Hitchens on the English and their history

by Eric on January 2, 2016

Peter Hitchens is less well known in the United States than his late brother, but when asked to write for the New York Times, he delivers his Mail columnist goods, full-strength. Regarding Robert Tombs’s English and their History:

Even in free countries it is sometimes necessary to alter the past to suit the present. For instance, I recall the day at my English boarding school in the early 1960s when our sober, patriotic old history books were gathered up and carted away to a storeroom. In their place we were handed bright, optimistic replacements, with a good deal less to say about the empire, the Protestant martyrs or what we had been taught without embarrassment to call the Glorious Revolution.… Older English people look back fondly on 1940, when we supposedly stood alone. In fact we were a major industrial and exporting power with a global navy, more or less self- sufficient, nationally cohesive and bolstered by the tribute of a still-great empire. Now all of that is gone. Is it possible that, after a thousand astonishing years, our island story has finally come to a full stop? Will the next great history of our nation and people be written in Chinese?

Now that George MacDonald Fraser has died, the sources for such views of the empire and its history seem fewer each day.

{ 124 comments }

1

Dipper 01.02.16 at 6:07 pm

Splendid. I know of at least two 18-year-olds (in the UK) to whom Peter Hitchens is a demi-god. They hang on his every word, rejoicing in the clarity of his argument and merciless assaults on his foes.

2

Chris Williams 01.02.16 at 6:08 pm

Whatever George McDonald Fraser’s other views, his memoir of life as a WW2 infantryman, ‘Quartered Safe Out Here’, is remarkably good, and ought not be tarnished by association with Hitchens.

As for “nationally cohesive” in 1940, I’m not sure that Jack Jones, Ernie Bevin, Nye Bevan, or even Morrison and Attlee would have agreed with that one. Unless Hitchens is actually talking about something else, of course.

3

robinm 01.02.16 at 6:15 pm

“Now that George MacDonald Fraser has died, the sources for such views of the empire and its history seem fewer each day.”–I imagine my fellow Scot Niall Ferguson will continue to help make up the shortfall.

4

Mark 01.02.16 at 7:45 pm

As for “nationally cohesive” in 1940, I’m not sure that Jack Jones, Ernie Bevin, Nye Bevan, or even Morrison and Attlee would have agreed with that one. Unless Hitchens is actually talking about something else, of course.

This always strikes me about conservative (re)writing of 20th century history. Leaving aside all of the debates on imperialism they still seem to view domestic British society in the early 20th century as remarkably homogeneous and unified. It makes me wonder if they have heard of the general strike.

From a different perspective and perhaps even more directly to Hitchens’ point, I received Andrew Marr’s A History of Modern Britain for Christmas and on the very first page of the preface he discusses the meeting of the war cabinet meeting of the 28th May, 1940. This is in the aftermath of the newly appointed Churchill’s (he had been PM for 18 days) decision to effectively sacrifice British troops at Calais to ensure that those stranded at Dunkirk might be able to escape. Churchill with the support of Arthur Greenwood, Clement Atlee and Archibald Sinclair defeated the proposal by Neville Chamberlain and Lord Halifax to negotiate a peace with Germany and appoint a Vichy-style government in Britain (presumably with Halifax in the Petain role.) It doesn’t exactly point to a unified nation (though I have my suspicions as to which side of the debate Hitchens would support.)

5

PatinIowa 01.02.16 at 9:17 pm

It will be written in a godawful and yet wonderful melange of Anglo Saxon, Anglo Norman, Latin, imperial appropriations, intellectual/scientific/commercial neologisms and so on, presumably with continued additions from Chinese and whatever the immigrants bring along with them. In other words, students in 400 years will be complaining about “Hitchens’s” “Old English,” assuming anyone bothers to read him. (Can you tell I teach Shakespeare occasionally?)

The trouble with “cohesion” in his usage and, even worse, “purity,” is that it is always already an illusion or–in the case of most political writers–a lie.

6

None 01.02.16 at 11:32 pm

Mark @4 -“though I have my suspicions as to which side of the debate Hitchens would support”

Which side would he support ? C’mon, don’t leave us hanging ?!

7

Sancho 01.03.16 at 3:08 am

The living Hitchens produces admirably pure old-school Tory demagoguery with a simple recipe:

1. Identify a recent development that is unsettling in some way
2. Claim that its existence is the direct result of traducing some cherished conservative principle of the past
3. Nod mournfully; sip sherry

Because you know, the tube wasn’t so crowded when child labour was the norm.

8

Alan White 01.03.16 at 3:24 am

Sancho:

1-3 is simply brilliant.

9

Chris Bertram 01.03.16 at 9:21 am

“Is it possible that, after a thousand astonishing years, our island story has finally come to a full stop? “

Well, Sellars & Yeatman, in their seminar work, argue for an earlier date than Hitchens when

“AMERICA was thus clearly top nation, and History came to a . “

10

Bruce B. 01.03.16 at 12:54 pm

America made history into a fnord? That does explain some things.

11

David 01.03.16 at 5:06 pm

Um, did anybody actually read the linked article? The OP effectively reproduces the first and the last paragraphs of it without actually quoting anything from the review itself. Hitchens makes it clear that the romantic and simplified view of history that he was taught (as I was) had to go, and that the book he’s reviewing, whilst generally realistic, falls sometimes into too-ready acceptance of traditional historical myths. He might have added, of course, that there’s no reason to suppose that today’s school history books, which incorporate myths of their own, are necessarily more reliable. Anyone who has actually tried to write history knows how difficult it is to avoid falling into narratives which systematically include some things and exclude others.
And the idea that many older people look back fondly on 1940 (and not 1926 or some other date) is just objectively true. They may be wrong about the level of national cohesion (though everyone of my parents’ generation that I knew insisted that it was true) but that doesn’t invalidate how they felt about the period they lived through.
It’s obviously true that there were defeatists and compromisers in 1940, and that the upper class of the day contained a lot of them. But I don’t think any of them actually advocated the Vichy solution (including German troops deployed in Britain presumably) and they were a very small, if influential, minority in the population as a whole. Whatever may have been true at other times, I think the evidence suggests that the British people were remarkably cohesive in 1940.
Incidentally, why be unkind to George MacDonald Fraser? His “Flashgun” books skewer the imperial myths I was brought up on better than anything else I know.

12

P O'Neill 01.03.16 at 5:28 pm

What David said. As the review makes clear, Hitchens P thinks the critical mistake was 1914 not 1940. Also Fraser was Scottish so it’s a bit off point given the subject of the book.

13

David 01.03.16 at 6:00 pm

Edit. “Flashman”. So much for autocorrection.

14

LFC 01.03.16 at 6:47 pm

I skimmed through Hitchens’s linked review, until I got to this:

Tombs understates the importance of this pivotal moment [Britain’s going to war against Germany in 1914]. probably because of his competing love for France. As he suggests, nobody in France ever thought the 1914 war against Germany was pointless. For the French it was an unavoidable struggle for continued existence. But for England it was a war of choice, and in the century that has followed, that choice has begun to seem more and more unwise. It turned England from a creditor to a debtor nation, finished her naval supremacy, destroyed Protestant Christianity as a major social force, began the collapse of the empire, triggered the breakup of the United Kingdom itself and led, in the end, to the rather desperate decision of her elite to pass their sovereignty furtively to the European Union.

There might have been some very compelling reasons for Britain to have stayed out of WW1, including the avoidance of some 700,000 casualties (or whatever the exact figure: not looking it up now). But the notion that Britain’s involvement in WW1 led to all these consequences that Hitchens dislikes is bizarre and frankly borders on the ludicrous. He implies that if Britain had stayed out of WW1 it would still have its ‘naval supremacy’ and empire in 2016 and would not have joined the EU. All of that, in its breezy counterfactualism and disregard for everything else that happened in the intervening years, makes this passage sort of ridiculous, imo. YMMV, needless to say.

15

LFC 01.03.16 at 6:52 pm

p.s. The only thing in Hitchens’s list that makes immediate sense is “turned from a creditor to a debtor country”; and maybe the thing about Protestantism, but I don’t know. Everything else in that passage is contestable. “Began the breakup of the empire” is very strange: if anything WW1 solidified the British empire, which didn’t ‘break up’ really until c. 1947-1960. (I suppose “began” only in the sense that WW1 strengthened nationalist anti-colonial movements in the Br Emp, but those wd have gradually gathered strength anyway.)

16

The Anti-Wanker Wonker 01.03.16 at 7:06 pm

He may be a wanker, but stuck in an Amsterdam hotel that only had horrific cable, Hitchens’ voice on the BBC nonstop Paris shooting wankfest about how the West should rethink its facestomping Mideast fetish was actually refreshing. In the US, I guess, he’d be a paleocon.
And yeah, his late brother was a wet-brained wanker.

17

LFC 01.03.16 at 7:12 pm

p.p.s. It was World War II and its aftermath, not World War I, that “shattered” Britain’s attempts to manage the course of events in India in a way that would have resulted in a subordinate (via dominion status or otherwise) India (even if formally independent). The word “shattered” is Krasner’s (Sovereignty, 1999, p.188), who is following John Darwin, Britain and Decolonisation (1988).

18

Daragh 01.03.16 at 7:34 pm

As far as I’m concerned nothing Hitch the Lesser writes is worth reading unless it is expounding upon his very serious concerns that Daylight Savings Time is nothing more than a perfidious German plot. I mean if you’re going to be a ridiculous crank you may as well be an entertaining one.

19

bob mcmanus 01.03.16 at 7:36 pm

14,15,16: Try Adam Tooze, The Deluge. If you like, WWI only diminished Britain relative to the ascending and displacing powers, largely the US. But the geopolitical and economic model puched the US was dominant by the end of the twenties, and the Empire was doomed.

I am with David at 14. The widely separated quotes deserved more than one ellipsis, and I am not certain about the degrees of irony and sarcasm Hitchens is displaying in the piece. Hitchens is more bitter than Ferguson.

20

Stephen 01.03.16 at 8:01 pm

Re national cohesion in 1940: nobody I have discussed this with who was there at the time believed it was universal. Not only were there the Communist Party and their sympathisers opposing an imperialist bourgeois war (Nazi Germany being then allied to the Soviet Union), but there was also the pacifist (or as Orwell called them, the fascifist) left arguing that anything done to resist the Germans would make Britain as bad as, if not worse than, the Germans. But I don’t think anybody believed these were more than a small minority.

21

LFC 01.03.16 at 8:36 pm

b mcmanus
14,15,16: Try Adam Tooze, The Deluge. If you like, WWI only diminished Britain relative to the ascending and displacing powers, largely the US. But the geopolitical and economic model pu[s]hed [by] the US was dominant by the end of the twenties, and the Empire was doomed.

The Empire might have been doomed by the end of the twenties (and it’s true that the Dominions [Canada, Australia, N. Zealand, S Africa], got more autonomy after WW1 including separate representation at the Paris peace conference and in the League of Nations), but that’s not what Hitchens says in that passage. Rather, he says that Britain’s decision to declare war on Germany in 1914 “began the collapse of the empire.”

But if one is looking for dates that “began the collapse of the empire” or of the European empires more generally — probably a fool’s errand anyway — there are other very plausible candidates. For instance, there’s the Russo-Japanese war of 1905 and the 1905 Russian Revolution, both of which, according to G. Barraclough (An Introduction to Contemporary History, Pelican ed. 1967, p.154) were “a powerful stimulus” to the rise of Asian nationalism. Had there not been already in existence by 1914 “in most countries of Asia and the Arab world … radical or revolutionary groups ready to take advantage of the conflict between the European powers to secure concessions by threats or pressure or bargaining” (ibid., p.155), then WW1 would not have had the impact in this respect that it did.

Tl/dr: We can sit here and argue about dates indefinitely, but I see no very compelling reason to accept Hitchens’s assertion that Britain’s decision to declare war on Germany in 1914 “began the collapse of the empire.”

22

Rakesh Bhandari 01.03.16 at 8:50 pm

23

Mike Schilling 01.03.16 at 11:29 pm

RE: #13
Dammit, I was looking forward to reading the Flashgun books.

24

steven johnson 01.03.16 at 11:58 pm

As to the collapse of the British empire in consequence of the strains of WWI, it seems to me the loss of the larger part of Ireland makes the claim plausible at first glance. Redefining N. Ireland as Britain instead of an imperial vestige merely serves current political needs.

25

Peter T 01.04.16 at 1:03 am

India was the keystone in the imperial arch – the Indian Army policed the east (and reinforced the west at crucial moments), its revenues paid for half the British army, its administration employed the British upper-middle classes, its position guaranteed imperial control from the Middle East to Malaysia. Yet India was always a partner (albeit a junior one) in the enterprise. Signs were that the partner wanted out were evident well before 1914, and Indian opinion could not be resisted too hard or for too long.

Hitchen’s grumbling nostalgia is more amusing than anything else. Sancho captures it perfectly. Yet the British have, on the whole, adapted to relative decline quite well. Contrast Hitchens with his US counterparts.

26

Anderson 01.04.16 at 2:20 am

I usually can’t resist litigating 1914, but the spectacle of P Hitchens & J Quiggin in presumable agreement is pleasure enough for my evening.

… 4: Going to look up the Marr book now.

27

Ronan(rf) 01.04.16 at 2:28 am

I enjoyed the review , though I have a soft spot for one nation torys. What’s not to like ? Self aware without navel gazing, melancholic without being overwrought, nostalgic but clear eyed, finished off with a bit if genuine nuttiness , admittedly, but quite sweet. Proper conservatism , not the nonsense we’re fed these days.

28

herr doktor bimler 01.04.16 at 2:32 am

In fact we were […] more or less self- sufficient

With notably rare exceptions.

29

harry b 01.04.16 at 3:08 am

John Lukacs’s 5 Days in London, May 1940 quotes fairly extensively from the Mass Observation Project — and at least the quotes he uses suggest what you would expect — that there was a lot of disorientation, and very far from consensus. Halifax represented a tiny minority, but Chamberlain represented widely held views, and it is worth remembering that Churchill wasn’t dead set against suing for peace until he decided he was against it; and that Attlee and Greenwood played a vital role in convincing him, and then backing him.

30

oldster 01.04.16 at 3:21 am

tangential question, though not entirely unrelated:

The UK has a Royal Navy, and a Royal Air Force (the RAF!), and Royal Marines.

But no Royal Army. It’s the British Army, or the English Army if you’re John Lennon.

Granted, it’s all under the MOD, so no difference on that score. And officers of the British Army swear allegiance to the monarch, so it is still a royal army in that sense. But it is not *the* Royal Army.

What’s the history behind this? Possibly something to do with a tiff between king and parliament? But wasn’t that all put to rights a few centuries ago?

31

LFC 01.04.16 at 4:43 am

Anderson @25
I usually can’t resist litigating 1914

Truer words were never written. ;)

32

LFC 01.04.16 at 4:59 am

Eh, just looked at TBA’s blog. He’s too busy watching all those movies. Have only seen a couple of ’em, I think. (I did once go, some years ago, to see Aguirre, Wrath of God in a theater; was aware of it mostly b.c it was referenced in an IR bk [sad, but true].) OK, back to topic, or something in its vicinity.

33

iolanthe 01.04.16 at 7:08 am

Oldster, I’d always understood it was for two reasons. The first is that the British Army even after the restoration was based on Cromwell’s New Model Army which for obvious reasons was not “Royal” although individual regiments as components of it could be and often were (and are) “Royal”. The second is that the concept of a standing army as opposed to the King telling one of his nobles to raise a regiment when needed (hence Duke of X’s Regiment etc) was seen as deeply unwelcome in the 17h century so even when the need for a standing army was accepted it needed to be clear to all and sundry that it was not the King’s personal plaything. Navies by contrast aren’t very useful in seizing power so a Royal Navy is not a threat to anyone. As you correctly note this was all a very long time ago but one thing the British military does exceptionally well is integrated redundant traditions into a modern fighting force.

34

John Quiggin 01.04.16 at 7:14 am

Iolanthe is correct. According to Wikipedia

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Army

the Bill of Rights of 1689 requires Parliamentary consent for The Crown to maintain a standing army in peacetime. Parliament approves the continued existence of the Army by passing an Armed Forces Act at least once every five years.

35

John Quiggin 01.04.16 at 7:20 am

@Anderson As regards 1914, I’ll take agreement where I can get it. Whether Hitchens is right or wrong in his particular analysis, the intuition that anything bad that happened in the (short 1914-91) 20th century was either caused or made worse by 1914 is the right one to start with.

36

Collin Street 01.04.16 at 7:40 am

> What’s the history behind this?

The british army originated as a mess of administratively- and organisationally separate corps/regiments/services and only gradually coalesced into a unified organisation with a formal singular existence in… some time between mid-victorian times and the first world war? Couldn’t be called “royal” if there’s no legal entity you can point at, and by the time the entity did exist it was traditional.

37

reason 01.04.16 at 8:37 am

JQ @35
I really hate trying to second guess history. There are any number of time travel fantasies that speculate on the mess that can be caused by changing history, even in apparently benign ways. Yes the 1914-18 was horrific and the bad settlement set the scene for worse to come. But the outcome of that was for a while at least a much more egalitarian and justice oriented western world (which is fading as we forget the lessons learnt). It really is very hard to make a sensible trade-off between disaster for one group of people against progress for another. Does it really make sense to try?

I think trying to do better going forward is the best we can hope for.

38

John Quiggin 01.04.16 at 9:31 am

@reason If you hate second guessing history, can you justify second guessing what Obama did yesterday, or what Trump is advocating for tomorrow?

39

Val 01.04.16 at 10:36 am

If I remember my history correctly, in the Asia-Pacific region the Second World War is seen as disrupting colonialism, partly because the invading Japanese were keen to portray themselves as an alternative to the western colonial powers and therefore encouraged some local autonomy, which contributed to later independence movements. But that is reliant on my vague memory of things I studied a long time ago and also very different to what Hitchens may or may not be saying (I haven’t read his piece in full).

Others more familiar with Asian-Pacific history than I am might clarify this.

40

David 01.04.16 at 11:58 am

@29. A lot depends what you mean by “1940”. Unlike 1914 there was little or no popular enthusiasm for war – it was a case of “get it over with.” This was not just related to the memory of the slaughter of 1914, but more importantly to the fear of the aerial holocaust which was widely expected from German bombing (my mother carried a gas mask to work as a child for several months). Combined with the fact that the British declaration of war was, on the face of it, to prevent Germany from recovering territories lost in the Versailles peace settlement, which everyone agreed could not last, this all made popular enthusiasm for the war unlikely, and most people would have preferred to avoid war if they could. Chamberlain’s policy of trying to force Germany to accept a negotiated settlement of the post-Versailles controversy was popular for this reason, and for as long as it looked as if it was working. But I think the public mood changed sharply in the summer of 1940, once it became clear that a long war with Germany was inevitable. There was, of course, no “consensus” – there never is in such circumstances, but all the evidence is that after Dunkirk the public mood was pretty cohesive.

41

LFC 01.04.16 at 2:02 pm

Val @39
in the Asia-Pacific region the Second World War is seen as disrupting colonialism

Yes (and that is different from what Hitchens is saying, at least in the quoted passage upthread, even if one sees the two world wars as one connected ‘thirty years war’).

42

bob mcmanus 01.04.16 at 2:03 pm

39: I tend to avoid WW II in the East because it is so complicated. Burma put some hopes in Japanese assisted liberation, and there was an Indian force that fought with the Japanese, but for the most part the Japanese were brutal occupiers and exploiters and the Greater East-Asian thing was not taken seriously. There were puppet regimes but mostly such chaos that even the exploitation was inefficient.

At the same time the Comintern had supported liberation movements of usually minor effectiveness in every nation for at least a decade. Ho in Vietnam was the classic example (unless Mao in China). For the most part, liberation movements could see that Japanese occupation was not going to last, preserved their resources for after the war while trying to neither alienate the Allies nor allying with the old colonial powers.

WW II in the East did not at all end in 1945 with the Japanese surrender. Indonesian War against Dutch and British claimed ~200k lives before 1949. That the West tries to mark it that way simply shows that WW II was at least in part a war between competing colonialists. Same as WWI to me, which really didn’t end until 1921-22 in Europe.

War is States versus peoples, really.

43

AcademicLurker 01.04.16 at 3:26 pm

On the anniversary of the battle of Imphal a few years ago there were some interesting pieces published about the tricky position of India’s (allied) WWII veterans. They didn’t get a whole lot of credit post-independence due to the whole fighting for the British thing (there was a quote from an Indian newspaper from some point in the 50s referring to them simply as “mercenaries”). Now with the WWII generation dying off, there was a growing sentiment that India’s soldiers got kind of short changed relative to the soldiers of other allied countries.

44

ajay 01.04.16 at 3:26 pm

The UK has a Royal Navy, and a Royal Air Force (the RAF!), and Royal Marines. But no Royal Army. It’s the British Army, or the English Army if you’re John Lennon.

As others have said: historically it was a collection of regiments raised for the occasion by local dignitaries, so you might have the Duke of Somewhere’s Regiment. (We’re talking about the 17th and 18th centuries here.) The Duke of Somewhere would be colonel, with the responsibility to deliver a battle ready regiment by a certain time, and the work of command would be done by a placeholder-colonel (or “lieutenant-colonel”) who actually knew what he was doing (unlike the Duke).

Note that many bits of the army are individually royal. It’s the Royal Artillery, the Royal Engineers, the Royal Army Medical Corps, the Royal Tank Regiment etc.
Artillery and engineers, incidentally, weren’t historically really part of the army; they came under the entirely separate Board of Ordnance as late as the 18th century, trained and picked their own officers, and didn’t allow purchase.

Not only were there the Communist Party and their sympathisers opposing an imperialist bourgeois war (Nazi Germany being then allied to the Soviet Union)

And, just to clarify, “opposing” in this context doesn’t just mean “saying publicly that it’s a bad idea”. It means “sabotaging production in war industries with the deliberate intent of driving Britain to seek a peace deal with Nazi Germany”.

45

Bruce Wilder 01.04.16 at 6:11 pm

ajay: And, just to clarify, “opposing” in this context doesn’t just mean “saying publicly that it’s a bad idea”. It means “sabotaging production in war industries with the deliberate intent of driving Britain to seek a peace deal with Nazi Germany”.

Not that the Tory, Sir Thomas Inskip, needed assistance as Minister for Co-ordination of Defence. Baldwin’s appointment of Inskip occasioned infamous hyperbole — “This is the most cynical appointment since Caligula made his horse a consul” — and the explanation that Baldwin had sought someone even less brilliant than himself for the post.

The Tory counterfactual that the Liberal decision to go to war in 1914 entailed the loss of Empire (with the unstated implication that ol’ Willie wasn’t so bad, and he was an anointed Monarch after all) studiously ignores the long process by which Britain lost the Empire in the blundering and hypocritical Tory mis-governing of it. Ireland is indeed a case in point — the immediate trigger for the replacement of the Irish Parliamentary Party by Sinn Fein was the failure of the Third Home Rule scheme, sabotaged, one may note, by a mutiny of the Protestant Ascendancy still dominating the Army.

It is no accident that Halifax had come to a leadership role in the Conservative Party by way of his service as Viceroy and Governor-General of India. He was as brilliant there as in May 1940.

46

LFC 01.04.16 at 9:36 pm

AcademicLurker @43
Interesting. While (some) Indians did fight w the British army, others (as b mcmanus notes) fought w Japan (spec. the followers of Subhas Chandra Bose).

47

AcademicLurker 01.04.16 at 10:16 pm

LFC@46

The INA was pretty small compared to the British Indian Army. About 43,000 for the INA vs over 2 million for the BIA. But the whole country, including troops in the British Indian Army, rallied around the INA when the British tried to put them on trial for treason. Apparently this was a key event in hastening the transition to independence. It’s my impression (disclaimer: not an expert) that post independence it was the INA who were the heroes and symbols of new India. That’s why I characterized the historical place of Indian soldiers who fought against the Japanese as “tricky” in 43.

48

LFC 01.04.16 at 11:22 pm

@AcademicLurker
Noted. Sounds somewhat logical that the INA wd have been seen more as heroes than the BIA post-independence, at least by many Indians, though I also am no expert on this.

49

iolanthe 01.05.16 at 12:18 am

LFC and Academic Lurker, the position of the INA relative to those troops who remained loyal (often despite appalling treatment by the Japanese in prison camps which would have been immediately stopped by joining the INA) is complicated. On the one hand the attempts to try them after the war were a complete failure but on the other the Indian Army regarded the INA during the war as traitors and, as Fraser attests in his brilliant memoir of the war in Burma, generally shot them out of hand if they could get away with them. The INA thought they would be reinstated after the war with high rank but Nehru refused to do so, apparently because the senior command of the Indian Army (by then virtually all Indian) threatened to resign their commissions en masse if he did so, and none ever re-entered the armed forces. I suspect probably the right decision as it showed that the army must always be subject to civilian control and I’ve often wondered whether this was responsible for India’s great achievement of not lapsing into post colonial dictatorship.
As for the role of Indian Army veterans, the post independence Indian Army places great store on battle honours and campaigns and Indian Army regiments are just as proud of a VC or the battle honour of Kohima as they are of a Param Vir Chakra and the battle honour of Kargil.
I suspect had the Japanese managed to get to India, Bose and his cronies would rapidly have discovered – like the Burmese etc – that there were many worse things than being run by the British and Japanese occupation once they had no further need of you for propaganda purposes was certaintly one of them.

50

AcademicLurker 01.05.16 at 12:56 am

I should add that I’m unfamiliar with the politics of the various Indian newspapers and, as I suppose readers here are well aware, historical memory is often used as a political football. The articles I’m recalling might have been from reputable sources or might have been from National Review style right wing rags for all I know. The basic idea that that the place of the Indian Army veterans in the national memory is more complicated than that of their compatriots in the other allied countries seemed plausible enough. I suppose I should beware of falling for some sort of “The vets coming home from Vietnam were spit on when they got of the planes” type BS when it’s in a context I know little about.

51

iolanthe 01.05.16 at 1:43 am

As another aspect of the role of independence movements vis a vis the Japanese: the Indonesians, like most colonised Asians, initially welcomed the Japanese as liberators but, again like most, found the actual experience of Japanese occupation to be worse than under the Europeans, leading to some resistance to Japanese rule during the war. However, it was largely ineffective and there had been little allied military action in the Dutch East Indies with the result that the Japanese were largely in control when the surrender came. The British saw their role as being to hand back power to the Dutch but were short on resources so re-armed surrendered Japanese under British officers to fight the Indonesian nationalists. It appears that as the Japanese had little understanding of the western concept of surrendering and the rights and obligations of PoWs they were quite happy with this arrangement and very militarily effective. At least one Japanese officer was awarded the DSO during this period.

52

TM 01.05.16 at 10:11 am

“The Tory counterfactual that the Liberal decision to go to war in 1914 entailed the loss of Empire”

Are you suggetsing that the Tories opposed WWI? I have never heard of that.

53

David 01.05.16 at 10:37 am

I think there’s no doubt that the speed and completeness of the Japanese victories in 1942 undermined the myth of white superiority, and encouraged the independence movements. But I think the greater effect was on the colonial powers, who were forced to look at the cost-benefit effects of Empire rather differently. Here, it’s arguable that the First World War did have an effect. The transformation of Britain from creditor to debtor nation began the process by which the Empire became unaffordable, and the extra territories added (from the Ottomans and the Germans) just became an added burden. One of the consequences was that the Asian territories could not be garrisoned properly, and so were easily lost to small Japanese forces. In the end, it was economics, not political agitation, that did for the European empires.

54

casmilus 01.05.16 at 11:14 am

There’s a genre of modern Tory history that regrets the war against Hitler – see Maurice Cowling, John Charmley, also Alan Clark, if he counts.

There is also the great “declinist” Corelli Barnett, who seems to think it was the right decision but that lots of wrong decisions before and after made it a terrible disaster (though he thinks that getting rid of the Empire was a good thing and that in fact the 1914 “superpower” was overextended and overcommitted, with insufficient resources to meet the rising threats).

Declinism as a genre predates even WW1, such classics as “The Battle Of Dorking” and also a spoof “Imperial Japanese History Textbook for the years 2006” I found at Hay-On-Wye, blame various domestic traitors for the forthcoming disaster. “The Broken Trident” (1928) foresaw a resurgent Germany using airpower to smash its oppressors.

And of course we can never have too much of C.D.Broad’s “War Thoughts In Peace Time”:

http://www.ditext.com/broad/war.html

“Now England is likely, for the next century at least, to be a declining power, whose legal claims and traditional status are much higher than its real position in the fellowship of nations warrants. It is therefore peculiarly liable to be placed in situations in which it will be threatened with what will seem to be gross acts of aggression and insolence. One of the hardest and most unpleasant duties of Englishmen in the immediate future will be to pocket their pride, to try to realize the growing disparity between the legal or traditional and the equitable position of their country in the world, and to adjust their actions to the latter rather than to the former. In this we need not expect to be helped by any excessive display of good manners or delicate consideration on the part of foreign nations; we must be prepared in the future for a continuance of that mixture of cant, truculence, and sharp practice, which is the traditional note of the United States in its diplomatic relations with the world in general and England in particular. Happily it has so far been the great political virtue of the English to know when they are beaten, though not to acknowledge it; and we have been masters at the art of erecting dignified fictions to cover our retreat from untenable positions. We are likely to need all our skill in this art if we are to avoid disaster during the difficult period of international readjustment which lies ahead of us. In future, when we are lectured by Mrs. Hominy, denounced by Mr Jefferson Brick, bullied by Colonel Chollop, and used as stepping stones in the political career of the Honourable Elijah Pogrom, it may be wholesome for us to recollect how we used to admonish continental nations for their own good in those Palmerstonian days when we were rich and they were poor. Forsan et haes olim meminisse juvabit.”

The Battle Of Dorking:
http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks06/0602091h.html

“And yet, if ever a nation had a plain warning, we had. If we were the greatest trading country, our neighbours were the leading military power in Europe. They were driving a good trade, too, for this was before their foolish communism (about which you will hear when you are older) had ruined the rich without benefiting the poor, and they were in many respects the first nation in Europe; but it was on their army that they prided themselves most. And with reason. They had beaten the Russians and the Austrians, and the Prussians too, in bygone years, and they thought they were invincible. Well do I remember the great review held at Paris by the Emperor Napoleon during the great Exhibition, and how proud he looked showing off his splendid Guards to the assembled kings and princes. Yet, three years afterwards, the force so long deemed the first in Europe was ignominiously beaten, and the whole army taken prisoners. Such a defeat had never happened before in the world’s history; and with this proof before us of the folly of disbelieving in the possibility of disaster merely because it had never fallen upon us, it might have been supposed that we should have the sense to take the lesson to heart. And the country was certainly roused for a time, and a cry was raised that the army ought to be reorganised, and our defences strengthened against the enormous power for sudden attacks which it was seen other nations were able to put forth. And a scheme of army reform was brought forward by the Government. It was a half-and-half affair at best; and, unfortunately, instead of being taken up in Parliament as a national scheme, it was made a party matter of, and so fell through. There was a Radical section of the House, too, whose votes had to be secured by conciliation, and which blindly demanded a reduction of armaments as the price of allegiance. This party always decried military establishments as part of a fixed policy for reducing the influence of the Crown and the aristocracy. They could not understand that the times had altogether changed, that the Crown had really no power, and that the Government merely existed at the pleasure of the House of Commons, and that even Parliament-rule was beginning to give way to mob-law. At any rate, the Ministry, baffled on all sides, gave up by degrees all the strong points of a scheme which they were not heartily in earnest about. It was not that there was any lack of money, if only it had been spent in the right way. The army cost enough, and more than enough, to give us a proper defence, and there were armed men of sorts in plenty and to spare, if only they had been decently organised. It was in organisation and forethought that we fell short, because our rulers did not heartily believe in the need for preparation. The fleet and the Channel, they said, were sufficient protection. So army reform was put off to some more convenient season, and the militia and volunteers were left untrained as before, because to call them out for drill would “interfere with the industry of the country.” We could have given up some of the industry of those days, forsooth, and yet be busier than we are now. But why tell you a tale you have so often heard already? The nation, although uneasy, was misled by the false security its leaders professed to feel; the warning given by the disasters that overtook France was allowed to pass by unheeded. We would not even be at the trouble of putting our arsenals in a safe place, or of guarding the capital against a surprise, although the cost of doing so would not have been so much as missed from the national wealth. The French trusted in their army and its great reputation, we in our fleet; and in each case the result of this blind confidence was disaster, such as our forefathers in their hardest struggles could not have even imagined.”

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TM 01.05.16 at 12:55 pm

” the speed and completeness of the Japanese victories in 1942 undermined the myth of white superiority”

It is interesting to note that at least for a while, Japanese imperialism was actively encouraged by some Western imperialists such as Teddy Roosevelt, who supported Japan’s annexation of Korea and considered Japan destined to bring “Western civilization” to Asia, just like the Western imperialists were (as everybody knew) on a civilizational mission.

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Stephen 01.05.16 at 9:15 pm

Bruce Wilder@45: The unoriginal comment about Inskip was made by Churchill, who had wanted Inskip’s job as coordinator for himself. Not an impartial witness. As for Inskip “sabotaging production in war industries with the deliberate intent of driving Britain to seek a peace deal with Nazi Germany”, come off it. Inskip had only moderate powers as coordinator, but his two main achievements were to liberate naval aviation from their main enemy, the RAF, and to boost spending on aircraft production. There is no evidence whatever that he wanted a peace deal with Nazi Germany; indeed, his resignation in January 1939 was generally believed to be due to his opinion that war with the Nazis was inevitable.

It is worth repeating Ajay’s point, that the people in Britain in 1940 who really wanted peace with Nazi Germany and sabotage of the war industries were the Communists and their supporters. I don’t see why you can’t acknowledge that.

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Ronan(rf) 01.05.16 at 11:32 pm

‘re stability and homogeneity in Britain during the inter war years. Is there any good social history on the time worth reading (or even if not a general survey, anything on specific aspects -Labour militancy, anti war radicalism, anti state ideologies etc- or even on more limited timeframes)
It does seem remarkably stable in comparison to continental Europe (which I assume is a result of being spared the worst of the conflict?)

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LFC 01.06.16 at 1:54 am

‘re stability and homogeneity in Britain during the inter war years. Is there any good social history on the time worth reading

There’s quite a lot on Britain between the wars. R.K. Webb’s ’68 textbk Modern England lists inter alia (p.486, fn.1): Graves and Hodge, The Long Weekend (all of which, iirc, was assigned in a course I took in college; I might have read 5 or 10 pages, perhaps a chapter, I don’t remember as it was a long time ago); McElwee, Britain’s Locust Years; Blythe, The Age of Illusion; Mowat, Britain between the Wars. And I know other stuff has been published in the last 40 or so years, incl a recent book whose title/author are escaping me; a bit of not-too-recondite research shd prob turn up the more recent stuff w/o much difficulty.

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Dan Hardie 01.06.16 at 2:12 am

Yes, Bruce Wilder is talking utter rubbish, based presumably on ignorance. He attempts to paint Thomas Inskip as some kind of disaster as Minister for Defence Co-Ordination. In fact, Inskip looked at competing claims for defence spending, and strongly backed the decision to put as much money as possible into building up RAF Fighter Command, when there was a strong lobby to spend money on other things, especially bombers. Due in significant part to Inskip, money went not just to Fighter Command’s planes, airfields and personnel but also its command and control system, based on some newfangled and highly secret gadget that was then known (to those who operated it) as RDF, and which we now call ‘radar’. Without the increase in funding for Fighter Command after 1936, pushed through by Inskip and, perhaps surprisingly, Neville Chamberlain, against strong resistance from the bomber lobby, the Battle of Britain would very likely have been lost.

These basic facts are well known to anyone who has read the literature on pre-war British rearmament. Bruce Wilder, if he can spare the time, might want to start learning about the subject he enjoys pronouncing on by reading, say, Stephen Bungay’s ‘The most dangerous enemy’.

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Bruce Wilder 01.06.16 at 5:42 pm

Actually, I am well briefed on pre-war British rearmament. The subject of the OP, and my remarks, was the Tory attitude toward history. I thought Mark’s remarks @4 about the way Tories like to re-write history seemed to me to be on point.

Dan Hardie provides a further, if less artful, demonstration of attempting to use arrogant assertion and a tendentious focus on details to obscure a larger pattern. Baldwin and Chamberlain retarded British rearmament. They had their reasons, political and economic, to deny the urgency and moderate the response to the growing threat of European war. It is to the credit of others that attempts were made to make up for the shortfall in resources with technical and tactical innovation.

The policy of the National government of denial and appeasement proved, in the main, to be catastrophic for Britain and its Empire. Trying to make the hapless Inskip into an unsung hero of the Battle of Britain is a silliness, as is bringing up communist sabotage as a contrast medium in order to detect Tory patriotism.

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js. 01.06.16 at 7:16 pm

a contrast medium in order to detect Tory patriotism.

That, BW, is a brilliant phrase. I might steal “a contrast medium to detect [X]”.

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Stephen 01.06.16 at 9:30 pm

Bruce Wilder@60: seems to me you’re the one keen on rewriting history. You started by blaming Inskip, who was substantially responsible for strengthening the defences of Britain in the late 1930s, for sabotaging that effort: a claim you now seem to have quietly abandoned.

Now you’re saying that Baldwin and Chamberlain “retarded British rearmament”. May I remind you (I won’t say inform you, since I suspect you know this perfectly well but would prefer to keep it quiet) that the people most vociferously determined to retard British rearmament after 1936, and to attack the rearmament programme, were not Tories at all, but a substantial portion (not of course all) of the Labour Party: Cripps, Bevan, Cole, Laski, and the young Michael Foot (whose subsequent book, “Guilty Men”, attacking Tories for not having done enough to oppose Hitler, is a masterpiece of hypocrisy).

The Socialist League, of which they were members, went as far as to call on the Trades Union Council to refuse to collaborate in munitions production, and to oppose the recruitment of semi-skilled workers in industries needed for armaments production. Cripps argued that rearmament was intended only to maintain the existing class domination. How that was to be done by Inskip’s policy of strengthening British aerial defences is beyond me.

So no, it wasn’t just Communist sabotage of the British war effort, it was a determined attempt by a section of Labour to stop there being any war effort. Meanwhile, Tories (including Inskip whom you so depise) were trying to make sure that if there were such a war effort, it would be effective.

Do you have some difficulty in understanding that sometimes some Tories may be right, and some left-wingers be hopelessly wrong?

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Igor Belanov 01.07.16 at 12:33 pm

The self-destructive policy changes of world Communist Parties in this era are well known, but it must be remembered that they were the main proponents of anti-Fascist action and the formation of Popular Fronts in the period prior to the Nazi-Soviet Pact. So they can hardly be accused of sabotaging the rearmament process before August 1939, and would have had a minimal effect after that.

As to the wider Labour movement, pacifism and mistrust of the imperial British state did lead to opposition to arms in the first half of the 1930s. In the latter section of that decade, however, they were among the most vocal in advocating opposition to Nazi Germany and Fascism, notably during the Spanish Civil War, Munich Crisis etc.

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David 01.07.16 at 5:43 pm

For what it’s worth, left-wing opposition to defence spending (which long predated German rearmament) was based on the belief that an uncontrolled arms build-up would lead to war, as it had been believed to do in 1914. It was not based on support or liking for the Nazis, but on a belief that a future war would be unbelievably catastrophic, and the main victims would be ordinary people. Communist opposition to the war after 1939 essentially followed the same logic – it was an internecine struggle among capitalists and imperialists, which the worker should stay out of. So far as I know, active sympathy for the Nazis was pretty much confined to portions of the Right, and not very significant ones at that.

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Stephen 01.07.16 at 7:56 pm

Igor Belanov: since the serious rearmament programme did not start till 1936, your reference to “the first half of the 1930s” is irrelevant. What you say of the second half is true of some admirable Labour leaders, but may I draw your attention to the sayings of Stafford Cripps:
“I do not believe it would be a bad thing for the British working class if Germany defeated us.” November 1936.
“Armaments can only be made by the skill of the British working class, and it is the British working class who would be called upon to use them. To-day you have the most glorious opportunity that the workers have ever had if you will only use the necessity of capitalism in order to get power yourselves. The capitalists are in your hands. Refuse to make munitions, refuse to make armaments, and they are helpless. They would have to hand the control of the country over to you.” March 1937.
“The workers must now make it clear beyond all doubt that they will not support the Government or its armaments in its mad policy which it is now pursuing.” May 1938.

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Stephen 01.07.16 at 7:59 pm

David@64: “So far as I know, active sympathy for the Nazis was pretty much confined to portions of the Right.” Support for the Soviet Union in its alliance with the Nazis after the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact doesn’t count as ‘active sympathy’, then? Riiiiight.

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LFC 01.07.16 at 9:19 pm

Ze K @67
Hitler had made clear in Mein Kampf that he believed Germany needed to expand to the east to take over the fertile lands in Ukraine etc to provide the foundation for the Aryan agrarian paradise that he envisioned and to provide the necessary ‘living space’ for the German population. Apparently the Soviet leadership, like many other people, did not take these statements seriously or else they thought Hitler had had a change of mind with the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. There seems no other explanation for the USSR’s failure, afaik, to use the breathing room provided by the M-R pact to prepare seriously for an eventual German invasion, and it’s well known that Stalin refused to believe for a number of hours that the invasion had taken place after it happened in ’41.

So while a peace deal between Britain and Nazi Germany would not have been in the USSR’s interest during the period of the M-R pact, it seems questionable whether Stalin and his advisers would have realized that at the time (I don’t know the historiography well here, so I’m open to correction). Since Stalin couldn’t believe Hitler had invaded the USSR in ’41, i.e., since Stalin was apparently fairly clueless about Hitler’s intentions, which had long included expansion to the east, it’s hard to see Stalin bringing any greater level of insight to bear on other strategic questions in this period.

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steven johnson 01.07.16 at 10:57 pm

On the one hand, government approval of the Munich deal versus some quotes from some of the opposition politicians in the Labour Party (and of course the official position of the CP.) No doubt all right-thinking people know which is more signficant.

Ze K @67 is correct. One aspect of the Munich agreement is that France and Great Britain were making a deal with the Germans to keep the Soviets from acting on the Czechoslovak-Soviet treaty, which stipulated that if France agreed, then the Soviet Union could be an ally against Germany. The easy assumption that re-armament was aimed against the Nazis is unwarranted. There may not have been much desire to actually get down to fighting Germany on the continent, but there was great interest in fighting in Finland, against the USSR.

LFC @68 omits the Stalinist industrialization drive, which was in many respects a huge re-armament campaign…”guns, but no bread, much less butter” Frankly the notion that Stalin didn’t think he needed a giant army to fight Hitler but just did all that for reasons isn’t thinking. That’s just demonization. For good or ill, Stalin was just a man.

And earlier it was Stalin who was an opponent of Hitler in Spain. But it was the “neutrality” of Roosevelt, Blum and whoever in England that helped Franco the most. The Loyalist government was not a Communist government. It seems to me that the assumption Stalin determined the outcome of the civil war was more convenient than honest.

Reverting back to Finland (and the Baltic states,) I think Hitler at the time correctly considered those moves against him in preparation for war. And war fever about brave little Finland should be considered indirect support for Hitler.

As to not believing that Hitler hadn’t actually invaded June 22, I think that’s a case of assuming your opponent would do the smart thing. June 22 was too late in the year to be a smart time for invading Russia.

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LFC 01.07.16 at 11:14 pm

steven johnson @69

>LFC @68 omits the Stalinist industrialization drive, which was in many respects a huge re-armament campaign…”guns, but no bread, much less butter” Frankly the notion that Stalin didn’t think he needed a giant army to fight Hitler but just did all that for reasons isn’t thinking. That’s just demonization.

I take, at least partly, the point re the Stalinist industrialization drive. But given one (reputable) historian’s description of how the Soviet army “collapsed in chaos” in the opening days/weeks of the German invasion, and of “the absence of proper military planning” and the fact that more Soviet tanks broke down than were lost to enemy action, it’s hard to reach any conclusion other than that the Soviet army was ill-prepared for an invasion and didn’t expect it. (Quotes are from R. J. Evans, The Third Reich at War, p.181)

At the end of June, Stalin “left for his dacha, saying … ‘Everything’s lost. I give up. Lenin founded our state and we’ve fucked it up'” (p.187), though he subsequently pulled himself together, e.g. striking a new patriotic (perhaps Churchillian?) note in a radio address on 3 July (p.191). The Red army had been unprepared for the invasion, he admitted, but the Germans would not prevail, etc. (p.191).

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Bruce Wilder 01.08.16 at 2:21 am

The Second World War was a contest of industrial capacity. Many of the most important strategic problems centered on problems of technological development and the building of industrial capacity. All of the major participants struggled to mobilize technological and industrial potential, and the extended time-frames for doing so were significant strategic problems.

In this context — of anticipatory industrial mobilization — the individual psychology of leaders has an important correspondent in the mass psychology of peoples. It is hard to mobilize great masses of people in advance of actual fighting, even if the coming of war is widely anticipated. FDR, in the U.S., was quite far-sighted, but struggled to find a political path that would allow him the scope to mobilize the industrial resources of the U.S. Getting behavior, commitment and sacrifice appropriate to an emergency, in advance of actual war, was not easy. And, at the same time, actual war posed obvious dangers and costs, best avoided until preparations were further along.

The conventional wisdom, with much to support it, is that Stalin had weakened the Red Army leadership and related institutions of state with the Great Purge as well as with the brutality of his forced industrialization programs. But, it is also true that the Soviet Union, despite the fantastic pace of its industrialization, lagged months or years behind where it needed to be, to best Germany. Stalin may have been engaged in wishful thinking about when Hitler would attack, but he knew a contest would come, and he knew in rough terms what it would require of the Soviet Union, industrially; he knew his country was not ready and that the Red Army lacked the resources to resist or even significantly retard German advances. Characteristically, he ordered desperate tactics that increased Soviet losses. In the event, the Soviet Union, in an heroic effort of almost unimaginable scale, did manage to complete its industrialization beyond the Urals and to outproduce Germany. It was exactly 3 years to the day that Operation Bagration began. Operation Barbarossa had been huge, involving three quarters of all German military resources. Bagration was bigger. At key points of confrontation, the Russians showed up with seven times as many aircraft and tens times as many tanks as the opposing German forces.

By almost any measure, Britain did an inadequate job of industrial mobilization. This was what the Guilty Men were guilty of. Technical acumen was not matched by organizational efficiency. They paid a large price during the war itself, and afterward, when exhausted, they limped along for several years of privations proportional to having lost, because they had had to run down so much of their economic capacity even to squeeze how the effort they did.

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Peter T 01.08.16 at 10:00 am

The history on this is till evolving, as new material comes to light. Couple of points:

– Stalin did not “retreat to his dacha” in despair. His diary shows him meeting with colleagues throughout the period (the tale goes back to Krushchev).

– Britain’s industrial capacity in key military areas declined in the 20s and 30s. Naval draughting and armour production were two key bottlenecks throughout the war. This was related partly to cutbacks in defence spending, but also to inability to maintain capacity through an era of diminished general demand and heightened competition. It wasn’t just heavy industry – the UK lost out in textiles and much else. But the government was prepared to spend to preserve key capabilities – hence the shadow factories which later boosted aircraft production. They did, in light of exchange constraints, have to pick carefully, and the evidence is that they did a pretty good job. British naval shipbuilding was more efficient than American, British aircraft mostly a generation ahead until mid-war, and tanks comparable or better. The UK had to balance home production with import needs, export needs, shipping and coordination across the Empire and dominions. They were certainly much better than the Germans overall (higher proportion of GDP spent on military with less impact on civilian life, higher production in most key areas).

One thing Tooze highlights that was news to me is that the British position at the centre of finance allowed them to take measures from 37 on that severely restricted the Germans (denial of credit and of import financing).

I’m not saying that they could not have done better. I’m saying they played a complicated hand quite well, with fewer mistakes than most.

In World War I as in World War II, all armed forces concentrated planning on the offense (after all, that’s where wars are won). It took some hard lessons to drive home that the first pre-requisite is a successful defence. The Soviet disasters of 41 were due to this (and the officers Stalin executed were as much in this mind-set as their successors) and to being caught in the middle of multiple transitions – from mass infantry to combined arms, from one generation of equipment to another and from one set of plans to another. That they recovered at all was a testament to the people and the system.

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Stephen 01.08.16 at 11:43 am

ZeK@67: Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union “had a non-aggression pact, not an alliance”. Sure, the invasion of Poland by the Germans from one side and the Soviets from the other was an act of pure non-aggression, not an alliance. And the massive deliveries of raw materials to Germany before Barbarossa was a simple matter of non-aggression, too.

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Stephen 01.08.16 at 11:49 am

Steven Johnson@69: “The easy assumption that re-armament was aimed against the Nazis is unwarranted”. If we’re talking about British rearmament, then it has been pointed out above that rearmament concentrated on strengthening the navy and building up an elaborate air defence system for Britain: interceptor fighters, anti-aircraft guns, radar, searchlights, and so forth. Feel free to believe that this was really directed at the Soviet Union.

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Stephen 01.08.16 at 11:56 am

Bruce Wilder@71: you seem to be arguing both that Britain’s post war problems were due to having committed so much of the economy to armaments, and also that Britain should have put more effort into producing armaments. Have I misunderstood you?

Also, you state that the British rearmament effort was industrially inefficient. Do you have any sources to explain why it was more inefficient than in other countries, bearing in mind that there were substantial inefficiencies in the German, French and US armaments systems?

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David 01.08.16 at 1:19 pm

Stephen and others,
One of the points that has not been mentioned is the influence of Treasury-driven austerity and the infamous “ten-year rule” for defence planning. Arguably the “guilty men” were more to be found in the Treasury and the banks than elsewhere. One practical consequence of this was the almost mystical belief in the capacity of offensive air power to win wars quickly (i.e. cheaply), so avoiding conscription and massive expenditure on ground forces. (To be fair, until the early 1930s there were no effective counter-measures to aircraft anyway).
On Stalin, I think the consensus is that Khrushchev went out of his way to blacken his reputation, for obvious political reasons, and that, although Stalin was deeply shocked at the invasion, he recovered quickly, and was very active in the first few days of the war. He had expected a conflict at some point, but hoped to delay it for as long as possible. Experts still disagree about how much better prepared the Red Army was in 1941 than in 1939.
On Poland, it’s clear Stalin saw no disadvantage in moving his defensive lines westward. In any event, large parts of Poland had been Russian until 1917 – it was like the French getting Alsace and Lorraine back.

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Ronan(rf) 01.08.16 at 1:25 pm

Lfc- thanks.

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LFC 01.08.16 at 3:41 pm

@Peter T
Stalin did not “retreat to his dacha” in despair. His diary shows him meeting with colleagues throughout the period (the tale goes back to Krushchev).

Ok. I was just following Evans. Historians do make mistakes. (A recent bio of Marx by a respected, erudite historian says Hegel never got married. Wrong.)

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LFC 01.08.16 at 3:51 pm

David @77
although Stalin was deeply shocked at the invasion, he recovered quickly

This is basically what Evans says. The “retreated to his dacha” tale is a side pt. Doesn’t really matter whether or not he did. Since I really don’t know much about this, I’ll accept that it prob didn’t happen and that Khruschev made it up and somehow it got ‘into the bks’ or some bks — I don’t have time/inclination to go into it further.

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LFC 01.08.16 at 3:55 pm

@ronan
no problem. always ready w some obsolete bibliography ;)

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jwl 01.08.16 at 4:42 pm

It’s interesting to see how blithely people dismiss the unprovoked, aggressive Soviet invasion of Poland. Also unmentioned is the unprovoked, aggressive Soviet invasion of Finland.

If the Soviet invasion of Poland to recover territories it lost during and after WWI is ok, then the German invasion of Poland to recover territories it lost after WWI should be ok too.

It is always enjoyable watching Soviet apologists do backflips to excuse the aggressive warfare of the Soviet Union from 1939-1941, seeking territory through conquest.

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Bruce Wilder 01.08.16 at 5:18 pm

Stephen @ 76

Yes, you have misunderstood my remarks, on both counts. Organizational “efficiency” may have been a poor choice of terms on my part, though I wonder at your remarkable determination, despite an obviously extensive acquaintance with the facts of the case, to adopt a tendentious interpretation, both in building your own narrative and arguing with others — not just me.

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Stephen 01.08.16 at 5:57 pm

Bruce Wilder@84: all right, I misunderstood you, which I always admitted might be possible. So, what would be a correct understanding of your apparently self-contradictory post?

And is “adopting a tendentious interpretation” Wilderspeak for disagreeing with Wilder?

83

Rich Puchalsky 01.08.16 at 6:08 pm

BW: “I wonder at your remarkable determination”

This is one of the most annoying things about commenting on CT. All right, so BW says that British organizational efficiency was bad. Stephen then writes “you seem to be arguing both that Britain’s post war problems were due to having committed so much of the economy to armaments, and also that Britain should have put more effort into producing armaments. ” Well… yes. That is what “efficiency” implies. With low efficiency, an entity can commit a whole lot of its economy towards something and not get as much result as it needs.

It’s not a self-contradictory argument at all. It rests on the plain and ordinary meaning of the word “efficiency”. BW might be wrong about British organization efficiency as a matter of fact, I don’t know: but we can’t even get to a consideration of whether or not he’s wrong as a matter of fact if people can’t read.

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Stephen 01.08.16 at 6:10 pm

Bruce: also, if “organisational efficiency” was a poor choice of words on your part – I wouldn’t really blame you, nobody always chooses words correctly – what would be a better choice of words to explain your belief that British rearmament was mismanaged in ways that did not affect the rearmament of other states?

“Tendentious” is not actually a word I had ever used before. I looked it up. Merriam-Webster has “strongly favoring a particular point of view in a way that may cause argument: expressing a strong opinion”. Well, if that’s what you meant, I happily plead guilty. Would you prefer that I should express weak opinions, feebly abstain from favouring a particular point of view, or say nothing that might cause argument? Do you think that all CT commentors should act so?

No, I don’t think so. Am I wrong in supposing that what you really mean is “disagreeing with Bruce Wilder”?

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AcademicLurker 01.08.16 at 6:17 pm

I can’t believe that folks here would rather re-fight WWII than celebrate Roy Batty’s birthday…

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Stephen 01.08.16 at 6:23 pm

Rich: I can read as well as you do. I found Bruce’s comment hard to understand, but honestly acknowledged that I might have misunderstood it. Your elucidation, that what Bruce meant was that inefficient organisation of the British armament effort produced both inadequate rearmament and postwar exhaustion, makes very good sense: though I note that Bruce now seems to have retreated from his claim that the problem was in fact with British organisational inefficiency.

I look forward to learning what, in Bruce’s view, the British problem actually was. I would not be at all surprised to find there were considerable problems, but I would like to know why Bruce thinks they were worse in Britain than elsewhere. I would discount as trivial explanations on the lines that armament problems in the US (which was not being bombed or invaded) were less than in Britain, Germany or Russia (which were).

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LFC 01.08.16 at 6:29 pm

jwl @83
yes, largely agree. I think the USSR’s invasion of Poland counts as aggression.

Just as if France had decided to invade Alsace and Lorraine any time betw 1871 and 1914, that prob wd have counted as aggression. Irrelevant I think, from a (customary) int’l law standpoint, that France wd have been recovering territories lost in the Franco-Prussian War. I see that Walzer has a discussion of Alsace-Lorraine in roughly this context in Just and Unjust Wars, pp.55 ff., but not going to read it rt now, so I don’t know where he comes down (or whether he simply says, in effect, “it’s complicated
and I’m not too sure,” which is occasionally what W. does, though he usually wraps it in more impressive prose than that).

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steven johnson 01.08.16 at 6:53 pm

Stephen@75 Munich 1938 and cries for war against the USSR over Finland in 1939 argue very strongly that it is indeed too easy to assume that re-built English war-fighting capacity wouldn’t be aimed at the USSR at some point. The English opposition was relentless from 1917 until well into the war with Germany.

jwl@83 grossly misrepresents the Soviet invasion of Poland. Poland was defeated, leaving the as yet unoccupied areas in a formal state of anarchy. That may not be a provocation in the sense of a hostile act, but it is a crisis demanding action. Yet somehow I am confident that jwl would be just as outraged if the Soviets had left a formally independent “Polish” government in the eastern part allotted to them.
Indeed, I’ve taken up wondering whether the jwls of the world wouldn’t have preferred to see the Nazis regretfully moving into all of Poland in the name of maintaining order, right up to the pre-war Soviet border. After all, that might have made Hitler’s first year drive on Moscow a sucess?

The border adjustments with Finland were not quite the outrage jwl pretends. My best judgment is that the primary reason for the inability of the Finnish government to accept that the Soviet Union was anticipating an existential struggle with Nazi Germany in which defense in depth for Leningrad was required, was because it was as deeply committed to the final overthrow of the USSR as Germany. They risked their entire country in an unequal struggle for something that was not going to threaten their existence. When the Nazis invaded the USSR, the Finns of course found it a mere Continuation of their own war.

I am surprised that jwl didn’t cite the best case for his fake universalist standard, where Nazi=Communist=aggressive war-makers in a planet enslaved largely by the British, French, Dutch, Portuguese, Italian, Japanese and Spanish empires, namely, the Baltic states. But here too I expect the jwls would have preferred the Baltics remained allies of the Germans, for again, that might have made the difference in taking Leningrad. That land was going to belong to one side or the other, whether formally acknowledged to so so, or not. That being the case, yes, better it was the USSR.

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jwl 01.08.16 at 10:34 pm

LFC,

It is important to realize that France acquired much of Alsace-Lorraine through conquest in the first place (notably Strasbourg in 1681). It’s also notable that France started the Franco-Prussian war in a bid to conquer more territory.

As I say, backflips that turns into special pleading. The rules on aggressive war, the desires/goals of the people living in the USSR-coveted lands, the sovereignty of nations, are all irrelevant. If you had the misfortune to be living near the borders of the USSR and the USSR decided it needed your land for its own defence, so much the worse for you. Aggressive warfare by others to recover lost territories is awful and must be condemned, but by the USSR it is a praiseworthy and farsighted action that shows good judgement.

Particularly funny is that the Nuremberg trials focused on aggressive war and crimes against humanity, but the trial had to declare the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact a forgery to allow the Soviets to wriggle out of danger.

I’m also a little surprised at the casual denigration of Poland here. We don’t know what would have happened had the Soviets not invaded. Without 800,000 Red Army soldiers attacking Poland from the east, the German invasion of Poland might have gone somewhat differently. After all, the Finns held off the Red Army fairly capably the next year even though being vastly outnumbered.

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LFC 01.09.16 at 12:05 am

jwl @92
The rules on aggressive war… are all irrelevant

If one takes “the rules on aggressive war” broadly to mean something like the norms/customs prevailing (even if often violated) in international society — and these existed long before the formal codification of aggressive war as a crime at Nuremburg — then they are certainly not irrelevant. If you are going to denounce “backflips” and “special pleading,” you need some reasonable foundation on which to do so, and I don’t see how you can dispense with the law of armed conflict, broadly understood to include the prevailing normative conventions, in that context.

p.s. When Louis XIV took Strasbourg in 1681, his critics didn’t simply yawn and say “power politics as usual.” They drew on existing conventions about acceptable international behavior in their criticism (cf. the criticism of the so-called Chambres des reunions, the “courts” Louis XIV set up to rubber-stamp some of his territorial acquisitions).

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steven johnson 01.09.16 at 12:43 am

The discovery that the Soviets instead of the Germans defeated the Poles but the Finns won in 1939 leaves me shocked, shocked at the gross misrepresentations of history found in the text books.

If the apologists can falsify so much with their plebeian grubbiness in mere factuality, what else has been falsified?

Unsurprisingly, the Munich pact immediately comes to mind. The resolution of Germany’s territorial claims to the Sudetenland without regard to morally irrelevant security issues on a peaceful basis that as a delightful bonus kept the Soviet aggression out of central Europe has no doubt been misrepresented as collaboration with the Nazis (from inexplicable idealism, but maybe cowardice and never a case of birds of a feather…)

Or to put it another way, the victory of the anti-Communist struggle demands the unhesitating sacrifice of simple honesty. Fortunately that’s no problem for a moralist.

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LFC 01.09.16 at 1:15 am

I don’t know quite what’s going on with jwl. I do know what’s going on with steven johnson: the usual.

Here’s jwl @83:

It’s interesting to see how blithely people dismiss the unprovoked, aggressive Soviet invasion of Poland. Also unmentioned is the unprovoked, aggressive Soviet invasion of Finland…. It is always enjoyable watching Soviet apologists do backflips to excuse the aggressive warfare of the Soviet Union from 1939-1941, seeking territory through conquest.

So @83, jwl denounces Soviet aggression (with at least some basis, imo), and then @92 he/she asserts that “the rules on aggressive war” are “irrelevant.” Excuse me? How can you denounce aggressive war @83, and then @92 declare the rules on aggressive war to be irrelevant?

As for s. johnson: nothing, in his view, the Soviets did from 1939 to 1941 was anything other than completely justified, b.c they needed “defense in depth” against a German invasion. Meanwhile, they neglected the condition of their equipment so badly that, according to Evans, they lost more of their (somewhat obsolescent) tanks to mechanical failures than to the Germans in the opening days of the German invasion. Peter T has said that they were in the process of transitioning in tactics and whatnot, which may well be the case, but if you are really concerned about an invasion you know is coming eventually, wouldn’t it make sense to have your tanks in decent repair? Wouldn’t it make sense to do something other than rush headlong at the German divisions, apparently the tactic used by some Red Army units in the opening days?

I don’t know, but I think this thread is on the verge of going through the looking glass. YMMV.

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Jwl 01.09.16 at 2:02 am

LFC,

I was being sarcastic. The second paragraph of the second posting is a summary of what the special pleaders for the USSR say. The desires and needs of anyone outside the USSR are irrelevant. Suppose Poland didn’t want to be occupied by the USSR? For Steven Johnson, this doesn’t matter. Every action by the USSR was right, necessary, and praiseworthy.

Stevenjohnson,

To be honest, I don’t completely understand you in 94, but it sounds like whataboutery.

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Peter T 01.09.16 at 2:53 am

International law is less like codified domestic law than it is like the “laws” of feud. You have to have a plausible pretext, some degree of support from one’s peers and be able to make a case in the current context. Your actual practice has to be reasonably matched to the situation (so killing someone in return for a libel is probably okay, burning their house down with the family inside is not). It’s probably a reasonable judgement that, while Germany and Italy openly flouted the conventions, the USSR mostly stayed (just) within the bounds.

Europe in 1914 had an established mechanism for settling disputes such as the one between Serbia and Austria-Hungary. You had a Conference of the Great Powers and they haggled over the issues until some compromise was reached, usually involving multiple trade-offs. In July 1914, Britain and France proposed such a Conference; Germany and A-H refused.

There were efforts to revive this between the wars, but Germany and Italy were not amenable to the practice, and the USSR’s position was anomalous. In this situation, all looked to improve their defences wherever opportunity offered. Britain beefed up the navy and air force, France built the Maginot Line (and entered into alliances with Czechoslovakia and Rumania). Stalin tried for a general pact guaranteeing current borders – clearly aimed at Germany (it’s still hard to know how genuine he was) and then for the non-aggression pact when that did not go through (largely because of Polish objections). Which he then used to move the border westwards – not just Poland but also Bessarabia, Ruthenia and the Baltics. Given that Russia had some claim to all these (bar Ruthenia) and faced open hostility and the imminent prospect of invasion, it was not a totally out of court set of moves.

Stalin offered the Finns a large slice of Karelia in return for a small buffer zone to the north of Leningrad. When they refused, he took it and more by force. I’ve not read any account of Finnish calculations, but it was possible they refused because they hoped to regain all of Karelia in conjunction with Germany. They certainly had revanchist ambitions in that direction.

The first German tries at combined operations were a chaotic mess (tanks out of fuel all the way from Munich to Vienna, units lost, huge traffic jams….). They learned. the Red Army watched, absorbed the lessons and hastily tried to upgrade to match after a long period of low defence spending. They were in the middle when Germany attacked. Some tried the old ways, some the new, both with inadequate or inappropriate support. What they did get right was mobilisation, industrial relocation and and ferocious concentration on key priorities.

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LFC 01.09.16 at 3:15 am

@jwl
I was being sarcastic

Sorry, I’m not sure why I didn’t pick that up. My fault. (sigh)

96

LFC 01.09.16 at 3:37 am

@Peter T
Given that Russia had some claim to all these (bar Ruthenia) and faced open hostility and the imminent prospect of invasion
Imminent? More like eventual, no? (Otherwise why sign the ’39 pact, if not to delay it?)

“combined operations”
Does this mean any tactical combination or co-ordination of two or more ‘arms’ (i.e., infantry, armor, air, in the modern context)?

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Peter T 01.09.16 at 3:44 am

lfc

“imminent” in the sense of within the next five years. Which is a short time in re-armament cycles.

“Combined arms” is the military term for ops where armour, artillery, air and infantry have to be coordinated. World War I was artillery plus infantry; World War II was (land) combined arms or, for the US and Britain, the even more complex “joint force” – all of the above plus strategic air and naval forces.

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steven johnson 01.09.16 at 4:14 am

LFC and jwl can argue out how the hopelessly unprepared Soviet army conquered Poland for the Nazis yet were defeated by the Finns. For those who care to draw conclusions as to why presumably sane adults would re-write history with inanities like that, it’s very simple: Stalin will never be forgiven for beating Hitler. Hence jwl’s sincere regret that all of Poland wasn’t occupied by Hitler. Or LFC’s equally sincere belief that Munich is just a faux pas while the Nonaggression Pact was clearly a malicious crime.

The attitude that no decent person would protest the New Improved History is understandable.

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LFC 01.09.16 at 4:20 am

@Peter T

On combined arms, the Germans also had air forces to co-ordinate in the first part of WW2, at least, e.g. dive bombers in the blitzkrieg. Anyway, I now have a clearer idea of what ‘combined arms’ means – thanks.

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LFC 01.09.16 at 4:26 am

@steven johnson
LFC and jwl can argue out how the hopelessly unprepared Soviet army conquered Poland for the Nazis yet were defeated by the Finns.

I never said the Soviet army conquered Poland for the Nazis. The Soviets moved into E. Poland after the Germans had basically defeated the Polish army, iirc, though they did get some resistance.

Stalin will never be forgiven for beating Hitler. Hence jwl’s sincere regret that all of Poland wasn’t occupied by Hitler. Or LFC’s equally sincere belief that Munich is just a faux pas while the Nonaggression Pact was clearly a malicious crime.

Complete and utter, defamatory nonsense. I never said Munich was a faux pas while the M/R pact was a malicious crime. And obviously the USSR contributed greatly to the defeat of Hitler and shd get full credit for that, which in Anglo-American collective memory it often doesn’t.

Your remarks are here just defamatory bullshit.

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LFC 01.09.16 at 4:28 am

correction:
“your remarks here are etc.”

102

LFC 01.09.16 at 4:32 am

The fact is that you have, iirc, never written here so much as a single syllable critical of Stalin for anything, ever. Rather than face that, you turn on a spigot of false accusations, charging me w viewing Munich as a ‘faux pas’, which is ludicrous on its face, and implying that jwl and I somehow favor the Axis, also ludicrous on its face. I’m done w this thread.

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Bruce Wilder 01.09.16 at 7:05 am

LFC @ 95: Meanwhile, they neglected the condition of their equipment so badly that, according to Evans, they lost more of their (somewhat obsolescent) tanks to mechanical failures than to the Germans in the opening days of the German invasion. Peter T has said that they were in the process of transitioning in tactics and whatnot, which may well be the case, but if you are really concerned about an invasion you know is coming eventually, wouldn’t it make sense to have your tanks in decent repair? Wouldn’t it make sense to do something other than rush headlong at the German divisions, apparently the tactic used by some Red Army units in the opening days?

I am unclear what argument you think you are making here?

Do you think Stalin was not “really” concerned about an invasion?

The Soviet Union was poorly prepared to meet the German invasion. “Wouldn’t it make sense?” Well, yes, it would. But, the kind of industrial advance and mobilization required to reach parity with the Germans would take many months if not years.

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Bruce Wilder 01.09.16 at 7:54 am

Stephen @ 89

I find your style of argument rude. You are a bit of a troll, I think. I am not here to lecture on the history of Britain’s involvement in WWII.

I brought up the example of Inskip’s appointment, because it was a clear instance of obdurate resistance to war preparation on the necessary scale and with the necessary vigor. It was a good example, I thought, of Tories forgetting their own role in the destruction of the Empire they pine for.

The creation of the post had been forced on Baldwin by people like Churchill, who were rightly alarmed by the pace of German rearmament, the facts about which the Baldwin government had made misleading statements that had been exposed as wishful thinking. Having conceded the creation of a post for hurrying preparations, Baldwin appointed a lawyer of no particular conviction or military experience.

Your argument was that Inskip’s appointment was proof that the Conservative leadership was right, because radar and commie saboteurs. You chose to make no sense and now you are confused. I don’t see how I can help.

Britain was forced into fumbles and desperate expedience by its poor preparation, and to a large extent the scale and vigor of their preparation were a policy choice. They could have done more and should have, given the evidence before them and the extent of unemployment in Depression Britain.

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Peter T 01.09.16 at 8:29 am

Bruce

I think this fails to understand British politics, the balance of opinion in the 30s and the real constraints on action. “lawyer[s] of no particular conviction or military experience” were pretty much the norm at British cabinet level. Their job was not to make military decisions, but to represent the advice of the staffs to Cabinet, convey Cabinet’s decisions to the staff and ensure overall adherence to the governments’ program. Hore-Belisha, Archibald Sinclair and many others are thought to have done this job well. I don’t know about Inskip, but he was not out of the ordinary. And don’t forget Churchill – Indian army polo player, journalist, mid-level infantry officer – in command of the Admiralty and later the war.

Opinion in the UK was not prepared to back large-scale re-armament until the mid-30s. And there were real constraints given a delicate balance of payments situation. Maybe there was more room, but it’s hard to see much more. As for fumbles and desperate expedients – the UK actually laid its bets very well (on a modern navy, air defence, aircraft production, pilot training, army mechanisation). It got some things wrong, which took years to correct (eg tank design and use), but then so did everyone else. The US was able to throw money at problems; Britain was not.

106

Collin Street 01.09.16 at 8:46 am

Rich: I can read as well as you do. I found Bruce’s comment hard to understand, but honestly acknowledged that I might have misunderstood it. Your elucidation, that what Bruce meant was that inefficient organisation of the British armament effort produced both inadequate rearmament and postwar exhaustion, makes very good sense: though I note that Bruce now seems to have retreated from his claim that the problem was in fact with British organisational inefficiency.

If you could read as well as Rich then you wouldn’t need his elucidation, you wouldn’t benefit from it. By definition, no?

You can’t read as well as Rich can; you can’t read as well as Bruce can. We know this — you know this — because you’ve tried it and failed, because you needed his help to see something that Rich saw unaided and Bruce didn’t even need pointing out for. You need to learn from this, not only the content that Rich saw that you didn’t, but that he saw things you didn’t, that he — other people — have deeper insight and quicker more-reliable understanding than you do.

[the bulk of thinking — deductive reasoning, text analysis, self-reflection — is learned skills, which means that some people learn them badly. Innate biology counts for a lot, at the beginning, but turning your innate insight into a tool that delivers reliable conclusions is something you have to be trained for.]

107

TM 01.09.16 at 2:01 pm

Peter T:
“Given that Russia had some claim to all these (bar Ruthenia) and faced open hostility and the imminent prospect of invasion, it was not a totally out of court set of moves.

Stalin offered the Finns a large slice of Karelia in return for a small buffer zone to the north of Leningrad. When they refused, he took it and more by force. I’ve not read any account of Finnish calculations, but it was possible they refused because they hoped to regain all of Karelia in conjunction with Germany. They certainly had revanchist ambitions in that direction.”

So the Finnish had revanchist ambitions but Stalin just took what he “had some claim to”. Well, yeah.

In terms of international law (even by the standards of the time), all of these conquests were obviously illegal. Czechoslovakia, Poland, Finland, the Baltic states were all victims (not incidentally, all of them nation states created as a result of WWI). Moral judgment must also take into account subsequent events. Finland aided Germany’s murderous siege of Leningrad, clearly they took the wrong side even though they were attacked first. Soviet occupation of East Poland may have been a justifiable move given the strategic situation, but one cannot just pass silently over the atrocities committed by that occupation, and neither can one overlook the fact that it was the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact that sealed Poland’s fate. To claim that the Soviet Union just responded to the facts created by Germany is therefore nonsense.

108

TM 01.09.16 at 2:17 pm

Among the more surprising facts I took away from Snyder’s Bloodlands is that Stalin up to the middle 30s was more afraid of Poland than Germany. Poland of course had given the Soviets a bloody nose in 1920 and there certainly was no shortage of anti-Russian sentiment in the Polish leadership at the time, but then how could the Soviet leadership ignore the anti-Russian, anti-Slavic hate propaganda of the Nazis and their Lebensraum im Osten plans?

Also, in this context: Stalin had hundreds of thousands of Soviet citizens murdered because they were considered ethnic Poles.

109

steven johnson 01.09.16 at 4:29 pm

Lest anyone forget, the OP is about how and why England lost its empire. I suggested that losing Ireland was huge, and implied it had to do with WWI, not WWII. Then there was a diversion about the role of the USSR. Perhaps it’s like trying to empty a swimming pool with a tea spoon to challenge the nonsense. But it’s the insistence on nonsense that’s the problem, no matter how dull the arguments against it.

Which is true, even if LFC takes it personally. Well, I can understand the temptation to do so…I’m personally offended by the charge of “bullshit.” First, it’s jwl who thought the Poles might have won if the Soviets hadn’t beaten them and also said the Finns won. I doubt jwl truly believes either proposition, though. That’s just BS substituting for an argument. Plainly LFC’s BS detector is busted.

Second, it is customary to excuse Munich as an unfortunate mistake, while the Non-Aggression pact is deemed. The point was made in the thread this is false, but LFC has ignored this. It is impossible to pose as a high-minded moralist when selectively applying supposed standards.

Third, there is no lack of preposterous criticisms of Stalin, especially those aimed at white-washing the West. The notion that I have to ritually add to them to establish my bona fides as a genuine human being is grotesque in its presumption and malice.

A last note for any who don’t skip posts: The issues are not about the past but about the future. The fascists are back in Ukraine. So it is ever more necessary for the supporters of the new world order to double down on the talking points against Stalin and the USSR. In my life, I’ve come to believe the more violent the vituperation of dead communists, the more violent the hatred of living workers. In one respect the OP isn’t about how England lost its empire, but how to keep US from losing its.

110

Stephen 01.09.16 at 5:13 pm

Steven Jihnson @101: “Stalin will never be forgiven for beating Hitler”. By some surviving adherents of Hitler, very possibly. By people committed to liberal democracy, Stalin will never be forgiven for being a totalitarian mass murderer who would, given the chance, have imposed his tyranny far further than he did. These two classes of people are very different. If you truly think that anyone opposed to the Soviet Union, or its current successor, is therefore a fascist, there really is no help for you.

111

AcademicLurker 01.09.16 at 5:30 pm

It’s commonplace in the U.S. that right wingers are greatly miffed over the fact that in the “popularly accepted symbol of ultimate evil” contest, the Nazis have definitively won out over the communists. Do Europeans care about this, or is it mainly an American thing?

112

Stephen 01.09.16 at 5:31 pm

Bruce Wilder@107: I’m still waiting, without too much hope, for your explanation of why British rearmament in the 1930s was particularly inefficient, and how Inskip sabotaged it by getting it concentrated on naval forces and anti-aircraft defences. See Peter T@108.

You seem less than entirely coherent when you claim my “argument was that Inskip’s appointment was proof that the Conservative leadership was right, because radar and commie saboteurs”. I don’t think anyone has said Inskip’s appointment had anything to do with commie saboteurs. If you believe Stafford Cripps, who did indeed call in the 1930s for trades unionists to oppose rearmament, was a Communist, you are deeply mistaken. If you believe that the Communist Party’s calling 1940 for sabotage (fortunately ignored by the workers, victims as always of false consciousness) never happened, I would suggest a little light reading on the period.

As for radar: yes, with Inskip’s coordination the UK did concentrate on radar and other methods of aerial defence. I can’t help feeling grateful for that. Perhaps you would have preferred a British defeat in 1940?

113

Stephen 01.09.16 at 5:34 pm

Collin Street@109: I’m not sure which eminent lawyer is supposed to have given the advice “If you have no defence, abuse the plaintiff’s attorney”. I’ve seen it attributed even to Abraham Lincoln, which I much doubt. You seem to have taken it to heart. It’s not usually effective.

114

Stephen 01.09.16 at 5:47 pm

Ze K@119: you refer to”the 1940 unprovoked, aggressive invasion of Iceland by British-Canadian-American invaders”. If you were better informed, you would know that no Americans were involved; that Iceland was at the time part of the Kingdom of Denmark, of which the eastern parts had been unprovokedly invaded by Nazi Germany (a year after the two had signed a non-aggression pact, ho bloody ho); that the Icelanders welcomed the arrival of the British forces as being infinitely preferable to the arrival of the Germans (do you understand why?); and that under international law, if one belligerent starts things going by occupying part of a neutral country, the other is fully entitled to occupy another part to oppose them.

I trust this will explain to you why no British statesmen were tried and hanged at Nuremburg for the occupation of Iceland. Why no Soviet leaders were tried and hanged for their aggressive wars, why, that’s another matter entirely. I rather think an enormous number of T-34s had something to do with it.

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Bruce Wilder 01.09.16 at 6:03 pm

Peter T @ 108

Thinking that Britain in the 1930s was impersonally constrained by poorly specified economic facts or “that the UK actually laid its bets very well” because it miraculously won some late throws of the dice comes dangerously close to erasing all contingency from the history and all policy from the politics.

The position of Minister for Co-ordination of Defence was created in 1936 precisely because political support for large-scale rearmament was growing with the alarm over the increasing pace of German rearmament. Contemporaries generally thought Baldwin’s appointment of Inskip was intended to signal to Europe that Britain wasn’t really going to rearm at scale. And, they didn’t. The Soviet ambassador to Britain, recalls a small luncheon with Halifax that Inskip attended in 1938, I think, during which Inskip regaled the group with his confusion over military terminology — how many men in a division, etc. — and the ambassador both appreciated the humor and drew the conclusion that this was further evidence that Britain was not serious.

The OP was about the Tory worldview and the rewriting of history that it entails.

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Bruce Wilder 01.09.16 at 6:32 pm

Stephen @ 116

British rearmament in the 1930s was insufficient because Baldwin and Chamberlain didn’t want to spend the money and didn’t take Hitler seriously. They thought if the fascists and commies fought that would be a fine thing, and perhaps Hitler could be appeased with the gift of other peoples’ countries — Czechoslovakia or some African colonies.

Ultimately, by not investing in a timely way in industrial capacity, military and naval stocks and upgrading the operational capacities of the army and navy, Britain was unable to respond adequately in the early days of the conflict with either Germany or Japan. Chamberlain did not want conscription, so there wasn’t much of an army. Chamberlain’s appeasement policy of gifting Germany Czechoslovakia squandered Britain’s credibility as an ally; the rich irony of excusing Munich while expressing high dudgeon about the realpolitik of Molotov-Ribbentrop requires heroic levels of obduracy. The Germans took Norway against bumbling, ineffective opposition from Britain. Britain did nothing in the phony war, and when the real war came, the pitiful remains of the British Army had to be hauled from Dunkirk on a flotilla of private boats. The British navy was ill-prepared for convoy duty and the loss of merchant shipping was catastrophic. Fortress Singapore was a bad joke.

During the war, Britain was forced into desperate expedients to make up the deficit and was dependent on handouts from the U.S. and its overseas dominions. It was unable to build up its industrial or technical capacities and still squeeze out sufficient effort to survive. Merchant shipping had to be moved from the Indian Ocean to make up losses, with the consequence of an Indian famine that killed millions and the immobility of a two and half million man army that couldn’t be moved, couldn’t fight.

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Bruce Wilder 01.09.16 at 7:01 pm

Stephen @ 118: “Iceland was at the time part of the Kingdom of Denmark”

Well, actually, no. Iceland was a separate kingdom in personal union with Denmark — they had the same monarch, and they allowed the Danes to represent them diplomatically. The Icelandic legislature appointed a regent when Denmark was invaded and assumed responsibility for its own foreign affairs. That was roughly a month before the Brits invaded, violating Icelandic neutrality. The Americans would later take over the military occupation of Iceland. They weren’t happy about occupation and protested at the time of the hand-off to the Americans, which took place before the U.S. was officially at war.

I’ve noticed that you frequently get small facts wrong. You attributed the authorship of the “Guilty Men” pamphlet to the Laborite Foote, without acknowledging his two co-authors who had Liberal and Conservative loyalties. You attributed the “Caligula appointing his horse consul” quote to Churchill, when it is customarily attributed to Lindemann.

I am not that good at picking up on these small details, as I am not as immersed in the history as some, but it does make me suspicious. Are these little mistakes meant as troll bait?

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Stephen 01.09.16 at 7:43 pm

Bruce@123: I agree that I may sometimes get small facts wrong. Nobody’s perfect. You, on the other hand, seem to get fairly major facts wrong and then run away when criticised. I’m still waiting for your retraction of your claim that Inskip sabotaged the rearmament effort. I’m patient, but not optimistic.

Iceland in 1940 was in personal union with Denmark, but with Denmark controlling its foreign policy. There was no significant Icelandic opposition to the British occupation. Do you think there should have been?

The attribution of the Caligula quote in Guilty Men (of which the previously anti-rearmament journalist Michael Foot was the most spectacular hypocrite) is to “a great statesman”.If you wish to think that is an adequate description of Lindemann, I can’t help you.

In the department of small facts: it’s Foot, not Foote. Not that I blame you.

I don’t suppose that I will ever get you to accept that the main opponents of rearmament in the 1930s were in the Labour party, not the Conservatives.

119

Stephen 01.09.16 at 7:50 pm

Ze K: if you really believe that the Soviets carried out a liberation of eastern Poland in 1939, then you have a quite remarkable concept of liberation. You may have noticed that the Soviets heroically liberated well over 20,000 of their captives at Katyn. Or would you like residual Stalinists argue that was really a Nazi war crime?

Looking forward to yourexplanation that the British occupation of Iceland was far, far worse.

120

Stephen 01.09.16 at 7:52 pm

Steven johnson @113: “losing Ireland was huge, and … it had to do with WWI”.
Normal history suggests that the third Home Rule Bill for Ireland was enacted before WWI. Feel free to differ.

121

Bruce Wilder 01.09.16 at 8:03 pm

The Third Home Rule Bill also never went into effect. Why?

122

LFC 01.09.16 at 11:06 pm

TM @112
Among the more surprising facts I took away from Snyder’s Bloodlands is that Stalin up to the middle 30s was more afraid of Poland than Germany. Poland of course had given the Soviets a bloody nose in 1920 and there certainly was no shortage of anti-Russian sentiment in the Polish leadership at the time, but then how could the Soviet leadership ignore the anti-Russian, anti-Slavic hate propaganda of the Nazis and their Lebensraum im Osten plans?

I raised this question, phrased somewhat differently, in the first two sentences of my comment @68.

123

LFC 01.09.16 at 11:27 pm

steven johnson @113
it is customary to excuse Munich as an unfortunate mistake, while the Non-Aggression pact is deemed [a crime(?)]. The point was made in the thread this is false, but LFC has ignored this.

I tend to think about Munich at least partly in terms of the sorry history of its afterlife in the form of the misapplied ‘Munich analogy’ in U.S. foreign policy (see, for ex., the Vietnam war). I’ve never considered the question of how exactly to compare the Munich agreement to the M/R pact. So if I “ignored” this question it’s because I hadn’t thought much about it before (and I might also have missed the comment in which you originally brought it up — I’m not going back to check).

Since I never characterized the Munich agreement in any way in this thread — I never put a particular label on it (crime, mistake, blunder, etc.) or indeed, as far as I can recall, even mentioned it– I think I was completely justified in reacting strongly to your suggestion that I viewed it as a mere “faux pas”. A faux pas is when you’re at a fancy dinner party and you use the wrong fork, or something like that. It’s not an appropriate term to describe a consequential foreign-policy decision, whatever other label one might opt to use.

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TM 01.10.16 at 10:48 am

Ze K 119, this is just sickening.

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