Saturday, 4 February 2012

How Romania might have avoided Communism: Herbert Hoover speaks from the grave

Herbert Hoover speaks from the grave to argue in a scholarly work of history that American involvement in the Second World War was a disastrous blunder for which his successor Franklin Roosevelt is to be blamed and that Britain should also have avoided war. Romanians who without exception blame FDR and Churchill (completely unfairly) for Yalta will take Hoover's side. 

This is incredibly interesting but it has hardly been reviewed. A 100 page fragment of Macaulay’s projected  History of France got far more attention in the papers when it was published in 1974. One of the very few reviews of Hoover’s book is here.

Had France and England not gone to war far fewer people are likely to have died, although I suspect that Russia (whom all well informed people expected to fall in a couple of months) might still have defeated Germany. I loathe and despise Sir Oswald Mosley but I think he may have been right on one single thing, that going to war to preserve the balance of power in Europe was a mistake all along - in the Napoleonic Wars, in 1914 and in 1939. 

I have always suspected that Franklin Delano Roosevelt is not the hero he is portrayed as being but a Bad Thing but I have never studied his administration in any detail.  I would like to know more about Hoover who was a progressive Republican not at all like Calvin Coolidge (but Coolidge also deserves rehabilitation I imagine - after all a leader who does nothing is always to be admired).

I more and more begin to think that the Anglo-French guarantees to Poland and Romania in 1939 were  a mistake and Britain and France should have formed an alliance to defend themselves and let Eastern Europe go. But a very hard one to judge indeed. If FDR deliberately provoked Pearl Harbor he was the greatest villain unhanged and yet without Pearl Harbor and Hitler’s declaration of war on the USA Europe would have been either dominated by Stalin or Hitler. Counter-factual speculation is frowned on but Romanians who bitterly blame Roosevelt and Churchill for Yalta will probably side with Hoover. In any case as AJP Taylor said:

In 1938 Czechoslovakia was betrayed. In 1939 Poland was saved. Less than one hundred thousand Czechs died during the war. Six and a half million Poles were killed. Which was better—to be a betrayed Czech or a saved Pole? 
(A. J. P. Taylor, The Origins of the Second World War (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996), xxxvii.)

It is completely wrong of Romanians to blame Churchill and Roosevelt for Yalta, as if anything we agreed at Yalta would have helped Romania. After all, Stalin and Churchill split Hungary 50%-50% and Hungary became a Russian satellite. Unless we specifically blame Churchill and Roosevelt for the disastrous decision to invade Sicily not Greece. It would make more sense for Romanians to blame Britain and France for going to war in 1939. But Romania wanted that worthless guarantee from us.

Victors write history and Russia Britain and America won. This is why Marxism is still respectable and fascism (no longer a threat) is purest evil. We in the West lived in a bipolar world and however much we knew Communism was evil we could not be absolutely certain, while the USSR was a superpower, that history would 'prove' us right. The USSR was  a vast power and historians deeply respect power. Had Hitler won the historians would write very differently about him.

We went to war to protect the power and independence of the British Empire and save Eastern Europe and we failed completely, at hideous cost.

On V.E. Day the diarist (and MP for my unglamorous home town) Sir Henry (‘Chips’) Channon threw a very grand party in his house, 5 Belgrave Square. The guests included exiled royalty and the cream of Society and he said to a young heiress, ‘This is what be were fighting for’. To which she replied, ‘Oh, are all these people Poles?’ 

Poland was crucified for fifty years and the England of Chips Channon, hierarchical, imperial, self-confident, decent, vaguely Christian, male dominated, sans welfare state, hideously white, is now one with Nineveh and Babylon. Perhaps it was the best outcome possible, perhaps not.


  1. Andrew Roberts writes: Dear Paul,
    I couldn’t disagree with you more. Here’s a piece I wrote some time ago about all this:

    The 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War today must prompt the inevitable question: Was the war, which led to the death of over 50 million people, really necessary?
    We are used to thinking of the First World War as being essentially unnecessary. For decades ever since the Twenties, intellectuals, war poets, politicians, pacifists and even some historians have depicted that terrible conflict as being merely a terrible error, a pointless territorial struggle with no more true rationale to it than the 18th century dynastic Wars of Austrian or Spanish Succession. I believe that to be a fundamentally false interpretation – the Kaiser’s Germany was an evil empire out for global hegemony – but it is nonetheless a common one.
    Now a new historical theory is springing up that argues that Hitler’s War was just as ‘unnecessary’ as the Great War, and it is gaining traction as the whole conflict slowly recedes, with each passing day, from the realm of memory into that of history.
    Yet there is a profound moral issue at stake here: for if the Second World War was indeed unnecessary, can it be that did 397,762 Britain and Commonwealth soldiers and 65,000 civilians effectively die in vain? The War affected virtually every family in the English-speaking world: was their sacrifice really for nothing?
    That is certainly the contention put forward by the American politician and pundit Pat Buchanan in his book ‘Churchill, Hitler and the Unnecessary War’ last year, and it has also been argued by the so-called ‘revisionist’ historians John Charmley, Robert Raico, Maurice Cowling and Alan Clark, as well as the former historian David Irving. Their argument is that the price that Britain paid in fighting the Second World War broke her financially, allowed in Socialism at home and lost her the British Empire, and that therefore she should have merely allowed Hitler to take Poland in 1939.

  2. They argue that the Chamberlain Government should not have guaranteed Poland, but that even once it had the promise should not have been honoured. Power, in other words, should have outweighed concepts of national honour. With Britain protecting her Empire, so the revisionists’ argument goes, Hitler would have then fought the Soviet Union, to their mutual exhaustion.
    ‘If one traces his career from his entry into the inner Cabinet as First Lord in 1911 to his final departure from 10 Downing Street in 1955,’ Buchanan writes of Churchill, ‘that half-century encompasses the collapse of the British Empire. In 1955, all was lost save honour. India was gone. Egypt and the Suez Canal were gone. Palestine was gone. All the colonies in Asia and Africa were going. Russians and Americans were the hegemons of Europe and the Dominions were looking to Washington, not London, for protection and leadership. Britain was no longer great.’ Buchanan blames this squarely on Winston Churchill, rather than the man genuinely responsible for shattering our Great Power status: Adolf Hitler.
    At the Central Hall, Westminster at 6.30pm tonight, under the auspices of Intelligence Squared, Pat Buchanan, Prof Norman Stone and the Cambridge don Nigel Knight will propose the motion: ‘Churchill Was More a Liability than an Asset to the Free World’, which Anthony Beevor, Prof Richard Overy and I will be opposing, before an audience of over 1,500 people, with more welcome. It is a sign of the traction that the revisionist argument already enjoys that so many people are coming along, but does it really have any validity?
    Simply because Churchill’s career did indeed coincide with the demise of the British Empire does not mean that Churchill caused it. He was a faithful son of the Empire, fought for it in his youth and believed in it throughout his life. He would not have done anything willingly or knowingly to damage it. Yet even he recognised that there were worse things in the world than spending the moral and financial capital built up by the Empire over the 4½ centuries of its existence. And one of them was referred to by Buchanan himself in the phrase quoted above: ‘All was lost save honour.’

  3. What kind of national honour would Britain have enjoyed if we had held onto the British Empire solely on the sufferance of a dictator like Adolf Hitler? I believe the British Empire to have been a huge net boon to the myriad peoples whose prosperity, peace and national development were nurtured under its protection, yet it would not have been worth anything if we only held it at Hitler’s pleasure, because we had done some kind of sordid deal with the most evil man of modern times, a deal by which Britain reneged on her promise to go to war if Hitler invaded Poland.
    True enough, Britain was physically in no position to render any significant help to save poor, Blitzkrieged Poland in her hour of her crucifixion – and could not even save her from falling under the Soviet maw by 1945 – but at least we kept our word in 1939, and with it our honour.
    In the words of the hymnal, ‘Earth’s proud empires pass away’, and the British Empire was starting to slip away even before Hitler embarked on his quest for Lebensraum (living space) for his Master Race. The Government of India Act, which set the sub-continent on the path to self-government with a legislature in New Delhi, was passed in 1935. Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa were already self-governing dominions, and the days of London’s primacy had starting to draw to a close long before the rise of Hitler.
    The Second World War sped up the loss of our Empire, it is true, but what better way could a nation sacrifice a great imperium than in winning the untarnishable glory of extirpating Nazism, the most loathsome and vicious ideology to besmirch human history? Britain since 1945 was indeed reduced to second-rank power, but it was a national exhaustion that had to be undergone. The British Commonwealth was the only power to have fought Fascism all the way from 3 September 1939 right through to the Japanese surrender six years later. That glory will be everlasting.

    So sorry I can’t get into a Great Debate with you over it, but I’ve got 3 book reviews pending. Absurd, I know!

    Come & say hello when next you’re in Manhattan