Sunday 11 November 2018

100 years after the war to end all war and the peace to end all peace

"Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards." Kierkegaard

I feel guilty about not making the long journey to the British (Commonwealth) war graves at Tâncăbești to mark one hundred years since the end of the Great War. Instead I write this.

The First World War almost destroyed Western civilization, which has never fully recovered from that war. You only have to walk around the cities of the former Austria Hungary, their historic centres exuding 19th century serene confidence, scattered now among numerous impoverished countries, think how the Nazis and Communists ruled over the former Hapsburg and Czarist empires or look at the modern Middle East to see the harm that the 1914-1918 war did. 

To say nothing of the huge left-wing, collectivist and nihilistic shift it created in culture and thinking, connected to the Bolshevik revolution.  

With the benefit of hindsight it would clearly have been better, as Bertrand Russell said, had Germany and the Central Powers won (as they might easily have done, despite being much smaller and poorer than the Allies). Why? Not because they were not to blame for starting the war - they were completely to blame. Not because they were benign - they invaded countries without any justification and committed numerous war crimes. Simply because, in this way, the world would almost certainly have escaped Lenin, Hitler, Communism and Nazism.

But this sort of thinking is not very useful. Events that happened long ago were once things in the future and therefore unknowable.

Robert Tombs in his magisterial The English and Their History makes a convincing case that German victory in the First World War would have left the German forces in control of Normandy and Belgium and a grave military and economic threat to Britain.  

This is the doctrine that guided British foreign policy since the reign of King William III, that it is necessary that Britain intervene in Europe to preserve the balance of power and prevent the continent being united against us. Anthony Jay’s Sir Humphrey in Yes, Minister famously said that it was for this reason, to prevent a united Europe, that Britain joined the E.E.C in 1973. 

Has the balance of power doctrine served our interests? I am not as sure as Dr. Tombs,  even though he voted Leave in the EU referendum, that we should not have kept well out of European entanglements.

A German victory would have meant splitting off from Tsarist Russia the Ukraine, the Baltic States (including Finland), Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. This would have destroyed Russia as a great power or a threat to Germany, but would it not have been a good thing? 

Self determination for the suppressed peoples of the Russian empire probably would not have led to further war, unlike the creation of Poland, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.

The First World War’s four great legacies, all baleful, were: the end of the hierarchical, monarchical, conservative states that had kept order in Central and Eastern Europe and the Middle East; the Bolshevik revolution, which threatened the whole world; dictators who used nationalism to achieve power and who to varying extents modelled their regimes on Lenin’s one-party state (Jozef Pilsudski, Kemal Ataturk, Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, etc); and the 1919 peace settlement (‘the peace to end all peace’) that inevitably could not have lasted.

It could not have lasted because Woodrow Wilson’s liberal idea of national “self-determination” (think George W. Bush in Afghanistan and Iraq) created numerous beds of Procrustes, but mostly because Tsarist Russia, Austria Hungary and Ottoman Turkey no longer existed to balance the power of Germany. 

Hitler, with his plans to eliminate the Slavs and replace them on the Russian steppe with Germans or his systematic massacre of millions of Jews, was unforeseeable, but a revanchist German right-wing government enlarging her borders at the expense of her neighbours was very foreseeable and very probable. 

The alternative, much less likely, would have been a Communist Germany. In the end, Germany got both.

The case for Britain not going to war against Germany in 1939 is unlike the case for not going to war in 1914, because it does not rely on our knowledge of what subsequently happened. It simply relies on what was known in the summer of 1939. The historian Maurice Cowling said accurately in Mill and Liberalism:
‘From Britain's point of view the 1939 war had been a liberal war which had been entered into in a condition of moral indignation without the resources to fight it, that it had been providential good fortune which had placed the burden of fighting on the Russians and the Americans.’

A.J.P. Taylor thought Maurice Cowling possessed the second greatest mind of the age, second only to Taylor’s, and this may have been true.

The second world war cost 70 million lives and left half of Europe ruled by Bolsheviks. The settlement of 1945-46 was much harsher than that of 1919, of course, and was accompanied by ruthless ethnic cleansing, which is why it has lasted.

The period 1918-1939 was only a truce. By 1946 it seemed as though a second world war had also ended in a truce and Stalin was viewed as a threat to the world order comparable with that posed by Hitler. This was an understandable misconception.

The whole of history since 1945 in the Western world is a meditation on Hitler and the Nazis. 

The alarm that Stalin had Hitlerian ambitions to conquer Western Europe (Hitler's ‘Napoleonic ambitions’ were the reason British Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax decided that war in 1939 was necessary) led to the Cold War and the European Union. Fear of resembling the Nazis' ideas or racial superiority led to decolonisation (though the fall of France had in any case fatally weakened European prestige in Asia and Africa), mass immigration, even the 1960s social revolution, even single sex marriage and transgender rights. 

Accusations of resembling Hitler are used with accelerating frequency as the years since his death grow more. 

The Nazis and the Holocaust made conservative ideas like patriotism, heroism, hierarchy and the masculine virtues suspect. 

The fascists also undercut the Whig theory of history (history as continual progress) and liberal belief in the essential goodness of human beings, though these always spring back. But this existential challenge to liberal theories is the reason why Nazis continue to be a huge bugbear for high-minded, soft-hearted people, even though nowadays only a miniscule and negligible number of eccentrics are either fascists or Nazis. 

Douglas Murray put it well in his The Strange Death of Europe
"When it comes to anti-fascism in most of Western Europe, there would appear to be a supply-and-demand problem: the demand for fascists vastly outstrips the actual supply."
In 1945 and 1946 an ethnic war was fought between Ukrainians and Poles which the world ignored. Ethnic Germans, Hungarians, Poles, Czechs and Ukrainians were expelled from the places across Central and Eastern Europe in which their families had lived for many centuries. The whole story of the displaced persons - the so-called DPs - is calamitous. Coming after the slaughter of the Jews by the Germans, by 1950 a terrible simplicity had been imposed on Eastern European countries which had hitherto been Macedonian salads. 
(Macedonian salads, which I have eaten in Skopje, do not come from Macedonia but are named after the higgledy-piggledy mixture of many ethnic groups in pre-1912 Macedonia.)

Attlee, Stalin and Truman at Potsdam in 1945 ordered the vast movements of people to get rid of the ethnic patchwork that had led to war in 1939, stipulating that they should be "humane and orderly". They were, of course, neither. 

At almost the same time that Eastern Europe ceased to be an ethnic mosaic, Western Europe began to receive waves of immigrants from outside Europe, unprecedented since the Muslim invasions of the Dark and Middle Ages, and quickly became one. 

As always, in the words of A.J.P. Taylor, people learn from the mistakes of the past how to make new mistakes in the future. 


  1. Erudite piece of writing, Paul

  2. What came to mind reading:

    “Events that happened long ago were once things in the future and therefore unknowable.”

    Defiling Time symmetry. Until yesterday or so, I was too young to know that this is why hystory is worth dealing with: it remembers nothing, but demonstrates the poverty of knowing (‘sacrac cu duhul’).

    I do mean to say that I have deliberately avoided history this fresh like a plague. Even now it hardly feels as if the old battle fields are old enough for the would-be sides to have forgotten why they fought. Europe - the mantra, is the yell of suprise at this forgetting...

    Where was I?

    I am used to live as if all that is worth living repeats every year, and history there exists once you dig for it (eg. @Safaitic - a latest reading pleasure).


    “but would it not have been a good thing”

    Power is not a good thing.

  3. No one today says "well, the Iraq war was a disaster, but things could have got a lot worse had we not gone into Iraq." Everyone knows that things would be better now if the Iraq invasion hadn't happened. The future is to some extent knowable. Most people knew at the time that war with Germany would not benefit us, like most knew war with Iraq would not benefit us. However, we got forced into both wars by a minority following an ethnic specific agenda. In 2003 the agenda had been outlined 20 years before in the Oded Yinon plan and later the Israel-first PNAC. Bush was the frontman. In 1939 it was the same story with FDR and Churchill were the frontmen. In both cases we were fighting someone else's enemies, not out own.

    The Forrestal Diaries, entry dated 27 December 1945:

    “Played golf today with Joe Kennedy. I asked him about his conversations with Roosevelt and Neville Chamberlain from 1938 on. He said Chamberlain’s position in 1938 was that England had nothing with which to fight and that she could not risk going to war with Hitler. Kennedy’s view:  That Hitler would have fought Russia without any later conflict with England if it had not been for Bullitt’s urging on Roosevelt in the summer of 1939 that the Germans must be faced down about Poland; neither the French nor the British would have made Poland a cause of war if it had not been for the constant needling from Washington.  Bullitt, he said, kept telling Roosevelt that the Germans wouldn’t fight, Kennedy that they would, and that they would overrun Europe. Chamberlain, he says, stated that America and the world Jews had forced England into the war. In his telephone conversation with Roosevelt in the summer of 1939 the President kept telling him to put some iron up Chamberlain’s backside.”

    Loyal patriots like Joe Kennedy and Chamberlain wanted to keep Britain and America out of the war. Jews such as Bullit and FDR’s other advisors who (in the words of his own son in law) “exploited” him constantly, wanted war with Germany at any cost. German "aggression" had nothing to do with it. These were all pretexts like WMD. Germany had to be destroyed because it was a state that had declared its opposition to Jews.

    When Chamberlain was forced into a war it was still a phoney war and it could have ended with little fuss or cost to Britain. Which is why they had to get rid of Chamberlain to turn it into hot war. Churchill proclaimed himself as FDR’s “ardent lieutenant” after the latter told him that his war aim was to liquidate the British empire. To keep the war going Churchill immediately had all potential dissidents arrested without charge and started bombing German civilians so that his own people could be bombed and would blame the Germans. The worst act of treachery committed by any leader in British history.

    Hitler was a friend of the British empire, Churchill (wittingly or unwittingly) was its enemy, and FDR was its overt and declared enemy. Yet all of this was kept from the people so that the British public were under one impression, the American public under another but the people who were directing this charade knew exactly what they were after and got it.

    Churchill had identified it as a “world-wide conspiracy for the overthrow of civilization and for the reconstitution of society on the basis of arrested development, of envious malevolence, and impossible equality.” Yet he sold out to these forces. Churchill rather than Chamberlain was the Great Appeaser.

    This is why our countries are falling apart now. And it was predicted at the time by many people such as Charles Lindbergh and Archibald Ramsay. Ramsay even uncovered plans for a post-war European Federal Union as early as February 1940 so make of that what you will. World War II was the “Hot war” to prepare the way for the “Cold War” of indoctrination: Hate crimes laws, gun grabbing, making people happy with being slaves, filling their heads with lies. For the few that figure out what’s going on, well there’s always room in prison.

    1. What you are writing is not objective history but Mosleyite propaganda. I know a little about Archibald Ramsay, who was wildly eccentric if not bonkers. He was of a very good family, not a Nazi but an extreme anti-Semite who blamed, like you, a Jewish conspiracy for the war. He was the only MP to be interned without trial under Regulation 18B. When he was released he laid a motion calling for the reinstatement of the 1275 Statute of King Edward I expelling Jews from the realm.

      The decision to give a guarantee to Poland and Romania was made by Chamberlain on Halifax's urging and the Jews had nothing to do with it. Halifax believed war with Germany had become a moral duty after the German invasion of the Czech lands. Chamberlain hoped a guarantee for Poland might deter Hitler. Neither man was a philo-Semite. Chamberlain was a mild anti-Semite and this accusation has been made, probably unfairly, against Halifax. The two most prominent Jewish politicians of the day were Hore Belisha and Samuel. The latter was an appeaser and the former was Minister of War from 1937 to 1940. He saw the need for rearmament after Munich but was loyal to Chamberlain and did not take sides with Tory MPs like Eden or Churchill.

    2. David in Belgrade12 November 2018 at 18:16

      A very well written piece Paul.
      Although I don't agree with all that you wrote.

      WW1 was a disaster for all the major participating European countries (including UK of course). Some smaller countries benefitted, Romania gained Transylvania and Poland gained independence, for example.

      WW2 was a catastrophe for UK. Although one of the victorious participants, it ended up one of the biggest losers, as it was after WW1.

      Keep up the excellent writing.

    3. The war was a disaster for Poland and especially Romania. At the end of it they both gained much land much of which they then lost. In Poland's case the resurrection in 1919 brought about crucifixion in 1939. A.J.P. Taylor once asked the question:
      "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?"
      Poland, Czechoslovakia and the Habsburg parts of Romania would have been very much better off without the two wars and part of Austria Hungary.

    4. None will fight to undo the change. (perhaps for other stuff - who knows... I wouldn't know if/when/how referendum this sort of Q.)

  4. Ruth Dudley Edwards commented: As you know, I'm not keen on "What-if" history, but this is a brilliant example of it. By the way, I knew and liked Maurice Cowling, but he was as perverse as A.J.P. Taylor, which is why Taylor rated him so highly.