04 September 2009

I Love Anniversaries!

September 3rd 2009 - the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of war, on which day people who never even saw the war express their opinions on what we should have done...

The cynic in me sees manipulation by the media to sell papers in an otherwise dull season, but some are a good laugh - that man, Peter Hitchens, caught my eye again

In a rather long article in the Mail, he asks if we had stayed out of the war would we still have an empire?

Short answer, in his view, yes we would - had we allowed Europe to get on with it we wouldn't have been weakened by the war, wouldn't have lost Singapore and wouldn't have become America's bitches

A reasonable conclusion, most of Europe was after all, under the control of dictators anyway - allowing Hitler and Stalin to duke it out would probably make little difference to the conditions east of France, we had after all, left Europe alone for a century until the first world war

Regardless of the outcome of this war between the Reich and Stalin, we could have been building up our army without crippling ourselves in the process, and dealt with whatever emerged using our own Imperial force

Now this leads to the assumptions that we wouldn't lose our empire - no fall of Singapore means India remains a dominion thanks to Gandhi, there's no Pakistan split, north Africa is left alone, so no apartheid in South Africa, no Idi Amin or Mugabe (he glosses over the pre-existing chaos in other parts of Africa), while the Japanese can be dealt with by the British, Dutch and French who would still have a strong naval presence, and would probably just occupy China (and Korea?) and prevent Mao and Communism rising to power, oh and therefore no Israel and no Middle-east as we now know it

So we have a completely new world order based on the single fact that Chamberlain did not go to war in 1939 (because we decided not to defend Poland, or anyone else in Europe) - but I ask: at what price?

In Hitchens' world everything is perfect - Britain still has its empire! It mines its own coal, makes its own steel, and pretty much everything else, we are far stronger for not bothering to deal with Hitler and the US remains in its own continent

Only what exactly would happen? Does he think the Empire would have stood up? Presumably the 60s never happen, there's no free love, and all our colonies are happy to bow down to a minuscule island in the North Sea - does he not think, with the rise of communications technology, that our colonies would have become a little surer of themselves eventually? - Maybe the Empire would still be going today, but I find it hard to believe India, Africa, the Pacific and Australia would not have continual murmurings of discontent - the war certainly hastened the fall of the Empire - but the first had already done a lot of damage to Britain, and I struggle to find a conclusion that the far-flung peoples of the world would not come to assert their own identity

Presumably though, Hitchens accepts this and just feels that Britain would be stronger without being crippled by the war - a stronger country to trade and deal with the US, with more friendly relations to former (or current) colonies

In this view I can't help agree that from a purely British point of view, we could be better off, at least in financial and foreign affairs - socially and politically I am unsure how we and other subjects would fare compared to now, technologically we would also probably be less advanced as well, but that's by the by, and obviously an issue where we disagree - Hitchens is at least being true to himself by seeing the best possible scenario for the British Empire he loves so much

But there's an awful lot riding on assumptions here - what is exactly happening in Europe? Even if various dictators polish each other off, there is probably little hope of democracy without the occupying Allies to ram it down their throats, meaning we're leaving Germany, now a more powerful and freer country than we, an unstable power in whoever knows what form - I would guess Hitchens would bank on Europe being in the old 'balance of power' situation - the lack of one major player would mean we had no threat

But that seems a bit of a risk to me, had Germany been allowed to complete its expansionist policies to the east there is no guarantee the Russians could have down anything but kept a border, there was after all no 'second front' - from there what would have happened, would a large central nation rise up? Who knows, but if we take the risk in 1939 then it's pretty possible that we could have been facing another major hostile power a few decades later, Hitler was hardly the most trustworthy of leaders, and I doubt whatever nation he left would adopt a liberal democracy again - surely France would have been at risk again, and the low countries? Right there on the doorstep - as I said, you aren't exactly dealing with someone you can trust, and if Russia wasn't in the mood by then you would basically have the British Empire against another one

Like I say, it's all speculation, but so is the original piece - in my view if you left Europe alone then it would just happen again - what we have now is incredibly successful nations in Germany and northern Europe (and Japan), virtually no threat to western Europe and the highest level of living in history - now, if we were to take the view that we should have avoided the war and left Europe unstable could you guarantee we had such a decent outcome? We went through six years of hell and got a reasonable outcome in the world

That is of course the difference, Hitchens hates the modern world, more on that later, but as I say we got a stable Europe, even if we also got a weakened Britain and a powerful US, does he think the Empire would stay the same, that Europe would not present another threat, as it did twice in the early twentieth century? We would almost certainly have to deal with that at some point, by then it may have been too late - we are after all, a small island with a small population, we only got away with the war in the first place because Hitler overreached and the yanks were simply too much - maybe we could have formed an alliance with the Americans and prepared for war better, then rammed democracy down Germany's throat - but we truly are now in 20/20 hindsight mode, this is becoming a game of risk, not the reality of the world - it is incredibly easy with hindsight to see what we should have done, and then assume it would work out better, but it's also unfair to blame Chamberlain and the British for aiming to protect parts of Europe when we know that they would fail

This is a perfect scenario, and it's a perfect scenario for Britain, not the people of the world - the Empire would have collapsed eventually, they all do, maybe we would've survived for longer, but then someone would just be going over the mistakes a hundred years later instead - and there almost certainly would have been more suffering under the dictatorships than the EU (despite what you may hear..) - humans are just flawed, very resourceful, animals and there would be as many wrongs in the world, if not more, if we took this route

Could you for example, prevent the rise of the US, which is pretty much the crux of Hitchens ideas - a nation so many times larger in both population and size, with more resources, more room to grow and better borders - I am not sourcing anything here but I take it for granted that the US was outstripping us by 1905 - it was inevitable it would move onto the world stage, maybe we wouldn't have been so weak, but I have to ask - would it really be worth it so we could try another route, just in case we did better?

If anything the mistake was to get involved in the First World War - I think there's a stronger case for picking over that ludicrous war, if there's ever any point picking over what might have happened - who knows, for all I know Britain could have become insanely arrogant (as it was by 1900) and been put eventually down by the US, and there'd still be right-wingers whinging that something was wrong nowadays


A collection of doozies from the article:

Our Parliament is a bought and paid-for puppet chamber. Our culture and customs have been debauched and our younger generations corrupted, as subject populations are, with drink, drugs and promiscuity.

Modern life, eh? He really ought to look up the debauchery in 18th century Britain - you always get this with 'proper' conservatives - they have this view that Britain was in its very essence the late Victorian period through to the Edwardian period, and that it's slipped from a peak - maybe it has, but don't try to tell me it was some sort of happy constant, people were writing stuff like this two centuries ago...

We are compelled, like an occupied people, to use foreign measures to buy butter or meat, and our history is largely forgotten or deliberately distorted in the schools to suit anti-British dogma.

Ah the old 'metric is bad (and foreign)' line - interestingly, although metric is now technically being forced on us by the EU (since 2000) we actually adopted decimalisation and metric in 1965, and there was as much opposition to it then - but there was no EU to force anything until 1973, which we joined up knowing full well their directives on it...

The system had been championed in Britain for over a century before by some of our greatest scientific names (such as James Watt) and most big businesses - it quickly became used in science because it was far easier to use than our antiquated, 'national' system, and plenty of British people helped to influence it (see: Kelvin, and Farenheit was German anyway!) - it was only our politicians who refused to play, hating the French in the 19th century and refusing to pay up in the early twentieth

Meanwhile nations independent of Britain also adopted it in the 60s (such as Australia, India and New Zealand) and virtually every country was using a system that was recognisable all over the world by the 70s, regardless of the EU - get over it

As for British history in schools - I am sceptical about claims it is anti-British, these are just claims made in the tabloids as far as I can tell and are ridiculously opinionated - I learnt about the second world war no end - which is why I dislike it, I hate the fact that every Tom, Dick and Harry is an expert on the war and I have little interest in thinking about such a busy area of history (except on days like these of course, and even then I am in speculative mode, not going into mind-numbing detail about El Alamein)

We had stayed out of the two great and decisive conflicts of the late 19th Century: the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War, and come to no harm as a result.

That's just specious reasoning - neither bore us particular harm, but then why would they? One was a fairly minor fracas over a strip of land, only 'great' because the 19th century largely saw no major action, the other was a domestic issue in the US - Bismarck uniting Germany was not quite the same as Hitler's totalitarian regime occupying the whole of Europe, which I struggle to think wouldn't have happened had Britain and France not engaged him at that point - and as for a war between two rival democratic states largely revolving around slavery I don't see why we would need to get involved - at least Bismarck wasn't into democracy... Saying 'it worked then so why wouldn't it work 70 years later' seems a tad foolish

I think that'll do...lunch


  1. Are you sure you didn't leave anything out there, Tarquin? Brilliant, mate, top post!

  2. Thank you, it is good to know that at least one person read it (and even liked it!)