Previous posts in this discussion:
PostKseniya Sobchak and the Kremlin Opposition (Cameron Sawyer, Russia, 06/22/12 12:05 pm)
I would like to make a few comments to Gilbert Doctorow's post of 13 June.
First of all, I indeed did not "hold up" Ksenia Sobchak "as a poster child of the new, freedom-loving Russian middle classes..." I don't think I've ever written about her at all, in fact, other than to mention that she was present at the December protests.
Secondly, whether or not Sobchak was being used as a "bag lady" by demonstrators is pure speculation. There is hardly anything scandalous about a wealthy, prominent person in Russia having a million euros in his or her apartment. I would bet any money that you would never find less than that in the apartments of any of Putin's inner circle (or outer circle, for that matter). Some people really don't trust banks (and not without good reason, I have to say, in this country), and large sums of cash are used for all kinds of legitimate purposes here, for one thing, real estate transactions. Sobchak owns restaurants and is involved in different kinds of--by all accounts perfectly legitimate--businesses, and there are dozens of perfectly reasons why she might have happened to have such cash around the house on the day her apartment was raided. And besides that, John Eipper's theory that she might have put together an emergency fund in case she had to bug out of the country is absolutely believable. So cash in Sobchak's apartment is hardly "eye-popping" news. Current reports are that investigators are supposed to return the money to Sobchak in the near future.
Putin was a protege of Sobchak's father, who was the Mayor of St. Petersburg during the '90s, and that world was indeed a morass of corruption. But Sobchak was merely a child--she was only 18 when her father died in 2000, and Putin was already president. It is Putin, not Ksenia Sobchak, who is the product of that milieu, although of course Putin has grown far beyond his origins, whether you like him or not.
As to Putin's election promises, mentioned by Gilbert--they are worth reading, and can probably be found in places like http://eng.kremlin.ru/. They are highly sophisticated statements of policy goals and strategies, written surely not by him, but still, by people chosen and supervised by him. Will he fulfill them? Well, judging by the last 12 years, he will try hard, and he will achieve much good. Most Russian recognize that. But it is also a fact that he has lost a tremendous quantum of faith and support among the Russian public. What Putin has not done is to do anything about the kleptocratic tendencies of the Russian state and, indeed, it is common knowledge that he has put himself into the center of those tendencies. Russian people have contact with that every day, when for example they are stopped by the traffic police, who in the last few years have become unrecognizably bold and shaking down Russian motorists for bribes, even when--and this is really something new--no actual violation has been committed. The boldness of the traffic police is the proof that no one fears punishment. And no one fears punishment because the system is officially supported, and has recently been formalized and legitimized inside the Russian state system to such an extent that the last bit of trepidation among Russian traffic police officers has disappeared. During the Yeltsin years, the traffic police were of course corrupt (they were during the Gorbachev years, and indeed the Brezhnev years, too). But they were almost shy about taking bribes, and there was a certain honor in it--a concrete benefit was bestowed on the motorist for payments made; it was a bargain. Now it has become simple official thievery--people notice, of course--contacts with the traffic police are the most frequent contacts people in Russia have with the State on an everyday basis. This is just an example, but a good one, as it vividly characterizes the everyday experience of Russian people with their State, and this everyday experience very much influences their view of politics and politicians, in particular, the current leadership of that State.
I have never met a single Russian who shares Gilbert's unalloyed enthusiasm for Russia's current president. Last week on the eve of the Russia Day holiday, I was flying back from London to Moscow, and spent the night sitting next to a pleasant woman from Voronezh, a provincial city in Russia's "Red Belt" (referring to the Communist tendencies there) agricultural region. A lower-middle class person, a bookkeeper in a small firm and single mother. As far from a spoiled Muscovite intellectual as you can get. She bent my ear about politics much of the night, although she did not seem to be the kind of person to have passionate political interests. She said, first of all, that although the district is known as the "Red Belt," you can't find any Commies down there any more, at least under pension age. Everyone has gone over to United Russia (Putin's party). But she said that people were horrified when it was announced, last fall, that Putin would stand for president. She said that the general view, and hers also, was that Putin was fantastic in his time--saved the country in fact. But that his time is over, and it's high time that the people had some choice. She said over and over again--we have no choice at all--who are we going to vote for? There is no real competition, no real alternative. What kind of democracy is this? How dare they treat us like that!
Kseniya Sobchak; Russian Border Currency Controls
(Gilbert Doctorow, Belgium
06/23/12 5:28 AM)
I will limit my remarks to only a few points in Cameron Sawyer's commentary of 22 June:
The first relates to the utility (or lack of utility) of Russians hoarding cash while "sitting on their suitcases" in anticipation of fleeing the country.
As Cameron well knows, though JE most likely does not, there are currency controls at the Russian borders. In principle they are not different from those practiced in Western Europe, namely anyone carrying more than 10,000 Euros (or dollars) must declare them to customs. While this is not a prohibition on taking out a million in your carry-on luggage, it makes it unlikely anyone would do so, least of all someone who has reason to believe he or she is being closely monitored by the security forces: the hassle of documenting the money's origin to rather low level state officials wearing customs uniforms is not for the weak-hearted.
Was Kseniya Sobchak the bag lady? While it is indeed speculation to say "yes," I think Cameron will agree that of all the prominent opposition figures involved in the various demonstrations since December 2011, Sobchak was the safest bet to be immune from nasty actions like apartment search, given that she was her father's daughter. As it turned out, even that hold on Putin's hand was not enough. The "regime" takes the threat of violent overthrow with or without American connivance that seriously.
Next, on the question of my feelings about Putin. I never have been unreservedly a fan as Cameron would have it. I am well aware of some of the serious failures of Putin's time in office, have criticized them at times and will do so in the future. And, as I prefer to put it, I would not enjoy having the President or any of his entourage as neighbors.
Nevertheless, in my view Putin has done a great deal for his countrymen and has much more good in him for the six years to come. It would be nice if there were worthy opponents in some loyal opposition who could dispute him on the issues rather than in ad hominem attacks and who exhibited personal values and experience to make them believable candidates for the president. Sadly that was not the case this year.
I do not doubt that Cameron has not yet met any Russians as enthusiastic about Putin as I am. What he fails to understand is why this is so. The answer lies in international relations, which is not something many Russians understand or want to hear about at all. However, in my case, international relations are a very large part of my interest in politics, in Russia and most everywhere else. I am by definition a realist and I follow much more closely the behavior of states in the international arena as opposed to their domestic policies.
In the international arena Putin is a major figure, virtually the only statesman to stand up to the United States and to directly dispute its hegemonic policies which are, in the end, detrimental to world peace and contrary to the interests of the American people. All the Russian opposition figures who would replace him are at best, weaklings, at worst potential stooges of Uncle Sam.
It is this same primacy of foreign policy which decides my views on American presidents, Secretaries of State and the American foreign policy establishment. That Obama may have pushed through health care reform is nice to read about, but it has been his policies in the international arena, from even before taking office, when he appointed Hillary and other members of his national security team, that have put me into the opposition where I remain to this day. And I am persuaded that my acid test is the only one that counts. Every possibility of improving the lives of the vast majority of Americans over the past four years has been frustrated by the hold our "liberal internationalists" have on the State budget to pursue unnecessary military adventures abroad and a totally counterproductive build-up of American bases in every corner of the globe.
Is my position clear now, Cameron?
JE comments: I'd be interested in Gilbert Doctorow's thoughts on the impending collision course between Russia and the US in Syria. Also, in Gilbert's view, would a Romney presidency result in fewer "unnecessary military adventures abroad"?
Russia, US and Syria; Romney's Foreign Policy
(Gilbert Doctorow, Belgium
06/24/12 4:37 AM)
In response to JE's follow-up questions to my post of 23 June:
1) Syria. The potential is there for a showdown of considerable gravity for US-Russia bilateral relations. The Syrian civil war as a proxy for a head to head between the pro- and anti-American axes in formation has already gone very far to forging a Russian-Chinese strategic alliance in the military domain, which was only a theoretical possibility and is in itself contrary to the laws of nature.
What we are witnessing is the work of "balance of forces," which our great academic defenders of American hegemony, beginning with Princeton's John Ikenberry, deny having any relevance to our modern age with its single surviving superpower. Their theory holds that nowadays potential rivals are so browbeaten and downcast that the notion of opposition to the global hegemon has evaporated and the only option remaining is "bandwagoning"--trying to worm their way into the American camp, the only game in town.
It will one day come as a surprise to these solid thinkers whose fundamental idea is now the American Establishment mantra, that no, Mathilda, it will not be different this time; no, it will be as it always has been, with the balance of power politics coming into play. Russia and China, Brazil and India are falling into line, to a greater or lesser extent, not as bandwagoners for Uncle Sam, but as the leaders of the ROW, or rest of the world.
It is sad for Syria that it is now the field on which this great contest is proceeding.
In the meantime, it is getting tougher to be an American in Russia. I don't know if Cameron Sawyer has witnessed this, but as the folks responsible for my visas told me a couple of days ago, we American passport holders are definitely the "geopolitical foe"--a mirror image of what Mitt Romney said a month ago.
2) About Mitt:
When I said I was in the Opposition [to Obama], I certainly did not mean that I had joined the folks having a cuppa Tea. Regrettably, that is where Mitt Romney stands. If one peruses his White Paper on international relations, it is clear that the ex-governor of Massachusetts has chosen as his international affairs advisers and leaders of his working groups on given foreign policy issues members from the George W. Bush administration. Unilateralism, American exceptionalism and unquestioned global rule are the order of the day.
So the likely choice for American voters between the foreign policy programs of Obama and Romney in November will be between bad and very bad policies.
This reminds me of the Russian lady in Cameron's posting who was complaining that she and her compatriots were given no choice in the presidential elections. Poor dears...
JE comments: Meanwhile, the civil war in Syria is heating up by the day. (Yes, I'd call it a civil war.) Turkey has been enraged by Assad's downing of a Turkish fighter jet in what it claims was international airspace near the Syrian border. What is the likelihood that Turkey will now intervene in Syria? This would put it in direct conflict with Russia. Scary.
- Kseniya Sobchak; Thoughts on Putin (Istvan Simon, USA 06/24/12 5:00 AM)
I have had a desire to respond to Gilbert Doctorow's views on Russia, Putin and the United States (23 June) for a while now. I am not an expert on Russia like Gilbert and Cameron are. Nonetheless, I do know a little about the matters that Gilbert often writes about. I cannot share his enthusiasm for President Putin, nor his view that Putin is saving the world from American hegemony, and I am also bothered by Gilbert's tendency of alternately heaping scorn on people he disagrees with, and extravagant praise for those that he admires. In my view both of these are undeserved.
I will give a few examples. Since Gilbert is an admirer of Putin, it is understandable that Gilbert was elated by President Putin's landslide victory in the recent Presidential elections. The characterization of "landslide" was his. But on June 23, Gilbert said: "The 'regime' takes the threat of violent overthrow with or without American connivance that seriously." Now come on! If the opposition to Putin is as insignificant as Gilbert would have us believe, then the threat of overthrow is grossly exaggerated. On the other hand, a regime that fears protest is not a strong regime, but merely a paranoid one. It is a characteristic shared by dictatorships, not democracies that have just won a landslide victory at the polls.
Gilbert condones the raiding of Ms. Sobchak's apartment, as legitimate of a regime "fearing violent overthrow." Really? Please enlighten me: when did Kseniya Sobchak engage in any violence? To me, the notion that she is involved in the violent overthrow of President's Putin's regime is not credible. Certainly I have seen no hint of a proof of this, offered by either Gilbert or the regime that he so admires.
In civilized countries, the police are not allowed to search the apartments of citizens simply because they participated in political protests. Even if the protests were violent, which by multiple accounts the Russian protests were not, in the United States, for example, the search would be illegal without a warrant. No judge would issue a search warrant just because she was one of the protesters, even if they were violent, unless she specifically had something to do with the alleged violence. Furthermore, there would have to be a reasonable likelihood that the search would produce specific incriminating evidence, and the police would have to justify rather narrowly what they were searching for, and what are the reasons for their suspecting its existence. Otherwise, the search is illegal, would be considered a "fishing expedition," and the warrant would not be issued. None of this seems to have been present in the case of Kseniya Sobchak, so we may be perhaps justified in a less benign interpretation of what is going on here than Gilbert's take: Kseniya Sobchak is being harassed for her political opinions by an autocratic regime enamored of its own power, that has a hard time tolerating dissent, and hopes to cow the protesters into submission by intimidation.
Also, we may conclude that the niceties in American law, like protection of residents against the enormous power of the State, like unreasonable searches, are not present in Putin's Russia. How strange that Gilbert wants to protect the world from American hegemony, rather than protecting Russians against oppression by an overbearing State, something Russians suffered badly from throughout their history. To this American it would seem that Russia actually could learn still a thing or two about what freedom is, and how to protect it.
Even more puzzling is Gilbert's apparent elation with Putin's Russia arming Syria's Assad, with weapons that are being used to slaughter thousands of unarmed women and children cowering in their homes from bombardment with heavy weapons, or being shot mercilessly at close range by bandits supporting Assad. Anthony Shadid, a respected New York Times journalist, died recently apparently of an asthma attack, while covering the Syrian conflict at great personal cost, because Mr. Assad is restricting media coverage of his dirty little war on his own citizens. Other journalists were killed in bombardments by Assad's forces. Their only weapon was the pen. Contrary to Gilbert, I cannot characterize this policy as helpful in any way to peace, and indeed for me it is one more troubling blind spot on Putin's retina on what are legitimate and illegitimate policies for Russia to pursue.
That Russia is doing this to save its investments in Syria, including port privileges in the Mediterranean, is also troubling. That Russia should undertake such a policy under sanctimonious sermons about the sins of overthrowing "legitimate" governments is no less nauseating. Assad's regime is clearly not legitimate.
The armed conflict in Syria so far has been heavily one-sided. For over a year only the murderous regime of President Assad did any of the shooting, killing hundreds of unarmed people every Friday. It is a tragedy that there is no alternative in the Arab world between the Muslim Brotherhood and bloody merciless dictators, particularly in Syria, were the "legitimate" government of Assad, involves a hereditary feud, as well as the dominance of the majority of Syrians by a small privileged minority. So all of this makes taking sides in this conflict rather difficult. But what the Russians are doing can hardly be characterized as protecting the world against American hegemony, a ridiculous notion, since the United States has rather limited influence on any of the parties, and should the Muslim Brotherhood prevail, as it likely will in the end, this could hardly be characterized as a victory for American hegemony. So no, Russia is not standing up to the United States. It is standing up for its own selfish and narrow interests, and perhaps Putin is not a far-seeing great Statesman in this decision, but possibly a deluded one, that, is likely betting on the losing horse.
JE comments: One almost suspects that Putin wants to resurrect the two-superpower world by the old-fashioned method of military adventurism abroad. It's been nearly a generation since the USSR left Afghanistan, and memories of that fiasco are fading.
I still have no idea why after the disappearance of Soviet Communism, the US and Russia should be anything other than natural allies. Is it merely payback time for a US policy that never took post-Soviet Russia seriously?
Kseniya Sobchak; Thoughts on Putin
(Tor Guimaraes, USA
06/24/12 4:35 PM)
Both Gilbert Doctorow (23 June) and Istvan Simon (24 June) make some good points about the USA/Russia escalating rivalry. For all his faults, it is undeniable that Putin has been a great leader for Russia, and that alternative leaders of equivalent caliber are difficult to find (perhaps his otherwise busy associate Medvedev). Nevertheless, good performance in the past is no guaranty... and we all need to play by the law.
Istvan declared, "in civilized countries, the police are not allowed to search the apartments of citizens simply because they participated in political protests. Even if the protests were violent, which by multiple accounts the Russian protests were not, in the United States, for example, the search would be illegal without a warrant. No judge would issue a search warrant just because she was one of the protesters, even if they were violent, unless she specifically had something to do with the alleged violence. Furthermore, there would have to be a reasonable likelihood that the search would produce specific incriminating evidence, and the police would have to justify rather narrowly what they were searching for, and what are the reasons for their suspecting its existence."
Thank God I can agree with this to at least some extent. On the other hand, things have changed significantly since the Patriot Act, and no one really knows how far things have deteriorated in this area. Furthermore, we Americans have done and continue to do many underhanded things to potential enemies all over the world, including our own citizens. For example, everybody knows about COINTELPRO, an acronym for "counterintelligence program," a misnomer for Domestic Covert Action, which began in 1956 and ended in 1971 with the threat of public exposure. During this period the FBI conducted a sophisticated vigilante operation to block the First Amendment rights of speech and association which had enabled the growth of potentially dangerous groups and the propagation of dangerous ideas potentially threatening to national security, and the existing social and political order. Sounds familiar?
I share John Eipper's bewilderment of having "... no idea why after the disappearance of Soviet Communism, the US and Russia should be anything other than natural allies. Is it merely payback time for a US policy that never took post-Soviet Russia seriously?" It is more likely payback time for us not behaving more constructively and friendly when we had a chance: political/military flirtations with Russian ex-confederate republics, antiballistic regional defenses with Russian exclusion, etc., with enough antagonistic behavior to break up any potential friendship. While I need more education on this topic from some WAIS expert, why could Russia not have been invited to join NATO instead of the antagonism we apparently dished out? What are the pros and cons?
JE comments: I'd be interested in revisiting the Russia in NATO question. One fairly safe bet: it will never happen in our lifetimes--although the 1990s seemed like a golden opportunity to include the Russians.
Patriot Act; Russian Views of US
(Istvan Simon, USA
06/25/12 5:07 AM)
This is in response to Tor Guimaraes's post of 24 June.
On the Patriot Act: yes indeed, I abhorred the Patriot Act from its inception, and always thought that it was an over-reaction to 9/11. I wish that Congress had not re-authorized it. There is some question, in my mind at least, on how valuable to legitimate law enforcement it really has been. I think that John Ashcroft overreacted and persecuted innocent people in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. On the other hand, I have not seen credible reports of real abuse of its most controversial features, e.g. surveillance of library access, particularly in recent times, and I continue to have anonymous access to the Internet in libraries, for example. Overall, I have no doubt that civil liberties in the United States are still better protected than in probably every country that I have been to personally, and that includes Russia.
I do not share Tor's opinion on how unfriendly we have been to the Russians. We have not been unfriendly. It is true that we violated informal agreements about NATO expansion to Eastern Europe, something that the Russians therefore resent with some reason. But I am also perfectly understanding of the appropriateness of this expansion, having come from Hungary, and being someone who remembers very well the events of 1956, and what the Russians can do.
I have been personally present when Russian soldiers came to our apartment to rifle through our clothes, looking for "weapons." They found none of course. I can remember quite well the four workers shot to death in front of the bakery near our home, where I was standing in line for bread for hours in the cold, on October 24, 1956. A Russian military truck pulled up to the curb, some soldiers jumped down from the truck, went into the bakery, and took all the bread away, so that we had to wait even longer to be served. The four workers who had been shot were unarmed. Their only bad luck was that they had to go to work early in the morning, and so were unceremoniously shot by the Russians, who had set up heavy artillery on the Elizabeth bridge nearby. I saw the holes that those cannons caused in people's homes too, in the brief time when the Hungarian revolution succeeded, and there was freedom in Hungary for a few days, until the massive invasion of the Russians extinguished that freedom. The Baltic countries, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Finland, and the Czechs, Poles, Romanians, Bulgarians, you name it, can also remember what the Russians can do.
I should emphasize that in spite of these experiences I do not hate Russians at all, and I do not put responsibility on today's generation for what their parents did. But President Putin acts very much like someone who would like to restore the former Soviet Union, and I think that it is more the Russians that see NATO as threatening to them, than the other way around.
When I was in Russia, I encountered some anti-American paranoia encouraged by the Russian government. For example a woman that sat next to me on the plane to Chelyabinsk, expounded to me that 9/11 was an attack by the USA government, an obvious monumental imbecility. I told her more or less the same, though in more polite terms, but there is no reasoning with paranoid people who are immune to reason. She had seen on TV, presented as a credible documentary, the implosion conspiracy theory of World Trade Center Building 7. This conspiracy theory does not stand up to a minimum of critical thought, but was nonetheless considered credible by this highly educated Russian citizen. The point here is not so much how stupid this woman was, but that Russian TV, which is entirely controlled by the Russian government, encourages this anti-American paranoia. So does Russia Today on YouTube, a propaganda vehicle of the Russian government.
I encountered, of course, many more Russians, who were not at all unfriendly to me, nor expressed any animosity towards the United States. In fact the overwhelming majority of the Russians that I met were friendly, and I can remember of only two who were not, one being this woman, the other some drunkard that seemed (from the tone of his voice) to object to my presence at a roadside cafe. I did not understand what he was saying, but my Russian companions did not translate it either, and just said to ignore him. This anecdotal evidence is of course not a valid scientific measurement of the prevalence of friendly and unfriendly attitudes in Russians today towards the United States, but still is indicative of something, because the sample of Russians that I met can be considered more or less a random sample.
JE comments: Following up on Istvan Simon's post, just how threatened do "ordinary Russians" feel by NATO today? Taken from their perspective, it can only be upsetting to have so many members of your "club" (Warsaw Pact) defect to the rival clique.
(John Heelan, UK
06/27/12 1:40 AM)
Istvan Simon wrote on 25 June: "On the other hand, I have not seen credible reports of real abuse of [the Patriot Act's] most controversial features, e.g. surveillance of library access, particularly in recent times." Perhaps Istvan is not aware of the following report on published by NPR (20 May 2005):
"Critics of the USA Patriot Act say the law has made it too easy for law enforcement to spy on people. They contend that, by easing restrictions on the use of surveillance tools once reserved for foreign-intelligence investigations, the law cuts too deeply into personal liberties and privacy rights. The Patriot Act greatly expanded the government's surveillance powers. But some opponents worry that could curtail civil liberties. The Justice Department dismisses these objections, saying there have been no reported abuses of the act and no substantiated claims that civil rights have been violated. But civil liberties groups say that because the act mandates secrecy about many of its uses, Americans may never know whether their privacy has been violated by law-enforcement investigators relying on the act's powers.
Then perhaps Istvan might Google "Abuses of Patriot Act" to find such items as: "Senators terrified with abuse of Patriot Act's secret laws" (March 2012) http://on.rt.com/lhnbhy . "FBI Audit Exposes Widespread Abuse Of Patriot Act Powers" www.aclu.org/national-security/fbi-audit-exposes-widespread-abuse-patriot-act-powers . "Patriot Act abuses Seen" (CBS News) http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-500164_162-564189.html ... and several other similar reports.
- Russia and NATO (Hall Gardner, France 06/26/12 2:34 PM)
In response to the NATO-Russia question (see Tor Guimaraes, 24 June):
During the Clinton administration, a number of factors combined that led NATO to engage in an open-ended enlargement, and in which Russia was given a very limited voice, but not a veto, in NATO affairs.
1) Eastern European state demands for protection against a potentially resurgent Russia, a demand that gained currency with Soviet efforts to repress Baltic state demands for independence
2) German demands for a secure buffer (Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary) between themselves and potential political-economic instability in the east as feared before the first wave of NATO enlargement
3) American defense contractors seeking new markets in eastern Europe
4) President Clinton's desire to obtain votes and contributions from American citizens of east European background
5) The realist argument that the western Europeans did not possess sufficient military capabilities to take on the defense of a larger Europe
6) The liberal argument that NATO should help stabilize the newly emerging democracies and developing markets in eastern Europe
7) The neo-conservative argument that NATO was not a threat to Russia and that Moscow could join NATO at some point in the future, once it had thoroughly "democratized." But if Russia did become a "threat," then NATO would be prepared
These arguments (plus a few others) combined to override the concerns raised by critics such as George Kennan and Paul Nitze, among others, that an open-ended NATO enlargement would not only result in a Russian backlash, but would eventually overextend NATO capabilities, in terms of excessive costs and lack of political-military cohesion.
The alternative of extending US security guarantees (but not full NATO membership) to eastern European states, in coordination with the expanding the Partnership for Peace program, was ruled out, even though most states, including Russia, joined the Partnership for Peace program.
And instead of initially creating a closer and more direct dialogue between Russia and NATO by establishing a "NATO plus Russia" relationship at the level of NATO Ambassadors (the North Atlantic Council), and as was then requested by Boris Yeltsin, the Clinton administration set up the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council as a kind of antechamber in which Russia did not meet all NATO members directly. By May 2002, Russia did meet in a "NATO plus Russia" format, but this, from the Russian perspective, did not stop NATO's second wave of enlargement deep into eastern Europe. Russia had thus been given a very limited voice and certainly no veto, over NATO affairs...
While I do not think Russia will join NATO as a "full" member in the near future, I still think it is possible to forge a new joint NATO-Russian-European approach to Euro-Atlantic security in the aftermath of the 2008 Georgia-Russia war, and as urged by President Medvedev in June 2008. This is the subject of my article:
It is also subject of some of my previous books and my next one, tentatively entitled, Surmounting the Global Crisis.
If we can't find a way toward establishing a new relationship with Russia, we may very soon find ourselves in a new, and in many ways, more dangerous arms rivalry than during the Cold War.
JE comments: It is a pleasure to post this inaugural note from our newest colleague, Hall Gardner, Professor of International Politics at American University in Paris. I'll formally introduce Hall to WAISworld in the next few days.
I send these lines from rustic Chruslanki, deep in the forest of Eastern Europe (Poland). A generation ago, it would have been unthinkable that this remote spot could be safely tucked away in the zone of NATO protection.
Russia and NATO
(Robert Gard, USA
06/27/12 2:04 AM)
After the Berlin Wall fell, Secretary of State Jim Baker assured Gorbachev that NATO would not move farther east if the Soviet Union would agree to our anchoring a unified Germany in NATO. (See Hall Gardner's post of 26 June.)
Our then Ambassador to the Soviet Union was present at the meeting, and has since confirmed that it was a solemn US commitment.
No doubt all the factors in the Hall Gardner's post played a role in our breaking our word.
JE comments: Hitler and von Ribbentrop also broke their word to the USSR. Granted, expanding NATO and outright invasion are vastly different acts, but might they be remembered inside Russia as analogous?
From the US diplomatic perspective, has there been any attempt to explain away this broken promise by arguing that it was made with a nation-state (USSR) that no longer exists?
Russia and NATO
(Istvan Simon, USA
06/27/12 2:33 PM)
Robert Gard (27 June) reminded us that Secretary of State Jim Baker gave his "solemn commitment" when he assured Gorbachev that NATO would not move farther east after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
We did not break our word to Gorbachev, because the Soviet Union no longer existed when NATO expanded to include the Eastern European and the Baltic Countries. To insist that the situation in Europe was the same after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, so that we would feel obligated to honor our solemn word given to Gorbachev, as if given to Russia, the presumed heir to the Soviet Union, would have been foolish. When circumstances change so dramatically, everything needs to be revised, including treaties, which are much more permanent than verbal commitments, however solemnly given. Treaties are ratified by Congress, and therefore have the weight of International Law. Solemn words are not the same as empty promises, but nonetheless do not have the force of law, not even the carefully circumscribed words of a contract, which specify the conditions under which they are binding. I am sure that both Gorbachev and President Yeltsin understood the difference.
JE comments: This is the question I raised in my comment to Robert Gard's post. But isn't Russia the legal successor state to the USSR? Consider who inherited the seat on the UN Security Council, as well as the Soviet nuclear arsenal.
Russia and NATO
(Robert Gard, USA
06/28/12 1:13 AM)
In response to Istvan Simon (27 June), we expected Russia to honor the treaties and commitments made by the Soviet Union; it readily agreed to do so.
So why is rebus sic stantibus an excuse for going back on our commitments? Obviously, the world doesn't stand still, and situations change daily. If that can be an excuse for backing out of commitments, why make them at all if it's OK to back out? I'm no legal scholar; but I take Jack Matloff, then our ambassador to the Soviet Union, at his word regarding whether or not our assurance to Gorbachev that NATO would not move farther east was a commitment of the US government.
I recognize that written treaties with Senate consent to ratification are different; most of the ones I'm familiar with have formal provisions for withdrawal.
JE comments: Here's the Wikipedia entry on rebus sic stantibus:
Russia and NATO
(Cameron Sawyer, Russia
06/28/12 2:32 PM)
Robert Gard (28 June) is correct. We expected Russia to pay the Soviet Union's debts, just to name one example--and Russia did pay those debts. Including even some tsarist era debts which the Soviet Union had repudiated. So naturally Russia had every right to expect us fulfill our promises to Gorbachev.
Of course, our own national interest should be paramount in our foreign policy. Of course, situations change which sometimes require renegotiation of agreements. But I submit that our brazen reneging on an extremely important strategic commitment--just because we could; just because Russia was down at the time and couldn't really do anything about it--was short-sighted and harmful to our national interests in the long run. Our behavior then is a main cause of Russia's present ambition to be strong enough that the US will not ever be able to do something "just because we can," again. Russia now has the second most powerful military force in the world. Arms races are not good for world peace, and not good for anyone. And a precedent has been set which will not be favorable to us in the long run. Next time our strategic promises will not be believed.
It is also natural that we should desire to have allies and friends in strategic places, so it is only natural that we would exploit opportunities to form good relationships with new states like Ukraine, the Baltic States, and Georgia which are in Russia's historical sphere of influence. But when we do this in a way which is blatantly threatening to Russia, when we even meddle in the internal politics of those new states in order to promote forces which are hostile to Russia (at the same time allowing ourselves to be used for parochial internal political purposes of which we understand nothing), this is naturally going to be perceived by Russia as extremely threatening, and it's going to damage relations with Russia. This is not in our long term interests--Georgia is a tiny country of virtually no strategic importance; Russia is a present military superpower and very soon to be global economic superpower. What exactly do we think we're doing there? Do we have too few enemies in the world, that we need to create new ones? We are behaving as if we can do whatever we want, simply because "we can." This naturally creates a strong desire on the part of Russia to maneuver out of such a position, and in the long term this is very harmful to our national interests. And the time when "we can" do whatever we want to is fast drawing to a close, as our slow-growing economy is inexorably eclipsed by those of the dynamic BRIC countries, with none of whom we have particularly constructive relations. We will very soon start reaping what we sowed, I'm afraid.
Russia should be dealt with in a civilized way, with due respect for Russia's national interests and natural spheres of influence, just the way we treat other powerful countries, even if we don't like their regimes. We had every chance to make Russia into a firm ally in the 1990s--and nearly all Russians expected that this would happen; it seemed only natural after the end of Communism and the disappearance of ideological conflicts. Russians were stunned and amazed that we treated them like defeated enemies. Now Russia is getting stronger by the day--with the economy growing on a trend line to double every ten years; with double-digit increases in military spending every year. All of this growing power--which could have been something friendly for us, something useful to us in our struggles with real (and common) strategic enemies like radical Islam, is instead arrayed against us. It was a missed geopolitical opportunity of historical dimensions, missed out of pure arrogance and ignorance, in my opinion.
JE comments: I should clarify for our new readers that although Cameron Sawyer lives in Moscow, he uses "we" to refer to his native United States.
- Russia and NATO (Istvan Simon, USA 06/29/12 1:47 AM)
Robert Gard (28 June) said that we expected Russia to honor the treaties and commitments made by the Soviet Union, and that Russia agreed to do so, and asked why the verbal assurance of not expanding NATO eastward given to Gorbachev should be any different. I say it is different for many reasons.
First, Russia agreed to honor the treaties, not because to do otherwise would not have been nice, but because it was in its interests to do so. We did too. It was in our interest that we should still honor the treaties. Suppose that Russia had argued that the commitments of the Soviet Union would no longer be binding on Russia. What would then General Gard have done? The fact is that treaties have both advantages and obligations to each side, and that is why they are balanced and good agreements. If a treaty is perceived by one party as being one-sided, we may expect that it will be a short-lived treaty, because it will not be honored, as soon as it would be practicable for the aggrieved party to withdraw from it.
Second, General Gard himself says that he recognizes that treaties are different because they have clauses for withdrawal. This then is another answer to his own question of why our verbal assurances should be considered any different.
Third, I argued in another post, that Secretary Baker had no Constitutional authority to commit the United States to a certain conduct forever, no matter what the future circumstances may be. It is thus implicit in such assurances that it does not have the same weight or binding power as a carefully negotiated treaty ratified by the Senate. A future President might decide, as indeed President Clinton did in this case, that the verbal assurance given no longer applied. Such a verbal assurance is not legally enforceable, which is still another reason why it is fundamentally different.
JE comments: Ultimately, the NATO expansion eastward is a fait accompli. It would be interesting to discuss the effect of the "new" NATO nations on the war in Afghanistan (Poland, Romania, the Baltic States and others). Has their presence made any difference in that conflict, and has it directly impacted the current Russia-US antagonism?
- Russia as Successor State to USSR (Istvan Simon, USA 06/28/12 11:11 AM)
When commenting my post of 27 June, JE asked: "Isn't Russia the legal successor state to the USSR? Consider who inherited the seat on the UN Security Council, as well as the Soviet nuclear arsenal."
Yes, Russia inherited the UN Security Council seat, but this does not imply that our verbal commitment to Gorbachev should be binding in the post-Soviet world. My main point is this: even a treaty is not forever. We have denounced treaties, and so has the Soviet Union, and many other countries. No Secretary of State has the power to commit the United States to a course of action that is binding forever. He or she just does not have the Constitutional power to do so. Even the President does not have such power. The Secretary of State and or the President could negotiate and sign a treaty, but the signature does not bind the United States, unless the Senate ratifies it. So how can it be argued that a "solemn word" given by Secretary Baker to Gorbachev is more binding than a negotiated treaty? The whole idea is absurd.
JE comments: Anthony D'Amato (next in queue) has a different take on this issue.
On Executive Commitments
(Robert Gard, USA
06/29/12 2:54 AM)
In response to Istvan Simon (28 June), who said the US promise not to expand NATO into the former Warsaw Pact nations was as binding as a ratified treaty? But ratified treaties include provisions for withdrawal.
If executive commitments are not binding, they are useless.
Then stop all negotiations that aren't intended to result in a ratified treaty, and you can cut diplomacy by orders of magnitude.
JE comments: Let's shift the focus of this discussion, in line with Hall Gardner's observations from earlier today:
Suppose NATO hadn't expanded eastward, and a resurgent Russia were seeking to recover its influence throughout the entire Warsaw Pact region. (How sure can we be that Russia would now play nice if it hadn't been slighted by NATO expansion?) In this alternate scenario, one can only imagine the harsh finger-pointing about "failed opportunities to place Eastern Europe firmly in the NATO security zone," accusations of neo-Chamberlainism, and the like.
NATO, Executive Commitments and the Military-Industrial Complex
(Bienvenido Macario, USA
06/30/12 1:37 AM)
When commenting Robert Gard's post of 29 June, JE wrote: "Let's shift the focus of this discussion, in line with Hall Gardner's observations from earlier today: Suppose NATO hadn't expanded eastward, and a resurgent Russia were seeking to recover its influence throughout the entire Warsaw Pact region. (How sure can we be that Russia would now play nice if it hadn't been slighted by NATO expansion?) In this alternate scenario, one can only imagine the harsh finger-pointing about 'failed opportunities to place Eastern Europe firmly in the NATO security zone,' accusations of neo-Chamberlainism, and the like."
I'm glad the WAIS editor brought up Chamberlain's "Peace in our times" and reminded us of appeasement in Munich in 1938. We should might as well remember what happened to Czechoslovakia in 1968 or Georgia in 2008, some 70 years later after Munich. There was no UN, IMF and World Bank in 1938 unlike in 1968.
The only difference before and after WWII was the formation of NATO.
Going back to Chamberlain, I think he had no choice but to appease Hitler and pray, because the West did not have a standing army to remotely match Hitler's well-prepared and well-trained army. In fact on Sept. 1 1939 when Hitler invaded Poland, Russia invaded and annexed the eastern half of that nation. Six months following the Polish invasion, Great Britain, France and its European allies did nothing to the German armies as they were busy preparing and building up their armies.
Maybe this is the overriding concern why America decided to have the military-industrial complex after WWII.
Geographically, the US has the least to worry about Russia. So the buffer states must have a stronger voice than even Germany when it comes to Russia and NATO.
JE comments: I view the modern (post-WWII) US military-industrial complex as mostly a response to Cold War urgencies, not our lack of preparation in 1939-'41--although undoubtedly both factors came into play.
(Hall Gardner, France
07/01/12 12:54 AM)
In the 19th century the term appeasement meant mutual compromise. In the 20th it came to mean capitulation. (See Bienvenido Macario, 30 June.)
Hitler took a big risk in remilitarizing the Rhineland. But no one acted. Had the Allies acted, it is possible that Hitler would have lost support. Instead his risky action further empowered him.
But what if international peacekeeping forces, including British and French and American or others, had been present in the Rhineland under a general League of Nations mandate that would have forced Britain and France to respond? What if the US Senate had given Britain and France security guarantees as they requested at the time? Would Hitler have even considered moving into the Rhineland?
These are big "ifs" of course in thinking through alternative history, but I don't think they were entirely out of the question even at that time--had the US not moved into isolation.
My point is that the development of an alternative system of European security in the aftermath of WWI may have led to a very different scenario than that of "appeasement"--once again had the US not moved into isolation.
In the contemporary situation, NATO has already expanded into much of eastern Europe, that is a done deal, whether Moscow likes it or not. And the US has not yet moved into isolation, although some in Moscow might be waiting for that possibility.
But the question remains: What to do about the Black Sea and Caucasus, given the fact that Russia continues to obstruct US efforts to bring Ukraine and Georgia into NATO?
In my mind, a potential clash between NATO enlargement and Russian opposition will not produce a World War II situation of "capitulation," but it would be more like a World War I situation of a clash between rival alliances.
This could have happened in Georgia, had NATO acted when Russian troops moved into Georgia in August 2008. (American forces were, by the way, present in Georgia at the time of the August 2008 Georgia-Russia war, but they were moved out of areas of confrontation.)
In the aftermath of the August 2008 war, Defense Secretary Robert Gates stated that we needed to prevent a situation that leads to either a World War II or a World War I scenario:
"We must try to prevent situations where we have only two bleak choices: confrontation or capitulation, 1914 or 1938."
And that is why it is absolutely necessary to rethink the security of the entire Black Sea and Caucasus region in such a way that brings Russia in, but without capitulation.
JE comments: As Georgia moves towards its fall parliamentary elections, is it time to re-visit the Georgia-Russia conflict? Do we have any cause for major worry? And if I may don the "realist" mantle for a moment: could someone refresh my memory why the US is on the Georgian side of the rift?
- on Appeasement; Relative German-Allied Strength 1938-'39 (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 07/01/12 1:16 AM)
Bienvenido Macario wrote on 30 June: "Going back to Chamberlain, I think he had no choice but to appease Hitler and pray, because the West did not have a standing army to remotely match Hitler's well-prepared and well-trained army. "
This is factually incorrect. Not only did the West at the time of Munich have military forces to "remotely match" those of Nazi Germany, but those of even just one Western power, namely France, considerably surpassed German forces:
German Forces total:
3,706,104 men (103 divisions), 3,478 tanks, over 7,000 guns
4,093 planes (inc. 1,176 bombers, 1,179 fighters, 335 dive-bombers)--see Luftwaffe Orders of Battle
2 old battleships, 2 battlecruisers, 3 pocket battleships, 8 cruisers, 22 destroyers, 56 submarines
French Forces total:
5,000,000 men, 99 divisions, 4,200 tanks, about 11,000 guns
2,916 planes (1,114 fighters, 1,002 bombers)
7 capital ships, 1 aircraft carrier, 19 cruisers, 70 destroyers, 75 submarines
The inferiority of the German forces was even greater in 1938. Germany was still suffering from the severe limitations imposed on its strategic armaments after WWI; in fact, many German weapons systems were secretly developed inside the Soviet Union during the 1920s.
Bienvenido mentions Georgia in 2008 as an example of Chamberlain-style appeasement? Huh? Who appeased whom? I would be interested to hear what Bienvenido had in mind.
JE comments: Appeasement is an interesting word. If I read Hall Gardner (1 July) correctly, in the 19th century it meant "compromise," and had none of the humiliating connotations of today. Was the Chamberlain example responsible for this semantic shift?
on Appeasement; Relative German-Allied Strength 1938-'39
(Anthony D`Amato, USA
07/01/12 12:17 PM)
Why is it that after the Munich Agreement of September 30, 1938, did Hitler feel snookered by Chamberlain? It is because Chamberlain did a masterly job that probably saved Great Britain from falling into the hands of the Nazis. It was not remotely "appeasement."
Cameron Sawyer's statistics (1 July) about the relative German-French military strength at the time of Munich are correct but beside the point. Great Britain could not rely on France to stop Hitler; France's entire policy at the time was to hide behind the Maginot line and let everyone else fight it out. (I could add that in the decisively important question of tanks, France deployed its tanks so as to be useless, as DeGaulle said at the time. Not understanding what tanks could do, and deploying them behind the army instead of in front, France totally wasted its superiority in tanks.)
The Munich Pact gave the Sudetenland to Germany "legally." Hitler could have easily taken it by force, yet he was still on his strategy of expansion "for free." He soon realized, however, that he gave away eleven months to Chamberlain in return for a stack of paper at Munich.
Great Britain's factories were rapidly turning out fighter planes and bombers in 1938, but GB was still decisively behind Germany. The eleven months between Munich and Germany's invasion of Poland was of incalculable benefit to the Royal Air Force.
Here is where Cameron Sawyer makes a misleading statement. He said: "The inferiority of the German forces was even greater in 1938." This is not true with respect to the comparison between the RAF and the Luftwaffe; the former gained significantly in those eleven months against the latter. The Air Battle of Britain was saved by the RAF's augmented strength.
After the fall of France, Hitler did gain significantly in terms of the French tanks, which he repainted for use against Stalin. But that happened after Hitler invaded Poland and after the "phony war."
When Chamberlain came back from Munich, he announced that he had achieved "Peace in our time." This was diplomatic brilliance. Chamberlain wasn't talking to the British public; he was talking to Hitler. He wanted Hitler to think that GB would now sit back and relax. He did not want Hitler to find out about the British factories turning out planes on a 24/7 production schedule. (Churchill knew what Chamberlain was up to, but nevertheless, Churchill then lied about "appeasement" to unfairly discredit Chamberlain and pave the way for Churchill to become Prime Minister.)
In sum: there was no appeasement at Munich. The Sudetenland was Hitler's for the taking. Chamberlain was crafty; Hitler was duped.
JE comments: Anthony D'Amato has given us a provocative re-interpretation of Chamberlain. Is Ol' Neville due for rehabilitation?
Use of Tanks in Defensive Warfare
(Robert Gard, USA
07/04/12 2:14 PM)
In response to Anthony D'Amato (1 July), the French did rely excessively on the Maginot Line. But employing tanks on the front lines vitiates their advantage of mobility.
Deploying tanks behind the front lines in defensive operations is sensible.
In fact, they should be so deployed as mobile reserves to counter penetrations.
JE comments: This raises a fascinating question of tactics. We think of tanks generally as offensive weapons, especially during the initial stage of WWII. Yet in 1939-40, there was still a limited sense of what tanks could or should do. The Spanish Republicans tended to space their tanks out among the accompanying infantry, and as such they lost the advantage that can be gained from amassing them in strength. Did the French learn from this lesson? I guess not.
Use of Tanks in Defensive Warfare
(Anthony D`Amato, USA
07/05/12 11:36 PM)
Robert Gard's post of 4 July appears to be ambiguous. Certainly French tanks were deployed behind the front lines. But what the French did was to have their army deployed directly behind the Maginot line, and the tanks behind the army. When the German tanks broke through the Ardennes, they met the soft and futile resistance of the French foot soldiers, while the French tanks were in line behind the French army.
The French army should have stayed far behind. The tanks should have been ready to mobilize at the point that the Germans broke through. This would have made all the difference.
JE comments: Didn't the Germans merely go around the Maginot line anyway--through Belgium and the Netherlands?
What use did the Germans make of the French tanks they captured and repainted in 1940? Did they prove tactically effective?
- On Executive Commitments (Istvan Simon, USA 07/01/12 1:28 AM)
Robert Gard said that if executive commitments are not binding, they are useless (June 29).
This is a somewhat extreme interpretation.
The verbal commitment to Gorbachev was faithfully followed by the United States for several years after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. For several long and bloody years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, President Clinton was very hesitant to involve NATO in the savage war in Bosnia, in which the Serbs, supported by Russia, did their ethnic cleansing and systematic mass rape in the heart of Europe. Only very slowly and gradually did the Clinton administration, pressed by our European allies, come to the realization that this was intolerable and we had to intervene.
No one can accuse us that we did not try hard to stop this insanity through diplomacy. While we did so, thousands were massacred and systematically raped by the Serbs. Who can forget the siege of Sarajevo, which lasted over three years? In February 1995, the United Nations charged 21 Serb commanders with genocide and crimes against humanity.
NATO involvement happened tentatively and gradually, in response to Security Council resolutions. Initially it involved only monitoring. Each escalation happened in reaction to Serbian outrages, not in anticipation. Each seemed reactive, weak, and ineffective at the time, which only encouraged the Serbs to even more outrageous conduct.
So was our verbal commitment to Gorbachev useless? Well, I would say hardly, even if judged from the Russian point of view.
JE comments: Permit me a naive question: how much blame for the Serbian atrocities in Bosnia be placed on Russian support for Serbia? Russia has always embraced the Serbs as their "little brothers" and coreligionists, but did they give much concrete assistance to Milosevic?
- Russia as Successor State to USSR (Anthony D`Amato, USA 06/28/12 2:27 PM)
Istvan Simon's post of 27 June misconceives some points of international law. A treaty is with the state, not the government. When the Soviet Union ceased to exist, all the federated states including Russia continue to be bound by all of the USSR's treaties. The "change of circumstances" rule applies (rarely) to provisions within treaties, but not to the treaties themselves. Congressional ratification of a treaty does not make it become international law. A remark by a Norwegian minister was decisive in the case of Denmark v. Norway (PCIJ, 1933), awarding Eastern Greenland to Denmark. International law is a matter of yes or no, not more or less.
- Russia as Successor State to USSR (Randy Black, USA 06/29/12 12:25 AM)
John Eipper's afterthoughts to Robert Gard and Istvan Simon's (27 June) posts about NATO expansion included John's question: "But isn't Russia the legal successor state to the USSR? Consider who inherited the seat on the UN Security Council, as well as the Soviet nuclear arsenal."
The possible answer: Russia the nation and the largest land mass in the former USSR was the de facto dominator of the "union" of Soviet Republics, which all things considered, was not truly a "union" in the same sense as the European Union. The EU is theoretically a volunteer group of nations. The USSR was a union by threat of force as I understood it.
As such, when the USSR ceased to exist in 1991, Russia the nation and the former head of the USSR, remained.
Moreover, "...the remaining republics, having in turn all proclaimed their independence by December 1991, then proceeded, first at the tripartite meeting of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus (the new name of the former Byelorussia) held at Minsk on 8 December 1991, and subsequently at the meeting of eleven republics, held in Alma-Ata (the capital of Kazakhstan) on 21 December 1991, to declare that the Soviet Union had ceased to exist as a subject of international law and that they would henceforth constitute the Commonwealth of Independent States.
"In the preamble to the two declarations adopted in Minsk by the leaders of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, the three signatories stated that 'the USSR, as a subject of international law and a geopolitical reality, is ceasing its existence.' Likewise, the eleven participating republics at the Alma-Ata conference stated in the fifth operative paragraph of the first of five declarations adopted by them that 'with the formation of the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics ceases to exist.' Furthermore, in Article 1 of the fifth declaration, entitled 'On UN Membership,' the eleven signatories agreed that "Member states of the Commonwealth support Russia in taking over the USSR membership in the UN, including permanent membership in the Security Council.'"
Interesting trivia: The UN charter has never been amended and the USSR continues to show as the permanent member of the Security Council.
JE comments: Paradoxically, only after the dissolution of the USSR did we see the common acknowledgement of what everyone already knew: Russia was the "first among equals" of the Soviet republics.
Was the USSR "Russia-Dominated"?
(Cameron Sawyer, Russia
06/29/12 12:08 PM)
What was the Soviet Union? Was it "Russian dominated"? Was Russia the "first among equals" among the Soviet republics? (See Randy Black's post of 29 June.)
I think that it is wrong to think of Russia as the "first among equals" in the Soviet Union; it would be like saying that the District of Columbia is the "first among equals" of the US states or that Moscow today is the "first among equals" of the subjects of the Russian Federation. The Soviet-era Russian Federation was was simply one other unit of essentially local government--the state was the USSR, and its capital was Moscow. The Soviet Union was really nothing more than the old Russian Empire, and the old Russian Empire, in its turn, was nothing more than the old Grand Duchy of Muscovy. The Soviet republics had already been conquered by Russia long before the Bol'shevik coup. Other than minor bits and pieces (like Kaliningrad), the Soviets didn't really much of any territory to what the tsars, mostly Peter and Catherine, had put together. Even those bits of former Poland gobbled up after WWII had been Russian.
There is a twist: the Russian Empire actually fell apart during WWI, and several parts were only re-conquered during or after WWII.
The Soviet constitution made the Republics into nominally autonomous states with an explicit right to secede. The popular wisdom says that this was just for show, since factual control from the Kremlin was iron-fisted. But I don't think the Soviet government needed to show anything to the world with respect to the internal organization of the Soviet state. I suppose rather that there were some hard negotiations with local people who had a real chance for independence during and immediately after the Civil War, when the central power was still very weak, and that this was a necessary bargaining point.
In any case, this very legal point came back to bite the Soviet/Russian state when it was used to dissolve the Soviet Union at a time when there was no will to use force or a threat of force to keep the state together.
In any case, that the present Russian state is the successor state to the USSR is perfectly natural, as much so as the fact that the USSR was the successor state to Old Russia. Russia has been stripped of her outer provinces and imperial possessions, but is still the same old Russia, the same state which was born when Ivan the Great defeated the Novgorod Republic, which opened the way to the creation of a unitary Russian state.
The Russians are, of course, an ethnic group and linguistic community, but even Ivan the Great's Russia was already quite multi-ethnic. The territory of even European Russia is vast and always contained a multitude of languages, religions, and ethnicities. The greater Russian Empire contained units of greater or lesser autonomy, including for example the Duchy of Finland, which was virtually an independent state. So the word "Russian" has different meanings. It means the ethnic and linguistic community. But it also refers to the historical Russian state, which is much wider than the ethnic and linguistic community, which for centuries has been the home of not only ethnic Russians, but of hundreds of other ethnic groups as well, speaking dozens and maybe hundreds of languages. In this, Russia is very different from, say France, and this is the source of much confusion.
JE comments: It's funny (sobering?) to think that I am sitting in what was once Russia, and that the Ukrainian side of these deep woods was once Polish. This part of the world is like that: just how many flags have flown over Lviv/Lvov/Lwow/Lemberg?
But exactly where am I sitting, asks Charles Ridley? Stay tuned.
- Russia and NATO (Hall Gardner, France 06/27/12 2:51 PM)
In response to Robert Gard (27 June), no only Baker, but Kohl as well, among others, promised Gorbachev that NATO would not enlarge.
I have also heard, but not yet found evidence, that Yeltsin was also told that NATO would not enlarge.
The push in Congress for NATO enlargement started in 1992 after the Soviet break-up.
I thus believe the push for NATO enlargement was, in fact, linked to Soviet collapse and the fear of future "instability." Nevertheless, as I argued at the time, and still believe today, there were other options to NATO enlargement.
It was possible to develop the well-received Partnership for Peace program, and instead of promising full NATO membership to eastern European states, NATO, the Europeans and Russia could have helped build the Partnership for Peace into a neutral east European security and defense community through training, assistance and the extension of joint NATO, European, and Russian security guarantees.
It was the path not taken.
JE comments: Hall Gardner is going to be a great addition to our discussions. I promise I'll publish his bio by the end of this week.
In the meantime, welcome to WAIS, Hall!
Russia and NATO
(Alan Levine, USA
06/28/12 12:14 AM)
I appreciate Hall Gardner's reflections on NATO and Russia (26 and 27 June). I believe he correctly explains some of Russia's negative reactions of NATO's eastern expansion and of NATO not keeping its word. I particularly liked Hall's list of the reasons why NATO nonetheless did what it did.
Yet I cannot share his optimism about the "path not taken," i.e., his preference for some kind of "neutral east European security and defense community through training, assistance and the extension of joint NATO, European, and Russian security guarantees." Such partnerships of countries with quite diverse interests always fail when times get tough (i.e., in the absence of a mutually perceived greater threat). East Europe would have been crazy to accept such an arrangement, as they knew it would be worthless and their understandable fears (given the recent 50 years of Russian domination) would have dissettled Europe.
Here I share Gilbert Doctorow's realism. The US and NATO countries on the one hand and Russia on the other have different interests that must always entail some levels of antagonism. This can only be partially moderated by them sharing a worldview as closely as the US and Western Europe do. The US and Western Europe have differences, but nothing like between them and Russia. Gilbert always praises Russia's real politique actions and condemns those of the US, but from the point of view of the West it was right to solidify both 1) its interests in East Europe, and 2) its version of freedom, political, economic, and cultural. The morality of the move depends on one's judgment of what the West is.
JE comments: One definition of "the West" comes from Budget Rent-a-Car at the Warsaw airport. On the rental contract in large letters it reads: "Travel to Ukraine, Russia and Belarus is forbidden!" I presume they mean with the car. There would be no objection from Budget, however, if I drove all the way to Lisbon.
Poland is probably the one nation made happiest by NATO's eastward expansion--except, perhaps, for the Baltic republics.
- Russia and NATO (Robert Whealey, USA 06/29/12 1:31 AM)
In responding to Robert Gard (27 June), JE suggests legalistic excuses for present-day American cheating diplomats. According to International Law and Constitutional Law, every successor state is responsible for the legal obligations of the state from which it succeeded. The British, French and Americans tried to hold the Bolshevik revolutionaries responsible for all treaties and contracts concluded by the Tsarist governments. At Nuremberg, 1946-48, three of the four victors held Nazi Germany responsible for violating the Versailles Treaty. As for Robert Gard's "solemn US commitment," governments that mistrust one another must get commitments published in writing, and better yet a ratified in a treaty.
The honesty of the State Department and American Presidents in recent years has eroded the credibility of the United States. America's reputation for honesty peaked between 1945 and 1950.
JE comments: Wasn't post-war Italy also held responsible for the financial commitments of the Mussolini regime? Perhaps Roy Domenico could elaborate. Treaties and agreements, as Anthony D'Amato pointed out, are made with states, not with governments.
- Russia and NATO; Question for Hall Gardner (Anthony D`Amato, USA 06/27/12 3:05 PM)
A question for our new colleague Hall Gardner: do you know whether the US turned to NATO for "multilateral" support for the Kosovo bombing only after deciding that the Security Council route was unworkable because of the Secretary-General's megalomania?
JE comments: I'm not sure I fully understand this question. Is Anthony D'Amato referring to Kofi Annan? Maybe Hall Gardner or another WAIS colleagues could walk us through the events.
Russia and NATO
(Hall Gardner, France
06/29/12 12:04 AM)
This is in reply to Alan Levine (28 June) and Anthony D'Amato (27 June):
Back in November or December 1997, I argued my case to Democrats Abroad in Paris (after just writing a position paper for Susan Eisenhower on the topic) and literally split the group in half between those who believed NATO enlargement would provoke a Russian backlash versus those who believed that without eastern European membership in NATO, Russia would walk over eastern Europe once again. (I had also presented roughly the same case to the Polish Ministry of Defense and to the NSC as member of the Committee on Atlantic Studies.)
It was clear at the time that no eastern European state wanted to be a neutral "buffer"; however, it wasn't up to the eastern European states to make the decision as to what were the long-term strategic interests of the Atlantic Alliance.
General Jack Galvin, among others, was for folding NATO up and making a new security Euro-Atlantic organization that would bring the Russians in. (See my book Dangerous Crossroads, 1997). In effect, such a system would have had to guarantee that Russia would not threaten eastern Europeans; and eastern European states, backed by the US and west Europeans, would not threaten Russian interests. Overlapping NATO, European and Russian security guarantees could have been implemented by the deployment of multinational Partnership for Peace forces throughout eastern Europe, involving Americans, west and east Europeans and Russians.
Paul Nitze had argued that it was far better to curtail NATO enlargement than risk a Russian backlash. He had urged President Clinton to put NATO enlargement on hold.
This was the road not taken. I don't think it was that "crazy" a concept. (Though the concept was dismissed by eastern Europeans and by American neo-conservatives at the time, many of whom wanted to expand NATO all the way to Ukraine.)
The Russian backlash (predicted by Paul Nitze, George Kennan and others) essentially began under Putin, at least in major part in reaction to the combined impact of NATO enlargement and the war "over" Kosovo. (The latter war, by the way, was opposed by Henry Kissinger precisely because he believed that it was possible to forge a diplomatic settlement--if the Rambouillet summit with Serbia had been properly negotiated.)
That was the past, of course, and NATO has expanded since then. But the Russian backlash as initiated under Putin is now risking a new arms race even if Russia can hardly afford it. I am not an isolationist, so I do not argue for the abandonment of NATO, but I do argue for modifying NATO policies where Russian concerns can truly be considered legitimate.
Russia is a potential ally if the US, NATO and the Europeans can find the right set of compromises. Not an easy prospect, obviously.
But to denounce Russia "as the number one geopolitical foe" (when China is the major concern) as Mitt Romney has done is to court disaster. The neo-conservatives advising him should step down or radically alter their policies should he become President!
We need to rethink the open-ended NATO enlargement to Georgia and Ukraine and seek ways to forge a new system of Euro-Atlantic security that brings Russia in.
See my latest articles on the subject: Shadow NATO Conference III:
See also, Shadow NATO Conference II:
JE comments: How readily can Russia afford a new arms race? Cameron Sawyer has argued over the last year that Russia is in a better economic position than the US for increased military spending.
Can Russia Afford a New Arms Race?
(Hall Gardner, France
06/30/12 12:34 AM)
On Russia and the costs of an arms race (see JE's comments to my post of 29 June):
My view is that both the US and Russia have many other worries than to engage in an arms race.
But Russian elites are better prepared in political and ideological terms for such an eventuality than are the Americans, in the assumption that a nuclear, conventional and asymmetrical military build-up is not a bluff intended to gain concessions from the US and NATO.
If Putin is not bluffing, then domestic dissent inside Russia is likely to increase, and so too repression.
In economic terms, my view is that a European recession is likely to cut back demand for Russian energy supplies, thus cutting back on expected state revenues, but some Russian elites expect to open new energy markets in China and likewise expect to obtain some technological advances from such a military build-up....
But I'd like to hear other views.
In any case, an arms race is foolish, unnecessary, dangerous. Both sides have been trading insults for too long now, with China, India and others laughing (and profiting) on the sidelines.
JE comments: Foolish, unnecessary, and dangerous. Other than "profligate," I think Hall Gardner's adjectives perfectly describe a possible Russia-US arms race.
Can Russia Afford a New Arms Race?
(Randy Black, USA
07/01/12 1:47 AM)
Hall Gardner's well-reasoned 30 June post about the potential of an arms race on Russia's part begs the question, "was there really ever a valid, ‘real' arms race in the past?"
When I arrived in Russia in early January 1993, only a couple of years after the collapse of the USSR and "that arms race," I found the Russian military living in the past with ancient weapons, many dating to the 1960s. The Soviet Air Force was operating equally ancient aircraft, most of which had not been flown for years. These days, it's not much different.
I may have missed the news, but it seems to me that it's been at least two decades since Russia has put a new fighter into production. These days, Russia has a couple of prototypes that are touring the world looking for customers. But that's about it.
Over the two years, more or less, that I lived in Russia, I concluded that the arms race was pretty much a fabrication on both sides, an effort to cause an unreal amount of money to be poured into the military industries of both countries.
In the Omsk of 1993, a major city with a huge military presence, the Soviet bombers and fighters were not even parked on concrete tarmacs. They were parked off the end of the active runway on unmowed grass by summer and in the frozen mud of winter. Many of the old Soviet transports were being used to fly stolen cars back from Poland to the rich "new Russians" who placed orders and then waited for the air delivery of their new BMWs, Buicks and Mercedes.
The only flyable planes in their Omsk arsenal had been stripped of their red stars, so that there was no identifying signature and took off occasionally in the middle of the night, carrying Russian troops-for-hire to fight as mercenaries in Moldova.
A local military leader who was an occasional tennis partner told me that the troops were flying to Moldova on a regular basis as part of Russia's efforts to force Moldova to fall into line and to remain part of Russia's CIS. In this way, Russia's 14th Army was able to control most of the Dnestr region on behalf of the Russian ethnic minority.
An interesting article from the US Library of Congress is here:
In Moscow throughout 1993-1995, ground troops mostly hung out at the subways stations begging change for vodka and cigarettes. Occasionally, one offered a live grenade for about $25. If they were not begging at the local Metro stations, many active duty soldiers were "farmed out" by their commanders to the City of Moscow to dig up streets to lay new light rail lines and perform other public works projects.
If the west inherited anything from that era, it was the financial burden of securing the Soviet nuclear arsenal, which Russia was just as clearly not able to carry out.
Is the situation improved these days? How many new age fighters has Russia introduced and produced in the past two decades? How many are actually capable of flight? I'm aware that there are several new generation fighters in development, but none are projected to be in production before 2014, if then.
How many of those fighters have fallen out of the sky lately?
An interesting article on the future of Russian fighters is here:
and here: http://www.airforcetimes.com/news/2010/03/airforce_russian_fighter_032210w/
And then there's the matter of the state of readiness of the Russian submarine corps.
JE comments: Cameron Sawyer can no doubt address some of Randy Black's questions. In brief: how much better prepared and equipped are the Russian armed forces now vs. 20 years ago? Also, I'd welcome the thoughts of WAISdom's "flying Michaels" (Generals Sullivan and Delong) on the new generation of Russian fighter planes.
Can Russia Afford a New Arms Race?
(Cameron Sawyer, Russia
07/01/12 10:05 PM)
Randy Black (1 July) saw the Russian military at its low point. He should keep in mind that not only Russia, but the whole world has changed quite a bit since 1993, so not all of his impressions from 20 years ago may still be valid. The dramatic collapse of the Soviet military machine and then its dramatic revival in the 2000s can be seen best in the budget. I hate to cite Wikipedia, but there is an article exactly on this point:
"In 1988 military spending was a single line item in the Soviet state budget, totaling 21 billion rubles (687.77100 million US dollars). Given the size of the military establishment, however, the actual figure was considered to be far higher. However, between 1991 and 1997 newly independent Russia's defence spending fell by a factor of eight in real prices. Between 1988 and 1993 weapons production in Russia fell by at least 50% for virtually every major weapons system.
"In 1998, when Russia experienced a severe financial crisis, its military expenditure in real terms reached its lowest point--barely one-quarter of the USSR's in 1991, and two-fifths of the level of 1992, the first year of Russia's independent existence.
"Defence spending is consistently increasing by at least a minimum of one-third year-on-year, leading to overall defence expenditure almost quadrupling over the past six years, and according to Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, this rate is to be sustained through 2010. Official government military spending for 2005 was US $32.4 billion, though various sources, have estimated Russia's military expenditures to be considerably higher than the reported amount. Estimating Russian military expenditure is beset with difficulty; the annual IISS Military Balance has underscored the problem numerous times within its section on Russia.] The IISS Military Balance comments--'By simple observation...[the military budget] would appear to be lower than is suggested by the size of the armed forces or the structure of the military-industrial complex, and thus neither of the figures is particularly useful for comparative analysis.' By some estimates, overall Russian defence expenditure is now at the second highest in the world after the USA. According to Alexander Kanshin, Chairman of the Public Chamber of Russia on affairs of veterans, military personnel, and their families, the Russian military is losing up to US $13 billion to corruption every year."
Russia spent $72 billion on the military last year, more than double what was spent just in 2005, and will increase by another 50% over the next two years. See: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/apr/17/russia-overtakes-uk-france-arms That makes Russia's military budget the largest in the world after the US and China.
So Randy would not indeed recognize the Russian military of today, compared to the miserable 1990s. I am not a military expert, so I can't comment on how effective or efficient the Russian military is, but certainly there is a great deal of commentary from different sources to the effect that the Russian military is now the second most powerful in the world after the US.
As to weapons systems--Russia has certainly developed and deployed numerous advanced weapons systems in the last 10 or 15 years. These systems are designed not just for Russia's own defense, but also for the world armaments markets--Russia swaps places from year to year with the US as the largest exporter of military goods in the world, and military goods are Russia's second largest export after oil and gas. Russia's civilian aircraft industry has collapsed and has nearly disappeared, but the manufacturing of advanced military aircraft is thriving. The Sukhoi 27 family of fighter/bombers is apparently the world's most commercially successful combat aircraft since the 1970s, and is flown by the air forces of dozens of countries. The Su-30, which is used as a front-line strike aircraft by India, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, and other countries, is admitted by everyone to be better than the F-15's and F-18's which we sell. Apparently our F22 is better than the Su-30--at least, there are a lot of articles where US military spokesman seem to be trying exceptionally hard to make that case--but the F22 was never sold in export and turned out to be so expensive (one-third of a billion dollars each--it boggles the mind) that the project was canceled. So the Su-30 is apparently the most advanced fighter you can actually buy, and this is reflected in large volumes of sales. India operates a very large fleet--140 of them.
Russia manufactures a lot of other advanced weapons systems--AWACS, anti-aircraft missile systems, radar installations, main battle tanks, and so forth. By and large what they make is probably not as good as what we make, but their capability is formidable. And this capability is expanding at a huge rate--with 20% and 30% spending in increases every year, year after year. This is possible because of the dynamic Russian economy, which is growing much faster than ours, and due to the Russian's incomparably better budget situation, compared to ours--unlike us, they have no debt and they bring in large budget surpluses, and again, year after year, often reaching 5% or 6% of GDP. Russia is certainly a force to be reckoned with, militarily, and more and more as time goes on.
- Russian Military Buildup; The Georgia Question (Hall Gardner, France 07/01/12 10:31 PM)
On the Russian military build-up and Georgia (see Randy Black, 1 July):
Like Randy, I too saw the Russian military in shambles in the early 1990s, with soldiers selling uniforms in the street to tourists for a few dollars. This is one of the prime reasons Putin has wanted to spruce up the armed forces in addition to weaknesses shown in the effectiveness of the Russian military intervention in the August 2008 war with Georgia.
In 2011 Moscow increased defense spending by 9.3 per cent in real terms, raising it to $71.9 billion. According to SIPRI, this meant that "Russia overtook the UK and France to become the world's third largest spender." Putin has now advocated spending more than $750 billion over the next decade (an increase in defense spending of 53 per cent between 2011 and 2014)--on 20 multipurpose subs, 50 surface ships, 100 military spacecraft, 600 aircraft, over 1,000 helicopters, plus 28 S-400 missile interceptors. He seeks some 400 ICBMs and SLBMs, plus 8 ballistic missile subs. This doesn't count the amount to be spent on federal police and internal security services and contracted servicemen.
Among Russian elites, there are debates as to what form the military build-up should take, whether to include new Stealth bombers, for example, which are now seen as obsolete given advances in US radar tracking systems and missile defenses. How effective these weapons systems would prove in actual combat is a legitimate question, when Russian arms are not selling well, but I'd prefer not to test them in that way!
Whether Russia has the finances to carry this out is another question. The proposed arms build-up is already being denounced by domestic critics.
Much as it did in 2008, just prior to the August 2008 Georgia-Russian conflict, Russia will be engaging in an even more massive military exercise, "Caucasus 2012," which will engage troops throughout the Caucasus this September--raising the serious concerns of the Georgian government.
This has been speculation that Russia, just as it supported Abkhazian and South Ossetian independence, is hoping to splinter off the not-well integrated ethnic Armenian regions of Georgia so as to provide a land route to its ally Armenia, in a gambit to protect Armenia vs Azerbaijan after renewed clashes over Nagorno- Karabakh and likewise to check NATO enlargement, if not control energy transit routes as well. Armenia is a member of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
How events play out in the near future is not certain, but Putin is definitely upping the ante and playing for high stakes. This "arms race" is not a mirage. It needs to be addressed by real diplomacy aimed at implementing a new system of Euro-Atlantic security--a possibility which unfortunately appears to be stalled in waiting for November American elections.
JE comments: We can imagine how intimidating the "Caucasus 2012" maneuvers will be to the Georgians. What are the chances that this muscle-flexing will lead to some real shooting?
A technical question: is Stealth aircraft technology now obsolete across the board? If so, does this mean that air forces around the world will increasingly rely on unpiloted drones?
- NATO, Russia, China (Istvan Simon, USA 06/30/12 12:46 AM)
I tend to agree with much of what Hall Gardner has written on this subject. I am not against the vision he paints with his "road not taken." But I am not so sure that it would have been ever possible, nor is it obvious to me that it would have produced better results than the road taken.
Sadly, Hall is right that it is not up to the Eastern European countries to determine the long-term strategic interests of NATO countries. This is true, and I say sadly, because these countries are well aware that they don't count, at least partly embittered by the indifference and or impotence of NATO repeatedly demonstrated when they tried to shake off their Soviet enslavement. They felt that they were sold out to Stalin at Yalta, and they were indeed. The collapse of Communism, however, created a new strategic situation.
What is the long-term strategic interest of the United States and Western European NATO countries?
I would be most interested to hear what other WAISers think of this, and their reasons for thinking so.
I agree with much that Cameron Sawyer writes in WAIS, but I do not agree with his view on this question. I also do not agree that it is just so obvious that Russia will again be a superpower, like Putin undoubtedly would like. I may turn out to be wrong, and Cameron may turn out to be right; only the future will tell. But I think that though it is quite likely that Russia will be a major power again, its power will be limited for the foreseeable future. One reason for this is the demographic decline of Russia. Russia's population is falling, a situation that Putin would like to reverse, according to the position papers cited by Gilbert Doctorow and Cameron Sawyer, but whether he will succeed in this is unknown and unknowable at this point.
Gilbert Doctorow mentions a possible Russian-Chinese alliance against the United States. I think that such an alliance is very unlikely to succeed. The Chinese do not trust Russia, and probably vice versa. They have long-term good historical reasons for feeling that way. Mao Zedong never trusted Russia either, and in contrast, always considered the United States a potential ally. He never studied Russian, but did try to learn English. Mao admired the United States. This is why Kissinger and Nixon were so successful when the ping-pong diplomacy eventually produced fruit.
The United States is a Pacific power, and the Chinese interests and the United States' interests do not always coincide. Nonetheless, we have many common interests. Furthermore, I think that the United States is not perceived by the Chinese as a long-term strategic threat. The Chinese do not like our alliance with Australia, nor our continued partial support of Taiwan, nor our concerns over their increasingly bellicose stance in the South China Sea. But they do not see the US as a declining power that will soon disappear, nor is that their long-term goal, as some contend. If that were the case, why would they hold so much of their money in Treasuries, and even more importantly, why would they send their children to the United States?
Bo Xilai is a despicable scoundrel, but his son is hiding in the United States right now. Quite a few children of the Chinese princelings, including Xi Jinping, the chosen successor of Hu Jintao, have their children in the United States. Both dissidents like Chen Guangcheng, (see this interesting interview http://www.businessinsider.com/chen-guangcheng-the-great-chinese-firewall-is-actually-easily-breached-2012-6 ) and the children of the powerful Communist party elite choose to come to the United States when they can. Why not Russia, or Brazil, or Western Europe, or Hugo Chavez's Venezuela or Cuba?
JE comments: Istvan Simon and I are both in the education business, and will probably agree than the Chinese elite send their children to study in the US because of the quality of our universities. Someone on WAIS wrote a few years ago that the US now excels in four (and unfortunately, only four) industries: (specialized and expensive) health care, entertainment, IT and education. I'd say this is still the case, although we may be losing our edge in IT.
WWII/Cold War Revisited
(David Pike, France
07/01/12 11:09 AM)
I reply to this weekend's rash of rushed-off postings:
Istvan Simon repeats (June 30) a familiar refrain: "At Yalta the Eastern European countries were sold out to Stalin." What Istvan omits is to tell us what he, in Roosevelt's shoes, would have told Stalin, at a time when the Red Army had already reached the Oder. How about: "You can now take your 5 million troops out of Eastern Europe, or else!"--giving Stalin an ultimatum. Now, that would have really sobered up the Vozhd.
Anthony D'Amato writes (June 30): "In 1946, Churchill convinced everyone that the USSR was an evil empire, not to be trusted." This presumably refers to his speech in Fulton, Missouri: "From Stettin in the Baltic, to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended ..." I wouldn't say Churchill convinced everyone, but I would say he was right. Then Anthony tells us that Castro in his need went to Stalin (sic).
Bienvenido Macario writes (June 30): "(In 1938 at Munich) the West did not have a standing army to remotely match Hitler's.... On Sept. 1, 1939, ... Russia invaded and annexed the eastern half of Poland." In 1938, and even 1939, the French Army was considered the most powerful in the world. Stalin's invasion of Poland began in fact on Sept. 17, in accordance with the protocol of the Aug. 23 Agreement. Bienvenido then says that in the following six months, the Entente "did nothing to the German armies as they were busy preparing and building up their armies." I now ask Bienvenido to step into Daladier's shoes. Thorez had deserted in the field, inviting all Communists to do the same. The French Army was purely defensive. The most it did or could do in the Phony War, against the Siegfried Line, was take some villages in the Saar. What precisely could France have done in the winter of 1939-1940? Not a single British soldier had embarked on continental soil by the time the Polish campaign had ended. It was a natural hope in the West that Hitler would follow that part of Mein Kampf that put victory over Bolshevism ahead of victory over Germany's "eternal enemy France." What so obviously France should have done is extend the Maginot Line all the way to the coast.
Bienvenido's comments fit into a common pattern, beginning with Sudetenland, that runs as follows: "The Entente should have sent their two airborne battalions to Prague. That would have really stopped Hitler in his tracks, and put an end to all his ambitions." The fact remains: The last chance to stop Hitler short of general war was in the annexation of the Rhineland. Hitler had even given orders: "In the event of authentic (sic) resistance, withdraw."
Roosevelt at Yalta; What Would I Have Done?
(Istvan Simon, USA
07/12/12 3:25 AM)
David Pike (1 July) asked what I would have done in Roosvelt's shoes at Yalta. I have not thought seriously about this very interesting question, and I am not sure how realistically I can answer it. I delayed my answer to reflect on it a bit before David accuses me again of rushed-off posts. The question can be interpreted from at least two different angles:
a) trying to literally be in Roosevelt's shoes, in the sense of imagining replacing him at Yalta with exactly the same knowledge that he had at the time, or
b) imagining replacing him at Yalta with the benefit of hindsight.
Only the first approach is fair to Roosevelt, but right away I have a major obstacle to answer the question, because I do not know enough about what exactly Roosevelt knew at the time. David, who is a professional historian, can probably answer this much better than I can, and so I ask him in turn, what he would have done and why?
With the caveat above, I will try to answer the question anyway, the best way I can.
Roosevelt was very ill at the time of Yalta, and died about two months later, and his health probably influenced his decisions at Yalta. I will not take this into consideration in my answer, so I will imagine replacing him at Yalta in perfect health and vigor.
At Yalta, the European theater war was about three months from being won. But Roosevelt was worried about the war against Japan as well, and wanted Stalin's help in this war. As it turned out, Stalin did not help in the war against Japan, and declared war on Japan in haste, only after the atomic bomb had been dropped on Japan, to take some of the spoils, though this may have been still an important psychological factor in convincing the Japanese that surrender was their only viable option.
I believe that another relevant factor at Yalta would have been the political judgement that the people of the United States were understandably tired of the fighting, and would not have supported continuing the war against Russia, if it came to that, to get them out of Eastern Europe. So taking all of these factors into consideration, I think that I would have chosen to sell Eastern Europe to Russia more or less the same way as Roosevelt did, though I think that Stalin could and should have been pressed much harder for a better deal.
This response may surprise and perhaps also satisfy David, if what I read between his lines is correct. Nonetheless, this does not diminish in any way the sense of betrayal that Eastern European people justifiably feel for being abandoned to be enslaved by the Russians, not only immediately after the war, but also after bravely revolting against their oppressors. One could even argue that the immediate aftermath of the war got the Hungarians what they had sowed, because they once again chose the wrong side in the war. But that is certainly not true of the Poles or Czechs, who did absolutely nothing to deserve their fate.
I should also make clear that in my response, I tried to put myself in Roosevelt's shoes even though I have never been elected President of the United States. This is not a small matter and is relevant to David's question. For in my response, I took into consideration my belief that the American people would not have supported continuing the war against Stalin, even though that might have been the correct military response, especially when we had monopoly over atomic weapons. Had Truman made such a decision, it is possible and perhaps even probable that he would have saved himself Korea, by which time thanks to the Rosenbergs and other traitors we had lost the monopoly on nuclear weapons. Arguably, Stalin's forces were no less exhausted than our own, and Stalin's bravado at Yalta may have been very different, had he encountered a firmer opposition to his designs.
JE comments: Yes, and there were even cases such as the German city of Zwickau, home of the fabled Trabant, which the US army originally occupied and then handed over to the Russians a couple of months later. Granted, the Soviets held up their end of the bargain by yielding the British, French and US sectors of Berlin.
I'd like to invite other WAISers to try Istvan Simon's thought exercise: what would you have done at Yalta? And if I may be the Devil's Advocate, is it possible that Stalin could have landed a better deal--Austria and Finland, for example?
In Roosevelt's Shoes at Yalta
(David Pike, France
07/13/12 11:35 AM)
Istvan Simon's posting of July 12 contains some unfortunate phrases. He writes: "The people of the United States ... would not have supported continuing the war against Russia." We were at war with Russia? Then, "The American people would not have supported continuing the war against Stalin, even though that might have been the correct military response." The correct military response?
Istvan asks me, in turn, what I would have done if I had been in Roosevelt's shoes at Yalta, in early February 1945. My reply: Whether I had only weeks to live, or whether I was in the pink of health, I would have accepted the reality on the ground. But I would have listened more carefully to Churchill, whose mistrust of Stalin was as deep as his earlier mistrust of Hitler. I would have pushed as hard as possible for Poland and Czechoslovakia. In the case of Poland, I would have heard from Churchill what chance Poland's London Committee would have if it were to return to Warsaw. (The members were all murdered on arrival.) In the case of Czechoslovakia, the Western Allies had the chance to liberate all of it, but even a full half of it would have given the chance to establish "protectorates" no different from the division of Austria into four zones (and Vienna into four sectors).
Austria was thus quartered, like Germany, but there were some territorial adjustments, on an ad hoc basis of conquest. In Austria there was something of a race among the three invaders (the Soviets from the east, the Americans from the northwest, and the British from the south), each of the three joining in the liberation of KL-Mauthausen, the last of the 16 SS concentration camps to be liberated. Soviets and Americans embraced on the River Enns, and they agreed to minor adjustments. But in general the demarcation lines had been decided at Yalta.
My great regret concerns the basic error in Allied military strategy once the tide of battle in the Ardennes had been reversed, a month before Yalta. Churchill had written to Roosevelt with a warning that ran in brief: "If Berlin falls to the Red Army, will not the thought be implanted in their heads that they have contributed the most to the defeat of the common enemy?" So how to prevent it? There were two opposing strategies. One, pushed by Eisenhower and backed by his superior officer George Marshall, urged that top priority be given to whipping the Wehrmacht in the field. The strategy had unquestioned merit. Never again would a future Germany claim that it did not lose the previous war, it was betrayed by a new class of "November criminals." The Wehrmacht had therefore not only to be whupped, but whupped in the eyes of the world and in the sight of every German. The contending strategy was to put this aside and to give priority to getting to Berlin before the Red Army did, and to occupying the maximum of German terrain. To this end, even Montgomery, not noted for modesty or deference, proposed putting his army group under the command of Bradley's army group if Eisenhower would launch a combined thrust that would strike the German defenses like a dagger to the heart and get to Berlin first.
If Montgomery could bring himself to offer Bradley command of his own 21st Army Group, it was because he trusted Stalin no more than Churchill did. He gave orders--and this makes all the difference between accepting the reality on the ground and yielding to a tyrant--that if the Red Army in Germany were not to stop at the demarcation line, then arms were to be reissued immediately to the Germans so that they could rally to the common defense.
Poland and Czechoslovakia (and the Baltic States) will never forget what it meant to be "liberated" by the Soviet Union, but Stalin could never say that in 1945 there was ill-will toward him in the West. Churchill saw through him as few others did, but he still held out his hand, and in a telegram to Stalin at the close of the war he ended: "Even to embark on a long period of suspicions, of abuse and counter-abuse and of opposing policies would be a disaster, hampering the great developments of world prosperity for the masses which are obtainable only by our trinity. I hope there is no word or phrase in the outpouring of my heart to you which unwittingly gives offence. If so, let me know. But do not, I beg you, my friend Stalin, underrate the divergences which are opening about matters which you may think are small to us but which are symbolic of the way the English-speaking democracies look at life."
JE comments: Istvan Simon was referring to the possibility of continuing the war, by warring against the Soviet Union. David Pike is correct, however: the original wording is ambiguous.
Wasn't it Gen. Patton's desire to keep rolling east? Or am I once again channeling George C. Scott?
- In Roosevelt's Shoes at Yalta (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 07/13/12 11:55 AM)
In response to Istvan Simon (12 July), some historians think that Roosevelt "gave away the store" at Yalta. They often cite the many fatuous statements made by Roosevelt about Stalin and Stalin's intentions. But I think I have to agree with Istvan on this one--I am not sure what better deal we might have made without serious risk of war with the Soviets. We might speculate that Stalin, who had always been pathologically afraid of war (his behavior at the buildup to Barbarossa, which we were discussing recently, is a good example), and who like most bullies was a coward at heart, might have backed down if we had pushed him hard. But this is pure speculation unless something has been found in the archives which I haven't read. It's really hard to second guess what happens in a hard negotiation.
At the time of Yalta the Soviets were holding a lot of cards, militarily speaking. They were at the peak of their power and we did not have the forces deployed in Europe to fight with them without resorting to nuclear weapons. And I am not really sure whether we could have achieved an easy victory even with nuclear weapons--how many did we have at the time? Could we have even delivered them? The Soviets, unlike the Japanese in 1945, had good control of their airspace by this time. And even if we could have delivered the weapons, would nuking the Kremlin, for example, have stopped the Soviets from fighting on? If this is what Roosevelt was avoiding by selling out Central Europe, then he was probably right.
Of course it is very sad for the Poles, Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks, and others, but in Roosevelt's shoes I would probably not have gone to war to keep them out of Communist slavery, even without the hindsight that this slavery would only last a couple of generations. The war required to prevent it would have been too horrible, and without any certainty of success. And inasmuch as it would likely have been fought on the territory of those very countries we would have been trying to save, I am not sure that the suffering would have been less. So I am 100% with Istvan on this one.
- Russia and NATO; Welcome to Hall Gardner (Tor Guimaraes, USA 06/28/12 12:07 AM)
I am grateful to Hall Gardner for his direct, informative, and well-balanced reply (26 June) to my Russia/NATO question. Based on this demonstration I believe Hall will be a great WAIS member. Welcome!
JE comments: Agreed. Welcome to WAIS, Hall!
- Are US and Russia "Natural Allies"? (Alain de Benoist, France 07/01/12 12:43 PM)
Commenting Istvan Simon's post of 24 June, John Eipper wrote: "I still have no idea why after the disappearance of Soviet Communism, the US and Russia should be anything other than natural allies."
The answer is very simple: because the US and Russia are not "natural allies." They have never been, they will never be. As Alan Levine (28 June) wrote, "I share Gilbert Doctorow's realism. The US and NATO countries on the one hand and Russia on the other have different interests that must always entail some levels of antagonism." The US is the main Sea Power. Russia is the main Land Power (and the "Heartland" of the Eurasian continent). "World history has always been the history of the maritime powers against the land powers, and of the land powers against the maritime powers" (Carl Schmitt).
NATO should have been dismantled, together with the Warsaw Pact, after the disintegration of Soviet Union, which eliminated its raison d'être. But from the very beginning, NATO was not only directed against Soviet Union, but against Russia as well. Instead of disappearing, it has become now a kind of Western international police body.
In my opinion, European countries belong to the Eurasian continent, not to the "West." That's why they should go out of NATO. They will not do it, of course.
JE comments: Perhaps, but unlike with every major power I can think of (Great Britain, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Ottoman Empire, Japan), Russia has never been at war with the United States. To be sure, there were proxy wars during the Soviet period (Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan).
What is meant by "natural allies" anyway? In diplomacy, there are no friends, only shared interests.
Are US and Russia "Natural Allies"?
(Hall Gardner, France
07/03/12 1:03 PM)
I have to address Alain de Benoist's comments (1 July) that "the US and Russia are not 'natural allies.' They have never been, they will never be." In addition, I have to criticize the Carl Schmitt cliché that "World history has always been the history of the maritime powers against the land powers, and of the land powers against the maritime powers."
When Mackinder wrote his first paper circa 1905 on Russia as a "pivot" state, prior to his heartland thesis that dominated the geopolitical ideology of the Cold War, he was concerned that Russia could pivot in alliance with Germany against Britain. As it turned out, Britain surprised the world by bringing Russia into an alliance with France by 1907 in the Triple Entente against Imperial Germany. In other words a maritime power aligned with a continental power, contrary to Schmitt's cliché.
Secondly, given the rise of Japan and then Nazi Germany, the US opened relations with the Soviet Union, even warning Stalin in March 1941 of the planned Nazi invasion. Moscow accepted the capitalist USA as an ally--once the Molotov-Ribbentrop "pivot deal" fell apart and Hitler invaded. Once again, a maritime power aligned with a continental power contrary to Schmitt's cliché.
In today's situation, it is China that plays the role of the key "pivot state" in that it can align with Russia--or Russia and China can at least threaten an alliance to scare the US and Europe--if the global situation continues to deteriorate. By contrast, Russia also fears that China could turn against it or possibly align with the USA (much as China did when the USA played the China card against the Soviets).
While the US is not a "natural" ally of Russia, the fact that Britain aligned with Russia in 1907, and that the US aligned with Moscow in 1941, indicates that an alliance between an insular and continental states is, in fact, possible, once again, contrary to Schmitt's cliché.
The US is not a "natural" ally of Russia, but the two can forge an alliance once both see it in their greater national interests to do so. In my view, the rise of China as a military and economic power, coupled with the rise of a number of differing pan-Islamic movements that oppose US, European and Russian interests, point to the necessity of a new US-European-Russian entente or alliance relationship.
Whether the US will attempt to move in that direction may well depend upon the forthcoming American elections in November.
JE comments: The US and Russia needed each other in '41, and they may need each other again--aren't natural allies born of mutual need?
Did FDR Warn Stalin of German Invasion? A Question for Hall Gardner
(Anthony D`Amato, USA
07/04/12 1:59 PM)
A question for Hall Gardner, in response to his post of 3 July:
I didn't know until your post that Roosevelt warned Stalin in March 1941 of the planned Nazi invasion. It seems counterintuitive. The US was still selling airplane fuel to Japan in March 1941, which Japan sent to its army in China that was holding down the huge Soviet army. Surely Stalin would have said to FDR, "if you're telling me the truth, and you have our mutual interests at heart, why don't you immediately cut off airline fuel sales to Japan?"
Thanks in advance for your reply.
JE comments: Interesting question. The USSR did not declare war on Japan until August 1945. Didn't Stalin see the Pacific Theater as someone else's war until that time?
Soviet Declaration of War on Japan 1945
07/05/12 12:11 AM)
A clarification of JE's comments to Anthony D'Amato's post of 4 July:
It is technically correct that the USSR declaration of war on Japan occurred in August 1945. But Stalin agreed to enter the Pacific hostilities on February 8, 1945, during the Yalta conference. It was General Marshall who was most insistent on Soviet participation; the rough agreement--soon more or less solidified--was reached in an afternoon conference between Stalin and Roosevelt. As we all know, there were quids pro quo, including the transfer of part of Sakhalin and the Kurile islands to Stalin, control of Manchurian railways, and other conditions in which Chiang Kai-shek was more or less committed without his knowledge. The irony of the Soviet entry inhered in its proximity to Hiroshima, and the small role it could play in the surrender of Japan.
JE comments: Yes, how quickly the Americans must have regretted getting "Uncle Joe" involved in the Pacific war.
- Did FDR Warn Stalin of German Invasion? Hall Gardner Responds (Hall Gardner, France 07/05/12 3:07 PM)
In response to Anthony D'Amato's question of 4 July, this is from the State Department of the Office of the Historian:
"Following the Nazi defeat of France in June of 1940, Roosevelt grew wary of the increasing aggression of the Germans and made some diplomatic moves to improve relations with the Soviets. Beginning in July of 1940, a series of negotiations took place in Washington between Under-Secretary of State Sumner Welles and Soviet Ambassador Constantine Oumansky. Welles refused to accede to Soviet demands that the United States recognize the changed borders of the Soviet Union after the Soviet seizure of territory in Finland, Poland, and Romania and the reincorporation of the Baltic Republics in August 1940, but the US Government did lift the embargo in January 1941. Furthermore, in March of 1941, Welles warned Oumansky of a future Nazi attack against the Soviet Union. Finally, during the Congressional debate concerning the passage of the Lend-Lease bill in early 1941, Roosevelt blocked attempts to exclude the Soviet Union from receiving US assistance. The most important factor in swaying the Soviets eventually to enter into an alliance with the United States was the Nazi decision to launch its invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941."
Perhaps David Pike or someone else could better respond on the Japanese question, but my guess is that US policy toward Japan was probably not coordinated with that of policy toward the Soviet Union. And Stalin apparently did not really trust the US until the actual Nazi invasion.
Did FDR Warn Stalin of German Invasion?
(Anthony D`Amato, USA
07/07/12 3:25 AM)
In response to Hall Gardner (5 July), I have seen enough selective omissions in the official US history of WW II as to question the integrity of the historians who agreed to write those expurgated texts.
As to the text Hall Gardner has so kindly quoted, I don't see anything that refutes my original question whether Roosevelt warned Stalin in March 1941 of the planned Nazi invasion. This is not to say that Roosevelt did not warn Stalin that Hitler would turn against him in the near future, but surely Stalin could disregard that vague kind of warning as simply an attempt to put some distance between him and Hitler. Nevertheless, FDR was an ardent student of geopolitics. He knew where every stamp he collected should be placed on a particular country's location. Moreover, he was a master of ambiguity; he could deal with Stalin at the same time as dealing against Stalin--as he did with many of his closest advisers, whom he surprised from time to time with decisions that seemed out of the blue, including his prediction in November 1941, within a day or two, of when Japan would launch the first strike.
Thus I find it highly unlikely that FDR didn't closely coordinate his Japanese policy with his German policy. Giving some aid, but not too much, to Stalin while Stalin was still allied with Hitler in the Axis, was just the "iffy" thing FDR excelled in. But as for the big prize that I mentioned about airline fuel supply, FDR probably said nothing or appeared not to hear any question from the Soviet ambassador.
Allow me to back up a little for those who are not overly familiar with the US-Japan issue as it evolved toward 1941. When the Japanese army (without permission) invaded and toppled Manchuria in 1931, as soon as the Japanese public and Japanese navy absorbed the shock, the dreams of an expanded Japanese empire with its capital on the islands and most of its territory nearby in Manchuria and the Russian Maritime Provinces seemed suddenly to be realizable. But for a decade the Japanese army in Manchuria was under-supplied; it couldn't live off the land, but it coveted the oil that was northwest in the USSR. Japan's powerful air force scared Stalin, who deployed his major armies across the border facing the Japanese. The Japanese needed air power to fight the million-plus Russian soldiers, but by 1941 it had in reserve only six months' worth of airline fuel. It was thus vital for Japan to procure that fuel, plus less refined oil for its military, from the US, which supplied Japan from the Philippines and points south.
The Japanese could not figure out Roosevelt, and they thought the US interests were crassly commercial. They offered the US an East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, which they believed the US would accept as it would make so much money. What Japan didn't realize was that Roosevelt wanted to keep Stalin's main army tied up, preventing an attack by Japan. He certainly didn't want the Russian army to move west and join forces with their ally Germany.
Some people have suggested that nothing much changed when Germany invaded the USSR on June 22, 1941. In fact, everything changed. Stalin became, like it or not, our ally against Germany. Moreover, it looked like Hitler would win Operation Barbarossa against a much inferior Soviet army. But if Russia could import its huge armies from the east, the military equation would be reversed. So FDR cut out sales of airline fuel to Japan. With only six months of reserves, it was impossible for Japan to attack Russia. The Russians therefore sent the bulk of their armies west to meet Hitler's three-pronged attack, and as German soldiers incessantly complained, every time you kill a Russian soldier, the next day a new soldier takes his place.
Japan's decision to move south and attack Southeast Asia and Indo-China, and the Philippines, was thus its second best alternative. They needed the oil, rubber, tin, copper, etc. They kept trying to sue for peace with the US during 1941, but Roosevelt double-talked them. With the US's ten-to-one superiority over Japan in the manufacture of planes, tanks, trucks, guns, and war materiel in general, FDR never had any fear of Japan, and could put them aside as he concentrated on stopping Hitler. Note that the US only had to fight half of Japan's armed forces: we fought its Navy exclusively, while its army remained bottled up in China for the entire war. In addition Japan made a huge strategic error: it sent its best pilots to lead the air fights against the Americans in the Pacific Ocean theatre of operations, while the US took its own best pilots and sent them to Texas and other places to train new pilots. As the Japanese expert pilots died in battle, Japan's air war grew progressively worse.
JE comments: An excellent and convincing analysis from Anthony D'Amato. Have we tended to underestimate FDR's strategic genius? Churchill usually gets all the credit. FDR, I sense, will never be forgiven for selling out his Eastern European allies (remember, I'm in Poland) at Yalta.
FDR and Oil Embargo Against Japan
(Hall Gardner, France
07/07/12 11:40 PM)
My view is that Anthony D'Amato (7 July) is reading too much into FDR as a strategist in micro-managing US policy toward both the Soviet Union and Japan, but I totally agree that official US historians (like all official reporters) tend to only emphasize certain facts that show a positive side to official policy!
Roosevelt knew that an oil embargo would result in war with Japan, as he told his Cabinet on July 18. But the sanctions regime against Japan was apparently set up by Dean Acheson, not Roosevelt. FDR only ostensibly found out about the sanctions policy too late to change it, in September.
Is this myth? Did Roosevelt really know about Acheson's actions and secretly support them? Or is this not relevant to Anthony's argument? Am I missing something? Thanks! I look forward to hear what others might say about this.
- Did FDR Warn Stalin of German Invasion? (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 07/08/12 10:11 AM)
Anthony D'Amato wrote on 7 July:
"Some people have suggested that nothing much changed when Germany invaded the USSR on June 22, 1941. In fact, everything changed. Stalin became, like it or not, our ally against Germany. Moreover, it looked like Hitler would win Operation Barbarossa against a much inferior Soviet army. But if Russia could import its huge armies from the east, the military equation would be reversed. So FDR cut out sales of airline fuel to Japan. With only six months of reserves, it was impossible for Japan to attack Russia. The Russians therefore sent the bulk of their armies west to meet Hitler's three-pronged attack, and as German soldiers incessantly complained, every time you kill a Russian soldier, the next day a new soldier takes his place."
There are several errors here, in my opinion.
First of all, the Soviets did not have any "huge armies" in the East to "import" at the beginning of Barbarossa. The great bulk of Soviet forces were deployed on the Western borders, arrayed against the widely expected attack by the Nazis. Troop transfers from the Far East amounted to a fairly trivial percentage of the forces deployed against the Nazis--around 28 divisions from the time of the start of Barbarossa until the end of 1941, out of more than 300 divisions (190 of which were already deployed on the Western borders at the time of the invasion). Here is a really good analysis: http://operationbarbarossa.net/Myth-Busters/Mythbusters3.html#an_1.
It is true that at the start of Barbarossa, the Soviet forces in the front line were somewhat outnumbered by the Germans, and having the initiative, the Germans of course were able to concentrate their forces at particular points and break through decisively. But the Soviets had vast forces deployed at various depths behind the borders, and by the time of the Battle of Moscow in December, 1941, the forces were more equal. What changed the equations was not troop transfers from the East, but rather simply the fact that the Germans were at their strongest at the start of Barbarossa and becoming weaker in every possible way afterwards, while the Soviets were mobilizing vast reserves and getting stronger all the time. And I guess everyone knows about the Germans' problems with production and supply of materiel. They did not have the industrial capacity or logistics to fight a long war deep in Russia, as even Hitler understood--he had gambled on a lightning victory.
So, the Soviet Army was "inferior" to the Wehrmacht only perhaps in initial strength and only at the direct front lines. In other respects, the forces were pretty well matched at the beginning of the war, with the Soviets gaining an advantage by the end of 1941 which then grew constantly. The Germans had a vast advantage in quality of military leadership--one factoid which we learned in school about the war which is actually not a myth is that the Soviets suffered enormously from Stalin's slaughter of the officer corps in 1937. The Germans had another advantage--a greatly superior air force. Although the Luftwaffe was inferior numerically to the Soviet Air Force, the difference in quality of equipment, pilots and tactics was so overwhelming, that the Germans achieved near-total air superiority early in Barbarossa and maintained it for a long time, until long after the Wehrmacht was falling apart.
The Soviets, for their part, had more and better tanks than the Germans--and the tank was the main strategic weapon on the ground in that war. This advantage became overwhelming as the Soviets achieved huge production volumes of the superb T34. And probably the biggest advantage of all--the Soviets were much better supplied than the Germans. While the Germans relied primarily on horse transport, the Soviets were almost completely motorized (at least, by the second year of the war), using primarily the excellent Dodge and Studebaker trucks supplied in vast numbers by the US under Lend-Lease. Unlike the Germans, the Soviets were able to produce (or obtain through Lend-Lease, which provided nearly 10% of the material they used) virtually every item of materiel needed to fight a long war. So the Soviets were, in general, warm, well-fed and well-equipped, while the Germans froze and starved and suffered from terrible shortages of everything from boots and winter uniforms to gasoline. Even this picture oversimplifies things considerably. For example, there was a relatively trivial supply issue which had enormous consequences for the Soviets--at the beginning of the war, they had few radios in either tanks or aircraft, which created a severe disadvantage in battle.
John Eipper asked, "weren't the Soviets as weak as they could be in the summer of 1941?" Not at all--the Soviets had been furiously gearing up war production and increasing mobilization, and reorganizing the Soviet Army and revising tactics for some years prior to that point. The one fatal weakness of the Soviet Army was the total amateurishness of the military leadership after the purges of 1937, which systematically eliminated real military professionals from the officer corps.
As to whether anyone warned Stalin about the German invasion--it's not so simple as "did Stalin know" or didn't he? Istvan Simon wrote:
"Stalin did not believe any of the warnings, not being able to comprehend why Capitalist countries would help a Communist one that wished their destruction. Far from being a strategic genius, Stalin on this occasion, showed himself to be nothing more than a ruthless peasant, who could not comprehend a larger strategic reality other than through blindly following an ideology for which he had already murdered millions either directly or by hunger. He, in fact, did not believe his own generals when preparations for a massive invasion became obvious to virtually anyone but him. For Stalin's stupidity, the Russians were to pay an enormous price."
I agree with Istvan that Stalin was much more a "ruthless peasant" than a "strategic genius," but the rest of this paragraph is false--an oversimplification of Churchill's oversimplification of the situation, which has now lost any relationship to what really happened. It is not true that the Soviets were unprepared for war, and would have been had only Stalin believed his own generals. In fact the Soviets had been preparing for war with Hitler for years. There is now a mass of information from the archives that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was meant by the Soviets, as much as anything, to buy time for building up strength before the likely war, and if Stalin or others in the Soviet leadership simultaneously hoped that perhaps settling borders ahead of time and so forth might actually help to avoid war altogether--these things do not contradict each other. The Soviet leadership possessed masses of information about Hitler's intentions, much of it contradictory. Stalin did not want to fight Hitler and hoped that the invasion wouldn't come. According to some historians, like Paul Johnson, Stalin felt a natural sympathy to the other bloodthirsty dictator, but this is fanciful. In any case, within the mass of information which Stalin and the military and civil leadership of the USSR possessed, there were many warnings of the coming invasion (Here is an interesting article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-13862135), and the Soviets had been preparing against this invasion for years. As I mentioned, there were fully 190 divisions of Soviet troops on the border when the Germans attacked. Notwithstanding Churchill's fanciful simplification of the events, Stalin did not simply refuse to believe that the invasion would take place. He was simply doing everything possible to avoid provoking the Germans, or giving the Germans any pretext for an attack. For this reason, he refused on the eve of the invasion to put Soviet forces on high alert, refused to allow German reconnaissance planes to be shot down, denied permission to border units to defend themselves, etc., etc., which considerably reduced the level of readiness of Soviet forces at the beginning of the invasion. But Stalin was well aware that an invasion was likely to take place, and millions of troops were massed on the border to counter the expected invasion. Stalin simply gambled that by avoiding provocation that the invasion might be delayed. Was it a stupid gamble? Perhaps, but it cannot really be characterized in the way which Istvan has done.
Anthony wrote: "With the US's ten-to-one superiority over Japan in the manufacture of planes, tanks, trucks, guns, and war materiel in general, FDR never had any fear of Japan, and could put them aside as he concentrated on stopping Hitler. Note that the US only had to fight half of Japan's armed forces: we fought its Navy exclusively, while its army remained bottled up in China for the entire war."
For such a hugely inferior force, the Japanese certainly gave us a hard fight. I am not commenting on the 10:1 ratio; I don't know enough about the War in the Pacific. But in what way did Roosevelt "concentrate on stopping Hitler"? What did we do, exactly, to stop Hitler? We supplied the Soviets with about 10% of their materiel--that is undoubtedly the most significant contribution we made to Hitler's defeat. We bombed Germany with B17's (with, it is controversial, but probably little strategic effect), a campaign my uncle participated in as a B17 navigator. We fought in Italy from July, 1943--the most significant land fighting we were involved with. We engaged the Germans on a large scale only in June, 1944, when the war only had months left to go, and the Germans had already been thrown out of Russia, and the Soviets were already mobilizing for Operation Bagration. And this large scale was quite tiny, compared to the scale of combat in the East. We only lost about 80,000 people in the whole of the Ardennes Offensive, including the Battle of the Bulge. We lost a total of about 400,000 people in all theaters of the war, similar to Yugoslavia's or the UK's losses, and not greatly more than those of Romania, and in fact not quite even double of those of France, although we like to think that the French didn't fight at all, and in fact a smaller number of battle deaths than France as a percentage of population. This is not at all of the same scale as the 5.5 million or so German losses and the 9 or 10 million Soviet losses, or indeed the 2 million Japanese losses or the 4 million Chinese. We were not actually a major combatant in that conflict at all, except financially.
JE comments: Industrially, too--and psychologically. How long could the UK have gone it alone against Hitler?
Stalin, Hitler and Grigorenko
(David Pike, France
07/09/12 12:47 PM)
Cameron Sawyer wrote (July 9) that a Nazi attack on the USSR was "widely expected" in the Soviet Union, and that Stalin was "well aware that an invasion was likely to take place." I'm sure that Stalin no less than Hitler knew that war between them was inevitable, but Stalin saw it as something several years down the road.
General Piotr Grigorenko is reported in Wikipedia as saying that "vast Soviet troops were concentrated in the area west of Bialystok, deep in occupied Poland, getting ready for a surprise offensive." Nazi propaganda has also plugged this line: "The Nazi offensive was preemptive." But I heard something else from Grigorenko, when he stopped in Paris in 1977 on his way to the United States: "Stalin ordered the Soviet defense lines in Poland to be blown up as a token of his friendship. I saw it. I flew over them in spring 1941." Incidentally, his granddaughter Tatiana Grigorenko works in the same building as I at The American University of Paris. She is very much interested in her grandfather, and has just returned from a research visit to Russia.
It is important to recognize that Hitler and Stalin admired each other and no one else. "The genius" was said by both in reference to the other.
JE comments: It just so happens that we'll be driving to Bialystok tomorrow. (It's about five hours north of Chruslanki.) My visit is mostly inspired by the inventor of Esperanto, Ludwik Zamenhof, a Bialystok native. It's one of the ironies of history that the home of one of the best hopes for world peace (a universal, politically neutral second language) has seen so much conflict.
Regarding Stalin and Hitler's mutual admiration--I'd like to know more about the "genius" label. Wasn't Hitler also a great admirer of Henry Ford?
- Churchill, Stalin, and Soviet Preparedness for WWII (Istvan Simon, USA 07/09/12 1:14 PM)
I think that Cameron Sawyer's description (8 July) of what happened in World War II, particularly at the beginning of the war with Russia, is not credible. He says that I oversimplified Churchill's oversimplification. This view may be applicable to me --I am certainly not an expert in the History of World War II. But it is a subject that I have had a deep interest in for many years, and I read quite a few history books on the subject, including the ones that Cameron has recommended here in previous posts on this subject as his favorites. Be that as it may, my knowledge about World War II cannot be compared to the several professional historians we have in WAIS, so I would like to invite them to tell us their opinion on these matters.
Going back to Churchill's account, which Cameron termed a fanciful over-simplification, I am afraid I have to take Churchill's account on this, rather than Cameron's. First of all, Churchill was there, and in a unique position to write about it. Second, he carefully researched his masterful account after the war, using his own archival material as well as other sources, for example German archives. Churchill did not have access to Soviet archives, which since may have become available, but Cameron gives no evidence from these archives to support his claim about Stalin's strategy.
I would like to elaborate on this a bit further explaining at least why I find Cameron's explanation not credible. First of all, Cameron's account is at odds not just with Churchill's account but every World War II account I have read. Second, Churchill gives a much more thorough account of the follies that Stalin committed prior to being attacked by Hitler in weakening, not strengthening, the defense of the Soviet Union than what I was able to put in my post--after all I was laboriously typing from Churchill's book rather than cutting and pasting, and also I had to keep the post to a reasonable length. Cameron's view is simply incompatible with these remarks, and unlike Cameron's explanations, Churchill's are compelling.
The defense of the Soviet Union that Stalin squandered, about which Churchill talks at length, did not start just in the woeful lack of preparation that resulted in the unmitigated disaster when Hitler finally did attack. It started much earlier, with the foolish indifference with which Stalin saw the destruction of the Balkan countries by Hitler, which should have been his first line of defense. It is not credible to claim that Stalin did all this just for fear of provoking Hitler into attacking him, but if he did, he was equally a fool.
Cameron writes: "The Soviet leadership possessed masses of information about Hitler's intentions, much of it contradictory."
Well of course it was contradictory--that is the nature of intelligence. What the Soviets lacked was not masses of information, but intelligent analysis to make sense of it--and Cameron should read Churchill for a truthful account on how that is done right rather than dismiss it as over-simplification. For Churchill presents at least the whole truth from his vantage point, including the contradictory advice that he had received, and what he thought of it at the time. And he presents proof of this, with reproduction of his own directives as it happened. This is precisely one of the reasons why Churchill's account is so valuable.
"But in what way did Roosevelt 'concentrate on stopping Hitler'? What did we do, exactly, to stop Hitler? We supplied the Soviets with about 10% of their materiel--that is undoubtedly the most significant contribution we made to Hitler's defeat. We bombed Germany with B17's (with, it is controversial, but probably little strategic effect), a campaign my uncle participated in as a B17 navigator. We fought in Italy from July, 1943--the most significant land fighting we were involved with. We engaged the Germans on a large scale only in June, 1944, when the war only had months left to go, and the Germans had already been thrown out of Russia, and the Soviets were already mobilizing for Operation Bagration. And this large scale was quite tiny, compared to the scale of combat in the East."
This is a strange account of what happened in World War II. What did we do? Well we fought Hitler in Africa and threw Rommel out of there, denying him access to the Middle East's oil resources. We threw Hitler out of Italy. And finally we did the little matter of D-day, which Cameron so cavalierly dismisses as of any importance, after which, and not before, the defeat of Germany was sealed. After D-day Patton reached his objectives much before he was expected to, and then because of Truman's folly, was ordered to wait until the Russians could occupy what had been agreed to at Yalta as being their responsibility.
"We only lost about 80,000 people in the whole of the Ardennes Offensive, including the Battle of the Bulge. We lost a total of about 400,000 people in all theaters of the war, similar to Yugoslavia's or the UK's losses, and not greatly more than those of Romania, and in fact not quite even double of those of France, although we like to think that the French didn't fight at all, and in fact a smaller number of battle deaths than France as a percentage of population. This is not at all of the same scale as the 5.5 million or so German losses and the 9 or 10 million Soviet losses, or indeed the 2 million Japanese losses or the 4 million Chinese. We were not actually a major combatant in that conflict at all, except financially."
This is an even stranger way to argue about the relative merits of military effort. The military importance of events is surely not measured by the number of casualties. After all the objective in war is to minimize those on our side, and maximize those of the enemy.
JE comments: Patton himself (or was it George C. Scott?) made this same last point, but in more colorful terms. I agree with Istvan that the body count does not translate into military effectiveness. (It does measure human suffering, though.) Look at WWI, where US deaths were minimal, but the US presence probably tipped the scales in the Allies' favor.
I look forward to Cameron Sawyer's response. It is safe to say that Churchill would seek to paint the events with an eye to his own place in history.
Churchill as Historian
(John Heelan, UK
07/10/12 11:48 AM)
Istvan Simon wrote on 9 July, "First of all, Churchill was there, and in a unique position to write about [the Second World War]. Second, he carefully researched his masterful account after the war, using his own archival material as well as other sources, for example, German archives."
Given Istvan's trust in Churchill portrayal of history, perhaps he should also remember the man's boast, "History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it." One might question his assumed lack of bias.
JE comments: Greetings to all from Bialystok, the birthplace of Esperanto. We enjoyed a splendid drive through the eastern corridor of Poland, and in the middle of a remote wheat field, I peered into Belarus, which quickly attracted the attention of a motorcycle gendarme. Our conversation was pleasant: after he saw my US passport, he told me his sister lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Istvan Simon has also responded to my query about Churchill's impartiality as a historian, with a different opinion than John Heelan's. Istvan's post is next in the queue.
- Churchill as Historian (Istvan Simon, USA 07/10/12 2:40 PM)
When responding to my post of 9 July, JE wrote:
"It is safe to say that Churchill would seek to paint the events with an eye to his own place in history."
No, I don't think it is safe to say that. On the contrary. Churchill does not present white-washed history, nor did he try to present himself in more glory than he undoubtedly deserved. He related the mistakes and blunders of the British and his own with honest candor.
JE comments: Ah, but History always belongs to the victors.
Churchill as Historian
(Roy Domenico, USA
07/10/12 11:12 PM)
Regarding the interesting discussion on Churchill as a historian, I think Churchill was a wonderful writer and produced great memoirs, although he had some problems as a historian. In my own dissertation I used Churchill's "Triumph and Tragedy," and couldn't resist citing a ridiculously delicious remark he made regarding his trip to Italy in the Autumn of 1944. He made the rounds and met the usual politicians to get the lay of the land--including the crown prince Umberto. The British had been heavily promoting Umberto as essential to the maintenance of the monarchy--something dear to Churchill's heart. "I certainly hoped," he wrote, "he would play his part in building up a constitutional monarchy in a free, strong, united Italy." Then comes the killer--or is it a howler. "However," he concluded, "this was none of my business."
JE comments: When it comes to International Relations, WAISers are evenly divided between the realists and the idealists. In Churchill we see both at the same time!
Churchill as Historian; Peter Clarke on Churchill
(Nigel Jones, UK
07/12/12 2:35 AM)
Further to the discussion of Churchill as a Historian, WAISers might like to know of a new book by the British political historian Peter Clarke: Mr Churchill's Profession: Statesman, Orator, Writer, which deals with this this very subject.
In his incredibly busy life, Churchill wrote millions of words, much of it well-paid "instant" journalism. He was incredibly profligate, refused to economise or trim his luxury lifestyle--silk underwear, Champagne on tap (Krug and Roederer were said to be his favourites)--and needed constant cash infusions to stave off bankruptcy. (He lost heavily in the Wall Street crash and was bailed out by his financier friend Bernard Baruch.) In 1937, during his Wilderness years, he was on the verge of selling Chartwell, his beloved country retreat in Kent, when a group of admirers clubbed together to pay his debts.
Alongside his political career, he wrote his military memoirs, a charming account of his childhood and youth My Early Life; a multi-volume history of the Great War--of which another Prime Minister Arthur Balfour caustically remarked, "Winston has written a big book about himself and called it 'The World Crisis'"; and a multi-volume Life of his great soldier ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough.
He started his multi-volume History of the English Speaking Peoples before WWII, when other priorities took over. After the war, he wrote his multi-volume war memoirs The Second World War; before taking up the English Speaking Peoples again. By this time he was old and too tired to complete such a mammoth task, and a team of young historians--AR Myers, AL Rowse, FW Deakin, Joel Hurstfield, Maurice Ashley, JH Plumb and Asa Briggs were drafted in to do the donkey work research under the leadership of Alan Hodge, the founder editor of the magazine History Today. Essentially, the team assembled the facts, and Churchill simply scattered the stardust of his incomparable prose style over it. And what a style it was! I recall reading the American Civil War section of the book as a child of nine, sparking a lifelong enthusiasm for the subject.
Last year I had the pleasure of interviewing the last surviving member of Churchill's historians team, Asa Briggs--now "Lord Briggs of Lewes," a hale and hearty 91-year-old who clearly recalled working with Churchill and meeting other "great men" of his time, including the computer pioneer Alan Turing when he worked at the legendary Bletchley Park wartime codebreaking centre, the A-bomb pioneer J. Robert Oppenheimer, and the Chinese mass murderer Chou en Lai.
Strictly speaking, Churchill may not have deserved the Nobel Prize for Literature which he received for this particular book, but he certainly deserved the Prize as the equivalent of a lifetime achievement Oscar. Few lifetimes have achieved more.
JE comments: Nigel Jones sent news of his Asa Briggs interview in a post from May 2011:
Nigel: is there a link available where we could read the complete interview? Many WAISers would be interested.
- Churchill as Historian (David Pike, France 07/14/12 1:18 PM)
When commenting Istvan Simon's post of 10 July, JE wrote: "Ah, but History always belongs to the victors."
Ah, but it doesn't. German, Italian and Japanese historians have been perfectly free to write whatever they want, and they have, with brilliance on the part of the Germans. The dictum will make sense only when a totalitarian power has gained the Earth, at which point, yes, all anti-history goes down the memory hole.
JE comments: I won't argue with my accomplished colleague David Pike, but don't the German academic historians have to begin with the assumption that the Nazi program was inherently evil?
Do the Victors Write History?
(Paul Preston, UK
07/15/12 1:31 AM)
While I agree absolutely with the view of my esteemed friend David Pike (14 July) that History does not always belong with the victors, I would have used a different example. What about the history of the Spanish Civil War? The broad thrust of the historiography has been directed against Franco and his subsequent dictatorship.
JE comments: Any "history belongs to the victors" statement must confront the Spanish Civil War, where the preponderance of historical inquiry post-1975 has been anti-Franco. A question: in what other periods of history have the "winners" been so widely vilified?
- Post Unpublished - please check back later
- Churchill, Stalin, and Soviet Preparedness for WWII (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 07/13/12 1:10 AM)
WAISers will, I hope, forgive me for waxing on about this subject--it
happens to be one of my main interests, so once I get going, it can be
hard to stop.
Let me start by saying that I admire Churchill. I was brought up on all
the swashbuckling tales by and about (mostly both) Churchill. In my
opinion, Churchill was the only Allied leader of WWII who really grasped
the essence of what was going on at an early stage--a myth propagated
by Churchill himself, but I think that the evidence is convincing that
it was really so. By comparison, Roosevelt really was a fool, at least,
he said some fantastically foolish things, most notably, that Stalin
wouldn't do this or that because he's "not that kind of guy," or words
to that effect.
Who Churchill really was is best exemplified by his Nobel Prize for
Literature--one of the best-deserved Nobel literature prizes ever
awarded, in my opinion. Churchill was a great writer with a fantastic
feeling for the elegant turn of phrase, the mot juste, and the
perfect dramatic effect which conveyed a strong picture of his subject.
And his own life was his main subject--his own life conceived as a
Romantic novel apparently from childhood, and well in evidence already
in Churchill's fantastic adventures as a young man in the Boer War. He
was, of course, a phenomenal self-promoter, and created his own legend.
But the legend is in some respects well-deserved, since Churchill was
indeed a rare combination of a man of literary and theoretical genius,
and a real man of action. I guess schoolboys will get a thrill reading
about Churchill for centuries to come, as I did and still do. He is the
one really cool figure from WWII--a real storybook hero.
Churchill was not really a historian. What he wrote on historical themes was nearly all either highly schematic (for example, History of the English-Speaking Peoples,
which is a fascinating work but almost a cartoon version of its large
subject), or highly tendentious, or both (the WWII series). This does
not make them bad--I in fact love them all and have read most of
Churchill's works at least once. But it means that they should often be
taken with a grain (or a box) of salt, and should be enjoyed more as
literature than anything else. I like what Keith Aldritt wrote about
Churchill as a writer in his authoritative book Churchill the Writer: His Life as a Man of Letters:
"Though Alldritt judges Churchill's prose to be ‘of an outstanding
literary quality which belongs unquestionably in the canon of English
literature in this century,' he considers WSC's work uneven. He finds
fault with what he calls ‘Churchillese, a grand but pretentious language
made up of ringing phrases and sentences that at times have little
relationship with the known realities of experience,'" as quoted in http://www.winstonchurchill.org/learn/books-about/articles/churchill-the-writer-his-life-as-a-man-of-letters
That is really on point to this discussion--Churchill as usual comes up
with ringing phrases and simple explanations to describe Stalin's
behavior on the eve of the war. But this version of the events is so
much driven by the search for those ringing phrases and simple
explanations as to lose its relationship to the real events. It is, if
you like, a comic-book version of the start of WWII. To the extent that
it reads like "Stalin stupidly refused to believe any of the warnings
that Hitler was about to attack, and did not make any preparations for
war. Thus Hitler almost conquered the Soviet Union," it is in actual
fact utter nonsense, leaving out the main elements of the story and
already bearing hardly any resemblance to what actually happened.
First of all, it should be obvious to anyone who thinks about it even
for a few minutes, that preparation for a huge war (the biggest in the
history of mankind in fact), is not something which is done in a day or a
few months or even a couple of years. The facts are that the Soviets
were preparing for war with Hitler practically from the day he was
elected Reichskanzler--they had read, in fact, Mein Kampf,
where Hitler talks about conquering and enslaving the "racially
inferior Slavs to the East," and they had a lot of intelligence about
the Nazis. The Russians had fought a disastrous war with Germany only a
couple of decades before and correctly anticipated a rematch. Soviet
preparations for war in the 1930s were so intensive that the Soviet
economy was put onto a war footing already by the mid-1930s. In 1940
already, the year before Hitler attacked, the Soviet military budget
amounted to one-third of all state spending, and the Soviets were
already outproducing the Germans in many items of war materiel.
Already in 1939, the five-day work week was abolished in order to
squeeze the maximum effort out of the population for war production, and
detailed plans to evacuate Soviet industry to the Urals in case of a
German attack were worked out (plans which in the event were
implemented, and which perhaps saved the Soviets) were already
formulated in 1938.
For a serious, technical analysis of the economic aspects of Soviet war
preparations, see Mark Harrison's three excellent papers, "The Soviet
Defense Industry Complex in WWII," http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/economics/staff/academic/harrison/public/dfc1994postprint.pdf "The USSR and Total War: Why Didn't the Soviet Economy Collapse in 1942?" at: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=soviet%20war%20economy&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CFcQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fciteseerx.ist.psu.edu%2Fviewdoc%2Fdownload%3Fdoi%3D10.1.1.11.4237%26rep%3Drep1%26type%3Dpdf&ei=x1f8T7iXBYS6hAfUjpTXCw&usg=AFQjCNHe1tsfj7EX0BHQMix3lc0JFAiqjw&cad=rja and "Barbarossa: The Soviet Response," at http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/economics/staff/academic/harrison/public/barbarossa1992.pdf
"[I]n the mid-1930s Soviet military-economic planning was reoriented
away from abstract threats to real ones emanating from Germany and
Japan. As a result the pace of war production was accelerated far beyond
that envisaged earlier in the decade while contingency plans for a war
of the future became increasingly ambitious."
"The Soviet ability to deny victory to Germany in 1941 was rooted in prewar preparations.
High military spending and continual preparation for war were already
ingrained in Soviet military-economic policy in the 1930s. This
contrasted with a background of low military spending in most other
European countries where, after World War I, it was believed that Great
Wars had become prohibitively costly." [emphasis added].
This is all true, and I think obviously true if one thinks even for a
minute what goes into preparing for a big war and how many years it
takes, and it really gives the lie to the idea that the Stalin just
stuck his head in the sand and ignored the prospect of Hitler's attack.
If the Soviets had not made an all-out effort to prepare for war
starting several years before the attack came, they would never have
survived. They would have been overrun and destroyed, as the Russians
had been overrun and destroyed by the Germans in WWI.
So what did Stalin do in the months leading up to June 22, 1941? Why
was the start of the war so disastrous, and how did the Soviets recover
so quickly, despite unprecedented losses in the first months of
One good account is Alexander Hill's article, "Offense, Defence or the
Worst of Both Worlds? Soviet Strategy in May-June 1941," Journal of Military and Strategic Studies 13 - 1, Fall 2010 http://jmss.synergiesprairies.ca/jmss/index.php/jmss/article/view/364 a serious, technical, military account of the whole business by a serious military expert (which I say again, I am not).
"Getting the strategy right does not guarantee a successful outcome, but
all other things being equal it certainly stacks the odds in favour of
one. The Soviet Union was strategically prepared for war in June 1941,
but poor operational-strategic deployment and operational and tactical
failings allowed the Wehrmacht to achieve far more through operational
and tactical competence than perhaps need have been the case.
Nonetheless, despite poor operational-strategic deployment and
operational and tactical inadequacies during Operation Barbarossa, the
Red Army was able to survive the summer and autumn of 1941, after which a
combination of improvements at the operational and tactical levels and
superior resource mobilization stemming to a large extent from strategic
planning made German victory increasingly improbable." [emphasis
I think this is exactly the point, the exact answer to the question
which Churchill did not manage. The Soviets prepared for war with
Hitler very well at the strategic level. They created a powerful army
and they created the military-industrial capacity which was capable of
defeating Hitler's military machine. They created weapons capable of
mass production, and they built the factories to make them. They
created the divisions and armies capable of defeating Hitler, and
deployed most of them at the likely points of attack. They started
doing all of this years before the attack came. If they had not done
this, they would not have survived the first couple of months, something
Hitler was counting on.
In the event, however, Soviet troops were not at a high state of alert,
and they were led by disastrously poor military leadership, fatally
weakened by the 1937 purges. Tremendous mistakes were made which caused
the loss of millions of troops and vast territory. My opinion (as a
military amateur, so perhaps not worth much), is that the second factor
was far more significant in the development of the war in the first
months. The Soviets, as everyone knows, were not on a high state of
alert when the attack came, with the result that forward Soviet military
units were overrun and destroyed in the first hours. Another
well-known fact is that Soviet military aircraft were parked in neat
lines as if in peacetime, so that hundreds of them were destroyed by the
Luftwaffe with ease during the initial attack. But how significant
was this in the medium-term conduct of the war? What percentage of the
enormous Soviet forces--several million soldiers--arrayed against Hitler
in the West were overrun border outposts? In the event, the Soviets
quickly got into the fight with large forces of men and weapons. They
lost these fights--sometimes hundreds of thousands of people in single
battles--not because of the tactical surprise achieved by the Germans
during the night of 22 June, but because their forces were led by
incompetent fossils of the Russian Civil War like Semyon Budyonny and
Klement Voroshilov, the only two marshals of the Soviet Army to survive
the purges, the former of whom managed to get more than a million Soviet
soldiers encircled and wiped out in a series of disastrous Kesselschlaechte
in Ukraine and Western Russia, and the latter of which allowed
Leningrad to be encircled with the loss of a million soldiers and a
million horrible civilian deaths by starvation and disease.
Did Stalin willfully ignore warnings of the coming German attack, as
Churchill asserts? Well, he personally overruled military commanders
and prevented Soviet forces from being put on high alert on the eve of
the invasion. But Stalin of course knew the attack was coming--everyone
knew. Barbarossa was the biggest invasion in all of human history,
involving millions of soldiers--how could such a thing have been a
complete surprise? Stalin and Hitler were maneuvering and jockeying and
positioning themselves for a fight for years beforehand. As Hill
"There is little doubt that Stalin, Molotov and others were not only
aware of the long and indeed medium-term threat from Nazi Germany--but
also the possibility of war in 1941 and were working towards the
amassing of Soviet forces in the West and the strengthening of both
offensive and to a lesser extent defensive capabilities. From long-term
abstract preparation for war in the early 1930s the Soviet Union had
been preparing for war in the medium term with specific reference to
Germany since the middle of the decade. After German victories in France
and the Low Countries the Soviet government had almost immediately
shifted workers from in effect a five- to six-day working week,
presumably with the defence of the Soviet Union in mind and the
fulfillment of ambitious mobilization plans. Stalin, the key
decision-maker was by the beginning of May only too well aware of the
immediate build up of German forces along the Soviet border. Ongoing
preparation of the fortified border regions, now shifted westwards given
new territory acquired by the Soviet Union since 1939, continued during
the spring of 1941, but even if completed they would require troops to
man them--and those troops would to a large extent be expected to be
mobilized reservists. Stalin was willing to sanction the transfer of
additional Soviet troops to the region in late April and early May from
the Trans-Baikal and Far East Military Districts and to a lesser extent
Urals and Siberian Districts respectively, with large-scale 'wargames'
in early June providing justification for the filling out of existing
divisions and troops for the fortified regions. Given that the bulk of
troops for the fortified regions were not regulars and the fact that
they were not a priority for more readily available resources, defensive
preparations would have required a degree of mobilization that would
obviously have been seen to be more than being about 'wargames'--which
was deemed provocative. So the strengthening of Soviet forces in the
region, to take place without undue provocation, was satisfied through a
gradual shifting of readily available units and formations to the
region, fleshed out through partial mobilization, that started prior to
and continued after May 1941. Soviet forces in the region were
echeloned, with the second not to have been in a viable position to
support the first perhaps being explained by the desire to avoid
provocation, but also an overestimation of Soviet transport and
logistical capabilities in the region." Ibid, p. 7.
The matter really is not at all about preparation for war, it is about
the level of alert at the time the attack took place. It is important
not to confuse these very different issues. The low level of alert
which existed when the attack took place was not the result of Stalin's
not believing that a German attack would ever take place, it was the
result of Stalin's not anticipating it at that particular time, and/or
Stalin's calculation or miscalculation that it would be better to risk
being attacked at a low state of alert than to risk provoking an early
start to the war, a la WWI. Istvan calls the idea that Stalin was
trying to delay the inevitable attack by avoiding provocation as "not
credible," but this is in fact the mainstream historical view. Stalin,
certainly, was hoping to at least delay the attack. Stalin was no
great military mind, to say the least, but everyone in 1941 remembered
how World War I was started--almost by accident, by a series of
escalating mobilizations and counter-mobilizations which resulted almost
mechanically in a war which no one really wanted. It was the great
tragedy of the 20th century, from which most of the other tragedies of
that tragic century, including WWII, resulted. WWI was as much a
disaster for Russia as it had been for Germany, or more so--WAISers will
recall that the Germans defeated Russia early in the conflict, which
resulted in the collapse of the Russian state and the rise of the
Bol'sheviks. Generals are always fighting the previous war (as they
say), and Stalin and his military leadership were trying desperately not
to repeat the disaster of WWI.
In the event it was a vain attempt, and perhaps it was fundamentally
stupid, in view of the extremely aggressive intentions of Hitler, which
Hitler did not conceal, and which were so different from those of the
Kaiser in the earlier conflict. But that is--I think clearly--what they
thought they were doing when they refused to put the Soviet military on
high alert on the eve of the German attack. Whether it was really
smart or not is a different question.
Molotov, Stalin's Minister of Foreign Affairs, and one of the key Soviet
leaders during the war period, was later to turn out to be one of the
best sources of information about what went on inside the Soviet
government during Stalin's rule. He was very candid and talked with
brutal frankness about almost everything, and is widely considered to be
a reliable source. Molotov, quoted in Hill, Ibid, had this to say
about how Hitler's intentions were interpreted inside the Kremlin, and
what kind of information the Soviet government had to go on:
"We are blamed because we ignored our intelligence. Yes, they warned us.
But if we had heeded them, had given Hitler the slightest excuse, he
would have attacked us earlier.
"We knew the war was coming soon, that we were weaker than Germany, that we would have to retreat...
"We did everything to postpone the war. And we succeeded--for a year and
ten months. We wished it could have been longer, of course. Stalin
reckoned before the war that only in 1943 would we be able to meet the
Germans as equals."
Hill, Ibid, pp. 5-6.
Another telling fact is that Stalin himself was saying things to this
effect in public. In the Wikipedia article on Barbarossa (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Barbarossa), he is quoted as giving a speech to graduates of Soviet military academies with the following remarks:
"War with Germany is inevitable. If comrade Molotov can manage to
postpone the war for two or three months that will be our good fortune,
but you yourselves must go off and take measures to raise the combat
readiness of our forces."
This took place on 5 May 1941. Many other such remarks have been recorded.
Lastly, Istvan disputes my assertion that military operations on the
Western Front during WWII were relatively insignificant (I didn't say,
"were a sideshow," although I think I have written that somewhere else).
He disputes that the number of casualties is a measure of the
"military merit" of an operation.
Well, I have to confess that I don't know what "military merit" even is.
I was not attempting to comment on that. I was only commenting on the
scale. In fact, I think "military merit" might even be an oxymoron--I
think nearly all wars are more or less pointless, from the point of view
of ordinary people, thus tragic, considering that wars usually involve
the destruction of human lives. I think that WWII was as pointless as
any other--what if Hitler had actually beaten the Soviet Union? How
would our lives be different? How would the lives of Russians be
different? Although Russians are proud of the titanic struggle against
Hitler and the remarkable victory, many of them I know are not ashamed
to say, but what difference did it actually make in the end? Would we
have been worse off under that bloody tyrant Hitler, than that bloody
tyrant Stalin? In fact, look how much better the Germans live today
than we do! (The remarks about the standard of living were more common
in the ‘90s than today.) Maybe we would have been better off if we had
lost! So the war was possibly altogether pointless. Britain could
probably have avoided a German attack by the right kind of diplomacy--I
think we know that now from German archives. France gave up early--and
in hindsight, that was probably the right decision: look at France
today. Nazism would have collapsed just like Communism did. A war over
ideology is probably the most futile type of war there is.
So since we can't really analyze the benefit of wars, since wars
generally have no useful purpose, we have to look at the cost, to see
which ones are bigger and more significant than others. There is no
generally accepted measurement of the total cost of war, or of the
relative significance of wars. We can certainly look at how much money
was spent on them, in order to rank them, and we can also certainly look
at the number of forces engaged--how many divisions over how many
months (the military historian Colonel David Glantz did this, exactly to
show how remarkably tiny the Western Front was in comparison to the
Eastern one), or you can look at the human cost--in my opinion the best
proxy for the scale of warfare, since human lives are undoubtedly more
precious than lost billions. But it hardly matters--by all of these
measures, the war on the Eastern Front utterly dwarfs what happened in
the West. If one is not concerned by the number of Soviet casualties on
the Eastern Front, then have a look at the German ones--perhaps 95% of
all German casualties (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Barbarossa) and about 85% of German battle deaths and deaths in captivity took place in the East (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_casualties_in_World_War_II;
sorry I can give only Wikipedia, but I am sailing and don't have access
to my library--but the latter Wiki article is in fact a really good
Whether the very small operations in North Africa had some special
military significance--I don't know. I have not encountered any
convincing argument in all of my reading. Operation Torch was conducted
entirely in French Northwest Africa--thousands of kilometers from any
vital oil interests. Perhaps we blocked the Axis from taking the Suez
Canal, which might have given them some better chance to maybe get some
oil from maybe the Middle East--a hypothetical, highly contingent, and
entirely indirect strategic purpose (and probably ridiculous: the
Germans were after oil in Romania, which they got, and in the Caucasus,
which they did not). It is sometimes said that North Africa was a
stepping stone to Italy--I really don't see how that could be the case.
Why would we need to control North Africa to invade Italy? And if
North Africa had any strategic importance at all, why would the Germans
have deployed only three divisions in the whole continent? I think that
the real reason we invaded North Africa was just because it was a place
where we could engage the Germans without any risk of anything
strategic going wrong. We could say to the American people that we
were actually fighting the Nazis somewhere in order to justify the
material sacrifices Americans were making to finance our war production.
In any case, "sideshow" is even too grandiose a word for the North
African campaign, if we are to compare it to the vast clashes on the
Eastern front. The number of troops involved, the quantity of equipment
involved, the number of casualties on both sides, are wholly
insignificant, in comparison. In my opinion, the North Africa Campaign
occupies a prominent place in our minds only because of the several
excellent movies made about it.
What we did do in WWII, as I have said, was to make a very significant
contribution to materiel used in the actual fighting through Lend-Lease.
It is sometimes said that WWII was fought with "Russian blood and
American money"--an oversimplification, since Soviet industrial
production was as significant as, actually more significant than Russian
blood, in beating Hitler. John Eipper asked, isn't it right to try to
achieve as much as possible in war, with the least casualties? I
say--absolutely right, if we are to fight at all. So strengthening the
Soviets and the British with Lend-Lease and staying out of the main
fighting was exactly the right thing to do. Roosevelt's strategic
errors, particularly his continual mis-estimation of Stalin's
intentions, are legendary, but the main big thing he certainly got
right. We managed to avoid any fighting on American soil and positioned
ourselves for a kind of world dominance afterwards, with Germany
neutered militarily and the Europeans dug in for decades of
JE comments: It's always good to remind those of us in the US and the
UK, who pretty much assume we won WWII, of the overwhelming contribution
of the Soviet Union. "The Soviets won the war," a history professor
told me many years ago, and my American pride was wounded. Now I know
that he was largely correct--at least in the European theater.
One reason, I believe, that Stalin is portrayed as a cruel idiot in
"our" histories is that it helps us to understand the macabre death toll
in the USSR. As Cameron Sawyer points out, the Soviets were far better
prepared than we give them credit for. There is a difference between
unpreparedness (the USSR wasn't) and a ruthless disregard for human life
(which by all indications, defines the attitude of the Soviet authorities during the war).
Churchill, Stalin and Soviet Preparedness for WWII
(Istvan Simon, USA
07/15/12 12:50 AM)
I am an admirer of Cameron Sawyer, whom I met in Moscow. Cameron graciously received me, and I am most grateful for his generous help while I was in Russia. So it is as a friend that I write this response to his post of 13 July.
Like Cameron, I am also an admirer of Churchill. I consider Churchill the greatest statesman of the 20th century, whose extraordinary gift of seeing the peril of Nazi Germany years before most in Britain became aware of it, and who once called to the duty of defending Britain against the Nazi beast, when Britain was caught woefully unprepared for the war, because of the folly of his predecessors, most notably Neville Chamberlain, nonetheless organized a formidable defense of Britain. He did so with extraordinary energy, an amazing analytical and penetrating intelligence, and at least initially, with very meager resources.
Churchill was also unsurpassed in his ability to inspire his compatriots through his extraordinary eloquence and measured and intelligent delivery. Unlike Hitler, whose mesmerizing effect on the Germans is still most puzzling to me, Churchill inspired his compatriots through his words, with a calm but deeply moving discourse. He knew how to touch the hearts of the British without ever resorting to demagoguery or lies, or hatred. His "blood, tears, toil and sweat" speech, delivered to Parliament on May 13, 1940, is one of the most moving political speeches ever delivered, a classic, not unlike our own Lincoln's extraordinary Gettysburg address.
This deep understanding of how to organize Britain to resist is, in my opinion, every bit as worthy of praise, if not more so, than the undeniable and extraordinary sufferings and sacrifices of the Russian people in the fight against Nazism.
No one denies the military contribution of the Russians to the eventual defeat of Germany. Nonetheless, I think that it is false to say that Russia won the war, or even that it was the main contributor to the victory against Nazism. No doubt that the 20 million dead that the Russians suffered is by a large margin the largest sacrifice of any country in absolute numbers, if not in relative ones. But as I already stated, suffering is not what won the war. Were this so, the Jews and the Roma could claim to have been proportionally the greatest contributors to the defeat of Nazi Germany, which is obviously an absurd proposition.
I think that Cameron's description of the supposed lack of value of Churchill as a historian is a gross distortion. This in spite of the writings of British historian Mark Harrison and others that he cites in support of his thesis. There is no shortage of detractors of Churchill as a historian, but I think that they all miss the mark.
The subject of the validity of Churchill as a historian has come up before in WAIS discussions. No less an authority on this forum than Ronald Hilton had this to say about it (on November 8, 2004):
"RH: Professional historians do not have papal infallibility. They spend much time proving that rival historians have overlooked key documents, but they gang together when faced with a successful outsider like Churchill. In one of my first pieces of research, I showed that on the story of the marriage of Philip II of Spain and Mary Tudor, historians referred to a manuscript which does not exist. It is still possible that Churchill was in general right, even though he may have been wrong about details. Of course, his version of events was tailored to suit his own reputation, but he witnessed those events, which his critics did not."
I think this sums up about as concisely as possible the issue that we are debating here. Ronald's wise words apply to what Mark Harrison had to say about Soviet preparedness compared to what Churchill had to say.
History is written by historians by examining key documents, but the documents by themselves prove not much, for it is by their interpretation and the careful weighing of what they mean in context, especially when also considering other contradictory facts, that a superior historian is distinguished from a merely competent one. It is in this latter ability to evaluate information in context that Winston Churchill was unsurpassed. It is because of this that his History of the Second World War is still a best seller many years after his death, whereas Mark Harrison's book has zero reviews. Note that I am not knocking at all Harrison's work or denying that it has valuable information. But it does not explain what happened in the first two years of the war between the Soviet Union and Germany, after June 22 1941, when Hitler invaded Russia.
Cameron is right about the increase in weapons production and all the rest that he cites in support of his thesis. But in my view he is wrong on what it means. The logic of what Churchill had to say on this is simply too compelling. It cannot be dismissed by the data provided by Harrison. It is evident that the Soviet Union was unprepared for war against Germany, by simply looking at the results: the unmitigated disaster that befell Stalin's Russia in the first two years of the war. It is also incorrect to say that this was due to the incompetence of his generals, and tactical mistakes, rather than Stalin. Churchill also suffered through incompetence of his Generals, in the campaign in North Africa, until he found the right generals that could do the job. Once again, though there may have been many tactical errors, wrong deployments and so on, as Cameron contends, still all this is simply insufficient to explain the magnitude of the disaster. That magnitude can only be explained by the strategic failings of Stalin himself, not the tactical failings of his generals. Besides, in a dictatorship, like Stalin's Soviet Union was, the price of failing was the firing squad. This certainly must have concentrated the minds of his generals to do their utmost for the defense of their country. But it is Stalin that should have been executed for his failings, not his incompetent generals.
Every leader in every war, from the US Civil War to the Second World War, from Lincoln to Stalin to Churchill, has struggled with incompetent generals. For it is war itself that reveals who are the amateurs and who are the generals that are up to the task. The case of the Soviet Union was no different. Indeed, what saved Russia from losing the war right away in 1941, were two of those generals that emerge in the midst of crisis. The first general was Gregory Zhukov whose able organization first of the defense of Leningrad (Saint Petersburg) and then Moscow, finally stopped the advance of the relentless and very effective German assault. The second general, whose contribution was even larger, was General Winter, that eternal general on the side of Russia, who had also defeated Napoleon.
This is what
has to say about Zhukov's World War II service (it is clear from this description, that here is another source that lays the blame of the Soviet calamity of 1941 straight on the shoulders of Stalin. As Cameron can see, Churchill is not the only historian to do so):
"Georgy Zhukov--World War II:
"As Soviet forces suffered reverses on all fronts, Zhukov was compelled to sign the Directive of Peoples' Commissariat of Defense No. 3 which called for a series of counterattacks. Arguing against the plans laid out by the directive, he was proven correct when they failed with heavy losses. On July 29, Zhukov was sacked as Chief of General Staff after recommending to Stalin that Kiev be abandoned. Stalin refused and over 600,000 men were captured after the city was encircled by the Germans. That October, Zhukov was given command of the Soviet forces defending Moscow, relieving General Semyon Timoshenko.
"To aid in the city's defense, Zhukov recalled Soviet forces stationed in the Far East and executed a brilliant logistical feat in quickly transferring them across the country. Reinforced, Zhukov ably defended the city before launching a counterattack on December 5, which pushed the Germans back 60-150 miles from the city. With the city saved, Zhukov was made deputy commander-in-chief and sent to the southwestern front to take charge of the defense of Stalingrad. While the forces in the city, led by General Vasiliy Chuikov, battled the Germans, Zhukov and General Aleksandr Vasilevsky planned Operation Uranus.
"A massive counterattack, Uranus was designed to envelop and surround the German 6th Army in Stalingrad. Launched on November 19, the plan worked as Soviet forces attacked north and south of the city. On February 2, the surrounded German forces finally surrendered. As operations at Stalingrad were concluding, Zhukov oversaw Operation Spark which opened a route into the besieged city of Leningrad in January 1943. That summer, Zhukov consulted for STAVKA (General Staff) on the plan for the battle of Kursk.
"After correctly guessing German intentions, Zhukov advised taking a defensive stance and letting the Wehrmacht exhaust itself. These recommendations were accepted and Kursk became one of the great Soviet victories of the war. Returning to the northern front, Zhukov completely lifted the siege of Leningrad in January 1944, before planning Operation Bagration. Designed to clear Belarus and eastern Poland, Bagration was launched on June 22, 1944. A stunning triumph, Zhukov's forces were only forced to stop when their supply lines became too extended.
"Spearheading the Soviet thrust into Germany, Zhukov's men defeated the Germans at Oder-Neisse and Seelow Heights before encircling Berlin. After battling to take the city, Zhukov oversaw the signing of one of the Instruments of Surrender in Berlin on May 8, 1945. In recognition of his achievements during the war, Zhukov was given the honor of inspecting the Victory Parade in Moscow that June."
JE comments: It is no surprise that the topic of Churchill as historian has come up before on WAIS. I'm grateful to Istvan Simon for reminding us of Prof. Hilton's 2004 comments.
What kind of fellow was General Zhukov? I understand that after the war Stalin was afraid of his popularity and removed him from major command. Perhaps Stalin's suspicion was warranted: Zhukov in 1945 was probably more powerful than Stalin, and certainly more respected.
Churchill, Stalin, and Soviet Preparedness for WWII
(Tor Guimaraes, USA
07/15/12 11:17 AM)
I share everyone's admiration for Churchill's genius as a writer, a war leader, and a symbol of resistance to Nazi aggression. However, he seems not very impressive as a military commander. I completely share Istvan Simon's admiration (15 July) for general Gregory Zhukov. However, just to provide some perspective, except by providing tremendous inspiration and acting as an extremely effective staging ground, the European side of WWII was won first by America's enormous resources contribution to the war effort. The USSR contribution was also great (and increasingly grew independently) but might have been hobbled without receiving early American aid and strategic leadership. Great Britain, with or without Churchill, would have lost the war without the US/USSR massive military power.
JE comments: Tor Guimaraes adds another "what if?" for WWII: could the Soviet Union have defeated Germany without US material aid? I'm not sure, however, if the USSR took any "strategic leadership" from the US. What does Tor mean by this?
Churchill and Chamberlain
(Anthony D`Amato, USA
07/16/12 1:04 AM)
Churchill is clearly the most interesting figure of World War Two, but I think we're taking him too much at the face value he has created for himself. Just to re-balance the scale, let me make a revisionist's claim that probably no one reading this post will accept. I'll claim that Chamberlain did more to save England in World War Two than did Churchill. Inasmuch as it has been years since I went through all the statistics, I'll just make this argument using logic and not statistics. I'm not departing from the numbers, I'm just putting them aside on the ground that I have no time to go back and look them all up.
The first proposition is that weapons are the most important factors in a war. In any attack, the aggressors will go first to the weapons stockpiles of the other side. If you can destroy an army's weapons, they will not be able to withstand your attack. Otherwise you have to make sure that you at least have more weapons than him.
It was clear to Chamberlain by 1937 that the only way Germany could conquer Great Britain was to bomb it into submission. German armies could not cross the English Channel because Germany had no navy; Britain had all the ships. The Germans had U-Boats, but there was practically no room in them to transport troops; everyone in the U-Boat had an operational function to perform.
Great Britain's air force was pitiful. But production had finally gone on a 24/7 schedule by 1937, not just for turning out planes but also for turning out new factories that built planes. Britain's rate of growth of the RAF well exceeded Germany's rate of growth of the Luftwaffe, because GB could concentrate in building planes while Germany was also building tanks, trucks, U-boats, ships, bombs, artillery, and so forth.
By September 1938, the date of the Munich conference, GB's air force was gaining on the Luftwaffe, but still if GB had one more year, then at the rate it was going it might double its air force in the next twelve months. It would then have enough planes, barely, to meet the Luftwaffe should Goering decide to bomb London. Chamberlain saw that if he could gain an extra year on aircraft production vis-à-vis Hitler, then London and all of Great Britain might be able to withstand repeated air strikes by the Luftwaffe. Time was precious; the fate of GB depended on postponing the war that was in the offing in 1938.
(Footnote: Chamberlain of course did everything to hide British aircraft production, making the factories look like they were producing other things. If you haven't seen Eye of the Needle, it is a first-rate film about a German spy--though the time was around 1944, and not the 1930s.)
Chamberlain knew Hitler's psychology very well. Hitler was in the process of conquering territories in Europe without the loss of any German soldier. Czechoslovakia, with its steel factories, was a great prize. Hitler did not hide his hand; he was aiming to absorb Czechoslovakia next. If he could do it without force, his stature would even be higher than it was in September 1938. But Chamberlain also knew that Hitler coveted Czechoslovakia, and would not hesitate to take it by armed aggression. Chamberlain also knew that if Hitler achieved a success by aggression, he would quickly turn his now mobilized armies toward Poland, Belgium, The Netherlands, etc., while Goering might half-assist in the Blitzkrieg and half-begin his attack on Great Britain. An armed attack on Czechoslovakia would start a world war.
Of the two choices, the only way for Chamberlain to gain an extra year's time was to "give up" Czechoslovakia by "legal" diplomatic means. At the same time he would get all kinds of "legal" promises from Hitler that this was Hitler's last demand, that there would be no resort to armed warfare, etc. This stack of signed papers would not deter Hitler for long, but it would gain precious time. After all, Hitler wanted to boast about getting Czechoslovakia by his diplomatic brilliance. He had to at least put some time between Munich and the start of aggression against the rest of Europe. A whole year went by, from September to September. During that time of waiting, Hitler frankly told his closest advisers that Chamberlain had snookered him. He realized the trick Chamberlain had pulled on him all in the guise of appearing to submit to him.
On his return to London after the Munich Conference, Chamberlain made one statement that for sheer bravery and self-sacrifice was greater than anything Churchill ever uttered. Chamberlain said of Munich: "we have achieved peace in our time." This phrase became the nail in Chamberlain's political coffin, but he knew he had to say it--not for the benefit of the British public or the Americans, but solely for Hitler. He needed to reassure Hitler that the British were so relieved by the Munich accords that now they would relax, and go back to peacetime activities. The ruse worked. Hitler had no idea of the round-the-clock production of British aircraft.
And that brings me, finally, to the black mark I have against Churchill. Churchill surely knew what Chamberlain was up to. He surely knew about the need for British aircraft to counter the inevitable Nazi air war against Britain. But to further his own political ambitions of becoming Prime Minister and Head of the War Department, Churchill dumped on Chamberlain, accusing him of appeasement and selling out Great Britain. He was willing to destroy Chamberlain's spirit in order to help his own cause. There was not a drop of magnanimity or humanity in Churchill's abundant body.
JE comments: Churchill was one of the best ever at self-promotion, but no humanity? That's a harsh judgment.
Chamberlain has had precious few defenders among historians, so it is inevitable that he would be up for re-evaluation. WAISers: are you convinced by Anthony D'Amato's thesis that Chamberlain contributed more to "saving England" than Churchill? Wouldn't Chamberlain have sought a negotiated peace early in the war, or am I misreading him?
And who was the most "interesting" figure of WWII? Ask any viewer of the History [Hitler] Channel, and they won't answer Churchill...
Churchill and Chamberlain
(Cameron Sawyer, Russia
07/17/12 12:22 AM)
A very interesting post by Anthony D'Amato (16 July), and I think with more than a grain of truth to it.
With all due respect to Churchill, and while acknowledging that Churchill did see the danger of Hitler (and then of Stalin) early and expended a lot of political capital highlighting this danger, he was not the only person in the world who knew that war was coming. Preparations for the big war with Hitler had started practically from when Hitler took office, as I have written. This was true in England and France, just like it was true in the Soviet Union. The idea that the whole world was sleeping with only Churchill giving the clarion cry is self-serving nonsense propagated by Churchill to exaggerate this legend, and even if there is a grain of truth behind it, it is exaggerated beyond all recognition in Churchill's account.
Chamberlain has not been well treated by history, and in all my reading I have not run across any concrete support for the proposition that Chamberlain was delaying and giving up ground to Hitler intentionally in order to give the British military time to prepare for war, but neither have I run up against anything which clearly contradicts this idea other than Churchill's own scathing treatment of his rival. Churchill's picture of Chamberlain is indeed another one in a series of cartoon-like simplifications, which I cannot believe is entirely true, if it is true at all.
The generally accepted wisdom as invented by Churchill is that if Europe had stood up to Hitler earlier--say, at the time of the invasion of the Saarland--Hitler would never have dared to start a general conflagration. So to be more concrete, if Churchill had been PM instead of Chamberlain in 1938 (or better in 1936), the war would never have happened. And thus the Munich conference has come down to us a symbol of the danger of appeasement, and how the lack of a firm backbone can lead to war, which can be avoided by those made of sterner stuff.
Well--this is a legend which by now most schoolboys know by heart. But I am not really sure that it is true or at least entirely true. It is indeed quite similar to the legend that Stalin would not contemplate at all the possibility of war with Germany, which ensured that the Soviet Union was completely unprepared for war--which we have been discussing recently. I think the latter proposition is definitely and clearly false; whether Chamberlain might also have been buying time is also certainly possible. Whether or not we could have avoided war by stomping on Hitler early, as Churchill would have us believe, is hard to say. Perhaps Churchill was right, but I don't think that it is obviously so. I think Great Britain was not prepared for war with Hitler in 1938. The Soviet Union certainly was not. Perhaps France could have stood up to Hitler in 1938, and I think really that only France was really in a position militarily to do so. But France was not willing at all at that time.
So Anthony may really have a point--it is a fascinating proposition worth studying and testing against the facts. Another thing on my list.
JE comments: Chamberlain has become synonymous with appeasement, just as Quisling has come to mean collaborationism. It will take a lot of effort to "rehabilitate" Chamberlain, but his example raises a very WAISly question: are there times when appeasement--whether to buy time, to set an enemy off-balance, or truly to achieve "peace in our time"--is the right thing to do?
I'm grateful to Anthony D'Amato for bringing up this topic.
Churchill and Chamberlain
(Istvan Simon, USA
07/18/12 12:02 PM)
Cameron Sawyer is wrong (17 July), that Churchill invented the "legend" that if the West had reacted firmly to the military re-occupation of the Rhineland, Hitler would have withdrawn. This is not a Churchill theory at all, it is a fact, and there is very convincing evidence to prove it, which came from the German archives captured after the war.
When Hitler re-occupied the Rhineland, Germany was still militarily weak. All the German military was against it, and frankly told Hitler that if the Western powers should react to the provocation with force, Germany would lose and be further humiliated. So Hitler's orders were that should the Western powers react with force, Germany would withdraw immediately. This is described with all the detail and references that Cameron might want to be convinced, in William Shirer's excellent The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, which was meticulously researched and entirely based on the German archives and Nazi documents captured by the United States. These archives were boxed and shipped to the United States in their entirety after Germany surrendered unconditionally on May 7, 1945. There they remained unopened until many years later, when the Federal Republic requested that they be returned to Germany. The protest of historians convinced the United States government that the archives should be opened for research, and access given to historians and scholars before the documents would be returned to Germany. Indeed, this is what happened, and William Shirer's excellent book is one result.
So Churchill once again is right. It is clear from the known facts that Hitler had gambled in the re-militarization of the Rhineland, which had been demilitarized through the Versailles Treaty. But unfortunately due to the weakness and shortsightedness of the Western leaders, he was deemed a genius instead, because his gamble had worked! By the way, at the time of the military occupation of the Rhineland in 1936, Chamberlain was not the Prime Minister of Britain. The Prime Minister at the time was Baldwin, and so this has relatively little to do with Chamberlain. The Baldwin administration was one of recovery for Britain after the ravages of the first World War. It was a period of slow but steady progress. By 1936 when Hitler challenged the West with his first bloodless conquest (others were to follow), Baldwin was an aged gentleman, and he had won a comfortable majority from the British electorate. The mood of the country was one of peace, and against the re-armament of Britain, even in the face of the furious pace of re-armament of Germany under Hitler, which he was forbidden to do, by the Versailles Treaty, but which he proceeded to do first secretly, and later, when he was proved right over and over again that the "decadent" democracies in the West would hang themselves to preserve the peace rather than have a more realistic attitude towards Germany. Churchill was the lone voice of reason, but at the time, his warnings fell on deaf ears, and he was dismissed as a "war-monger." Both the labor party and the liberal party, which were in opposition, agreed with the conservative government of Baldwin, that peace is what people wanted, and it would be a waste of money to invest in armaments, when the money could be so much better used for peaceful purposes.
I am afraid that Anthony D'Amato's revisionist history is a fairy tale. Chamberlain did not save Britain, through the extra year, nor was that his reason for Munich in 1938, which remains as dishonorable an affair as there ever was in recent history. Nor was he in favor of re-armament. He was very much with the blind majority of peace-loving people, who foolishly thought that Hitler could be appeased. He succeeded Baldwin in 1937 but did not change Baldwin's peace-loving policies, which perhaps had been the right thing to do before Hitler came to power, but definitely were the wrong policies after 1933.
I do not think that Anthony is right in his analysis of the Battle of Britain, and that the crucial component of the defense of Britain would be its air force. The air parity with Germany had been lost already in 1934 thanks to the wrong policies of Baldwin. Though the extra year helped in producing the Spitfires that proved to be so important in the Battle of Britain, as Nigel Jones correctly pointed out, this had nothing to do with Chamberlain. Nor did the British surpass the Luftwaffe. It is a miracle that the Battle of Britain was won by the British, and had once again the Germans been more consistent, the end result might have been different, even though the the Spitfires and the daring British pilots did such magnificent service defending their country.
It is also wrong to say that Britain was safe from invasion simply because of its undoubtedly superior Navy. The German Navy in fact was being rebuilt and posed quite a challenge for the superior British Navy. First under Admiral Raeder, who believed in surface ships, the Germans built some formidable battleships which achieved great success (the sinking of the Hood for example with the loss of 6000 men). The Bismarck was a formidable enemy with superior firing power than anything that Britain could bring up against it. But the sinking of the Bismarck became a priority for the British Navy, and through assembling a whole task-force and outmaneuvering the Bismarck, she was finally sunk. In the sinking of the Bismarck, Hitler's lack of good military judgement once again played a part. Hitler preferred losing the Bismarck and all its crew rather than let it try to escape the British task-force and live for another battle. Raeder was replaced by Donitz, who was a believer of submarine warfare. Once again, this posed a formidable challenge for Britain, for the wolf packs started to sink enormous tonnage of unarmed merchant ships, on which the lifeline of Britain depended. Hitler came quite close to winning the war against Britain in the battle of the Atlantic. Only the resolute help of the United States, the organization of convoys of Merchant ships guarded by destroyers, and all the resources of the British Navy finally succeeded in reversing the enormous danger posed to Britain by the U-boat challenge.
It is quite obvious I think from these facts that Chamberlain had very little to do with Britain's survival.
I should also bring up that the neglect and irresponsible incompetence of the Baldwin and Chamberlain governments were of such magnitude that Britain did not even produce enough rifles for its defense. When the home guard was organized by Churchill to oppose a possible invasion, they had to be trained with wooden replicas, rather than real weapons, because they did not have enough of them.
JE comments: Haven't a great deal of archives been made available since Shirer's book? It appeared in 1960, which is eons ago in historiographical terms.
German WWII Archives at Hoover Institution
(Edward Jajko, USA
07/18/12 10:44 PM)
Since all the books on my shelves here at home are double-shelved and many are in boxes--some of which block the double-shelved bookcases--while many more are in storage, I don't know where my copy of Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich may be and so cannot consult it. But if memory serves, the "German archives and Nazi documents captured by the United States" that Istvan Simon (18 July) refers to, that were shipped to the US after the war, held here, then repatriated to a couple of repositories in Federal Germany depending on their subject, were held by the Hoover Institution Archives.
Before repatriation, they were microfilmed (155 rolls) and it would have been those microfilms, as well as other materials held by the Hoover, that Shirer used for his book. The Hoover Institution Library still has the set, under the title NSDAP Hauptarchiv, 1939-1945. There is also a separate guide book to the collection, by Grete Heinz and my late, lamented colleague, Agnes Peterson. Other libraries in the US and other countries have copies of the guide and the microfilms (although not all sets may be complete). Or in other words, those who are so inclined can look into the primary sources.
JE comments: Many thanks to Ed Jajko for the lead. The Hoover Institution's contribution to historical research has been extraordinary. (Do not forget, dear WAISers, that the Hoover also houses the Ronald Hilton interview series and other documents from our own history.)
German WWII Archives at Hoover Institution
(Istvan Simon, USA
07/20/12 7:41 AM)
I am very thankful for Ed Jajko's post (18 July). Though not a historian, nor a scholar, I would love to have a look at these documents. Thank you, Ed.
I would bring my copy of Shirer with me, as a guide to where to look.
JE comments: But Istvan, you are a scholar! My weak German would keep me away from those microfilms. But I've made one resolution after our July 4th holiday in Dresden: I'm going to bone up on German before my next visit.
- Churchill and Chamberlain (Nigel Jones, UK 07/17/12 9:57 AM)
I must take strong issue with Anthony D'Amato's attempt to rehabilitate Neville Chamberlain and his policy of Appeasement (16 July). Although Anthony's apologia reflects that of Chamberlain's principal biographer, Professor David Dilks, it simply does not stand up to scrutiny.
Chamberlain's neo-pacifist policy of appeasing Hitler was dictated by a horror of war, not far-sighted preparation for it. This is amply shown by his words in a broadcast during his fraught meetings with Hitler that preceded the Munich meeting: "How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing."
These are not the words of a resolute leader preparing his people for a long and terrible war, but of a frightened rabbit determined to avoid conflict at all costs. And this is scarcely surprising, given Chamberlain's personal history. Chamberlain spent his early youth in a long and disastrous attempt to grow sisal on an unproductive island. He spent the Great War as a civil servant and only entered politics when he was over 40. In stark contrast to Churchill, Chamberlain had neither knowledge, experience of nor interest in military matters or foreign affairs.
Lloyd George, the leader who took Britain to victory in the Great War, despised Chamberlain, calling him a "pinhead." His judgement of the man's political abilities is damning: "He would have made a good Lord Mayor of Birmingham [Chamberlain's native city] in a very lean year." In fact, this is probably a little too harsh: Chamberlain was a perfectly able Health Minister. What he was not, was an inspiring statesman or war leader.
On succeeding the equally pacific and defeatist Stanley "the bomber will always get through" Baldwin as Prime Minister in 1937, Chamberlain, despite his colossal ignorance of foreign affairs in general, and Nazism in particular, decided that he was an expert in these matters and sidelined his own able young Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, who resigned in protest at Chamberlain's appeasement of the dictators.
Chamberlain denigrated and attempted to undermine any members of his own Conservative party who questioned appeasement, diverting secret party funds to subsidise a pro-Hitler magazine, Truth, for the purpose. He sacked, sidelined or forced the resignation of Conservatives who opposed his policy: e.g. Churchill himself, Duff Cooper and the Duchess of Atholl.
Anthony suggests that Chamberlain concluded the Munich agreement in 1938 to buy time for the RAF to build up its strength--particularly to manufacture the Spitfire fighter. It is true that production of the Spitfire and other air defences went up in the year between Munich and the outbreak of war--but this had nothing whatever to do with Chamberlain, as Leon McKinstry's recent study Spitfire makes abundantly clear. It was the responsibility of the Air Minister, Lord Swinton and the private Supermarine company which made the Spitfire.
Before, during and after Munich, Chamberlain utterly misjudged Hitler, continuing against all the evidence before his own eyes to believe that he was a man of peace whose word could be relied upon. After signing the craven Munich agreement itself, Chamberlain sought an extra meeting the next day at Hitler's Munich flat (now a Police station), at which he got the Fuhrer to sign a meaningless piece of paper pledging "Never to go to war again." This was the scrap of paper that Chamberlain famously fluttered before the cameras at the airport on his return from Munich, which allowed him to proclaim "Peace in our time" and cover his shameful surrender of Czechoslovakia (undertaken, incidentally, without any consultation with the Czechs), who were only told that their country was to be dismembered after the event.
Even after the outbreak of war and the complete collapse of his "peace plans," Chamberlain sought to maintain appeasement: conducting a rather original war policy by forbidding any offensive war operations (!) and secretly attempting to negotiate peace with Germans who he fondly believed were plotting to overthrow Hitler. They were in fact SD operatives sent by Heydrich to hoodwink the gullible British Intelligence officers in neutral Holland abducted in the "Venlo Incident" of 1939.
Essentially Chamberlain, whose reedy voice, outmoded wing collars and umbrella won him the contemptuous nickname of the "undertaker" (funeral director), was a man of peace utterly unable, even if he had been willing, to lead the nation in war. Churchill, for all his manifold faults, was a man of war and, as it proved, a war winner. For once, Hitler's judgement of his man was correct. "I saw my enemies at Munich," he told his Generals when preparing to invade Poland; "They are worms."
To conclude on a personal note. Last month I stood in the room where the Munich agreement was signed while leading a tour of Germany's Nazi sights (www.historicaltrips.com). It is now a classroom in Munich's Music High School with no overt sign of its history.
JE comments: Damning evidence. Maybe we'll have to put Neville's rehabilitation on hold...
Churchill and Chamberlain
(David Pike, France
07/18/12 1:13 AM)
I too have been surprised to read Anthony D'Amato's apologia pro Chamberlain. In supporting Nigel Jones's account (July 17), I would agree that Chamberlain had carried pacifism to the unsustainable limit. Anthony Eden, who resigned as his Foreign Secretary, had lost both his brothers in the First World War, and he yearned to see peace preserved as much as any man. But Eden could not serve as an appeaser, and he was the only major figure, apart from Churchill, to be fully vindicated by events.
Nigel refers to Chamberlain's "reedy voice." It wasn't always so. When he spoke in Commons in February 1940, he spoke with passion--with passion--about the suffering of the Czechoslovaks and now the Poles, speaking without notes, speaking from the heart, about atrocities now being committed against children, women and men.
A final word about the Battle of Britain and Chamberlain's supposed preparation for it. I agree with Nigel's account, but the man who deserves the spotlight is the man identified by Hugh Dowding, commander-in-chief RAF Fighter Command: the Canadian Max Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook, whom Churchill, in a brilliant move, had appointed Minister of Aircraft Production. Beaverbrook so inspired his men and women that workers finally had to be dragged from their benches--so dangerous was it becoming. Dowding later said of Beaverbrook: "I could not have held, still less won, without the help of that mercurial man."
I might add that I nearly ran into Nigel Jones last month in the music school in Munich, home to the abject surrender of Czechoslovakia to Hitler.
JE comments: Anthony D'Amato's reply to Nigel Jones is next in the queue.
Reflections on Churchill
(Alain de Benoist, France
07/25/12 4:32 AM)
Some unordered and quite peripheral reflections on the WAIS discussion about Churchill and Chamberlain:
Several WAISers have expressed their admiration for Winston Churchill, who was a great leader and a clever politician. That he has been a great leader is indisputable, especially during WWII. But this does not mean much. Hitler and Stalin were also "great leaders." In any case, Churchill was probably not a saint.
Recently, Churchill, a life-long supporter of Zionism, has even been accused (wrongly, I think) of being a "closet anti-Semite," for having written in 1937 an article where Jews, described as "Hebrew bloodsuckers," were blamed for their own persecution. This has become the topic of a polemic between the historian Richard Toye (Cambridge University) and Churchill biographer Sir Martin Gilbert (Oxford University). Actually, the article was written by Adam Marshall Diston, a British journalist and a member since 1931 of Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists, who was also a Churchill ghostwriter. Toye says that Churchill had sought to publish the article under his name, while this is denied by Gilbert.
The first to recommend the use of poison gas against Arabs was Winston Churchill. In 1917, following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, the British occupied Iraq and established a colonial government. The Arab and Kurdish people of Iraq resisted the British occupation and by 1920 this had developed into a full-scale national revolt, which cost the British greatly. To crush the Iraqi resistance and insurgency, Churchill, who was secretary of War and Air in the Lloyd George government, advocated enthusiastically the use of poison gas bombing for civilian control by the RAF. "I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas," said Churchill. "I am strongly in favour of using poison gas against uncivilized tribes."
At that time, wing-Commander Arthur Harris (later known as "Bomber Harris," who bombed and burned alive by the thousands the civilian population of many German cities during WWII, including Hamburg and Dresden, and never faced a tribunal but instead got his statue erected on Fleet Street in London) was happy to emphasize that "within forty-five minutes a full-size village can be practically wiped out and a third of its inhabitants killed or injured." Hugh Tranchard, the Chief of the RAF Air Staff, was also in favor of imposing British power by means of a campaign of mass murder from the air.
It is an irony that eighty years later, incendiary white phosphorus bombs burning men, women and children, were used against the civilian population of Fallujah after the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the US-led coalition. This was the so-called Operation Phantom Fury, in November 2004, which resulted in the death of over 1,350 people and the total or partial destruction of more than half of the city's 39,000 homes. (The "Batman" killings in Denver, Colorado, were child's play by comparison.)
There have been also many discussions about the alleged "secret" correspondence between Churchill and Mussolini, but I do not have time enough to write extensively on these polemics.
What General de Gaulle says about Churchill in his memoirs is interesting too.
I do not think Churchill was still Prime minister when, at the end of WWII, England took the shameful and horrible decision of forcibly returning to Stalin and repatriating in Soviet Russia two million Russians (including White Russians, Cossacks, Slovenians, Croats and Serbs) who were POWs or simply living in exile. Count Nikolas Tolstoy, in his book Victims of Yalta, charges that they were secretly betrayed by a few key British military officials, a future Prime minister among them. Most of them were massacred or sent to the camps.
Another question which could still be discussed is to know if Hitler wanted really to wage a war against England. It would have been more clever from his part to concentrate on his projected aggression against Soviet Russia. Hitler hated the Slavic people, while he always had some kind of admiration for the British "Nordic stock." Despite all the books published about the case of former Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess, full light has never been brought on his strange flight to England on 10 May 1941. Hess wanted to meet the Duke of Hamilton, whom he supposed close to Churchill's opponent Lord Halifax, in the hope of concluding a "separate peace" with England. Whether he acted by his own or not has never been really determined.
JE comments: Alain de Benoist raises some important questions about the "saintliness" of Sir Winston. "I am strongly in favor of using poisonous gas against uncivilized tribes," if indeed Churchill said this, is the language of genocide. Another demerit on Churchill's résumé is the 1915 Gallipoli fiasco, which killed untold thousands and achieved nothing besides elevating Kemal Ataturk to hero status.
How much of the turmoil in today's Middle East can be traced back to Churchill's meddling in the region? I hope other WAISers will respond with their thoughts.
(Nigel Jones, UK
07/26/12 3:16 AM)
I'm surprised that Alain de Benoist (25 July) has not entered our Churchill discussion sooner, since as the 20th century's leading Anglo-American he exemplifies all that Alain seems to disapprove most of. The fact that Churchill was also a sentimental lover of France, sometimes to his own country's detriment--as in his fortunately foiled plan to throw more Spitfire and Hurricane fighter squadrons into the doomed battle to save France in 1940--is a fascinating paradox.
Alain adopts a scattergun approach, in which some of his comments and criticism of Churchill are justified and some are not. Here, for what they're worth, are my own unordered reflections on Alain's reflections. (I'd also be interested one day in hearing Alain's reflections on De Gaulle, France's nearest 20th-century equivalent to Churchill.)
For an Englishman of his class and generation, Churchill was exceptional in being philo-Semitic. If he was an anti-Semite in any way it is obvious that his official biographer, Sir Martin Gilbert, a Jew and a Zionist, would not have devoted his professional life to memorialising him as he has.
I am extremely surprised that Alain brings up Churchill's record as an imperialist and colonialist, criticising him for his role in bombing Iraqis, given France's own lamentable and lengthy record of...ahem...imperialism and colonialism. Churchill was undeniably an imperialist until his dying day, and doubtless his record does not bear much examination by our 21st-century standards. He was born into the Imperial class at the height of the Age of Empire, so to criticise him for this is a bit like criticising Queen Victoria for being a monarchist. But at least Britain relinquished its Empire voluntarily and largely bloodlessly, whereas France fought two long losing wars in Indo-China and Algeria, in which there were many acts of genocide, in a futile bid to maintain its own Empire.
I shall not address Alain's critique of Sir Arthur Harris, beyond asking who was it who first started aerial bombing of civilian areas in Guernica, Rotterdam and Warsaw. (Clue: it wasn't Sir Arthur.) As Harris himself said, "They have sown the wind and will reap the whirlwind." So they did. Also the name of the father of the RAF was Hugh Trenchard, not Tranchard. Nor will I talk about Fallujah, beyond saying that it took place some 40 years after Churchill's death, and is therefore irrelevant to any discussion of him.
Where I agree with Alain is in his denunciation of the infamous decision to return Cossacks and their families and other Russians from British-occupied Austria to Stalin's tender mercies. This, as Alain acknowledged, had nothing to do with Churchill. The Minister at least partially responsible for this atrocity whom Alain does not name was the future Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan.
I also agree that there is much more to be discovered--although it may never be--about Rudolf Hess's mysterious flight to Britain. My own view, having read much about it, is that it was undertaken as an unauthorised individual mission by Hess alone as part of an effort to win back favour with Hitler. (Without his own Ministry or power base, Hess had been losing influence with his former close friend the Fuhrer to the other Nazi paladins Himmler, Goering, Goebbels and even Ribbentrop.) Always a little odd, by this time I think that Hess was seriously mentally unstable. He may well have been lured over in a British Intelligence "sting."
I'm somewhat surprised that in his litany of Churchillian crimes, Alain has not mentioned what may be considered his greatest crime against France: viz. his destruction of the French naval squadron at Mers-el-Kebir outside Oran in Algeria in July 1940, ostensibly to prevent if from falling into Hitler's hands. Some 1,500 French sailors died in this unnecessary attack. While I believe this was one of Churchill's many blunders--even crimes--it had the unintended consequence of demonstrating to the world--not least to FDR--that Britain, after the useless Chamberlain, as now under new and ruthless management which would stop at--literally--nothing to survive and win the war.
Churchill may have been a ruthless gangster, but that was the quality needed to defeat Hitler.
JE comments: I too would like to hear Alain de Benoist's appraisal of De Gaulle; we're probably running out of new things to say about Churchill and Chamberlain.
Was Churchill a War Criminal? Mers-el-Kebir
(Anthony D`Amato, USA
07/26/12 2:04 PM)
Nigel Jones wrote on 26 July:
"I'm somewhat surprised that in his litany of Churchillian crimes, Alain de Benoist has not mentioned what may be considered his greatest crime against France: viz. his destruction of the French naval squadron at Mers-el-Kebir outside Oran in Algeria in July 1940, ostensibly to prevent it from falling into Hitler's hands. Some 1,500 French sailors died in this unnecessary attack. While I believe this was one of Churchill's many blunders--even crimes--it had the unintended consequence of demonstrating to the world--not least to FDR--that Britain, after the useless Chamberlain, as now under new and ruthless management which would stop at--literally--nothing to survive and win the war."
I'll try to add to the story, agreeing that it was a Churchillian crime.
In the summer of 1940, after France's capitulation to Germany, the problem for Great Britain was how to obtain the French fleet. In the Algerian port of Mers-el-Kebir were four French battleships, six destroyers, and six submarines. Located west of Oran, the port was a strategic location for maintaining control of the Straits of Gibraltar.
The British game plan, called Operation Catapult, was one in which Churchill agreed with the British military strategists, though Churchill of course had the final decision. Although his optimal strategy would have been to send De Gaulle to Mers-el-Kebir to persuade the French commanders to join the war on the side of the British, instead he ignored De Gaulle and resorted to the old British naval tradition of approaching ships in port by sea and making a demand.
British war vessels, led by Vice-Admiral Somerville, sent a message to the French ships in the harbor. It appears to have been drafted by lawyers working for the War Cabinet, with all the hauteur and lack of grace for which inferior lawyers are renowned:
"It is impossible for us, your comrades up to now, to allow your fine ships to fall into the power of the German enemy. We are determined to fight on until the end, and if we win, as we think we shall, we shall never forget that France was our Ally, that our interests are the same as hers, and that our common enemy is Germany. Should we conquer we solemnly declare that we shall restore the greatness and territory of France. For this purpose we must make sure that the best ships of the French Navy are not used against us by the common foe. In these circumstances, His Majesty's Government have instructed me to demand that the French Fleet now at Mers el Kebir and Oran shall act in accordance with one of the following alternatives;
"(a) Sail with us and continue the fight until victory against the Germans.
"(b) Sail with reduced crews under our control to a British port. The reduced crews would be repatriated at the earliest moment.
"If either of these courses is adopted by you we will restore your ships to France at the conclusion of the war or pay full compensation if they are damaged meanwhile.
"(c) Alternatively if you feel bound to stipulate that your ships should not be used against the Germans unless they break the Armistice, then sail them with us with reduced crews to some French port in the West Indies--Martinique for instance--where they can be demilitarised to our satisfaction, or perhaps be entrusted to the United States and remain safe until the end of the war, the crews being repatriated.
"If you refuse these fair offers, I must with profound regret, require you to sink your ships within 6 hours.
"Finally, failing the above, I have the orders from His Majesty's Government to use whatever force may be necessary to prevent your ships from falling into German hands."
One can well imagine a French naval commander receiving such a message. "What's with this partners-up-to-now baloney?" he undoubtedly thought. Looking quickly to see if there were any demands at the end of the message, he was shocked instead to find an ultimatum. What colossal effrontery did the British have!
The British managed to make matters worse by the way they delivered the ultimatum to the French commanders. Vice-Admiral Somerville decided not to deliver the ultimatum personally, instead sending a lower-ranking officer. The French Commander in charge of the fleet stationed at Mers el-Kebir, Vice-Admiral Gensoul, was insulted by Somerville's refusal to deal directly with him. In response he sent a lower officer with his answer. This led to a communication mix-up, as subordinates were careless with the content of the messages entrusted to them. The situation became increasingly tense.
If Vice-Admiral Gensoul had been properly approached, he might have acquiesced fully in the British proposal. He personally wanted to continue the fight against the Germans. He had decided that he owed no loyalty to the Vichy Government. A word from De Gaulle would have been decisive. But the British kept De Gaulle in the dark.
As the day progressed, the negotiations continued to break down. Somerville received orders from London to attack as soon as possible. They didn't want to give the French ships the opportunity to prepare for battle.
At 5 PM, the British opened fire. Within ten minutes, the battle was over. 1,297 French soldiers were killed. Of the four battleships, the Bretagne was sunk, and the Provence and Dunkerque run aground. Only the Strausbourg escaped. There were no British casualties.
Churchill papered over the blunder in his Memoirs with the argument that the top priority was to keep French ships out of German hands. But the newly entrenched Vichy government jumped at the opportunity to use the Mers-el-Kebir debacle as propaganda against Churchill and De Gaulle. To most citizens within the French Empire the propaganda hit home. The idea of the British navy firing upon and sinking French ships created huge doubts in their minds about who was friend and who was foe.
Mers-el-Kebir was one of those quite infrequent British blunders in which both Churchill and the War Cabinet were both to blame, though Churchill had the final say. In my view, most of the British war errors occurred when Churchill disagreed with the military leaders. These disagreements almost always saw Churchill wanting to gain a propaganda advantage against the War Cabinet's purely military judgment. When they disagreed, Churchill's decision prevailed, leading, I think, to the greatest unnecessary loss of life at British hands during the entire war. The majority of the loss of life was civilian noncombatants. In this latter respect, no matter his rhetorical achievements, Churchill was a war criminal.
JE comments: A monumental example of poor communication. Is it customary to send a lower-level officer to perform such a sensitive negotiation? What is the naval protocol? I imagine the commander of a fleet is supposed to remain on board his flagship, and not visit a potentially hostile foreign vessel. Or have I misunderstood?
And finally: Why wasn't De Gaulle consulted? Was he not trusted by the British leadership at this point?
Was Churchill a War Criminal? Mers-el-Kebir
(Nigel Jones, UK
07/27/12 3:25 AM)
One of my unpublished books was titled Operation Catapult, so I did quite a lot of research in England and France into the unhappy episode that Anthony D'Amato outlines (26 July).
The reason that Admiral James Somerville did not bring the ultimatum to Admiral Marcel Gensoul personally is that Somerville was the commander of H-Force, the squadron sent from Gibraltar to Mers-el-Kebir, and it is not customary for Admirals to abandon their ships to deliver messages personally, however important.
Instead, the ultimatum was entrusted to an officer who traveled in a small boat between the fleets. In fact, he was still in the boat when the ultimatum expired and the British--urged on by increasingly frantic messages from Churchill in London--opened fire.
Elsewhere in North Africa the French squadron in Alexandria, which was moored in harbour directly next to British ships, was peacefully immobilised thanks to the tact of the British Admiral on the spot, Cunningham.
In England itself, French ships were seized in the ports of Plymouth and Portsmouth. These later formed De Gaulle's tiny Free French Navy. The only violence came aboard the giant submarine Surcouf, at the time the world's largest submarine, where two British sailors and one Frenchman died in a gunfight as the British raiding party seized the sub.
(The Surcouf, with a Free French crew, subsequently disappeared in the Bermuda triangle in circumstances still mysterious.)
Anthony is quite correct in describing the rage in France at this episode. (Although De Gaulle himself, with uncustomary forbearance, made a single dignified protest and left it at that.) Vichy French warplanes bombed Gibraltar in reprisal--though negligible damage was done--and the two former Allies came very close to war.
It should be remembered that the whole Royal Navy--including Somerville--were deeply reluctant to carry out Churchill's orders, and the episode is even today remembered with shame. It definitely was not one of Britain's finest hours.
The overall commander of the French Navy in 1940 was the Anglophobe Admiral Darlan, subsequently Marshal Petain's right-hand man. Darlan's Anglophobia is often ascribed to the fact that his great-grandfather was killed at Trafalgar, or alternatively that he was placed behind a pillar in Westminster Abbey when he represented France at the coronation of George VI in 1937. In any event, he was a vicious pro-Nazi collaborator, and a slippery character who rapidly swapped sides when he found himself in Algeria at the time of the Anglo-American Operation Torch landings in November 1942. (Darlan was visiting his son who had been stricken with polio.)
FDR, who loathed De Gaulle, wanted to make Darlan an alternative French leader, arranged for his son to be treated for his polio at Roosevelt's Warm Springs spa in Georgia, and left Darlan in situ as head of State in Algeria (complete with Vichy's anti-Semitic laws and keeping French resisters in jail)--an act which not only outraged the Gaullists who had been fighting the Admiral, but also annoyed Churchill, who knew what a dangerous foe of the Allies Darlan had been. FDR appeared blind to Darlan's horrendous record.
Darlan's subsequent assassination in Algiers on Christmas Eve 1942 was almost certainly arranged by one of Britain's intelligence agencies, SOE, with the tacit approval if not the active involvement of Churchill and De Gaulle. (See the book Assassination in Algiers by Anthony Verrier for the detailed evidence.)
The main body of the French fleet, incidentally, mothballed in the port of Toulon, was kept out of Hitler's hands--but only just. In November 1942, as German troops occupied Vichy France in the wake of Operation Torch, the sailors scuttled the Fleet in Toulon harbour minutes before the Germans arrived to secure the ships.
As to whether Operation Catapult made Churchill a "war criminal" as Anthony suggests, I would answer "Yes--along with every other war leader since Caesar." And that includes such revered Americans as Washington, Lincoln, Grant, Sherman, Wilson, FDR, Patton and Ike. Every leader who carried the responsibility for taking and losing lives in war is, by some legalistic yardsticks, a war criminal. War cannot be fought without such "crimes." And in an existential struggle such as WWII, necessity knows no law.
JE comments: I was unaware of FDR's animosity towards De Gaulle. What was the reason?
FDR and De Gaulle
(Istvan Simon, USA
07/28/12 8:55 AM)
JE asked, in his comments to a post by Nigel Jones (27 Jul), why Roosevelt did not like De Gaulle. The answer I think is obvious. De Gaulle was a pain in the butt, insisting constantly on a privileged treatment for France in war decisions, as if he had as many troops in the battle as the United States or Britain. Only saints could put up with him. So no wonder that FDR could not stand him. He behaved like a spoiled brat. His hauteur was ridiculous to an extreme, with no sense of proportion or judgment whatsoever. He suffered from it his whole life. Though a great statesman, De Gaulle was an Anglophobe, and behaved like a boorish idiot on many occasions. Who else in his right mind would have been so arrogant that on an official visit to Canada would say aloud "Vive Quebec Libre!" Only someone with a grossly exaggerated ego, and imagining to be the "symbol of France," that everyone would have to genuflect to.
JE comments: Next up, Nigel Jones's views on the FDR-De Gaulle relationship.
How about a comment or two from France? We are, after all, talking about De Gaulle.
By the by, greetings from the Miami International Airport.
- FDR and De Gaulle (Nigel Jones, UK 07/28/12 9:02 AM)
In response to JE's question of 27 July, FDR regarded De Gaulle--with some justification--as just a jumped-up General who had assumed the leadership of France with no democratic mandate whatsoever. He also was highly suspicious of De Gaulle's politics, regarding him as a potential fascist dictator. He probably also thought (wrongly) that he was a British puppet.
After Darlan's death, FDR switched his support to another French General, Giraud, who had escaped from a Nazi prison in Germany. But Giraud proved totally inept politically, and was easily outmanoeuvred and sidelined by De Gaulle, leaving the latter as undisputed leader of Free--by that time renamed "Fighting"--France.
I believe that FDR's hostility fuelled De Gaulle's later bitter Anti-Americanism (as seen in such acts as throwing US troops out of France in 1966), but he would have been anti-American anyway.
JE comments: Might we have put our finger on the origins of that durable stereotype of the last three generations--French anti-Americanism? (Disclaimer: I've never experienced this phenomenon myself.)
FDR and De Gaulle
(Anthony D`Amato, USA
07/29/12 5:25 PM)
De Gaulle had good reason to dislike Roosevelt, but FDR's hatred of De Gaulle was unjustified.
FDR knew absolutely nothing about De Gaulle's urging the French ministers to go into exile in Africa and govern the free French from there. If the ministers had accepted this idea, DeGaulle would be nothing but a one-star general. This shows that De G was not the egotist people say he was.
All FDR could see was that the ministers took up residence in Vichy where they had important municipal functions, like deciding what time to turn on the street lights. Puppet Vichy was more vicious toward French Jews than Hitler was toward German Jews--see the recent book by Richard Weisberg. The Vichy government's maintenance of law and order in Metropolitan France meant that German soldiers did not have to patrol the streets of France but rather were freed up to fight wars outside France. For these and other reasons, FDR had no business supporting Vichy. (The US did not recognize DeG's Fighting French till 1944.)
A screening of Casablanca was presented in the White House in December 1942. Although Bogart in the film changed his mind about the Free French, FDR didn't.
JE comments: Anthony D'Amato has taught me something: the US gave full diplomatic recognition to Vichy France. Although prior to the US being at war with Germany, I suppose this makes sense.
Post Unpublished - please check back later
- Was Churchill a War Criminal? Mers-el-Kebir (Istvan Simon, USA 07/27/12 3:38 AM)
I am afraid that I must once again disagree with my WAIS colleagues Nigel Jones and Anthony D'Amato.
There is an able summary of the circumstances of Mers-el-Kebir episode of World War II, for example, here:
In my opinion, the destruction of the French fleet at Mers-El-Kebir may have been a painful misunderstanding (see the account of the above reference), but it was neither a crime, and much less a blunder of Winston Churchill. The British decision was entirely justified under the circumstances. After all, D'Arlan had allegiance to a government that was collaborating with the Nazi enemy. It is a tragedy that Admiral D'Arlan was in charge, but he must be held responsible for the unfortunate outcome.
Commanders that sacrifice their men, when given the opportunity to surrender, or even take advantage of the generous offer of Churchill of taking the ships to a friendly port not under the danger of German takeover, are not wise--they are stupid. It is Hitler that was stupid at Stalingrad, not Field Marshal Paulus. The latter chose honorably to surrender and live, rather than kill himself and murder his men, as Hitler had ordered. Likewise, at Mers-El-Kebir, the stupid man was D'Arlan, who suffered the consequences of his stupidity.
JE comments: A question on the angry phase of Mers-el-Kebir: Anthony D'Amato (26 July) wrote that the British did not suffer a single casualty during the attack. Did the French not fire back?
(Cameron Sawyer, Russia
07/30/12 6:13 AM)
I agree with Istvan Simon's interpretation of Mers-el-Kebir (27 July) and would go further: preventing the French squadron from falling into Nazi hands was a military imperative. The French squadron--consisting of two battleships, two battlecruisers, and six destroyers--was a major strategic weapon which could have changed the balance of forces in the Mediterranean or North Atlantic. The crime and blunder would have been had Churchill or Gensoul failed to neutralize this force. The famous radiogram conversation between Gensoul and Darlan is one of those dramatic moments that make good reading in popular histories of the war. It reminds me a bit of the telegrammed misunderstandings between Kerensky and Kornilov--possible misunderstandings--which led to chaos in the Russian army, giving Lenin his chance.
But I really don't think that the outcome would have been different, without any misunderstanding. Darlan had many, many honorable opportunities to resolve the standoff, and the he should have understand that the British could never allow the fleet to escape, and could never simply take Darlan's word for it that he would keep the fleet out of German control, a promise which Darlan had no power to fulfill.
I have written before--I don't blame the French at all for giving up at the beginning of the war. War is generally pointless, and despite the unusually pronounced aspects of good and evil in WWII, it was still fundamentally pointless. But having given up your industrial capacity, your ports, military bases and your arsenals to your ally's enemy, what do you expect your ally to do? Is he not supposed to bomb your factories which are turning out weapons directed against his cities? Your ports which are being used to launch attacks against him? Is he supposed to stand by and allow your fleet, one of the most powerful in the world, to be taken over by your enemy to attack your navy?
I agree with Istvan on this point--100% of the blame for the tragedy must lie with Darlan's misjudgment of the situation. I cannot really imagine how anyone can blame Churchill for doing what was really the only possible thing to do. It was, I say again--a military imperative.
Now about De Gaulle. De Gaulle has a generally bad reputation for arrogance and impudence in popular histories. But I agree with Anthony D'Amato--this is a one-sided, distorted picture. It does not take into account what De Gaulle had to deal with in Churchill, or particularly, in Roosevelt, who indeed ignored De Gaulle for years while De Gaulle was engaged in an incredible struggle to put together a real fighting force against the Nazis, and who were maneuvering hard against De Gaulle throughout much of the conflict at the very same time they were supplying arms and--limited--intelligence. Here I cannot agree with Istvan, who blames De Gaulle for behaving as if "he had as many troops in the battle as the US or Britain." First of all, I cannot refrain from commenting on the irony of this logic, coming from Istvan, since Istvan has just so recently argued that the fact that the Soviets caused 95% of German casualties during the war and 85% of German battle deaths, and fielded something like 20 times as many troops (measured in division/months) as any of the other Allies, does not mean that the Soviets played "the most significant role in the war" (begging the question, what did play the major role in the war, then, if not military operations?). But more importantly*, it is not even true that the Free French did so much less fighting than the Brits or Americans--there were eventually more than a million Free French under arms, and they eventually managed to put about 10 divisions into the field. They played the major role in the liberation of France and were engaged in a lot of desperate fighting in North Africa and other places. Certainly, the military role of the Free French was closer in scale--in terms of divisions fighting over how many months, casualties incurred, casualties caused--to the scale of the British or American military role in the war, than was the scale of either the British or American military role was close to the Soviet one. I think that this--the minimization of the French role in the fighting--is another consequence of the persistent exaggeration of our own [US] role in WWII, and the persistent exaggeration of the importance of the operations we were engaged in.
But the story is even more complicated than that. Underlying the tension between De Gaulle and Churchill was also the little-told story about the struggle between Churchill and De Gaulle over French colonies and spheres of influence. The invasion of Syria and Lebanon by a combined British-Free French force in June, 1941 ("Operation Exporter") is so obscure that there is apparently not even a Wikipedia article on it (sorry, I'm wrong: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syria%E2%80%93Lebanon_Campaign ). But this was a fundamental event of the war. This was the moment during which relations between Churchill and De Gaulle finally broke down. And the details of this conflict reveal that Churchill was as much interested in building the post-war world, as he was in defeating the Nazis**. But Churchill's vision of the post-war world was quite different from De Gaulle's, although both of these visions shared the common feature of an exaggerated vision of the importance of colonies.
So there was a fundamental conflict of interest between De Gaulle and the other Western Allies. De Gaulle fought as hard as he could to preserve the French place in the world which would follow the war, and it is entirely understandable that he would want to do so. Likewise, it is understandable that Churchill and Roosevelt would consider De Gaulle a "pain in the butt" (in Istvan's phrase), unwilling to accept Anglo-American domination of former French spheres of influence like Syria and Lebanon. And so once again we are mislead by popular histories of the war which overemphasize personalities, and which try to make coherent, simplified stories out of complex historical events. And so once again, a complicated--and significant!--geopolitical situation gets simply wiped out of our consciousness with a trite and satisfying mythology about De Gaulle's arrogance and ungratefulness. Once again, popular history is not necessarily history, and is often anti-history.
I regret that I know very little about De Gaulle and the Free French, which must be one of the most interesting aspects of WWII. The problem is language. Although my mother was a French linguist, I cannot read the language at more than a third-grade level. For the German point of view on WWII I read German writers in German. For the Soviet point of view, Russian. But I cannot read French, and so must rely on our interpretation of the French point of view on the war, an interpretation which I fundamentally distrust.
*"More importantly" because the fact that Istvan uttered Proposition "A," which was wrong, and which is logically inconsistent with another utterance of Istvan's, let's call it Proposition "B," does not prove that Proposition "B" is false; in fact it is not even relevant to the truth or falsity of Proposition B. So I point this out for mere entertainment value, not that it proves anything at all.
**And again I hasten to say that I don't blame Churchill at all for this--why should he have sent British troops to the slaughter when the Russians were willing to do the heavy lifting? It was the correct approach, and I would have done the same in his place.
- Churchill's "Demerits" (Alain de Benoist, France 07/29/12 5:43 AM)
Nigel Jones wrote on 26 July: "I am extremely surprised that Alain de Benoist brings up Churchill's record as an imperialist and colonialist, criticising him for his role in bombing Iraqis, given France's own lamentable and lengthy record of...ahem...imperialism and colonialism."
This is one of the strangest arguments I have ever seen. Does Nigel believe I am not aware of France's own record of imperialism and colonialism? The history of colonialism is everywhere full of bright pages and very dark pages. I have in my library more than 100 books about the dark pages of French colonialism (black Africa, Algeria, Indochina, etc.). So what? Does Nigel also believe that what one's own country has done in the past disqualifies one from criticizing the past of the other countries? As for myself, I would never have the idea of telling Nigel not to criticize French colonialism because of the sufferings of the Irish people under British rule. Actually, I think that a willingness to criticize the faults and crimes of your own country is the first condition for criticizing the faults and crimes of the others. If Nigel thinks otherwise, this is very significant.
Nigel added: "At least Britain relinquished its Empire voluntarily and largely bloodlessly." Really? What about the fight of the Irish people for independence after centuries of abominable sufferings under British rule and domination?
Nigel also wrote: "I'm somewhat surprised that in his litany of Churchillian crimes, Alain has not mentioned what may be considered his greatest crime against France: viz. his destruction of the French naval squadron at Mers-el-Kebir outside Oran in Algeria in July 1940, ostensibly to prevent if from falling into Hitler's hands. Some 1,500 French sailors died in this unnecessary attack."
Yes, I could have said something about Mers-el-Kebir. But I do not have the time to write about everything, and my intent was not to list a "litany of Churchillian crimes." Actually, I would have had a good personal reason to speak about Mers-el-Kebir because my uncle, my mother's brother, was one of the French sailors who was aboard of one the ships bombed by the RAF in July 1940. He was lucky enough to escape alive, but I must admit that for the rest of his life (he is dead now) he did not harbor happy memories of England...
At that time, my cousin Louis de Benoist (1882-1957), who was the director and administrator of the Company of Suez Canal, was also the president of the National Committee for Free French in Egypt. In May 1941, he became the general representative of General de Gaulle in Egypt. General de Gaulle speaks many times about him in his Memoirs. Louis de Benoist was of great help for the Allied troops, and founded several centers to assist the wounded soldiers. He was himself the son of the General Jules de Benoist (1842-1904), whose two brothers, Henri de Benoist and Paul de Benoist, were also generals. His great-father, Louis-Victor de Benoist (1815-1896) was a Bonapartist deputy of the Meuse in the French Parliament.
This leads me to answer to John Eipper, who wrote: "I would like to hear Alain de Benoist's appraisal of De Gaulle."
I have a great admiration for General de Gaulle. In my opinion, he was the greatest French statesmen of the 20th century, and he is still considered as such by most French people from the Right as well as from the Left. I especially admire his foreign policy, which I consider to be still an example for continental European peoples.
Like Churchill, De Gaulle was not a saint, but he was certainly not an "Anglophobe," contrarily to what Nigel Jones and Istvan Simon said. In England and the US, where Francophobia is rampant (today it is even easier to buy a machine gun in the US than to buy French foie gras in California!), the will to be independent of the Anglosphere, or simply to be an ally without being a vassal, is sufficient to be considered an "Anglophobe." Though hundreds of books have been published about de Gaulle and Gaullism, I am afraid that a country where such an incredible idiot like Mitt Romney can seriously be considered as a candidate for the presidency, will never be able to understand who and what General de Gaulle was.
Bottom line: Istvan Simon wrote on 28 July: "If Alain would be just a tad more humble, he might learn that there are important things that one learn in competitive sports." Once again, a very strange argument (and an unWAIS attack ad hominem). Did I ever say that competitive sports are useless, or uninteresting? I just say that, in my opinion, the role of the Universities is not to become sport centers. Instead of subsidizing sport activities, Universities would be better inspired to help financially their University Presses (almost all valuable books published in the US are published by the UPs). Moreover, I do not accept lessons of "humility" given by Istvan Simon, who has certainly great qualities, but is anything but humble himself.
JE comments: It's appropriate to issue a WAISly appeal from time to time to avoid ad hominems and tu quoque arguments. I excise most of the ones that come across my desk, but only the Pope, they say, is infallible. (One might observe that my friend Alain de Benoist is guilty of an ad hominem against the entire United States, when he questions the ability of a nation that would embrace Romney to understand the nuances of De Gaulle's politics and foreign policy. We may disagree with Romney; we may despise him. But I see him as anything but an idiot.)
I would like to learn more about Romney's image in France, as he would be the first US president to have lived there since...Jefferson? Granted, I doubt the French are tolerant of Mormon missionaries. But there must be a grudging acknowledgement that Romney at least speaks the language.
Finally, my thanks to Alain for telling us about his illustrious relatives. I find this kind of information fascinating. In fact, I wish WAISers would show less humility when talking about their ancestors.
Churchill's "Demerits"; on Ad Hominem Arguments
(Istvan Simon, USA
07/30/12 7:07 PM)
Alain de Benoist wrote on 29 July:
"I have a great admiration for General de Gaulle. In my opinion, he was the greatest French statesmen of the 20th century, and he is still considered as such by most French people from the Right as well as from the Left. I especially admire his foreign policy, which I consider to be still an example for continental European peoples.
"Like Churchill, De Gaulle was not a saint, but he was certainly not an "Anglophobe," contrarily to what Nigel Jones and Istvan Simon said. In England and the US, where Francophobia is rampant (today it is even easier to buy a machine gun in the US than to buy French foie gras in California!), the will to be independent of the Anglosphere, or simply to be an ally without being a vassal, is sufficient to be considered an "Anglophobe." Though hundreds of books have been published about de Gaulle and Gaullism, I am afraid that a country where such an incredible idiot like Mitt Romney can seriously be considered as a candidate for the presidency, will never be able to understand who and what General de Gaulle was.
"Bottom line: Istvan Simon wrote on 28 July: 'If Alain would be just a tad more humble, he might learn that there are important things that one learn in competitive sports.' Once again, a very strange argument (and an unWAIS attack ad hominem). Did I ever say that competitive sports are useless, or uninteresting? [...] Moreover, I do not accept lessons of 'humility' given by Istvan Simon, who has certainly great qualities, but is anything but humble himself."
(Istvan Simon): Alain is entitled to think that I am perhaps even less humble than he is. For contrary to Alain, I do not consider that remark about my supposed lack of humility as a personal attack on me, much less as being un-WAIS and ad hominem, as he accuses me of doing.
I have to insist that my argument was not ad hominem. It was a valid criticism of Alain's opinions, not his person, opinions which exhibit a consistent pattern of anti-American statements, which he has made so often on this Forum. I would have made exactly the same criticism of anyone that engaged in the same pattern of argument as Alain has. Therefore, it follows logically that what I said was not ad hominem, but was directed at the arguments that he was advancing.
I don't want to belabor the point, but here is an excellent discussion of what ad hominem is:
Now in his last sentence of the second paragraph of Alain's words that I quoted above, he confirms once again, what I just said above.
I may even agree with Alain about the qualities or (lack of) of Mitt Romney. But his comment goes well beyond an appraisal of an American politician, and is the essence of the difference between Alain de Benoist and myself. In this sentence, as in so many others that he has written in this Forum, Alain is profoundly disrespectful of not just Mitt Romney, but the United States and its people more generally.
Alain is entitled to any opinion whatsoever, about any subject, including the United States and its people. But this privilege is not his alone.
We Americans may perhaps not be as sophisticated or as learned as Alain is. But we are not simpletons, and Alain is not entitled to make such a disrespectful comment about the United States as a whole and our customs and institutions. I, as an American citizen, feel insulted by such a disrespectful comment, even if I were to agree with him about the intellectual abilities of Mitt Romney in particular. We are also entitled to our opinions, and we are allowed to respond. Alain is not above criticism nor immune from criticism in this forum. Nor is such criticism necessarily un-WAIS or ad hominem.
JE comments: I have published Istvan Simon's note verbatim, as he asked me to do. At this point, I hope we can all calm down and remember that nobody agrees with everything posted on WAIS. Alain de Benoist is a harsh critic of US institutions, especially our political ones. But there is space for this type of discourse on WAIS, just as there is room for harsh criticism of the records of other nations--France, Iran, Israel, Russia, Germany...and why not Colombia? I just ask that we keep our criticism as civil as possible--and let's redouble our efforts to avoid insulting other WAISers.
Romney and De Gaulle
07/31/12 4:47 AM)
I have a strong feeling that we are witnessing the extraordinary marriage of an "incredible idiot," in Alain's characterization of Romney, to the quintessential pomposity of an egocentric hero in Gilbert and Sullivan, as some might view De Gaulle. What is truly exciting is that the two best men at the wedding are both models of modesty and humility. Where else but in the august company of WAIS would such a triumphant combination be possible?
I continue to have the highest regard for Istvan Simon and Alain de Benoist, and am fully persuaded of the accuracy of the designation of Romney. Only he could get the Prime Minister of England to put the City of the Great Salt Lake in acid perspective. But I'm afraid his comment was Ad Lakinem, a matter which we should probably call to the Queen's attention.
All the best, and keep up your continually illuminating comments.
JE comments: I'm always honored to hear from Herb Abrams, and if "continually illuminating comments" is a reference to my humble editing efforts, I'm doubly honored.
Argumentation ad lakinem--I like that one. We Michiganders resent the usurpation of "Great" by those upstart Utahns when characterizing their lake, which is tiny by comparison. So how about this ad lakinem insult: "Hey Salties: we've got five of 'em, plus a Gordon Lightfoot song, and they're all as fresh as can be!"
(I know, only four of the Great Lakes actually touch the shores of Michigan.)
- On Ad Hominem Arguments and Anti-Americanism (Alain de Benoist, France 08/01/12 3:29 AM)
Istvan Simon (30 July) wrote that, as an American, he felt himself "insulted" because I said (29 July) that "a country where such an incredible idiot like Mitt Romney can seriously be considered as a candidate for the presidency, will never be able to understand who and what General de Gaulle was."
If this is true, Istvan deserve my most sincere apologies. I did not want to insult him, nor any other individual American. My sentence was probably quickly written and could be judged excessive, but there was no intent to insult anyone. Personally, I would not feel myself insulted by somebody who would say, for instance, that he cannot have a great idea of a country which elected Nicolas Sarkozy for president. I would rather smile--and agree with him or her. It may be that I do not identify myself with my own country as much as Istvan identifies with his own.
Istvan is right to say that I often criticize the US, but I do not think that my criticism can be interpreted as an attack ad hominem. Related to a country, such expression makes no sense. Istvan writes that I am "not entitled to make disrespectful comments about the United States as a whole and our customs and institutions." Really? Why not ? It seems to me that many WAISers are used to bashing other countries and cultures while thinking that America is exceptional. In what sense? Why should America "respected" more than any other country? For me, criticism of the US is as legitimate as criticism of France, Germany, China, Russia, Iran, Israel or any other country. I disagree with American politics for political and geopolitical reasons. I disagree with what is frequently called American "ideology" for philosophical reasons. These reasons correspond to my opinions and can in turn be criticized as well. Here Istvan is also quite right, when he says that "Alain is not above criticism nor immune from criticism in this forum." This is true for me, for Istvan, and for any WAISer too.
My criticism is never directed against the American people as such, and should not taken as such. I have many American friends, and I am proud of their friendship. I hope they are proud of mine. Moreover, I am allergic to any kind of phobia. To criticize the US does not make me an "Americanophobe." To the contrary, I have also said clearly and more than once that there many things which I like very much in America. I certainly would not like to live in America, but I am not particularly pleased to live in France either. If I had the possibility, I would like very much to live elsewhere.
Disagreements are not only unavoidable, but (in my opinion) necessary on WAIS. As for myself, I would not be interested in a forum where people chat only about cars, sports, tourism, music, Olympic games, the articles and books they are so proud to have published (something I never do--though, for Istvan I am not "humble" enough!) and so on. There are other places for that. And I have no time for that. I am rather interested in a forum where people can exchange opposite opinions and present contradictory information. I think it is a pity that many WAISers express opinions which seem to reflect only what they have seen on mainstream TV channels or read in big newspapers. I wonder how many of them have alternative sources of information. I like disagreement, because it is only disagreement that can teach something to us.
Except me and a few others*, there is not much criticism of the US on WAIS. This is after all quite normal as WAIS is US-based, while most WAISers are close to America through different ways or channels. In my opinion, this is a supplementary reason for dissent. It is no mystery that the US is today criticized strongly throughout the world. To interpret this criticism as "anti-Americanism" is too easy, because such a term does not mean much. It would be much more interesting to discuss the reasons for this criticism, and to try to understand that these views are not to be explained just by stupidity, stubbornness, envy, jealousy, madness or perversity. A good exercise could be to say what each of us dislike in his/her own country.
One of the differences between Europe and America seems to me (I may be wrong) that the differences between Americans are mainly of socio-economic nature (level of incomes, wealth, etc.), while in Europe there are also very big political, philosophical and ideological differences. Being in favor of Romney or in favor of Obama makes no real difference; it's just a question of petty politics and petty journalism. The vast majority of Americans do not question the Constitution, the American system, the Founding Fathers, capitalism, the commercial way of life, etc. In a way, it is an strong advantage for the cohesion of the social body. It also explains the extraordinary stability and continuity of the American political system. In Europe, due probably to a much longer history, such a consensus just does not exist. Considering more than 2,000 or 3,000 years of history, there are a multitude of historical and political references which continue to deeply divide the opinions. When French people speak about France, for instance, some of them think to the Ancient Regime, others to the French Revolution, some to Jean Jaurès and the Commune, others to Clovis and Joan of Arc, etc.
I would like to stress also that I am often in complete disagreement with Istvan (though not always), but I always I read his posts with much interest because they always bring something to think about. This is not so common, unfortunately.
Bottom line: Mitt Romney said recently, while he was in Israel, that he would be ready to support a unilateral military Israeli aggression against Iran. This is for me a confirmation that he is politically an idiot (and this has nothing to do with what one can think about the Iranian regime. I'm just consider here the consequences of such an intervention).
* I think particularly of Jon Kofas, who seems to have disappeared from WAIS some time ago. Where are you, Jon, when we would need your comments about what is going on now in Greece?
JE comments: Disagreement is the lifeblood of WAIS, as Ronald Hilton said so many times. This is one of the reasons he intentionally assembled a group of correspondents who represent so many nations and political views.
I think Alain de Benoist's proposal is a healthy one: what do you dislike about your own country, and why? I'm going to think about this assignment throughout the day. Now, I must leave for the conference. I present a paper in a little over an hour.
On Ad Hominem Arguments and Anti-Americanism
(Istvan Simon, USA
08/02/12 6:21 PM)
I thank Alain de Benoist (1 August) for his frank post about these issues. I have no personal animosity towards Alain and I do not think he has any personal animosity towards me. But I want to remind Alain of a few things, regarding the United States and its people.
I am an American citizen. But I was not born in this country, as Alain knows. I was born in Hungary, and raised in Brazil. It was only as an adult that I ever came to the United States. I love all three countries with which I am associated. And actually, I also love Britain, where my first son was born. He was born in Cambridge, England, where I spent an entire year in 1983.
I love Hungary, where I was born and where I lived the first 10 years of my life. I love Brazil, which received us generously, and where I grew up. I love Britain, because I perceive certain qualities in the British which can be found no place else. But no country I love more than I love the United States.
Since Alain dislikes the United States, for geopolitical and other reasons, it must be hard for Alain to understand why I would love so much a country that he dislikes. So I will try to answer this question that Alain did not ask.
I love the United States, first of all, because it is the best country I have ever lived in. This has nothing at all to do with American exceptionalism, or anything of the sort. I do not think that the United States is exceptional in the sense of those who coined that term. So Alain and I are of the same mind on that particular issue.
But I will tell Alain and the rest of WAIS a little true story, that happened just a few weeks ago. It illuminates just one little reason why I love this country. There are many many others.
I applied for Social Security benefits a couple of weeks ago. I went to the Social Security office nearby, in Hayward, California. There I was interviewed by a Ms. Florez, who took my statement. Ms. Florez asked me a number of questions about what is relevant to the law, for my Social Security payments to be started. At the end of the interview, Ms Florez showed me what she had entered in her computer. She asked me if it was true. I said yes. I started receiving my Social Security check about 4 weeks later.
While I was being interviewed, there was another gentleman being interviewed at the next table, so I could hear everything he was saying and being asked. The other gentleman it seems, had applied for disability benefits. He said that he could stand just for a few minutes without pain. They asked him, can he cook? He said only things like Campbell's Soup. He was asked, what he enjoyed doing when he wanted to relax. He said he enjoyed playing a little basketball.
Form what I overheard, I thought that maybe the disability of this gentleman was not genuine. I can't guarantee it, after all I know nothing about him, but I thought if he can only cook Campbell's Soup, because otherwise his neck hurts, how can he play basketball to relax? Yet he was not shouted at; the Social Security employee wrote into his computer all the answers he was giving, and he was treated with the same respect as I myself was being treated.
I cannot imagine this happening in Hungary, or Brazil. Maybe in England, it could also happen. Certainly not in Russia. Certainly not in China. This is one little reason why I love this country more than I love Hungary or Brazil.
I was not insulted because Alain made a disrespectful comment about Mitt Romney. I was insulted, because he then generalized that to the entire United States, saying that a country where such an imbecile could run for President, could never understand the greatness of De Gaulle. It is this last part, that I found profoundly offensive. I accept Alain's apology and that no insult was intended.
I do not think that Alain ever said anything ad hominem in this Forum. I never accused him of that. Of course, Mitt Romney might say that calling him an idiot was kind of an ad hominem. If my questioning of Alain's humility was ad hominem, then certainly his answer pointing out my lack of humility, was also. Or, if he now accepts that what I had written was not ad hominem, I already acknowledged in my previous post, that I did not consider his questioning of my humility ad hominem either.
Alain asks why he can't criticize the United States. My answer is that he can criticize it all he wants. I did not object to his criticisms of the United States, some of which is true, and some of which is a perfectly legitimate and valid criticism. What I object to is not one particular criticism, but a pattern where so far as I can tell, Alain never said anything positive about the United States in the 8 years that I have been reading and participating in this Forum. He says:
"To the contrary, I have also said clearly and more than once that there many things which I like very much in America."
I dispute this. I cannot recall a single post in which Alain said something positive about the United States.
Alain asked what each of us does not like about our country. I will answer. But in turn I ask him a long enough post, in as much detail as he has done over the years with his critical remarks, what he loves about the United States.
I recall one day in 1983, sitting in Béla Bollobás's home, in Cambridge, England, where my first wife and I had been invited for dinner. Béla Bollobás is a world-famous mathematician, and also a wonderful friend of mine. His wife Gabriella, (Gabi), is a talented sculptor. I love both of them as dear friends.
Rudolf Halin, a German mathematician, had also been invited, and he was also at the dinner table. There were also a couple of other guests. The conversation turned to comments about various mathematicians. Gabi, who has a wonderful sunny and kind personality, was saying about somebody, I do not recall who the person was, how wonderful they were. She described several people in these glowing terms. This irritated Rudolf Halin, who then folded his napkin several times, until it was a tiny little triangle, and said to Gabriella (Gabi) in a dour irritated tone, in his heavily accented English: "Wonderful, wonderful! Write down on this little piece of paper, all the names of the people that you do not like."
I am sorry for my reaction, because I found this so funny that I burst out in laughter. But I was also embarrassed by my laughter, because it put poor Gabi, the hostess of our dinner, in a non-complimentary light, and I love Gabi. Halin had been certainly rude to say something like that to the person hosting his dinner.
I leave the relationship of this little true humorous tale to this post unsaid.
JE comments: This is only tangential to Istvan Simon's post, but I must ask him: why have there been so many outstanding Hungarian mathematicians? Bollobás, Kemeny, Erdos, Simon--and these are just the names that come to the top of my head. (I may have asked Istvan this question years ago, but it bears repeating.)
Bollobás's "Erdos number," by the way, is 1.
Why Are There So Many Hungarian Mathematicians?
(Istvan Simon, USA
08/03/12 5:35 PM)
JE asked on 2 August why I think there are so many exceptional Hungarian mathematicians. The answer is easy.
But first I want to add a few names to his list: Szemeredi, Lovasz, Ajtai, Komlos, Babai, Posa, Sos-Turan, Tarjan (Nevalina Prize), Renyi, Polya, Szego, Rado, Halmos, von Neumann, Egervary, Konig, Menger, Fejer, Turan, etc. John was kind to include me on this list, or he may have meant my brother Imre, who would deserve the honor better than me--I certainly do not belong in such august company.
John mentions that Bollobas's Erdos number is 1, but he may just as well have said that mine is 2 (because I wrote several papers with Bela). Szemeredi appears first in the list of the still-alive mathematicians, because he is certainly the best of the crop. Tarjan signed my PhD thesis. Erdos has said on many occasions that Szemeredi should have received the Fields Medal, and I agree. He is a genius. (I met Szemeredi, by the way, in 1973 or 1974, if memory serves me right, when he spent about six months at Stanford.)
There are two reasons for this fabulous list of first-rate mathematicians that this tiny country has produced. The first reason was Erdos. He nurtured talent. As soon as he became aware of a budding genius, a prodigy, he would visit the child's home, and ask him some mathematical questions to test him. He would encourage them, as they grew older, and propose problems to them that were genuine research results, if solved. So all the younger ones, in the above list, were to some extent Erdos's "children." The other reason for Hungary's success is a little high school publication in Hungary, called Matematikai Lapok (Meaning Mathematical Pages), where challenging problems are published, and from Middle School on, kids are encouraged to solve these problems, and send in their solutions, and receive a prize if they solved more problems than others over a year. All the Hungarians still alive, with the exception of Tarjan, who grew up in the United States, are graduates of the Matematikai Lapok problems.
JE comments: I hope Istvan will forgive me for removing the diacritical marks in the Hungarian--it makes for a cleaner, if less accurate, posting.
I never knew about Erdos's monumental contribution to nurturing mathematical talent. He is a titan, to be sure. But might there be something to my own theory, that since Hungarian is such a frighteningly difficult language, it prepares the brain for solving complex math problems?
(Istvan: I'm no mathematician, but since I've commented many of your WAIS posts, doesn't this give me an Erdos number of...3?)
- On Ad Hominem Arguments and Anti-Americanism (Francisco Ramirez, USA 08/02/12 6:47 PM)
Amen to Alain de Benoist's post of 1 August.
WAIS is not the Rotary Club.
JE comments: Yes, we are not the Rotary Club, but allow me to put a good word in for the Rotarians. They provided a modest college scholarship for yours truly many years ago, and they continue to sponsor international study experiences for thousands of young people. The Rotary Club may not be WAIS, but it is nurturing WAISers of the future!
- Reflections on Churchill (Istvan Simon, USA 07/26/12 3:39 AM)
I agree with Alain de Benoist (25 July) that Winston Churchill was no saint, but then again, not one of his many admirers on this Forum, of which I am certainly one, has ever said that he was.
On the other hand, in my considered judgement Winston Churchill was a decent man, not a bloodthirsty maniac, as Hitler and Stalin were.
I believe that David Pike has already correctly addressed some of the "truths" that Alain brought up in his thoughts on Churchill. David asked Cameron Sawyer what he would have done in Churchill's place when he instructed "Bomber" Harris to bomb Dresden to smithereens.
It is easy to be a "great humanitarian" when one does not have the responsibility that Winston Churchill had on his shoulders, and be sympathetic to the tens of thousands of Germans that were incinerated in the bombing of Dresden. It is a lot harder to actually make those decisions at the time when they were made.
There is no contradiction at all between my judgement made above, that Winston Churchill was a decent man, contrary to Hitler and Stalin who were not, and Churchill's decision to incinerate the women and children of Dresden. As human beings, we all lament the regrettable deaths of those innocent German women and children. But in war, nice guys do not win. It follows that the alternative to Dresden was Auschwitz.
JE comments: We've discussed the Dresden firebombing before. Cameron Sawyer some time ago convinced me that it was not a military necessity, as the German defeat was already a certainty by February 1945. When we were in Dresden earlier this month, I was troubled to realize that for the first time in my life, I was in a city my country had intentionally destroyed. (I've never visited Japan.) Dresden itself has been beautifully restored, to the point where you'd never know a war had taken place, but this does not erase the human suffering.
Maybe our indefatigable archivist, Bienvenido Macario, could unearth the reference to Cameron's post.
A question for the floor: who actually made the decision to destroy Dresden? Was it Churchill himself? How much of this decision was influenced by the need to show the USSR some Anglo-American ruthlessness?
- Churchill and Chamberlain (Anthony D`Amato, USA 07/18/12 1:20 AM)
Nigel Jones's reply (17 July) to my post about Chamberlain should be copied, framed, and hung in one's living room. It is an absolutely peerless example of sound and fury, of dancing all around the key issue without ever confronting it, of filibustering, of signifying nothing. (Aside to John Eipper: how could you say that his post was "damning evidence"? It wasn't any evidence at all!)
Mr. Jones would have us believe that because Chamberlain was a weak character, with no friends, who hated war rather than exulting in it, who tried growing sisal and failed, a "pinhead" according to Lloyd George, he must have been colossally ignorant in foreign affairs. Moreover the wretch had a "reedy voice," wore outmoded wing collars, and carried (horrors!) an umbrella. To conclude, Mr. Jones writes, he (Mr. Jones) stood in the room where the Munich agreement was signed. I'm sure he wasn't channeling Chamberlain as he stood there, for as far as I know, Chamberlain and the other delegates were sitting down when they signed the papers that would befuddle Hitler.
My thesis is that Chamberlain postponed World War II by twelve months by "appeasing" Hitler (there was no actual appeasement, JE; Hitler was outfoxed), which gave Britain enough time to build aircraft to the point when they were barely able to stop Goering's onslaught in the summer of 1940. It was Spitfires and Hawker Hurricanes that shot down Messerschmitts, not Churchill's soaring rhetoric. (Plus credit to the incredible women radio operators at Bletchley Park who could keep track of all the aircraft in the sky.)
Whatever physical characteristics Chamberlain had or lacked, he was able to compare England's statistics of aircraft production against Germany's, find two parabolic curves with Germany's closer to the origin while Great Britain's started later but had a sharper upward trajectory until it met the German curve. (Whether he did this inside his pinhead or on paper is not known.) My thesis--that Chamberlain saved Great Britain from being bombed into submission in the summer of 1940--remains unscathed in the light of Mr. Jones's scathing irrelevancies.
JE comments: I'll stand duly chided for my "damning evidence" remark, but to respond to Anthony D'Amato, is there any evidence (beyond increased British aircraft production) that Chamberlain was actually aware he was "outfoxing" Hitler?
Churchill and Chamberlain; Response to Anthony D'Amato
(Nigel Jones, UK
07/18/12 12:29 PM)
Anthony D'Amato (18 July) misrepresents me. I did not say that Chamberlain was "weak" and "had no friends." On the contrary, he was--like many vain politicians--incredibly strong and stubborn in pursuit of his totally misguided policy and his friends were legion: Appeasement was supported by a majority in his party right up to Chamberlain's final collapse and resignation after the Norway debate in May 1940.
Anthony's post leaves my refutation of his "thesis" untouched. He merely re-states his contention that Munich brought time for the RAF to build up its stock of fighter aircraft that later won the Battle of Britain. I do not dispute this--indeed I said as much in my post--but that was not what Chamberlain was thinking about when he signed the Munich capitulation. He had made the fundamental misjudgement of trusting Hitler, and in his colossal vanity he seriously thought that Munich had brought peace. It is for this that posterity has rightly damned him.
As for the other attributes of Chamberlain that I highlighted--the reedy voice, winged collar and umbrella--this was for a purpose. Our modern age recognises that "Image" is crucial for a politician, even more for a war leader, and Chamberlain's clothes, props and general "Image" were those of a provincial funeral director--not an inspiring war leader.
Churchill recognised the importance of such PR props--hence the siren suits, helmets, eccentric uniforms, cigars, V-sign etc. They helped to create the image of a strong, determined war leader, attracted allies and re-assured his people. Chamberlain's image, like everything else about him, was not right for the "times that try men's souls."
Abandoning appeasement, one of Chamberlain's former colleagues, Leo Amery, quoted to him the words of Oliver Cromwell in dismissing the Rump Parliament. They bear repeating: "You have sat here too long for any good you have been doing--depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, Go!" Reluctantly, he went.
Chamberlain's reputation is so low that even his Birmingham birthplace has no memorial to him, though it honours other members of his distinguished family. Posterity has made up its mind about him, and rightly so. Anthony D'Amato's efforts to retrieve the lost reputation of this well-meaning though futile man are, sadly, in vain.
Churchill and Chamberlain: What's It All About?
(Anthony D`Amato, USA
07/19/12 6:58 AM)
This is in response to the recent postings of Nigel Jones, Istvan Simon, and Cameron Sawyer:
I am not an "apologist" for Chamberlain. I don't care how history treats him. I don't care if our image of the man should or shouldn't be revised. Heck, I'm not even a historian.
Nigel Jones believes the determining factor is whether Chamberlain "intended" either to outfox Hitler or appease him. As a lawyer and a Wittgensteinian, I doubt that we can ever know anyone's intent. I side with Judge Hutchinson, an American judge of decades ago, who said that after thirty years on the bench scrutinizing witnesses, he still has no idea whether a given witness is lying or telling the truth.
What I am interested in, if that makes any difference to anyone, is making sense of the world I am briefly inhabiting. What is time?" What is space? Indeed we should ask "what is spacetime?" History gives us many stories about our past; are those stories true? Was the American revolution all about liberty or all about property? Did Oswald shoot Kennedy? (Clearly he did not.) Was 9/11 really the work of Arab terrorists? Can we believe what we see on television? (I'll never forget what they saw on television in the movie "The Running Man," which I heartily recommend). How could millions of people believe that President Reagan's "star wars" was a technology to fire laser beams at oncoming missiles dissolving them in mid-air, instead of a gigantic government boondoggle? How can a billion Muslim women believe that they are inferior to men? All religions tell us stories that seem to explain the world, even when--or especially when--the explanation is preposterous. How much of what we think we know are "fairy tales"? To close the circle, Istvan accuses me of starting a "fairy tale" about Chamberlain. (But Cameron Sawyer sees some merit in my reasoning. Maybe, as we lawyers say, it's a quasi-fairy tale.)
Does anyone remember the song, "What's it all about, Alfie?" Exit music for this post.
JE comments: Burt Bacharach, 1966. A minor hit. I'm tempted to raise this question: if Chamberlain had a theme song, what it would be? My vote: the Bee Gees, "How Do You Mend a Broken Heart":
...How can you mend this broken man?
How can a loser ever win?...
(WAISers may ask: what manner of abomination is this? Didn't JE promise not to post anything until Friday morning, 20 July? Well, we're stuck in a longer-than-anticipated layover at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, so...why not WAIS?)
Churchill and Chamberlain: What's It All About?
(Paul Preston, UK
07/20/12 6:37 AM)
I rarely agree with Nigel Jones and I almost always agree with David Pike. In this case, I am utterly in agreement with Nigel's splendid posting on Chamberlain, and David's subsequent endorsement thereof. I firmly believe that, in addition to a perfectly legitimate and understandable dread of another war, Chamberlain (and Baldwin before him) let their ideological prejudices take priority over Britain's strategic interests. This was seen by both Eden (who shared their horror of war) and Churchill.
Pace Anthony D'Amato (19 July), I think it is both legitimate and indeed obligatory for historians of policy to try to fathom motive and intent.
As for a theme tune for Chamberlain, my suggestion would be either George Formby's "I'm Leaning on a Lamp-post" or Otis Redding's "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay."
JE comments: I'm enjoying this theme song exercise. How about songs for Churchill? Von Ribbentrop? Hitler and Stalin are too evil to warrant any song at all.
Churchill and Chamberlain: What's It All About?
(Cameron Sawyer, Russia
07/20/12 2:45 PM)
I agree with Paul Preston (20 July) that the intention of historical actors is relevant and important. So if we knew what Chamberlain had in mind when he signed up to the Munich Agreement, it would help us to understand whether there is anything to Anthony D'Amato's theory that Chamberlain was buying time to prepare for a fight with Hitler. Anthony's thesis itself comprehends Chamberlain's intention.
I continue to be uncomfortable, however, with explanations of those events which are so personalized--which hinge on Chamberlain's being a "pinhead," a "frightened rabbit," etc. (See Nigel Jones's recent posts.) These are not historical facts. These are, rather, the elements of literary dramatizations of history (in which Churchill excelled), or indeed of fairy tales. I cannot say strongly enough how important it is to separate history itself from literary dramatizations of it--these are two entirely different things.
We might as well write: "Once upon a time, the pinhead frightened rabbit Chamberlain gave away the store at Munich, selling the Czechs down the river, because he thought that if he was really really nice to that bad man Hitler, Hitler would be nice back, and wouldn't attack Britain, and we could live happily ever after in peace in our time. But that frightened rabbit Chamberlain just didn't get it--he was such a pinhead that he just didn't understand that by being nice to that mean old Hitler would never have the effect of mean old Hitler being nice back, because that mean old Hitler was just not capable of being nice. So all of the frightened rabbit's gestures of niceness were in vain, and instead of bringing peace in our time, he put Britain in even more danger of war--stupid, stupid rabbit. Fortunately, the great genius Churchill was waiting in the wings to take over and save the world from that bad man Hitler."
That is really in a nutshell what comes down to us about Chamberlain. In that form, it's not history--it's a fairytale, which may or may not be a fair synthesis of what really happened. And Anthony was right that Nigel's very elegantly written defense of the conventional wisdom about Chamberlain doesn't tell us much more than the fairytale version. I would be much more interested in discussing those concrete policy initiatives which Chamberlain either pushed or resisted, with concrete facts to back up these lofty themes. Did Chamberlain try to cut the budget allocation for Spitfire construction in 1938? Now that would be more concrete, and thus, more interesting.
Did Churchill Paint Chamberlain as a Villain?
(Istvan Simon, USA
07/22/12 2:00 PM)
I am afraid that once again I cannot agree with Cameron Sawyer (20 and 22 July) when he describes Churchill as excelling in the "dramatization" of history, or engaging in a "fairy tale."
In my opinion, Churchill does not over-dramatize history. The events that he wrote about were dramatic enough. Furthermore, he was intelligent enough to realize that no author, no matter how prestigious, can write false history that will endure forever, because later historians will set the record straight. Thus the charge that Churchill wrote simply to vindicate himself, though to some extent is applicable to every author, and therefore to Churchill as well, is by itself an unfair distortion of Churchill's historical work.
Churchill has been dead for 47 years, and yet his reputation as a historian is intact. No better recommendation can be given than this fact, or that his version of the events has been now endorsed in WAIS by some of the most distinguished professional historians on this Forum.
I also challenge Cameron to quote one disrespectful characterization of Chamberlain by Churchill in his magnificent book on the Second World War. It is true that Churchill said on the occasion of Chamberlain's triumphant return from Munich that the Munich pact was dishonorable and will not achieve either objective, neither honor nor peace. I would like to quote from the speeches of both Churchill and Chamberlain to Parliament immediately after Chamberlain returned from Munich. It is absolutely evident from these speeches and subsequent events that Churchill was right and Chamberlain was wrong. But I don't have time right now to do so, and this has been a fast-moving exchange, with responses since from Paul Preston, and again Cameron.
Cameron says in his latest post that Churchill saw Chamberlain as a villain. This is simply false. Cameron should re-read Churchill and will immediately realize that his description is at odds at what Churchill wrote about Chamberlain.
In fact, Churchill praises Chamberlain, and his acts after he became Prime Minsiter, and not once he refers to him as a villain. He never attacked Chamberlain personally in his book; he attacked his short-sighted policies, and in my view did so correctly. I am sorry that I have to use strong words, but these characterizations of Churchill are simply demonstrably untrue.
Again, I don't have time at the moment to find the relevant quotes to support what I am saying, with exact quotations. I am writing entirely from memory, but would like to suggest, if Cameron has the time and interest, to look into this, because in less than half an hour anyone that has a copy of Churchill's opus magnum, can find the relevant quotes on their own.
JE comments: With history, there are truths, untruths, and points of view (now it might be called "spin"). I mean nothing pejorative by the latter, merely the tendency to present the events in a light that will make one look good. Why would Churchill (or any other historical figure writing history) do anything different?
In the meantime, it would be useful to address Istvan Simon's question: is there any instance where Churchill explicitly paints Chamberlain as a villain?
Did Churchill Paint Chamberlain as a Villain? Reynolds on Churchill as Historian
(Harry Papasotiriou, Greece
07/23/12 4:11 AM)
In response to Istvan Simon (22 July), I have in my library a book written by the Cambridge historian David Reynolds, In Command of History: Churchill Fighting and Writing the Second World War (2004), which is precisely about the relationship between Churchill's undeniably invaluable role in WWII and his account of the war in his memoirs. Unfortunately I have not read it yet. Since this book by a historian who has specialized in WWII is highly pertinent to this WAIS discussion, I wonder if some WAISer has read it and can summarize its findings.
JE comments: A most valuable recommendation that should shed light on this WAIS topic. Do any WAISers know Reynolds's book?
Reynolds's *In Command of History*
(Paul Preston, UK
07/24/12 2:55 AM)
Like Harry Papasotiriou (23 July), I also have a copy of David Reynolds's In Command of History: Churchill Fighting and Writing the Second World War and haven't read it yet. However, I can say two things. The first is that Reynolds is a superb historian. The second is that in Saturday's Guardian, he published an appreciative review of Peter Clarke's book Mr Churchill's Profession:
- Did Churchill Paint Chamberlain as a Villain? (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 07/23/12 4:18 AM)
In response to Istvan Simon (22 July), I never said that Churchill painted Chamberlain as a "villain," and certainly he did not. What I said was that Churchill tended to tell history in terms of villains, heroes, etc.--that is, in terms of personalities.
- Churchill and Chamberlain; on Apologists (Tor Guimaraes, USA 07/20/12 10:45 AM)
I agree with Anthony D'Amato that Chamberlain is being disrespected unnecessarily. He could have talked tougher to Hitler, but what would have accomplished? With the Nazis in power, WWII would have started sooner or later, and as pointed out the British were not ready at the time. Without the extra time Chamberlain's "appeasement" provided, the air battle over England probably would have been lost. That in turn probably would have led to the German invasion of Northern England, perhaps via Northern Ireland, and the postponement of Operation Barbarossa. Furthermore, from a PR perspective, his "appeasement" of Hitler may be viewed negatively by "happy warrior types," but it certainly was helpful in painting Britain as a law-abiding, peace-loving country which deserved support against military aggression.
Chamberlain deserves no derision and perhaps a little more respect. Further, based on his intriguing and informative postings, I believe Anthony D'Amato deserves more respect also. There is no need for insults, calling him an "apologist" for Chamberlain. If one has any evidence indicating Chamberlain is a bad person in any way or that his acts were detrimental to his nation, let the evidence speak without name calling. I request that John Eipper stop allowing name calling in this forum; it is not conducive to "pax, lux, veritas."
JE comments: I always strive to keep WAIS as civil as possible--but is it name calling to label someone an "apologist"? As so often is the case, this depends: contrast "Lincoln apologist" or "Schweitzer apologist" with "Stalin apologist." "Chamberlain apologist" falls somewhere in the middle, which is precisely why we're having such an interesting discussion on his legacy.
Still, I'll redouble my efforts to keep WAIS as civil as possible.
Chamberlain; on Counterfactual Speculation
(Paul Preston, UK
07/21/12 4:15 AM)
I have always told my students to avoid counter-factual speculation. However, once it has been brought into a discussion, it cannot just be ignored. Therefore, I take issue with Tor Guimaraes's speculation (18 July) about the likely outcome if Chamberlain had talked tougher to Hitler: "With the Nazis in power, WWII would have started sooner or later, and as pointed out the British were not ready at the time."
In my humble opinion, if British policy makers had talked tougher to Hitler, he would have backed down sooner. His unhindered early successes were what egged him on to ever more ambitious acts of aggression. A good example of how the Baldwin-Chamberlain policy of appeasement encouraged Hitler and Mussolini can be seen in relation to German and Italian intervention in the Spanish Civil war, an intervention intended primarily to change the balance of power in Europe and undermine Anglo-French hegemony.
For fear of complications with Britain, Hitler kept his aid to Franco limited to the small but high-tech Condor Legion and tried to ensure that the so-called Operation Magic Fire remained secret by setting up two private companies (HISMA and ROWAK) to organize the aid and the subsequent Spanish payments.
On 28 July 1936, Count Galeazzo Ciano came away from a meeting with Edward Ingram, the British Chargé d'Affaires in Rome, convinced that Italian policy enjoyed covert support from London. His reasoning was that that Portuguese support for the Spanish military rebels would have been impossible without British encouragement. Since Ingram discreetly acknowledged that this was the case, Mussolini's son-in-law and Foreign Minister concluded that the same was probably true about Italian intervention.
On the evening of 14 January 1937, a meeting took place at the Palazzo Venezia in Rome between Mussolini and Hitler's representative Hermann Göring to discuss continued aid to Franco. They agreed that they had little time to secure a victory for Franco before, as they were both convinced, Britain stepped in to stop them.
These are merely snippets in a highly complex history, but I think that they indicate that both the Germans and the Italians were encouraged in their aggression by what they perceived as British acquiescence and were to ready to desist if London had taken a harder line.
I think similar arguments could be assembled for the betrayal of Czechoslovakia.
Regarding that meeting in Rome, during an otherwise packed programme, Göring visited the Fencing Academy at the Forum where he challenged Mussolini to a sabre duel. To the delight of the senior Nazis and Fascists present, they slugged it out for twenty minutes, showing remarkable agility given their respective girths--with Mussolini the eventual victor.
Now, I shall respond to Cameron Sawyer:
I always enjoy and am enriched by Cameron's posts and, while I agree with most of his note of 20 July, I think he goes a tad too far in dismissing Nigel Jones's (and that of others, including Churchill and the great classic work by Gott and Gilbert) as a fairy tale.
I had lunch yesterday with my old friend Ian Kershaw (who, incidentally, would be a great addition to our community). We were talking about how he came to be an historian of Nazism. In the early seventies, while still a medieval ecclesiastical historian, he was spending time in Germany to improve his command of the language with a view to work on his (then) next project on the peasants' revolt. I can't remember where he was, maybe Freiburg, and he got talking one day to an old man in a café or a park. Making polite conversation, he said something like, "It must have been awful for you all in the 1930s," to which the man replied "Not at all. It was the best time ever. And if you British hadn't been so stupid, you could have joined us in defeating the Bolsheviks and then we would have ruled the world together." The man's speech was also larded with a series of virulent anti-Semitic remarks. The conversation was what started Ian reading voraciously about the Third Reich and shortly afterwards making the career change from which we have all benefited in terms of his seminal works on Hitler.
The reason I relate this, other than its intrinsic interest, is that I have little doubt that part of Neville Chamberlain's motivation was the view that, even if future partnership was not on the agenda, Hitler could be used against Bolshevism. That is what I meant when I said in an earlier posting that Baldwin and Chamberlain put their ideological prejudices ahead of Britain's strategic interests. Of course, like the Junker aristocracy that also had hoped to use the Nazis as a kind of Rottweiler force to savage their enemies both internal and external, Chamberlain was to discover that attack dogs are not always predictable.
JE comments: Excellent insight from Paul Preston; I'm sure the Preston-Kershaw lunch conversation was fascinating.
As the Spanish Civil War example illustrates, we have to remember that prior to September 1939, Bolshevism was seen in the UK as at least an equal threat to that of Fascism/Nazism. (I hope I've understood Paul correctly.)
- Did Churchill Paint Chamberlain as a Villain? (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 07/23/12 4:18 AM)
- Reynolds's *In Command of History* (Paul Preston, UK 07/24/12 2:55 AM)
- Did Churchill Paint Chamberlain as a Villain? Reynolds on Churchill as Historian (Harry Papasotiriou, Greece 07/23/12 4:11 AM)
- Did Churchill Paint Chamberlain as a Villain? (Istvan Simon, USA 07/22/12 2:00 PM)
- Churchill and Chamberlain: What's It All About? (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 07/20/12 2:45 PM)
- Churchill and Chamberlain: What's It All About? (Paul Preston, UK 07/20/12 6:37 AM)
- Churchill and Chamberlain: What's It All About? (Anthony D`Amato, USA 07/19/12 6:58 AM)
- On Ad Hominem Arguments and Anti-Americanism (Francisco Ramirez, USA 08/02/12 6:47 PM)
- Why Are There So Many Hungarian Mathematicians? (Istvan Simon, USA 08/03/12 5:35 PM)
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- Post Unpublished - please check back later
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- FDR and De Gaulle (Istvan Simon, USA 07/28/12 8:55 AM)
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- Was Churchill a War Criminal? Mers-el-Kebir (Anthony D`Amato, USA 07/26/12 2:04 PM)
- Churchill's "Demerits" (Nigel Jones, UK 07/26/12 3:16 AM)
- Reflections on Churchill (Alain de Benoist, France 07/25/12 4:32 AM)
- Churchill and Chamberlain (Nigel Jones, UK 07/17/12 9:57 AM)
- German WWII Archives at Hoover Institution (Istvan Simon, USA 07/20/12 7:41 AM)
- German WWII Archives at Hoover Institution (Edward Jajko, USA 07/18/12 10:44 PM)
- Churchill and Chamberlain (Istvan Simon, USA 07/18/12 12:02 PM)
- Churchill and Chamberlain (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 07/17/12 12:22 AM)
- Churchill and Chamberlain (Anthony D`Amato, USA 07/16/12 1:04 AM)
- Churchill, Stalin, and Soviet Preparedness for WWII (Tor Guimaraes, USA 07/15/12 11:17 AM)
- Post Unpublished - please check back later
- Churchill as Historian (David Pike, France 07/14/12 1:18 PM)
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