism that unexpectedly blundered itself into oblivion. Such mildness and consensus-building made a certain amount of sense in the 1950s and 1960s, when the Tories had accepted the Labour reforms of 1945-50. But it was based on a smug belief that the post-1945 order was eternal and that the Churchillian mythology could not be used to overturn it, as Thatcher was later to do.
Churchill in his second government from 1950-55 led the way in accepting that times had changed and that the Tories should only alter secondary matters. While this consensus held, it was sensible enough to keep Churchill as a figure of ‘national unity’. But that consensus broke up in the 1980s, with the Tories under Thatcher presenting Labour as betrayers of the great heritage left to them by Churchill. Under such circumstances, Churchill must be put back in his true context as a defender of lost causes, with even less connection to the world of the 1980s than to the world of the 1950s.
Jenkins does at least mention that he was seen as a possible British Mussolini in the 1930s, a much more serious and popular figure than Sir Oswald Mosley. He documents Churchill’s failed attempts to form a ‘King’s Party’ during the 1936 crisis over Edward 8th. Jenkins takes it for granted that these were unimportant jolts in a process that was anyway going to produce the world Jenkins was familiar with. Myself, I see this as doubtful, Britain in the 1920s and 1930s could have gone lots of different ways.
It so happened that Churchill picked the wrong issue when he supported the royal rights of Edward 8th. The natural monarchists were not going to stand up for the right of the king to marry an American woman who was in the middle of discarding her second husband. Divorce in those days carried the same sort of stigma that homosexuality carries today, and the British Queen and presumed mother of a future monarch had to be beyond reproach.
The abdication was a piece of monumental selfishness by a foolish fellow, which however had better results than a respectably married King Edward 8th doing what he’d have seen as his ‘public duty’. His sympathies lay in the fascist camp, and as Duke of Windsor he caused a lot of embarrassment by remaining friendly to Hitler long after most other leading Britons had eaten their words and buried their former opinions.
A lot of Churchill’s former opinions also needed to be buried, and not just his friendship with Mussolini. The Churchill you didn’t know (Guardian, 28th November) misses the Mussolini connection, but gives some useful quotes about Churchill’s other true views:
“I do not admit… that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America, or the black people of Australia… by the fact that a stronger race, a higher grade race… has come in and taken its place.” (Churchill to Palestine Royal Commission, 1937)
“The unnatural and increasingly rapid growth of the feeble-minded and insane classes, coupled as it is with a steady restriction among all the thrifty, energetic and superior stocks, constitutes a national and race danger which it is impossible to exaggerate… I feel that the source from which the stream of madness is fed should be cut off and sealed up before another year has passed.” (Churchill to Asquith, 1910)
“I do not understand the squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poisonous gas against uncivilised tribes.”
The Churchill you didn’t know fails to point out that when Saddam Hussein gassed the Kurds, he was following British precedent in bombing them. (And Evelyn Waugh warmly endorsed the Italian use of poison gas in their conquest of Abyssinia, which repelled even hardened imperialists.) It correctly includes Churchill’s well-known remarks about Ghandi as “a seditious Middle Temple lawyer”. But in the same 1931 speech he says:
“The Indian Congress and other elements in this agitation represent neither the numbers, the strength nor the virtue of the Indian people. They merely represent those Indians who have acquired a veneer of Western civilisation, and have read all those books about democracy which Europe is now beginning increasingly to discard.”
If he isn’t saying that democracy is out of date, then just what is he saying? Churchill admired Mussolini, and was later to admire Stalin. He operated within a democracy and never saw any good reason to wish it overthrown. He told the voters the things they wanted to hear. But he also regretted the loss of the pre-1914 system of an oligarchy treated with respect by voters who were mostly middle-class or respectable working class.
Most successful dictators come from the military or from the left, two areas where you learn the different between social conventions and social realities. In Britain the elements never quite gelled as a recognisable fascism, though they came close. I’d credit a lot to the mixture of toughness and moderation shown by Baldwin as leader of the Tory party, and to a British political system that allowed Prime Ministers to be real leaders.
A lot depends on whether the leader of a democracy is allowed to lead. Adenauer in Weimar Germany remained as mayor of Cologne, sensibly refusing to try to be Chancellor in the weak Weimar Republic, which had been treated as a lackey and victim by the Western powers. Only in the very different circumstance of West Germany in 1949 did Adenauer show his effectiveness, in a government that Britain and America were then determined to support.
In Britain in the 1930s, you had a party system strong enough to keep government coherent. The sort of crisis that might have swept Churchill to power never happened in peacetime.
Despite which, surely Churchill saw the evil of Nazism well ahead of everyone else, finally leading Britain as a champion of Jews and other oppressed peoples in Europe? Again, no, this is not what happened.
Hitler is always seen with hindsight, and so is Churchill. But when Hitler came to power in 1933, his proposed solution to the ‘Jewish Problem’ was a kind of Apartheid, with Jews pushed back to a modern version of their 18th century separation. There was no expectation that large numbers of Jews could be driven out of Germany, and mass murder was not even thought about.
In the wider world, Hitler was out to restore Germany and wipe out the humiliations of Versailles. He knew that many people in Britain and France now accepted that they’d acted foolishly. And many in the West saw Hitler as their champion against German Communism, even as the future destroyer of the Soviet Union.
The key change was when Hitler used the long-standing divisions between Czechs and Slovaks to break up Czechoslovakia and put the Czech half under total German control as a protectorate. This was not obviously worse than the original agreement, nor a clear reason for starting a war that would cost millions of lives. But Munich had been a British and French concession and this was a German action regardless of their wishes. As the French ‘Yellow Book’ on the fall of Czechoslovakia put it:
“On the very morrow of the Munich Agreement, it was clear that beyond the Rhine this Agreement was taken to imply a free hand for Germany in Central and Eastern Europe, and, as a corollary, relative renunciation of their interests in these regions by the Western Powers.”
Churchill’s judgement from very early on was that Hitler was reviving the pre-1914 German and Austro-Hungarian Empires, and was therefore more immediately dangerous than the Soviet Union. It was the same logic that had led him to seek a war with Germany from at least 1911, even though Germany was then a constitutional monarchy and had much that he’d have liked to borrow for Britain. Churchill also expressed regret that the Kaiser and the Austro-Hungarian Empires had gone. He preferred the era when the Hapsburgs in Austria kept the peace amidst ethnic rivalries and favoured the Jews as modernisers of their backward Empire.
It was not Nazi politics that shocked Churchill, religion as such meant little to him, just a slogan to feed the electorate. He was willing to mention Nazi neo-paganism as a debating point and set himself up as the defender of ‘Christian civilisation’—Jews were expected to remain quietly marginal, and the large numbers of Hindu and Muslim soldiers used by the British Empire in both World Wars were barely acknowledged. The key to power in Churchill’s day was a predominantly white and Christian electorate in Britain and the Dominions, though the slaughter of the First World War had rather damaged the claim of ‘Christian civilisation’ to be the upholder of the world’s most advanced values.
It is probably not an accident that the Nazis and Soviets each used a kind of distorted cross, swastika and hammer-and-sickle, symbols with very different antecedents. Actually existing ‘Christian civilisation’ had engaged in senseless self-slaughter in the 1914-18 war, with most churches on both sides encouraging the process. People were disgusted by the reality, and yet still hankering after old forms. Global Leninism in particular offered an outlet for the most idealistic members of a ruling class that had been raised and trained to run the British Empire, which no longer seemed a cause worthy of their idealism. In the post-1945 world, Christianity has regained some respectability but also lost most of its grip on human emotions, at least in Europe.
All of that was unforeseeable in the 1930s, when Churchill’s real concern was that Europe might unify under German leadership. But this was not the mainstream British view. The Tory/National Government vision of the future was of shared power, accepting implicitly that the First World War had been an error.
Between Chamberlain’s betrayal of Czechoslovakia at Munich in 1938 and the guarantee to Poland in 1939, key elements within the ruling elite changed their minds. British sources are definite that the key moment was Hitler’s creation of a ‘protectorate’ over the Czech lands. Hitler’s Germany was suddenly seen as reconstituting the Prussian and Austrian empires, which made him too strong:
“This annexation of 6,000,000 Czechs in Bohemia-Moravia, under the guise of a German protectorate, increased greatly Europe’s fears of Hitler’s aggressive intentions in Eastern Europe, and showing the faithlessness of his promise after the Munich Agreement that he had no more territorial ambitions in Europe… departing from his earlier statements that he was only seeking to bring into the Reich persons of German speech and culture.” (Entry for Germany, Encyclopaedia Britannica Book Of The Year 1940)
A similar judgement was arrived at by a French diplomat stationed in Prague:
“German leaders intended above all to draw a frontier which would deprive Czechoslovakia of all her natural defences and fortifications, and would reduce her to complete military impotence. Indeed, the boundaries which the Prague Government had to accept in October  meant the inclusion of 850,000 Czechs within the Reich…The Munich agreements, therefore, were for the Nazi rulers nothing but a means of disarming Czechoslovakia before annexing it. It would, perhaps, be going rather far to assert that the Führer had conceived this project even at Munich. What is beyond all doubt is that, by annexing under threat of arms the provinces of Bohemia and Moravia, the Government of the Reich, a signatory to the September agreements, is guilty of a breach of trust, of a real act of treachery to the co-signatory States, particularly the Czech Government which, trusting in the word of the Great Powers, had resigned itself to handing over the Sudeten territories. It was in the name of this ethnographical principle that the Reich had obtained the return of three and a half million Germans in September. It is in contempt of this principle that it annexes eight million Czechs today, left defenceless by the handing over of the Sudeten territory.” (http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/wwii/yellow/ylbkmenu.htm, The Avalon Project at Yale Law School: The French Yellow Book. Emphasis added.)
Note, incidentally, that the French count two million more Czechs than the British are aware of. This forms a sensible reference point for the disputes over how many Jews were eventually killed by the Nazi system, but that’s another topic. The point at issue in March 1939 was:
”It is the principle of the right of peoples to self-determination that Germany now invokes in support of the independence (in any case purely illusory) of Slovakia, but this same right is refused to the Carpatho-Ukrainians abandoned to Hungary, and to the Czechs who have been forcibly incorporated in the Reich…
”Nazi Germany has now thrown aside the mask. Until now, she has denied the charge of imperialism. She asserted that her only wish was to re-unite as far as possible all the Germans of Central Europe in one family, to the exclusion of aliens. Today, it is clear that the Führer’s thirst for domination knows no limit.
”It is equally clear that all hopes of opposing to the Führer any arguments other than those of force are in vain. The Third Reich has the same contempt as the Empire of Wilhelm II for treaties and pledges. Germany remains the country of “scraps of paper.”…
”On the very morrow of the Munich Agreement, it was clear that beyond the Rhine this Agreement was taken to imply a free hand for Germany in Central and Eastern Europe, and, as a corollary, relative renunciation of their interests in these regions by the Western Powers. Germany had understood, or pretended to have understood, that at Munich France and England had wished above all to prevent recourse to force, but that for the rest they were resigned to Germany’s will prevailing in countries in which neither Paris nor London could effectively intervene. The Munich Agreement, completed by the Anglo-German and Franco-German declarations, meant in Germany’s eyes the right for the Reich to organize Central and South-Eastern Europe as she wished, with the tacit approval or at least the complaisance of the great Western Powers. For months this version found daily expression in the great German newspapers, officially inspired, as the reports from the Embassy have often shown.” (Ibid, emphasis added.)
This may well have been an irrational judgement. The same diplomat describes a long-running Slovak nationalism that existed regardless of Germany’s wishes. You could argue that Czechoslovakia broke up in much the same way as it did in the 1990s and that Hitler still wanted Poland as an ally in a war against the Soviet Union.
To Hitler the matter may have seemed very different than it looked to Chamberlain, who actually boasted of his ignorance of Middle-Europe, ‘distant peoples of whom we know little’. In mediaeval times, Bohemia and Moravia had been part of the ‘Holy Roman Empire of the Germanic People’, as were parts of North Italy. The claim to Italy was long forgotten, but to a German with a sense of history, Bohemia and Moravia were different in kind from other Slavonic lands that had been conquests of the Hapsburg and Hohenzollern dynasties. A lot of what’s now German had been taken by conquest and assimilation from vanished and near-forgotten Slavonic people. The same nearly happened to Bohemia and Moravia, which remained a kind of enclave amidst German-speakers. If you draw a straight line between Vienna and Berlin, you’ll find Prague to the west of it.
Versailles-Czechoslovakia was a mix of many elements. East to west there were Sudeten Germans, Czechs, Slovaks and Ruthenians, as well as somewhat-Polish areas to the north and somewhat-Hungarian regions to the south. The inclusion of the Carpathian-Ruthenians was a particular oddity, they had little obvious connection to Czechs and had been ruled as part of Hungary. Among those included in Czechoslovakia by this odd arrangement was Robert Maxwell. He’s normally described as a Czech who fled Hitler and acquired British nationality. But he was born a Carpathian-Ruthenian Jew, in a territory then ruled by Hungary but also claimed as Ukrainian. That’s how mixed and complex the territory was.
After Germany was given the Sudeten Germans, Poland took its chunk, and then the Vienna Awards turned over a slice of Slovak and Ruthenian territories to Hungary. This was a major cause of Slovak discontent: they’d got no positive benefit from Czech ‘protection’. So in March 1939, with German permission, the Slovaks seceded, after which the Hungarians took Carpathian-Ruthenia and the Germans established a protectorate over the Czech lands.
Hitler showed a surprising honesty about what he’d done. The Slovaks could have got effective independence through a federal arrangement, and the Czechs were already a protectorate in practice. But he chose to do it openly, without apparently realising that the British and French would see it as a direct challenge to their status as global powers. Czech military and economic potential was now 100% under Hitler’s control—which was not true of self-governing portions of the British Empire.
It was not any concern for the welfare of Czechs, Poles or Jews that caused Britain’s sudden reversal of the ruling-class attitude to Hitler: it was purely power-political.
Both Czechs and Slovaks stayed on the sidelines during the war itself, and then expelled the Sudeten Germans when the allies restored most of Versailles-Czechoslovakia. The Ruthenian portion was absorbed into the Ukraine, where it remains now that Czechs and Slovaks have once again gone their separate ways.
Hitler may have intended to remain just a nationalist and viewed his takeover of Bohemia and Moravia as a special case, not to be repeated. Perhaps the original deal could have gone through: that is one of history’s unknowns. What is definite is that key elements in the British ruling class decided that appeasement had not produced the intended results and that another anti-German war was necessary. But given the widespread anti-war feeling, a suitable pretext had to be found. Poland, Hitler’s sometimes ally, was talked into providing that pretext.
Hitler had made the Poles an offer they shouldn’t have refused, the best revision of the Versailles frontiers that any German government was likely to accept short of another war. But being Poles, they did refuse it and accepted the useless guarantees of Britain and France, who had missed the chance to fight over Czechoslovakia.
Britain and France could still have made an alliance with the Soviet Union, even though the Poles very sensibly refused to have Russian troops on their soil. Would Hitler have started a war if Britain, France and Russia had been united against him? The suspicion must be that Britain and France still hoped to use Hitler to destroy the Soviet Union, while stopping him from dominating Eastern Europe. What they didn’t realise was that this would also give Stalin and Hitler a common interest in not fighting while the West was still there to attack the victor.
Britain and France were also slow to fight for the Poles: the early inaction on the Western Front was known in Britain as the ‘Phoney War’. It was authentic and terrible for the Poles, who lost their independence without Britain and France doing except collect Polish soldiers and airmen for their own side of the war. Which is why I’d see the ‘guarantee’ as a means to get an anti-German war started, without expectation that Poland would last.
Which is not to say that they expected Poland to fall so quickly, at so little cost to Germany or so big a cost to the Poles. Still, the ‘guarantee’ was as dishonest as all of Chamberlain’s previous foreign politics, an attempt to preserve Britain’s global authority without paying the full price. And the Poles paid heavily for trusting Britain and France: the nationalist development begun by Pilsudski was cut short and has not been resumed.
(When Lech Walesa became president it seemed as if it were being resumed, and the survivors of the Polish government-in-exile handed on to him their heritage. But he’s marginal now, an ex-Communist is President and absorption into the European Union is the policy, with the Polish peasantry likely to be big losers. Poland is moving from one block to another, with US approval, and cannot easily try anything else.)
Back in 1939, Chamberlain and the National Government were expecting a war with Germany, assuming that he did not respect their guarantee to Poland. Hitler could have decided to forget about Poland and invade Russia via Hungary and Romania, Hungary was keen on an alliance. But that’s not what happened, and Britain found itself at war, with Churchill brought back as First Sea Lord in Chamberlain’s government. Which didn’t mean that the governing Tories agreed with Churchill or trusted him; they blamed him for the disaster at Gallipoli in the First World War and distrusted the policies he had pursued during the 1930s. It was only during the war that he became the national rallying point. And only after the war was he held up as the main man outside of the left who had taken an acceptable stand against Nazism.
But was it an anti-Nazi war, in which Germany would be welcome back as soon as it returned to normal politics? Or was it an anti-German war, a determination to finally break the power of this inconvenient Central-European rival to British, French and American power?
If Germany had been offered in 1943 or 1944, the terms that West Germany actually got after the war, Hitler would have been overthrown and the war would have ended much sooner. Many lives would have been saved, including poor little Anna Franck, who lasted in German captivity till March 1945. Had the intention been to destroy Nazism and then welcome Germany back into normal politics, the war could have been ended much more quickly and cheaply. But to Churchill, that would have been the ruin of his whole life’s work.
World War Two had always been understood by Churchill as an anti-German war, with the intention of ending the threat to British interests that had begun with Bismarck’s unification in 1871. From early 1939 to maybe 1947, the dominant Western view was that Germany had to be destroyed and Russia was a useful ally. Only when they saw how Stalin was accumulating power in Eastern Europe and how Communism was advancing worldwide did they switch again, deciding that it had been an anti-Fascist war and that the West Germans were noble and freedom-loving allies who must be helped to rebuild.
It was only an anti-Fascist war because Fascist Italy under Mussolini was inconveniently loyal to the German alliance. It hadn’t always been so: there was a time when Mussolini supported Austria and the authoritarian but anti-Nazi Chancellor Dollfuss in his resistance to Nazism and attempts at Austro-German unity. Poland and Hungary had joined Germany in pulling apart Versailles-Czechoslovakia. Hungary was seen as a hopeless case, only Hitler was likely to let them recover territories which had large numbers of Hungarian inhabitants and which arguably should have become part of the new state when the Hapsburg Empire was divided. Hungary was seen as a committed enemy, but Poland was won over to an alliance with Britain and France against Germany.
Hitler in the 1930s was in alliance with three systems of right-wing authoritarianism: Italy, Japan and Poland. Poland was persuaded to become the excuse for an Anglo-French war on Germany. In 1940, there was reason to hope that Italy might copy Poland’s example, repudiating its German alliance just as it had in the First World War:
“The invasion of Poland seems to have been made against the advice of Italy. It marked the weakening, or perhaps even the breaking, of the Berlin-Rome Axis. The German-Soviet pact also proved a bitter disillusionment to Hitler. It destroyed further any faith in his sincerity, because it was a complete reversal of his whole previous policy; for years he had been denouncing the Russian Communists as the worst enemies of mankind… Hitler appears to have been duped by Stalin… The Russian dictator took advantage of Hitler’s war with Poland, France and Germany to secure imperialist advantages for Russia.” (Entry for Germany, Encyclopaedia Britannica Book Of The Year 1940.)
It was not just in the Soviet Union that you never knew what was going to happen yesterday. After the German invasion of 1941, it become a ‘fact of history’ that Stalin had blundered with the German-Soviet pact. In 1940, the opposite was seen as true. The Britannica now classed Germany as “a totalitarian State or dictatorship, known as the Third Reich”, but Mussolini is still seen as a possible ally.
In the longer run, Fascist Italy did switch sides, though not until 1943, after the invasion of Sicily persuaded the ‘Grand Fascist Council’ to dismiss Mussolini. Under American influence, Italian politics then moved on from Fascism and became Christian-Democratic, which was actually quite effective despite gross corruption and despite a big influence from the Sicilian Mafia (which Mussolini had successfully suppressed and which the USA chose to restore to power).
In 1939-40, some Britons felt that Fascism had let them down by not sharing their dedicated anti-Communism. The new alignment was seen as outrageous, though it was less close than the Tory alignment with European fascism has been, or than the British-Soviet alliance was to become when only the Soviet Union was capable of holding back the German Wehrmacht. But this was an undreamt-of future in 1939-40, when Britain and France still looked stronger than Germany and its allies. Fascism was now:
“A political philosophy which puts the nation-state or the race, its power and growth, into the centre of life and history…
“Even in the democratic countries many conservatives had viewed with great favour the rise to power of fascism and national socialism and had supported them as fighters against communism and against the Soviet Union. Now all pretence of fighting communism or the Soviet Union was dropped by national socialists.” (Ibid.)
It was in March 1939 that Britain and France decided that it was a three-cornered struggle between the West, Nazism and Communism. Churchill already saw it so, and tried to persuade Chamberlain that his guarantees to countries east of Germany were meaningless without an agreement with the Soviet Union. This was not the majority view, nor was there much Western concern about ‘far off people of whom we know little’. What mattered to the leaders of the British and French Empires was the way in which Germany had been strengthened:
“Autarchy, excessive re-armament, great public works require a labour strength above that which the Reich itself could provide. There was a shortage of a million and a half labourers in industry and agriculture. In these circumstances, it was hard to see how Germany could, in the event of general mobilization, meet the increased labour demands and fill the gaps left by the men called to the colours. The Czechs, considered unworthy to bear arms, will provide the 5,000,000 workers which Germany needed for such an emergency.” (French Yellow Book on the fall of Czechoslovakia.)
“In view of the impulsive character of the Nazi leaders, the state of mental intoxication in which the Führer must be at present and the irritation and alarm caused in Germany by the rearmament of the democracies and by the attitude of America, I consider that we must proceed without delay to the industrial mobilization of the country, as secretly and as intensively as possible.” (Ibid.)
The war against Hitler is credited to Winston Churchill. But it was Chamberlain and other leaders of the ‘National Government’ who decided that Britain had to fight another world war, or else admit that they’d lost the battle for world domination. He brought in Churchill to run the admiralty, the most militant of a nine-man War Cabinet that included two Lords, three knights—and no shining armour.
The issue that caused the war was not the ill-treatment of Jews, but Germany’s decision to take more than they had been given by Britain and France at Munich. The mass killing of Jews and of other ‘racial enemies’ began after Britain refused to admit defeat after the Fall of France. And that in turn followed from the British and French guarantee to Poland. This was given after Germany’s annexation of the reduced Czech lands, which convinced mainstream British opinion that a war was necessary.
The Munich Agreement was based on a British and French assumption that ‘Herr Hitler’ was a right-wing nationalist intent on reuniting the Germans and pushing out those he defined as non-German. It was accepted that the Munich Agreement went rather beyond the actual ethnic divide, this could be seen as including as large a territory for your own nation as seemed feasible. Beyond that, it was assumed that Hitler wanted a war on Soviet Russia, but the centre-right in Britain and France assumed he’d do this as leader of an alliance of anti-Communists, not as some new Emperor of Europe. And it had worked in Spain: even Churchill had approved of the German and Italian interventions that overthrew a democratically-elected government of the left.
All through the 1930s, the dominant British view was that Nazi Germany was acceptable and even useful, definitely much better than the Communist alternative. The British film authorities had threatened to ban Chaplin’s The Great Dictator when it was first proposed. And Hollywood producers, who were mostly Jewish, had refused to make anything criticising Nazism in its early days. When produced, The Great Dictator fitted the much-altered British establishment line, but it was banned in the Irish Free State. The difference was that the ruling circles in Britain had decided in 1939 that Hitler was not in fact good for them. People in the Irish Free State would have agreed that Hitler was not good for Britain, but saw no reason to change on that account. The Free State was accused sometimes of being pro-Fascist; the correct answer would be, ‘no more than Winston Churchill was’.
Up until early 1939—and despite the mass attacks on Jews in ‘Kristallnacht’ in November 1938—the British government was very willing to ‘do business’ with Hitler. The assumption then was that Germany would be content to be Continental Europe’s strongest nation, and not become an empire strengthened by the incorporation of the various non-German states of Eastern Europe. Hitler’s other policies—including state-sponsored persecution of Jews—were accepted as part of normal politics. The Encyclopaedia Britannica Book Of The Year 1939—prepared in late 1938—wrote from a confident assumption that Chamberlain had scored a grand success:
“His dramatic flights to Germany during the Czechoslovak crisis of September, when he was widely hailed as the Savour of the Peace, undoubtedly eclipsed his other achievements… His cabinet easily survived the resignations of Mr Eden (Feb. 20) and Lord Swinton (May 16); but some restiveness became apparent in the country through the continued bombing of British ships in Spanish waters (despite the Anglo-Italian Agreement of April 16)… the resignation of Mr Duff Cooper, First Lord of the Admiralty… the general trend of the post-Munich by-elections suggested, however, that there was no general wish for Mr Chamberlain’s supersession.”
The Munich agreement almost led to Hitler getting the Nobel Peace Prize, as mentioned by Tariq Ali in The Guardian December 7th 2002. There was of course a lot of sympathy for Nazism in Sweden at the time, but really no more than there was in Britain before 1939. The Britannica takes a view of Hitler and Churchill that would soon be unthinkable. Winston Churchill has no entry of his own, and comes second to Eden in the entry for Hitler:
“[Hitler] continued with great success his policy of national expansion, though this was directed, not to the re-acquisition of colonies, but to the absorption of expatriated Germans, those on Italian soil excepted, and by the expatriation, in so far as this was possible, of non-Aryan nationals…
“Herr Hitler delivered two further speeches of importance… memorable, from the British point of view, for its attack on Mr Eden, Mr Winston Churchill, and Mr Duff Cooper, and the second… drew a comparison between the authoritarian states and the democracies, to the great disadvantage of the latter.
“Early in the year Herr Hitler had made some efforts to stem the wave of anti-Semitism that threatened the country, but its effect was slight, and was entirely obliterated after the murder of the German diplomatist, vom Rath, in Paris by a crazed young Polish Jew in November.” (Encyclopaedia Britannica Book Of The Year 1939.)
The whole attitude of this highly respected reference work was very different from what would become the norm a year or two later. The claim nowadays is that Britain was repelled by Hitler yet also terrified, with the single bold exception of Churchill. The reality, easily found in mainstream publications of the time, is that Hitler was seen as dangerous but not necessarily hostile, potentially a useful friend. P. G. Woodhouse got into terrible trouble when he made some radio broadcasts as an ‘enemy alien’ imprisoned in Germany, and was guilty of taking the same view of Germany in 1940 that most of the British ruling class had taken in 1938.
Britons after the war couldn’t readily say that they went to war to save Eastern Europe from the Nazis, given that the Soviets were then running it. Nor could they say in the 1950s that it was to save the British Empire, because the Empire had obviously not been saved. It was convenient to pretend that it was Hitler’s treatment of the Jews which turned Britons against him, but it wasn’t true. For as long as Britain’s influence in Eastern Europe seemed to be respected by Germany, anti-Semitic extremism didn’t get in the way of ‘business as usual’.
In 1939, there was no huge gap between the treatment of Jews in Germany and the treatment of Jews in Poland and other East European nations. William L Shirer’s The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich is ‘economical with the truth’ in his account of the assassination that sparked the infamous ‘Kristallnacht’ and mass arrests of Jews:
“On November 7, a seventeen-year-old German Jewish refugee by the name of Herschel Grynszpan shot and mortally wounded the third secretary of the German Embassy in Paris, Ernst vom Rath. The youth’s father had been among ten thousand Jews deported to Poland in boxcars shortly before… he went to the German Embassy intending to kill the ambassador… the young third secretary was sent out to see what he wanted and was shot… [vom Rath] had been shadowed by the Gestapo as a result of his anti-Nazi attitudes.”
The ‘crazed young Polish Jew’ of the Britannica Book Of The Year 1939 is now a German Jewish refugee. What Shirer omits is the Polish attitude:
“At the end of October many thousands of Jews of Polish nationality living in Germany were expelled at a few hours’ notice and transported to the frontier. Only a very few were admitted into Poland, the rest being either taken back to Germany or compelled to stay in no-man’s land.” (Encyclopaedia Britannica Book Of The Year 1939.)
Polish Jews were not wanted in either Germany or Poland. The West after 1945 liked to present Poland as a decent democratic victim, first of Hitler and then Stalin. The truth was less cosy:
“In Poland, no striking new developments took place, except a law prohibiting ritual slaughter, and another law enabling the government to revoke the Polish citizenship of people who had not lived in Poland for a considerable time. There were frequent anti-Jewish riots, particularly in the universities, and a general anti-Semitic trend in policy.” (Ibid.).
I had to go to the web to get a fuller picture (found at http://www.roizen.com/ron/grynszpan.htm):
“Grynszpan’s father, mother, sister and brother–who were still living in Hannover–were suddenly removed from their home and transported by the Nazi Gestapo to the Polish frontier town of Zbaszyn on the rail line between Berlin and Warsaw… along with some twelve to seventeen thousand other German-resident Polish Jews… caught between two competing antisemitisms, one German and the other Polish. The German government was trying to deport all Jews of Polish origin living inside Germany in response to a decree of 16 October 1938 issued by the Polish government. The Polish decree threatened to deprive Polish citizens living in Germany of their Polish passports, and thus the right to return to Poland. The Polish measure was widely regarded as an action directed primarily at Jews. The decree was believed by the Germans to allow only two weeks for passports to be checked and reaffirmed. The Germans, fearing that thousands of Polish Jews were about to be marooned in Germany, turned the tables on the Poles and rapidly deported Jews with Polish citizenship.“
Grynszpan’s reaction and its consequences is a textbook example of why assassination is a bad idea. But you have to understand his reasons. The same source explains:
“Grynszpan was a beleaguered 17-year-old refugee living with his aunt and uncle in Paris. He was born in Hannover, but since the age of 14 had moved frequently. His biography is an archetype of the plight of many Jews during those years. He could not find a place to live and work. At 14, he wanted to emigrate to Palestine…[Britain had stopped Jewish immigration there following Arab protests.]
“In October French police conducted an unsuccessful search for him. His German visa and Polish passport expired, Herschel had no country to which he could legitimately go.”
David Irving mentions the case in his book on Goebbels. Though some of his earlier books were useful corrective to ‘histories’ that were just expansions on Allied wartime propaganda, Irving’s judgement seems to have gone to pieces in the 1990s. What can one make of the following:
“Poland announced steps designed to keep the seventy thousand Polish Jews living abroad from returning; to forestall this ban, on October 28 the German police rounded up fifteen thousand Polish Jews and shunted them back across the border into Poland. This operation indirectly triggered the events that now followed, although there is some frail evidence that LICA, the Paris-based International League against Antisemitism… also had a hand in them. On November 7 a seventeen year old wastrel, a penniless illegal immigrant of Jewish-Polish extraction… gunned down the German official, Counsellor Ernst vom Rath.” (Goebbels: Mastermind of the Third Reich. 1996 edition, downloaded from Irving’s web site at http://www.fpp.co.uk/books/Goebbels/ .)
If Irving has sound reasons for his disagreements with the standard account, he ought to give them, and does not do so. And it is irrational to call Grynszpan a wastrel he was only 17 and never got a chance to settle down or be productive. There are rumours he survived the war, but he had been handed over to the SS after the Fall of France, and it seems most unlikely that the SS would have let him live when they killed so many other Jews who had done nothing specific to offend them. Irving treats a supposed post-war sighting as if it were a proven fact. And you need to burrow into the footnotes to find it mentioned that:
“The Polish Jew Herschel Feibel Grynszpan.. had run away from home in Germany in 1936 and drifted around Paris until Feb 1938 when his passport expired and the French ordered him out; he stayed on, lived underground. His parents were among the 15,000 Polish Jews hounded out of Germany in Oct 1938.”
Many countries in Europe were turning against Jews in those days. It wasn’t a matter of Fascism. George Orwell in a letter of 25 October 1947 mentions that “Mosley at the beginning had a regular bodyguard of Jewish prize-fighters. Fascism was not then thought of as antisemitic, and Mosley did not take up antisemitism until about 1933 or 1934.” And Italy, birthplace of Fascism, did not adjust to the Nazi model till rather later:
“In Italy, which had not known anti-Semitism for a long time, the fascist government suddenly turned anti-Semitic in July. All Jews who had settled in Italy after 1919 were ordered to leave by March,1939… All Jews with the exception of those who had some special distinction such as volunteers in any of the Italian wars, or early members of the Fascist party, were expelled from the Fascist Party.” (Encyclopaedia Britannica Book Of The Year 1939, entry for Antisemitism).
History had already changed by the following year, when Poland was a Western ally:
“The violent anti-Semitism which had reached its culmination in Germany in the events of Nov.1938 and in the ensuing legislation aiming at the complete dispossession and extermination of the Jews in Germany continued in 1939. Through Germany’s conquest of Czechoslovakia and Poland the spirit and measures of National Socialist anti-Semitism was spread to these two countries.” (Ibid., 1940.)
It is technically correct to say that ‘National Socialist anti-Semitism’ did not exist in Poland before its conquest. But a set of formally true statements can convey an untruth, and it’s hard to believe that this was not intended. Most non-Jewish Poles in the 1930s were antisemitic, they just weren’t National Socialists, which was a German creed. Poles had their own system of social nationalism, founded by Pilsudski, whose had been prominent in the pre-1914 Socialist International.
It is also misleading to bracket Poland with Czechoslovakia, which had few Jews and little anti-Semitism. There were maybe 120,000 Jews in Bohemia and Moravia, 2% of the population, though there were rather more in other parts of pre-war Czechoslovakia.
Reinventing the history of Fascism and antisemitism went along with a reassessment of Churchill. I mentioned earlier how Churchill was treated as minor character in the Encyclopaedia Britannica Book Of The Year 1939, no more significant politically in that era than Lord Tebbit is today. But by late 1939—when the Encyclopaedia Britannica Book Of The Year 1940 was prepared—Churchill was back as First Lord of the Admiralty, busy organising a second Gallipoli with his bungled invasion of Norway. The encyclopaedic verdict on him is now:
“An outspoken opponent.. of Prime Minister Chamberlain’s conciliatory dealings with Germany and Italy. He was singled out by the German press and by Nazi officials for vitriolic attacks… In October 1 he made a bid for Russia’s friendship or neutrality, and praised Italy as a ‘great and friendly nation’.” (Encyclopaedia Britannica Book Of The Year 1940.)
Mysteriously, the blame for failure in Norway fell upon Chamberlain, and there were calls for Churchill to replace him. The Labour Party had mixed feelings, Jenkins’s biography notes how some of them would have preferred Lord Halifax, but they were definitely not going to serve under Chamberlain. But when Halifax refused the job, Churchill was the next most senior figure in the government and became Prime Minister, to some people’s dismay. At the start, a majority of Tories found him about as welcome as a crocodile in a swimming pool.
A lot of politicians wanted to make peace, even Churchill did not rule out the notion, but chose to carry on fighting. And the war became winnable for Britain, first when the Soviet Union survived invasion and then when Hitler chose to declare war on the USA after the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbour.
Roosevelt wanted to join the European war and save Britain, indeed. But a war between Japan and the USA might have remained quite separate from the war between Germany and the Anglo-Soviet alliance. Under the US constitution, only the US Congress can actually declare war, though most Presidents have managed to manipulate it, as Johnson was able to falsify facts to get the Gulf of Tonkin resolution expanding the Vietnam war.
A war in Europe against Nazi Germany would have required a US declaration of war, and possibly a commitment to destroy Japan first. But when Hitler declared war on a country he was in no position to attack, Roosevelt was free to give the European war priority.
There was actually peace between the Soviet Union and Japan till almost the end. Hitler wanted Japan to join in his anti-Soviet alliance, and a war in the Soviet Far East would have tied up resources that Stalin was able to transfer to his war against Hitler. Reasons are hard to fathom: Japan seems to have lost badly in a war between the Soviet Far East and Japanese-run Manchuria in the 1930s, also Japan may have been keen to prove on the battlefield the racial equality that Britain, France and the USA had refused to grant them at Versailles.
Regardless, Japan had not been a loyal ally to Nazi Germany, and Hitler could easily have said that it was not his war and that he wanted peace with the USA, which included many sympathisers with Nazism. It must have been the massive hubris of Hitler that led him to declaring war on the USA after Pearl Harbour. But perhaps December 1941, he thought that the Soviet Union was almost finished and that the opportunity to extend the war to the New World should not be missed.
With victory won—and with the old order in Britain replaced for ever by the 1945-50 Labour government—Churchill elevated to be the official hero of Britain’s struggle against the Fascist beast. Chamberlain was downgraded to be a well-meaning fool, and pro-Chamberlain Tories like Quintin Hogg and Sir Alec Douglas Hume were able to go on to have grand careers in what was now officially a Churchillian Tory Party.
This is only the first half of a study I’ve been working on for the last few months. The need was to counter the Establishment line, the repeated references to Britain’s supposed virtue in saving the world from Hitler. I’ve shown here that Britain’s National Government created most of the trouble by being unsure whether the Soviet Union or a revived Germany were the bigger threat to the British Empire. And shown in detail that mainstream Britain’s attitude to Hitler in 1938 was very different from what later British histories made it out to be.
For the ruling class, preserving the British Empire was the key issue. Given that the Empire was fatally damaged by the war, and by Britain’s consequent dependence on the USA, a mythological explanation was invented to make it seem less of a bungle. Chamberlain was presented as well-meaning but foolish, Churchill prescient, and the preservation of the Empire not an issue.
The Soviet Union was also at fault, but the Soviet Union is gone. The McLunatic Globalisers are eager to see that only the evil that the Soviets did shall live on after them, while everything good is credited to ‘Capitalist Democracy’. This magazine did condemn the Soviet Union when it was relevant, without ever having any illusions about the USA. We did not flatter the Soviets when they were mighty: nor will we join in the current game of heaping scorn on them now that they are fallen and no longer a source of power or prestige.
The small but real chance of avoiding a new Gulf War is reason enough to get the first half of my study into circulation as quickly as possible. Undermining the mythology of the British Empire is very relevant and necessary. Some of the basic facts are not known even to critics, whereas I have very little to add on the injustice, brutality and doubtful legality of how Iraq itself has been treated.
The second half of this study will conclude the study of World War Two by explaining how the Nazi genocide was simply a continuation of ideas that had been circulating in Britain and America for decades. You find it in the work of writers like Edgar Rice Boroughs and John Wyndham—neither of whom were hostile to Jews, of course. Indeed, it was the massive application of ‘race purification’ to an articulate and high-status group like the Jews that helped discredit it. Had Hitler just murdered Gypsies, Serbs, Communists, homosexuals, the congenitally disabled and the chronically sick, it would not have got the same attention and condemnation.
I’ll also be explaining why International Law is no more fitting to be counted on than an intervention by the Archangel Gabriel. And documenting ‘Britspeak’, the intentionally confusing terminology which creates an artificial distinction between the same practices and intentions when it’s ‘us’ or ‘them’. (We have submarines, they have U-boats. There was an Anglo-German agreement and a Nazi-Soviet Pact, etc.)
Finally, I will show the absurdity of NeoLiberal economic ideas. These characters build pseudo-rational algebraic models on the ludicrous assumption that people are motivated just by self-interest and not by a whole slew of other motivations besides.