Saturday, 25 June 2011

Twelve questions for British historians

  1. Was it wise for Britain to enter the WW1 just to guarantee Belgian neutrality?
  2. If Germany had been allowed to keep Poland in 1939 would there have been a Second World War?
  3. Did you know that Poland had a Saxon (ie a German) king as recently as the 1700s?
  4. Britain's empire spanned the world.  French had a smaller empire than the British.  Germany had no empire to speak of.  What would have been the problem with allowing Germany to keep Poland, especially as it had already had a Saxon king as recently as 1763?
  5. Was Churchill a warmonger?
  6. Compare and contrast the characters and personalities of Hitler and Churchill and how they were said to have treated their friends, servants, their relative sobriety and psychological health.  Whom would you regard as being more consistent, likable and trustworthy, as a friend and as an employer?
  7. Did Britain's declaration of war against Germany result in the loss of its empire? 
  8. If so, whom in the British government of the time would you regard as being most responsible for this loss?  (Although it was Chamberlain who declared war, it is certainly arguable that it was Churchill who bounced him into it.  The divisive party system made the swift and comradely resolution of differences impossible in their eagerness to score points over each other.  Churchill wanted war, Chamberlain didn't.  Chamberlain thought getting a piece of paper with Hitler's signature promising he would not invade Poland would allow him to claim "peace in our time".  When Hitler invaded Poland, Churchill crowed so insufferably that Chamberlain felt he had to declare war on Germany.) 
  9. Is it time for the British to stop hero-worshiping a man who could be said to have gambled Britain's colonies away in a throw of a dice, and lost?
  10. Can it ever be regarded as anything other than a sign of failure for an empire to lose its colonies?
  11. Does Britain have a history of participating in ruinous wars?
  12. Is Britain continuing to participate in ruinous wars?


Anonymous said...

When are you seeking therapy?

Claire Khaw said...

Can't afford therapy, I'm afraid. Maybe you could help by answering the questions?

ClairF said...

I am no historian but would guess that Europe held Germany responsible for WW1. I bet as a result of that there would have been a financial penalty to pay for the actions of WW1.
Perhaps when the Nazis took over and started kicking out Western bankers the issue became more than just their actions in acquiring other land. I would say that like many other wars the issue was economic as well as an attempt to stop the opponent.
I am not much of a war fan and tend to approach the motives for war with heavy suspicion. I do not see war or action taken against some nations who are heavy with human rights abuses, so why do we involve ourselves with other nations? I suspect money a large part of the time. I always ask "what is in this for us which would explain motives'? Often economics is the answer or at least up there with the major reasons.
Not sure if that's answered any of the questions but gave me a good ramble through my brain.

Claire Khaw said...

Politicians who have great ambitions dream of having the wisdom to save their country, if not the world, and certainly want the glory that comes with their saviour status being universally acknowledged.

It is for this reason that they start wars.

abraxas said...

Read Buchanan Churchill, Hitler and the Unnecessary War, (,_Hitler_and_the_Unnecessary_War)

Churchill was undoubtedly a warmonger but unfortunately for Britain he was incapable of winning wars; he was unable to understand what was and what was not in Britains' interests nor did he have any grasp of strategy or comprehend what might be the long-term results of his political actions.

Churchill was a disaster for Britain. But then so have been most of the politicians. Is it that Britain has been particularly unlucky in producing such a number of politicians who done nothing but destroy this country, its culture, its empire, its sovereignty, or is the democratic system itself which is at fault?

Jeff Marshall said...

Q3. Did you know that Poland had a Saxon (ie a German) king in the 1700s?

Poland's history was always closely intertwined with Germany's.

After Germany lost the war, Germans were kicked out of towns and cities in the west and replaced by Poles who had been kicked out of towns and cities in the east by Stalin.

In the 1990s I lived in a Polish town in Lower Silesia which was all but German in its architecture and so on. Only it had no Germans in it.

Q5. Was Churchill a warmonger?

No. A warmonger begins wars, but Churchill was simply called upon to defend his country once it was already engaged in a war.

In the earliest of his wars - in Sudan and India - he had been a war correspondent, a journalist.

In WW1 as First Lord of the Admiralty he presided over a disastrous campaign that saw him fairly quickly removed from his post, so he wasn't considered a particularly successful war practitioner, even less a warmonger

He declared a sort of war on the general strikers in 1926, suggesting that machine guns ought to be used on them. But he wasn't allowed to do this.

At this time he admired Mussolini, who was undoubtedly a warmonger (i.e. someone who starts wars).

Churchill's warmongery at the time extended no further than editing the British Gazette.

Q1 Was it wise for Britain to enter the WW1 just to guarantee Belgian neutrality?
Q2, If Germany had been allowed to keep Poland in 1939 would there have been a Second World War?
Q7 Did Britain's declaration of war against Germany result in the loss of its empire?

In WWII, Britain wasn't solely fighting for the independence of Poland but against the German colonisation of most of Europe.

In 1940 France was attacked. In 1941 Germany attacked Russia.

Similarly in 1914 Germany attacked Belgium chiefly because it was en route to France.

I agree it would have been better to avoid being involved in war in 1939.

The unpleasant question the British had to face was whether by doing nothing it would have inevitably been swallowed up by a much more powerful German empire.

Chamberlain tried very hard to do business with Hitler.

The British people in 1938 showed they greatly approved of what he had been trying to achieve at Munich.

Yet Hitler broke the agreements he made with Britain and made it politically impossible for Chamberlain to make any further deal with Hitler - although he dearly wished to, even after Poland had been invaded, as AJP Taylor demonstrates in his book, Origins of the Second World War.

WWII undoubtedly hastened the end of colonialism, but almost no power managed to keep its colonies for very long after the end of the war.

France and Portugal fought harder than Britain to keep their colonies, yet they lost them too.

The greatest statesmen of all - Bismarck, for instance, and Neville Chamberlain, would simply have divided up the world's colonies and avoided major conflict.

The problem for Britain was that it had to confront men like the Kaiser and Hitler.

Q8 "If so, whom in the British government of the time would you regard as being most responsible for this loss?"

No-one in British government during the war was personally responsible for the loss of the colonies which began in 1948 with the independence of India.

However the Labour government of Clement Attlee - which was overwhelmingly elected by the British people in 1945 - were not committed to maintaining the empire.

People no doubt did not vote Labour because they had grown to dislike their colonies.

But in a wider sense they showed that the possession of colonies was less important to them than achieving social justice at home.

So arguably the British people themselves no longer wanted their empire, or not enough of them did.

Claire Khaw said...

Having lost their colonies, the British comforted themselves with socialism, sex, and let it all hang out.

Claire Khaw said...

My attempt to answer Abraxas' question of how WW2 might have been prevented:

In Malaya as it then was then the British were trounced by the Japanese and even made their PoWs. Very difficult to regain your authority after that. Also, the colonised wil know that you have neither the will nor the ability to stay on after such a war. That was why Partition was done in such a hurry with the terrible legacy of inter-ethnic hatred in India.

While I accept that all nations, empires and civilisations decline, the trick, as always, is to get there first and stay in power longest.

All wars are a gamble, as Napoleon, Hitler and other military adventurers found to their cost.

The trick is to pick the winnable ones. Thatcher at least got that right.

In any case it is time to change the narrative of nationalism, which should be about avoiding ruinous wars and not needlessly sacrificing the lives of the white proletarian male.

WW2 started with Britain and France ganging up on Germany.

Britain and France have again started another war by ganging up on Libya. These are the rather disturbing parallels.

The BNP should brand itself as the Party of Peace, is really what I am trying to suggest. That will certainly be popular with the people.

Rejecting Churchill as some sort of peculiarly noble and British war hero when he was just a chancer like Blair would be in keeping with John Tyndall's views.

A less divisive political system might have prevented WW2, perhaps. Chamberlain didn't want war but was bounced into Munich because he was so desperate to believe Hitler would be a good boy because Churchill was already snapping at his heels then. Having gone on about Munich and waved his peace of paper, he really felt he had to do something after Hitler so blatantly tore it up.

The attitude, with hindsight, should have been: "Let him take Poland. It is not within our sphere of interest. If we refuse to fight with the French the French will just have to put up and shut up too."

Anonymous said...

Claire you seem to forget that Britain and France gave in to Germany - repeatedly - and allowed Hitler to pursue his plan for lebensraum way into the 1930s, when they could have declared war on him merely for re-arming at the start of his regime.
The Second World War was started when Hitler broke yet another agreement and decided to dominate Europe by swallowing another country. The British and French went to extremes to avoid war because of their losses in the First World War, but Hitler was only interested in pursuing his aims at everyone else's cost. Churchill was no war-monger, his dictum was, "Better jaw-jaw, than war-war." He should have known as he had experience both of fighting and of covering wars in journalism. You can hardly blame Churchill for the loss of the British Empire - blame the war-mongering German Nazi Party and the war-mongering Japanese. They were out invading other countries and spurning peace efforts long before 1939.
ClairF Hitler didn't kick out bankers, unless they happened to be Jewish at which point they were either expelled or killed.
As for mourning the loss of Empire, the USA had much to do with that as Truman insisted that the British Empire must be dismantled, and so he got his way.