November 10, 1999

Why the Second World War Will Always be Popular in Britain


The present American hysteria over A Republic not an Empire is familiar in a land that has never been a Republic, but in living memory did have an Empire. In 1993 Churchill: The End of Glory was written by Professor John Charmley, which said that Britain had no interest in continuing the Second World War after 1940. We should have, averred Professor Charmley, reached a compromise with Germany, in which we did not interfere in Europe, especially Eastern Europe; and Germany left us our "place in the sun", the Empire. On this analysis, Britainís continuation of the war was economic suicide that transformed an enormously wealthy power into a second division power with wisps of past glory. Churchill did save Britain, but he got us into the mess to start with. Professor Charmley is a consistent isolationist whose book on Lord Grey championed "splendid isolation" and who in his book on Neville Chamberlain unfashionably championed appeasement.


The point was not the book itself, one that I have not been able to find let alone read, but the reaction to it. When Alan Clark gave it a favourable review in the London Times, it caused a sensation, although nothing compared to the reaction accorded to Pat Buchananís book. Alan Clark was a former and future Conservative MP who had held a middle-ranking job in the Thatcher government. What was interesting was not the general awareness of the book, which was low, but the reaction of those who were aware of it and who (thought they) understood itís central thesis.

Emmanuel Goldstein is the pseudonym of a political drifter on the fringes of English classical liberal and Euro-sceptic activity. He is a former member of the Labour Party, who knows Blair and some of his closest buddies better than they realise, yet. He has a challenging job in the real world, working for a profit-making private company and not sponging off the taxpayer in politics, journalism or the civil service. "Airstrip One," now appears Wednesdays at

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With the predictable exception of Professor Charmley, no one would support Clark. Saying that certain British wars are wrong is a common occupation among historians and politicians. The Opium War, the ultimate Open Door policy where Britain forcibly sold opium to China, makes most Britons ashamed. The Boer War comes close, if it was not for the Leftís racial hatred for the Afrikaans. Even the rationale of the First World War has been challenged, by the economist JM Keynes, the historian Niall Fergusson and the conduct of the war was attacked by Alan Clark himself. We are also capable of self-analysis on our shortcomings during the Second World War. The reaction was not against the idea that a foreign war was bad. It was a reaction to the idea that the Second World War was a bad war. The question is why do the British react in such a way to this heresy? Once one knows that, the militaristic mindset of the British becomes more comprehensible.


One of the reasons for the adverse reaction to Alan Clarkís book was the nature of the man himself. Although a talented military historian and an intelligent thinker, Alan Clark courted a reputation as a political lightweight and dilettante. His aristocratic background made it appear that his political career had come easily thus far. He once commented on a self-made millionaire that "he bought all his furniture." His indiscretions were not only legendary, but were actually publish in his Diaries. He was a philanderer of massive proportions and was famous for reading a speech in Parliament when obviously drunk. Margaret Thatcher although admiring his skills as a military analyst never promoted him to Defence Secretary because she said, "Could you imagine Alanís finger on the nuclear button?" The flourishing of a bright plumage may get one noticed, but it does not get one taken seriously.


Those who did take Alan Clark seriously saw something more sinister in the book. Alan Clark had an ambivalent view on Hitler. This is not the same as the old smear that one too often hears against Pat Buchanan, so expertly demolished by Justin Raimondo; this smear has some facts behind it. Before he became an MP he was scheduled to give a talk on "The wit and wisdom of Adolph Hitler," until the students he was addressing were forced to cancel the meeting. He named his dogs after Hitlerís mistress and pilot. When once accused of being a fascist he replied "Iím not a Fascist, they are bourgeois shop keepers who care only for their dividends, I am a National Socialist". He staunchly defended British soccer hooligans, saying their behaviour was "brave." Even his opposition to the Kosovo adventure was on the belief that in wars which pitted Muslims against Christians, we should be on the Christian side. Whether this was merely a wish to shock the middle class sensibilities of British politics or a genuine sympathy, we will never really know. It is hard to ignore the offensive silliness and look at the argument beyond, and many refuse to make that effort.


Mr. Clarkís enemies would often attack him for his naiveté. Mr. Clark, they would say, wanted the British to take a gamble on trusting Hitler. This was a misunderstanding of the argument, which was that the war was not worth fighting, and that Hitler had no will to invade Britain, at least when he had eastern fish to fry. Lebensraum (Hitlerís "room to breathe") did not encompass the small, densely populated and relatively developed island of Great Britain. Even when the Germans occupied the East, they would be too exhausted to look at Britain. In the meantime, the British were to keep well armed and wary. It was not trust that Mr. Clark was after, it was cynicism.


Another criticism of the thesis was that Hitler was so intent on war that he had no intention of making peace and so any offer of peace on the British side would be construed as weakness. This is a good criticism, if it fitted with the facts. The Western Front was what lost Hitler the war. No military man, except Mr. Clinton and Mr. Blair, launches a war on two fronts. The audacity of the German move in 1941 that gave the Germans such startling success, as only a mad man would believe that they would try a war on two fronts. Perhaps Stalin was not so obstinate after all in ignoring warnings of Hitlerís moves; it was just that common sense was not applicable in relation to Hitler. Not only were the Germans offering peace, but they also had a very real interest in securing it.


The memory of the Vichy collaboration still haunts French. What is less well known is that the very idea of Vichy style collaboration also haunts the British. We saw outwardly decent and patriotic Frenchmen, Austrians and many others collaborating with the Germans, while far fewer aided the Resistance, and this haunts us. Indeed, we have a partial answer in the plight of the Channel Islands, which Germany occupied from 1940 until the end of the war. The administration did collaborate with the Germans and this suggests that the British would have collaborated like other occupied peoples. The idea of letting another power occupy your country is seen, rightly, with horror by almost every British person.


The British were not in the same position as France. France accepted humiliating terms because they could either surrender or be conquered. Germany had broken the French army and occupied a large part of the country. The only way in which the French could get more autonomy was to let the Germans have what they wished, it was a tough choice that we must thank God that Britain and America did not have to face. We were in a different position as we were unconquered, our army was bloodied but unbroken and after the Battle of Britain we had unchallenged control of the air and sea. The fact was that while Britain would not make peace as a victor, it would make peace as an equal to Germany, the humiliating terms accepted by the French were not an issue here. The very proximity of Britain to the continent meant that we feared we were close to invasion, as before our victory in the Battle of Britain, they were. It is a one of the psychological fears that haunts us, and one that Americans will never fully understand.


A very emotionally powerful argument against the appeasement school of history is that the British would have supported the Holocaust if they allowed Hitler to fight Stalin unimpeded. This ignores the fact that the war was about the balance of power in Europe and not the Holocaust; and that the Final Solution started in 1942 after Mr. Clarkís window of opportunity had shut. The fear, which Pat Buchanan is finding, is that not to intervene is that some people see it as approving the Holocaust. It may be factually incorrect, but it is from the highest of motives and playing on this feeling will be a powerful weapon for a long time in any interventionistís moral armoury.


Americans lost many of their best men and much of their treasure in the Second World War, Britain lost its place in the world. The complete transformation of Britain from an Empire to an island, from a global power to a European province and from a net creditor to a net debtor occurred during the war. Although Britain did not suffer from the deprecations of an invasion, it lost a large part of its wealth through German aerial bombardment. There were many civilian casualties and the country was dislocated. The worldís first industrial economy mortgaged its considerable overseas wealth and it abandoned the Empire to its fate. Many of Britainís problems today, from its unworkable integration into Europe, the Australian vote on the monarchy and the dire need for permanent infusions of inward investment are due to the Second World War. This is not beyond doubt, what is argued is whether this sacrifice was worthwhile. Although Alan Clark argued that for this reason we should not have continued with the war, to many people this is exactly why the war is off limits as a political question. The sacrifice is too great, in America it makes Donald Trump sound good, imagine what it sounds like to the British who have lost so much more. To say that this war was not worth fighting is wrongly seen as a deep insult to many that lost so much.


One may hate war; its wastefulness; its loss of the most promising men in a generation; its aid to a despotic state; but it can bring out the finest in a nation. Britain felt a sense of solidarity, victory and gratitude to those who fought that war. It may be mythologised, the doubts forgotten, the fears erased, but to many, even those who were not yet born it makes up a very real part of who we are as a nation. The very fact that Britain stood alone for almost a year against a triumphal Germany was in many senses a military triumph, and deserves to be remembered for that. It may not affect the validity of the factual case for going in to the war, but emotionally it will always have that effect. We are rightly proud of what we, or our parents, did in the war, it is our Fourth of July.


I have tried to explain our emotional attachment to the Second World War. The case in A Republic not an Empire was clear, that entry into the Second World War was not in Americaís interests. I think it is hard to argue otherwise, at least relying solely on the facts. In Britain, it was not so clear cut. The proximity of Germany; the importance of a Balance of Power; the ability of modern warfare to project itself on all a civilian population all make the Second World War seem more in Britainís interests than it was in Americaís. Our emotional attachment to the war effort is even stronger than it is in America, and for that reason the case against the Second World War will not be up for debate for a long time.

This week will see Remembrance Day in Britain (November 11). Please let us pray for and remember all those that fell in European wars. Let us work for a genuine peace in remembrance to them, so that their great-grandchildren will not needlessly die in a foreign field. May they Rest In Peace.

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