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Post Churchill, Stalin, and Soviet Preparedness for WWII
Created by John Eipper on 07/15/12 12:56 PM

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Churchill, Stalin, and Soviet Preparedness for WWII (Tor Guimaraes, USA, 07/15/12 12:56 pm)

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?

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  • 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...

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    • 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.

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      • 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.
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        • 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.)
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          • 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.

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    • 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...

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      • 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.

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        • 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.

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          • Churchill's "Demerits" (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.

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            • 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?

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              • 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?
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                • 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.

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                • 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.)

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                  • 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.

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                    • 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?

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                • Mers-el-Kebir (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.

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            • 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.

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              • 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.

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                • Romney and De Gaulle (Herbert Abrams, 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.)

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                • 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.

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                  • 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.

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                    • 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?)

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                  • 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!

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          • 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?

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      • 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?

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        • 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.

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          • 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?)

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            • 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.

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              • 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.

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                • 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?

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                  • 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?

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                    • 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:


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                  • 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.

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            • 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.

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              • 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.)

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                • on Counterfactual Speculation and "Alternative Realism" (Hall Gardner, France 07/21/12 2:10 PM)
                  A point on "counterfactual speculation" (see Paul Preston, 21 July): I do not think thinking about alternative history should be necessarily depicted as "counterfactual" nor necessarily even as "speculation."

                  It seems to me that if it can be shown somewhere in the historical record that alternative policies were actually considered by policymakers or by critics at the time those decisions were made, then those alternative options should not be considered "counterfactual," but represent plausible options and "facts" that were not fully considered or implemented at the time for whatever reason.

                  Moreover, sometimes options that were rejected in one year might be accepted in a later year, and thus they are not at all counter-factual, but options and "facts" that are part of the historical record and that eventually become implemented in actuality. So what might considered "counterfactual" in one year is not "counterfactual" in another.

                  And finally, speculation on alternative historical scenarios can be helpful (but never deterministic) in presenting a range of options to confront somewhat similar phenomena in present circumstances. No historical period is the same, so both similarities and differences must be fully considered in such "speculation."

                  Some speculation can, of course, be far removed from real possibility, so it should not be given too much creedence. But then again, what appeared impossible in one era might be very possible in a new one.

                  This is the basis of what I have called "alternative realism."

                  JE comments: Alternative realism certainly can teach us lessons about what should be done in present circumstances. It's the same thing as learning from one's mistakes.

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                • on Historical "Fairy Tales" (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 07/21/12 2:25 PM)

                  Paul Preston wrote on 21 July:

                  "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 would hasten to say that I did not intend to dismiss Nigel's or anyone's account of anything as a fairy tale, and my apologies to Nigel if anyone read my post that way.

                  I was awkwardly attempting to separate the fairytale elements of Churchill's account of how WWII started from real historical facts. When I say "fairy tale," I don't actually mean that in any pejorative sense--the fairy tale is one way of conveying a story. I was just trying to point out that Churchill approaches the story of Hitler and Chamberlain very much as a story of heroes and villains, of great and weak personalities, acting on the historical stage. I am not a Hegelian; I do not believe that everything historical which happens is inevitable, I do not believe in any Zeitgeist, and I do not agree that personalities in history are unimportant. Nevertheless, historical events are usually much more complicated than what can be conveyed in any schematic story of vividly drawn personalities. I don't think that it is a historical argument, for example, that Chamberlain was a "frightened rabbit" or a "pinhead." And once we get soaked in these schematic stories of the events--and this mostly affects those of us who have read only popular histories like Churchill's, Keegan's, and the like (however good they may be), not of course real historians like Nigel--our minds start to close to the complexities of the story and indeed we miss the whole point, as in the case of the nonsense which is circulated about the Soviet Union being entirely unprepared for war with Hitler.

                  Because these schematic, personalized stories sound so good (especially when a really talented writer like Churchill is formulating them), the events fall into place in our minds according to a simple schema. But often these simple, satisfying, personalized schema are not only misleading oversimplifications, they may turn out to be wrong altogether.

                  We could make a long list of misleading oversimplifications about WWII. Another one, widely believed even by well-educated people, is that the Nazi economy was a powerhouse (well, Hitler eliminated unemployment, didn't he?), the German Army was practically invincible, but Hitler simply bit off more than he could chew, interfered too much with his brilliant generals, and got the Wehrmacht frozen to death outside of Moscow and, fatally, would not allow them to retreat, to eventually succumb to the barbarian hordes of the Red Army, fighting more or less with pitchforks but attacking in such inexhaustible masses that the frozen Germans were eventually overwhelmed. Well, practically none of this is true at all. It just didn't happen like that. And the key fact, which Churchill and few other popular historians understood at all, was the economic side. The Nazi economy was not a powerhouse. It was roughly equivalent to the Soviet economy in 1939 in terms of GDP (bearing in mind how hard it is to measure the output of command economies), with the Soviets unable to produce civilian goods quite as well as the Germans and the Germans unable to produce military goods, particularly mass produce them, as well as the Soviets. Someone (sorry, I don't have my library with me) actually did a deep study of the caloric intake of the German population before and during the war, and came up with the surprising fact that the Germans were practically starving to death, even before the war started. This is the key fact behind the war, although it makes much less rousing reading than the exciting stories of the dashing exploits on the field of Guderian or Model or Patton or Rokossovsky, or of the cravenness of Chamberlain or the genius of Churchill or the bloodthirstiness of Stalin. We are instinctively attracted to personalities, but personalities are not everything which makes history, at least, not the small number of personalities which can be drawn up in a popular history of the war. In fact whole societies make history, and millions of people acting over often long periods of time.

                  On another note, I was walking along a road outside Roscoff in North Brittany a few days ago on a failed foraging expedition after making landfall from Fowey in Cornwall (even supermarkets close at 14:00 in France on Sundays) and saw this M4 Sherman tank (below) just standing forlornly on the side of the road without its tracks, as if the war had ended just last year. A time-warp moment.

                  JE comments: Here's the Sherman--did the two stones on the ground contain any inscription?



                  M4 Sherman tank, Roscoff, France.  Photo Cameron Sawyer

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                • Post Unpublished - please check back later

                • Chamberlain; on Counterfactual Speculation (Nigel Jones, UK 07/23/12 3:57 AM)
                  Since we so often disagree about the Spanish Civil War, it is a pleasure for me to agree with every word that Paul Preston writes. I was going to write a long post refuting the latest Chamberlainite arguments, but Paul (21 July) has done it all for me.

                  Suffice to say that Tor Guimaraes's suggestion that Hitler could have used Northern Ireland as a springboard for a successful invasion of Britain is so bizarre that I assumed Tor was joking, since I have never heard this notion canvassed anywhere else. If Tor was serious, perhaps he could care to explain that given Hitler was unable to get an Army across the relatively narrow (20 mile) straits of the English Channel, how could he possibly contemplate transporting the invasion force across hundreds of miles of the storm-tossed Atlantic Ocean to reach Ireland. And why would he?

                  As to my use of epithets like "pinhead" to describe Chamberlain, I think this is as legitimate and illuminating as any other sort of historical evidence, as it came from a contemporary who knew Chamberlain well. It was not my description, but that of Lloyd George, who also usefully summarised Chamberlain's ignorance of foreign affairs: "He saw them through the wrong end of a municipal drainpipe."

                  JE comments: Friendly disagreement is the lifeblood of WAIS discourse, but it's been a personal joy to see Nigel Jones and Paul Preston agreeing this time. A quick question for Nigel (channeling David Lloyd George): which is the right end of a municipal drainpipe?

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                  • A German Invasion of Ireland? (Tor Guimaraes, USA 07/24/12 4:50 AM)
                    I understand Nigel Jones's unwillingness (23 July) to explore in his own mind the what-ifs which would make an imaginary invasion of Northern England by the Nazi/Axis during WWII. But I beg him not to be too narrow-minded judging the likelihood of what is possible, impossible, or "bizarre." I trust Nigel at least agrees that "without the extra time Chamberlain's 'appeasement' provided, the air battle over England probably would have been lost." In such case, he also might agree that Operation Barbarossa would have been postponed and the Nazi/Axis military energy would have been focused on conquering England. From here it is not hard to imagine that, like vultures ganging up on a potential meal, other nations might step up or even join the Berlin-Rome-Tokyo Axis. Mussolini formally offered substantial military forces (planes and troops) to support Operation Sea Lion invading England from the South. Without Barbarossa, smelling English blood, even Stalin might decide that aiding Hitler may be a good strategic idea.

                    Reasonably, Nigel asked, "given Hitler was unable to get an Army across the relatively narrow (20 mile) straits of the English Channel, how could he possibly contemplate transporting the invasion force across hundreds of miles of the storm-tossed Atlantic Ocean to reach Ireland? And why would he?" Indeed the German navy was relatively weak at the time, but, as assumed, if they had won the air battle over Britain, how long before the German air superiority might be translated into control over the seas? Also true, the North Atlantic can be a formidable foe. Nevertheless, politically at the time Ireland was heavily divided with a small percentage wanting to join the Allies, a minority wanting to join the Axis, and a majority remaining neutral. We all know who the IRA would join. Given the prior German air/naval superiority mentioned above, the German invasion troops may attack England through Ireland with much less resistance than compared with Operation Sea Lion plans. After Dunkirk, taking England from the South would have been very costly for the Axis.

                    Last, Nigel said the "...use of epithets like 'pinhead' to describe Chamberlain... is as legitimate and illuminating as any other sort of historical evidence, as it came from a contemporary who knew Chamberlain well... Lloyd George, who also usefully summarized Chamberlain's ignorance of foreign affairs: 'He saw them through the wrong end of a municipal drainpipe.'" I think such name calling may assuredly be fun and very illuminating to Nigel. Unfortunately, others may need more information/evidence to make their own minds regarding differences of opinion. Calling Chamberlain a pinhead makes me think that obviously Lloyd George disagreed and/or disliked Chamberlain for some reason but had no clear reasoning/evidence to explain why/how Chamberlain was wrong about a particular deed or statement. In general, calling people names may be good for the spleen but has no power of persuasion, it reflects poorly on the name caller, and reduces his/her intellectual credibility.

                    David Pike (23 June), commenting on my speculation that Chamberlain's "appeasement" of Hitler could have been "helpful in painting Britain as a law-abiding, peace-loving country which deserved support against military aggression," said: "Support from whom, one might ask." Support from the world's public opinion in general, and specifically, most importantly, from the American nation, whose support Britain desperately needed. It turned out Hitler's subsequently declaration of war on the USA made this unimportant.

                    JE comments: Our "what if" speculation on WWII is entertaining, but is getting convoluted. I'll accept David Pike's conclusion on this one: that a German invasion of Ireland was never contemplated seriously.

                    A quick, final "what if": As Tor Guimaraes points out, Germany was the first to declare war on the US, and not the other way around. Had Germany not done so in the wake of Pearl Harbor, how long would the US have waited until it entered the European war?


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                    • Would the US Have Stayed Out of the European War? (John Heelan, UK 07/24/12 12:08 PM)
                      JE asked on 24 July:

                      "Germany was the first to declare war on the US, and not the other way around. Had Germany not done so in the wake of Pearl Harbor, how long would the US have waited until it entered the European war?"

                      As a dilettante non-historian, I venture to suggest the US would not have entered the European war had Pearl Harbor not happened. The understandable US primary strategy was to keep the US homeland free from direct harm from belligerents while strengthening its economic position through the supply of armaments. The attack on Pearl Harbor shattered US confidence in itself, as did 9/11 decades later. Japan's signing the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy in 1940 weakened the confidence even further, as the US then feared the possibility of attacks not only on its almost indefensible Atlantic and Pacific borders, but also possible attacks from the Mexican and Canadian land borders.

                      Once that particular die was cast, the US strategy--equally justifiable if solipsistic--was to keep the killing fields in Europe and South East Asia (i.e. far away from the US homeland for as long as possible). A similar strategy was exercised in the Cold War and Vietnamese war, and now in Iraq and Afghanistan. "We fight them over there so we don't have to fight them over here": George W. Bush (2005).

                      One wonders if a similar reason will be advanced in the not-too-distant future on military intervention in Iran.

                      JE comments: My hypothetical question was slightly different: after Pearl Harbor, how long would the US have waited to declare war on Germany (if at all), if the Germans hadn't done so first?

                      If Pearl Harbor had not happened at all, then I agree with John Heelan that the US may have avoided the European conflict altogether.

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                    • A German Invasion of Ireland? (Istvan Simon, USA 07/24/12 2:55 PM)
                      Tor Guimaraes's speculation (24 July) about what Hitler would have done if this or that had happened is disproved by known facts about Hitler.

                      Tor should read The Rise and Fall of The Third Reich, which has a detailed history based on official records of the Third Reich under Hitler. (See Ed Jajko's 19 July post, which would allow Tor to check these records for himself). This material proves that he is wrong, and his speculations are not only unnecessary but contradicted by known facts.

                      We know exactly what Hitler's plans were, of exactly when Hitler decided to invade the Soviet Union, of exactly what he thought of England under Churchill, of exactly what his relations were with Goebbels, Goering, Himmler, Raeder, Donitz, Keitel, Rommel, you name it.

                      JE comments: Has any period of history been studied with a finer-tooth comb than WWII? Only perhaps the US Civil War, but that conflict has been studied mostly by historians from one nation.  Yet both conflicts will never cease to inspire "what if?" questions.

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                      • Known and Unknown Unknowns (John Heelan, UK 07/25/12 3:47 AM)
                        Responding to Tor Guimaraes, Istvan Simon wrote on 24 July: "This material proves that [Tor] is wrong, and his speculations are not only unnecessary but contradicted by known facts. We know exactly what Hitler's plans were, of exactly when Hitler decided to invade the Soviet Union, of exactly what he thought of England under Churchill, of exactly what his relations were with Goebbels, Goering, Himmler, Raeder, Donitz, Keitel, Rommel, you name it."

                        With respect, the "known facts" depends on the writings and perceptions of Shirer et al., ignoring that there could well be "facts" that have been missed or opinions solidified by general acceptance over time into "facts." For once Rumsfeld's dictum is appropriate in that perhaps there are things that we do not know that we do not know about.

                        The best that any of us can claim, I suggest, is that "in the light of currently known knowledge..."

                        JE comments:  There is an entire Wikipedia article on the 2002 Rumsfeld "Known knowns" speech.  Hard to believe it was ten years ago:


                        The "known unknowns"/"unknown unknowns" distinction is analogous to risk and uncertainty in the financial world.  As John Heelan points out, it can apply to history as well.  It is precisely the "unknown unknown" factor that makes "what if?" speculation so alluring.

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                    • US-German Battle of the Atlantic, 1941 (Anthony D`Amato, USA 07/25/12 3:35 AM)
                      JE asked (see Tor Guimaraes's post of 24 July): "Had Germany not [declared war against the US] in the wake of Pearl Harbor, how long would the US have waited until it entered the European war?"

                      All through 1941 the US was already in an undeclared war with Germany in the battle of the Atlantic. German U-boats were sinking American cargo ships heading for Great Britain. US destroyers were attacked as they tried to protect the convoys--just as in World War I before the US entered that war.

                      On Sept. 4, 1941, USS Greer, a destroyer, was attacked off of Iceland by a German submarine. A sharp turn avoided being hit by a torpedo. The attack prompted FDR to "shoot on sight" any warships within "our defensive waters."

                      On October 15, 1941, four US destroyers were dispatched to help a Canadian convoy being attacked by U-boats 350 miles south of Reykjavik. They formed a screen around the merchantmen in the late afternoon. The Germans apparently left, but around midnight they hit a Canadian merchantman that went up in flames. As the US destroyers rushed to the attack, two more merchant ships were fatally hit by the Germans. In the glow of the burning ships one US destroyer was an easy target for a German submarine. A torpedo hit her side but she managed to limp into Iceland for repairs.

                      On October 31, 1941, a US destroyer that was escorting a convoy 600 miles west of Ireland was hit and sunk by a German torpedo.

                      During this battle of the Atlantic, Germany obviously saw no additional advantage in declaring war against the US. For its part, the US easily could have used the German attacks against US convoys and destroyers as a casus belli, but the American public neither appreciated the gravity of the situation in the Atlantic nor was willing to go along with FDR if he had declared war against Germany, because they believed that the battle of the Atlantic was Roosevelt's War, caused by his executive decision to aid Great Britain.

                      Why, then, did Germany declare war on the US right after Pearl Harbor? Four reasons. First, Hitler may have been overcome by the euphoria of the Japanese attack. Second, Hitler was, after all, an ally of Japan. Third, Hitler knew that the damage to the American Navy was more extensive than the American public was allowed to know. Included was a wipe-out of the US Air Forces for the Pacific Theatre in the bombing of Clark Field in the Philippines hours after the Pearl Harbor attack--this was kept a secret from the American public. Fourth, Hitler could take advantage of the US counter-declaration of war to send his U-Boats directly into American waters. Between January and June, 1942, German submarines sank 394 American ships--171 off the east coast of the US, 82 in the Gulf of Mexico, and 141 in the Caribbean.

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                • Roosevelt, the Hero of Anti-Appeasement (Anthony D`Agostino, USA 07/23/12 3:19 PM)
                  Pursuing Paul Preston's posting on appeasement and Spain (21 July), which strikes me as valuable and pertinent, a point about the anti-Communism of the appeasers:

                  Their aim was to defend the British Empire. They judged that they were up against three challenges in three theaters by what Prince Konoye had called the "have-not" powers, Japan, Italy, and Germany. They felt they had to respond to these challenges by diplomacy, localizing the have-nots' wars of expansion, adjusting to a world broken into economic blocs by relying on their strategic bomber force as a deterrent. Hitler's ploy toward them was his offer to break up the Franco-Soviet alliance, and after some territorial adjustments which would have more or less satisfied the Wilsonian idea of national self-determination, to rid them of Soviet Communism as well.

                  Lord Halifax went to Berchtesgaden in November 1937 to offer Hitler an arrangement. He commended Hitler on his internal regime, especially on his suppression of the Communists. He green-lighted Hitler's aims on Austria, the Sudetenland, and the Polish Corridor, if only these things were done quietly, as the British press was not easy to control. Subsequently the British followed this deal on Austria and the Sudetenland, but not on the Corridor, over which World War Two was fought. Why was this? Historian AJP Taylor asked this baffling question in 1961, but could not explain it.

                  The easy answer is that Hitler's advance on Prague in March 1939 showed that his program of expansion was not really in the name of Pan-Germanism but of world domination. But the most powerful force that undermined appeasement and made it impossible was Roosevelt's lobbying against a "second Munich." He urged Ambassador Joe Kennedy to "put some iron up Chamberlain's backside" in order to save civilization. He stressed that the educational work he was doing with the American public about the fascist threat was being undercut by appeasement. Finally, he threatened that if appeasement did not work and a war were to result, the British should not count in that case on US help if they did not now oppose Hitler. Halifax himself was the first to turn against appeasement and he helped to turn Chamberlain. On news of the Prague events, Chamberlain's first impulse was to adjust in the name of the 3 Berchtesgaden points of 1937, but in a few days he turned and eventually guaranteed Poland.

                  The idea of appeasement was to yield to the have-not imperialists, assuming that their enmity toward the Soviet Union was in the British interest. FDR's idea was to build on the existing balances, the Franco-Soviet alliance, the Popular Front in China, and ultimately if possible the Soviet Union itself. FDR's policy was not just anti-anti-Communism opposed to appeasement's anti-Communism. It was a strategic conception designed to make the US the balance wheel of an anti-fascist coalition that would save the world.

                  JE comments:  Anthony D'Agostino's post sheds new light (for me) on Roosevelt.  Did FDR really present the British with this harsh choice:  stand up now to the Germans, and we'll support you eventually, or wait, and forget about us ever helping you?  Ouch.
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                  • Roosevelt, the Hero of Anti-Appeasement (Nigel Jones, UK 07/24/12 6:56 AM)
                    I read Anthony D'Agostino's 23 July post about FDR's policy via à vis appeasement and Britain with great interest. The problem with Roosevelt (who was, as we know, a great dissimulator, or less politely, liar) is that he pursued several policies, often contradictory ones, at the same time. Nor did he often let on as to what his true thoughts on any given matter were. Indeed, I think that he frequently didn't know himself.

                    He was, in short, a master tactician--but no strategist, and the grand scheme that Anthony outlines was only one strand in a complex cat's cradle of policies, any one of which could have been pursued or dropped depending on what seemed most advantageous to Roosevelt.

                    Joseph Kennedy, American ambassador in London, would have been a strange choice to entrust with a policy designed to frustrate Hitler and Nazi Germany, since Kennedy, among his manifold other sins, was a convinced pro-Nazi who thought that there was no stopping Hitler.

                    Another problem with any long-term active anti-Nazi policy is that Roosevelt was constrained by the vocal isolationist sentiment in the US, exemplified by Lindbergh and the America First Committee. One of the main factors in securing FDR's third election victory was the slogan "He kept us out of the war," and the US, whatever FDR's personal feelings, only entered the war when it was forced to do so after Pearl Harbor. Even then, I doubt that it would have taken up arms against Nazi Germany had Hitler not committed his second major mistake of the war in declaring war against the US himself in support of his Japanese ally.

                    JE comments: Nigel Jones has answered my question attached to Tor Guimaraes's post of 24 July, even though I received Nigel's note before posting Tor's. So--if Germany had not honored its alliance with Japan by declaring war on the US, the US would have stayed out of the European war? John Heelan (next in queue) agrees.

                    Wasn't there a fear in the US that if it didn't fight in Europe, the Soviet Union would overrun the whole continent?  (To be sure, in late '41 Germany was doing the overrunning.)

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                    • Roosevelt, the Hero of Anti-Appeasement (Anthony D`Agostino, USA 07/25/12 2:56 AM)
                      Nigel Jones's interest (24 July) in this thread is welcome, the more so since he is, to his credit I think, not at all under the thrall of the Chamberlain revisionism that was so fashionable recently among historians. His points are not entirely unfriendly. As to whether Roosevelt was a master tactician or master strategist: I would say he was the master diplomatist.

                      The USA only entered the war after Pearl Harbor. Would this have happened if the Germans had not declared war? I think FDR would have found a way. It would have been difficult even to declare war on Japan, if the attack had been against the Indies and Singapore and had spared the Philippines. One would have been arguing to Congress for a defense of the British and Dutch empires.

                      For Roosevelt the whole point was to keep Russia and China in the fight and to prevent the Japanese from attacking Russia in Siberia. Pearl Harbor was not even the most important event of that week. Most important was the defeat of the Nazis before Moscow. If Hitler had defeated the Soviet Union, there would have been a very strong impulse, perhaps irresistible, in the United States to come to terms with Japan, even after Pearl Harbor. The USA could not fight the whole world. That was the thought that gave the Japanese military such confidence. They did not attack out of despair as some have argued.

                      As to JE's question about the second front: FDR followed Churchill's strategic line on the invasion of France up to summer 1943, when Stimson and Bullitt implored him to act before the Soviets overran the entire continent. That was a critique of Churchill, who, it was thought, would have been content to bomb for another ten years.

                      JE comments:  Do I understand this correctly, that Churchill was opposed to opening the European front in France?

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                      • Churchill and the Second European Front (Nigel Jones, UK 07/25/12 10:01 AM)
                        To answer John Eipper's question about Churchill's attitude to the Second Front (see Anthony D'Agostino, 25 July), I think Churchill was always fearful of horrendous casualties arising from a direct cross-Channel assault on Nazi-occupied France.

                        These fears were reinforced by the results of the Dieppe Raid of August 1942. The purpose of the raid were twofold: a) to demonstrate to an increasingly irritated Stalin that the Allies were doing something, anything, towards opening a Second Front in the West; b) As a test of German defences and a very premature rehearsal for D-Day.

                        In the event, the raid was a disaster--not helped by the fact that its commander, Lord Louis Mountbatten, owed his command more to his membership of the British Royal Family rather than his strictly limited military ability. The raiders--chiefly Canadians--were unable to get off the heavily defended beaches. One factor in their failure was the fact that Dieppe's beaches are made of shingle pebbles, and the tank tracks of the raiders' armour could get no purchase on the spinning pebbles, nor could they climb the high sea wall behind the beach.

                        Churchill opened his second front in Sicily and Italy a year after Dieppe in the summer of 1943. He laboured under the delusion that Italy was the "soft underbelly" of the Axis, and that an Italian campaign would be a bit of a walkover. In fact it turned into a long and bloody slogging match, and Allied forces were still fighting the Germans in Italy as the war in Europe ended.

                        Churchill was not completely opposed to a landing in France--but he wanted to build up such commanding superiority of forces that defeat and being thrown back into the sea would be unthinkable. Haunted, like all his generation, by the huge casualties caused by frontal assaults on strong fixed defences in the Great War, he made very sure that by the time D-Day took place, victory was certain. Among the factors that ensured this were the Allied complete command in the air; the long sandy beaches of Normandy that facilitated an invasion; and the many-faceted deception plan, Operation Fortitude, that hoodwinked Hitler into believing that the main invasion would come in the Pas de Calais and that Normandy was a feint. By the time the reality dawned, the Normandy bridgehead was irreversible.

                        JE comments: Wasn't Churchill always enamored of the "soft underbelly" strategy? It didn't work in WWI, and it didn't work in WWII.  And by the way, why did the Canadians (and Anzacs) get called on to do so much of the Empire's dirty work in both wars?  Gallipoli, Vimy Ridge, Dieppe...

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                        • Were UK Commonwealth Troops Used as Cannon Fodder? (Nigel Jones, UK 07/26/12 2:43 PM)
                          In his comments to my post of 25 July, John Eipper implies that the British mother country craftily got her colonial dependents to do all the dirty fighting for her in both World Wars. This is far from the truth.

                          It may be difficult for Americans to grasp, but the member countries of today's Commonwealth--formerly the British Empire--wanted to fight in both wars, and were not cajoled into doing so by the mother country.

                          There was certainly grumbling among the Anzacs about the fearfully mismanaged Gallipoli campaign and rightly so--but it should not be forgotten that British and French troops fought and died there alongside the Anzacs.

                          As a biographer of Rupert Brooke (who died of septicaemia en route to Gallipoli), I know that most of the British officers in his burial party died within weeks at Gallipoli.

                          The number of those volunteering to join the fighting forces in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa in both world wars equaled and in some cases exceeded, those joining up in Britain itself. These men made, in the main, fantastic fighters; as the Anzacs proved at Gallipoli, the Canadians at Vimy Ridge and the South Africans at Delville Wood on the Somme. The contribution made by Commonwealth fighter pilots to the winning of the Battle of Britain in WWII was perhaps decisive.

                          But it should not be forgotten that these people were volunteers, pleased and proud to fight--not for Britain --but for freedom.

                          To slyly suggest that they were cynically used as cannon fodder does a gross disservice to their memory.

                          JE comments: I didn't say that the Empire used Commonwealth troops for all their dirty work--I said "much of."  A weasel-word, admittedly.

                          That you volunteer for a war doesn't preclude you from ending up as cannon fodder.  (I remember the 1981 Aussie film Gallipoli.)   Nor does pointing this out do disservice to their memory or sacrifice, I would think.

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                  • Roosevelt, the Hero of Anti-Appeasement (Paul Preston, UK 07/25/12 3:14 AM)

                    Anthony D'Agostino (23 July) makes the fascinating point that FDR "urged Ambassador Joe Kennedy to 'put some iron up Chamberlain's backside' in order to save civilization."

                    Do we know if he did so? Given Joseph Kennedy's own sympathies, would he have obeyed these instructions unreservedly?

                    JE comments:  Good question.  Kennedy never saw Britain's fight against Germany as a war for democracy (civilization?), but as the UK's struggle for self-preservation.  I can imagine how unpopular he must have become in Britain prior to his resignation as Ambassador in 1940.

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                    • Joseph Kennedy and Churchill (Anthony D`Agostino, USA 07/26/12 3:02 AM)
                      It is a great pleasure to have Paul Preston's thoughts about Chamberlain and appeasement (25 July). Joe Kennedy complained to an apparently sympathetic Adm. James Forrestal about the bad things Roosevelt forced him to do in London. He was not Roosevelt's only channel to Halifax and Chamberlain. The opinion of the Roosevelt cabinet is followed day by day in the memoirs of Harold Ickes.

                      Alain de Benoist (25 July) cites a number of Churchill "demerits," to which an even longer list could be added, as in the biographies of Clive Ponting and the pro-Nazi David Irving. Against these I would suggest the great merit that he understood that the British choice was between Germany and the United States, and that to oppose Hitler you had to have both the United States and the Old Adam, Soviet Russia. Thus he overcame what he called the "class political reaction" of his pro-appeasement and anti-Roosevelt Tory colleagues.

                      Aside from the very good reasons Nigel Jones cites (25 July) for Churchill's reluctance to invade northern France, one must also consider that British imperial interests were primarily in the Mediterranean and the routes to India and the Far East. Marshall and the US Army men wanted to attack France as soon as possible, but Roosevelt sided with Churchill (and Adm. King), that is, until it became impossible to continue to do so in 1943. He could see that the British had to keep open those routes in order, for example, to get Australian troops through Suez to try to defend Greece. It was Empire, and not only British, forces that won at El Alamein.

                      JE comments:  On Churchill's demerits or lack thereof, see Nigel Jones (next in queue).

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              • The Battle of Chamberlain; A German Invasion of Ireland? (David Pike, France 07/23/12 12:41 PM)
                The battle to rehabilitate Chamberlain rages on. When Anthony D'Amato wrote on July 19 that he was a "Wittgensteinian," I took it as a gracious way of pulling out of the argument, since the basic tenet of Wittgenstein ("I must know whereof I speak") is always sound advice and can detoxify us all.

                Tor Guimaraes now writes (July 20) that Chamberlain deserves more respect than he's getting from WAIS since his policies were "helpful in painting Britain as a law-abiding, peace-loving country which deserved support against military aggression." Support from whom, one might ask. Were not Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark, Norway, law-abiding, peace-loving countries deserving of support against military aggression? Nothing was more palatable to the Axis appetite than peace-loving countries.

                Tor then writes about the prospect of a "German invasion of Northern England, perhaps via Northern Ireland." Imagine it. Hitler has given up on the Channel crossing, where he planned to use Rhine barges with a full speed of 4 knots. Now, even without air or naval superiority, Raeder will sail his barges around Land's End, saunter north not much molested, and land--not in Eire, where he might expect at least some semblance of support--but in Ulster or close to Ulster.

                The idea of a Nazi invasion of Ireland intrigued me enough thirty years ago to go to the archives in Freiburg-im-Breisgau and find out. I found that in Berlin the notion was quickly dismissed as flippant. I wrote an article on the subject in the Paris quarterly Guerres Mondiales, and since it's on line I can send it to anyone interested.

                JE comments:  I've found this reference to David Pike's article on cairn.info:


                Unfortunately, it will set the reader back 3 euros.  David:  is there a different link I can publish?

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                • Wittgenstein's "I Must Know Whereof I Speak" (Anthony D`Amato, USA 07/24/12 6:43 AM)
                  David Pike's post of 23 July is a neat attempt to derail my argument that Chamberlain snookered Hitler into giving Great Britain more time--essential time--to build up its air force. He quotes Wittgtenstein's "I must know whereof I speak" to chide me for talking about history when I am not a historian.

                  But quoting Wittgenstein usually reveals a complete misunderstanding of what W. was saying. "I must know whereof I speak" is one of his many utterances that are designed to provide an intellectual crisis (in the good sense) in the reader's mind. The quotation doesn't mean that I have to study what historians, for example, say before I dare to challenge them. It's a lot closer to the "private language" work of W, where what "I know" is only the words I use to describe my mental state, but since my mental state is unknowable to anyone else, my words may have an entirely different meaning when I speak them to others. For example, Chamberlain might have applied the term "appeasement" to what he did at Munich in the sense of "give that crybaby Hitler a stack of papers to read while behind his back we build up the British air force, turn out the Spitfires, develop Bletchley Park's intelligence=gathering, etc."

                  The word I was concerned with was "intention." We say, after the fact, that Chamberlain's "intention" was to placate Hitler in the hope that he had a good side. But Cameron Sawyer neatly skewered this tactic in a recent post. Calling Chamberlain an "appeaser" (in our use of that word, not his) tells a story, a story about good guys and bad guys, a story that people can absorb. But when that story enters the historical canon, then historians cannot challenge it without being considered as radical or marginal historians. The historians who have hewed to the party line--that Chamberlain sold us out at Munich--are the "serious" historians. Someone like David Irving can never be considered a real, or serious, historian because he challenges the standard shibboleths. Yet Irving's books have many more citations in them than most history books, many of which are new to the profession (as they would be if he is a serious challenger to standard history). I don't buy everything Irving says, by a long shot, but he is interesting and provocative.

                  Wittgenstein doesn't solve anything--this much I concede to David Pike. The only sentence I think he ever actually meant was "Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language."

                  JE comments: I'm not going to try to parse Wittgenstein in a few sentences, but this post makes me think.

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                  • Wittgenstein's "I Must Know Whereof I Speak" (Paul Preston, UK 07/24/12 12:16 PM)

                    Anthony D'Amato (24 July) seems to be saying that he doesn't need to know much before challenging certain orthodoxies. If that is what he is saying, then I think he is on very shaky ground where historical controversy is concerned, or indeed where most serious academic debate is concerned.

                    To challenge his notion that Chamberlain was the hero who outfoxed Hitler and therefore bought time for British re-armament, I would venture that there were other factors before even considering doling out credit to Sir Neville.

                    The most obvious is that Hitler himself needed time. He was not ready in 1936, 1937 or 1938 for what he did in 1939. One of the reasons that he was readier over time was precisely that he was not stopped earlier. The most glaring example is what he gained in terms of armaments, aircraft and military production capability by the seizure of Czechoslovakia in which Chamberlain and the Quai d'Orsai acquiesced.

                    A far bigger contribution to slowing down Hitler was the struggle of the Spanish Republic against the combined efforts of Franco, Hitler and Mussolini. It is pretty clear that Hitler was not going to move against Poland before the Spanish Republic had been defeated (remember that nearly half of Italy's armed forces were committed in Spain) and before he could neutralise the Soviet Union. It was Munich that both did for the Spanish Republic and made Stalin realise that the Western Powers were hoping to use Hitler again "the Bolshevik threat."

                    In that sense, Chamberlain helped rather than hindered Hitler.

                    JE comments:  A technical question:  just how much of an industrial boost was provided by Hitler's seizure of Czechoslovakia?  I know there were steel mills and a good deal of heavy manufacturing, armaments in particular.  (The etymologies of both howitzer and pistol come from the Czech.)  But can we measure the increase in percentage terms?  I'm sure some historian has attempted to do so.

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                    • Wittgenstein's "I Must Know Whereof I Speak" (Anthony D`Amato, USA 07/25/12 11:53 AM)
                      Paul Preston may be forgiven for seeing everything through the lens of the Spanish Civil War, his home territory as a historian. Like many historians, he believes that once he has earned his stripes in one area, he knows all of history. No non-historian may dare challenge his views on anything in the world that has happened prior to today. All right, I'm not a historian. I can only challenge his logic, which in fact seems to be missing. His venture in his post of 24 July is, in two words, demonstrably incoherent.

                      First, Paul says that Hitler needed time. It's true that time helped both sides. It does not follow that Hitler would have been better off in 1939 than in 1938. Hitler did not gain time vis-a-vis Great Britain; he lost time. The Luftwaffe could have bombed London into submission in 1938 or 1939. But by the summer of 1940, the RAF had grown to the point where it was able to resist the air attack. Paul Preston is looking at Germany in isolation.

                      Second, he writes, "One of the reasons that [Hitler] was readier over time was precisely that he was not stopped earlier." (Why do historians like that word "precisely" so much? Is it because what they do is so far removed from precision?) Mr. Preston wants us to believe that the alternative to the Munich accords was to stop Hitler militarily. How? Who was going to attack Hitler in September 1938? Britain could hardly defend itself; attacking Hitler was inconceivable. France might have attacked, but France was in a "fortress France" attitude of not getting involved in other European conflicts. Moreover, it would have taken at least a year for France to set up for an attack; her military deployments were totally defensive. No, the only alternative to giving Czechoslovakia to Hitler was himself taking it. And if he took it--which would be an overnight cinch--his armies would be on the move and World War II would have started in September 1938. London would have been bombed into submission in the summer of 1939, and Professor Preston would now be teaching at the Berlin School of Economics.

                      Third, Paul writes that "Hitler was not going to move against Poland before the Spanish Republic had been defeated." Really?  Isn't this carrying one's preoccupation with the Spanish Civil War a bit too far? What did Hitler want out of Spain? A good bottle of Sherry? If he wanted military help, Franco certainly did not give him any. Bloody dictator though he was, Franco managed (how?) to stay out of World War Two despite Spain's strategic location. Given the fact that Franco was of no help to Hitler prior to the defeat of the Spanish republic, and the fact that he was of no help to Hitler after the defeat of the Spanish republic, how can Mr. Preston draw the conclusion that Hitler waited for Franco to win before deciding to invade Poland?

                      Fourth, in what sense did Hitler ever rely on the Italian army, half of which was bogged down in Spain? Italy's soldiers were mainly peace-loving conscripts with no admiration for Mussolini. In many ways they were more trouble to Hitler than they were worth. Does Mr. Preston suggest that Hitler was waiting for the Spanish civil war to end so that the Italian soldiers could join the attack against Poland?

                      Fifth, we are told that the Munich accords helped neutralize the Soviet Union. This is a triumph for tunnel vision. The last thing Stalin was going to take seriously was a stack of signed papers at Munich. Hitler knew that Stalin would act out of his own self-interest. Does Mr. Preston believe that a non-neutral Soviet Union would have come to Poland's assistance when Hitler attacked?

                      JE comments: I assure Anthony D'Amato that in the years I've known him, Paul Preston has always graciously welcomed challenges to his views. Regarding Franco's (not) entering the war on the Axis side, see our colleague David Pike's book, Franco and the Axis Stigma (2008). I don't have my copy with me, but one of the most fascinating passages of David's book is the list of material demands Franco gave Hitler as a pre-condition for joining the fight. It was an exercise in hyperbole, amounting to about a year's worth of Germany's entire industrial output.  As a consolation prize, Franco sent the Division Azul to the Eastern Front, some 46,000 in all:  no small number, and no small amount of suffering for those unfortunate to go.

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                      • Why Did Franco Stay Out of WWII? (John Heelan, UK 07/26/12 4:06 AM)
                        Anthony D'Amato wrote on 25 July: "Bloody dictator though he was, Franco managed (how?) to stay out of World War Two despite Spain's strategic location."

                        Paul Preston, Ángel Viñas and David Pike are far more qualified to comment on this, but as a Hispanophile for some decades, my impression is that the Axis were giving a party that Franco was desperate to join but to his chagrin was never invited. In his magisterial biography on Franco, Paul reports that after the Hitler/Franco meeting --Hendaye 23 October 1940--the Fürhrer commented, "mit diesem Kerl ist nichts zu machen" (with these fellows there is nothing to be done), despite Franco's parting comment, "...if ever the day arrived when Germany really needed me, she would have me unconditionally at her side without any demands on my part."

                        [Franco, Paul Preston, p. 396-397]

                        After such a rebuff, Franco's supporters, then and now, claim that one of the Caudillo's major successes was keeping Spain out of WWII.

                        JE comments: Staying out of WWII was Franco's greatest success. It kept him in power for another thirty years.

                        I hope that David Pike can add a comment here. My recollection from David's Franco and the Axis Stigma is that the Caudillo never seriously considered joining the Axis war effort, hence his list of unrealistic material demands at Hendaye. I discussed this briefly in my comments on Anthony D'Amato's post of 25 July.

                        Next in the queue is a response to Anthony D'Amato from Paul Preston.

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                        • Salazar, Franco and WWII (Mendo Henriques, Portugal 07/26/12 8:25 AM)

                          General’s Franco position through WWII must be understood in the
                          context of his relationship with Salazar, Portugal’s dictator. The
                          Treaty of Friendship and Non-Aggression (Iberian Pact) was signed
                          between Portugal and Spain on 3/17/1939, just a few days before the end
                          of the Spanish Civil War. On the one hand both dictatorships were
                          seeking to consolidate their internal position. On the other hand what
                          was really at stake was the guarantee of Iberian neutrality during the
                          course of a war that everybody saw in the horizon. So it was rather a
                          strategic than an ideological alliance. For Spain, Portugal enjoyed
                          a privileged relationship with Great Britain and could therefore act
                          as a potential mediator in relations with the Allies. Portugal wanted
                          to guarantee that, in a forthcoming dispute, Spain did not remain
                          confined to the Axis, as had been the case until then. Portugal might
                          play a moderating role in tempering Spain’s warlike pro-Nazi leanings,
                          particularly of Serrano Suñer, Franco’s brother-in-law and future
                          minister of Foreign Affairs.

                          The climate of friendship and cordiality that was enshrined in the
                          Iberian Pact was challenged by the outbreak of WWII. There were
                          Portuguese fears of a Spanish-German invasion as Hitler’s troops
                          advanced westwards. Operation Isabella was planned by OKW as the
                          invasion of Portugal and Gibraltar. Serrano Suñer, known for his
                          strong sympathy for the German regime, encouraged Portugal to
                          establish a secret military alliance with Spain, drawing closer to the
                          Axis. Now Salazar counter-attacked with an additional Protocol to the
                          1939 Treaty in July 1940, making it compulsory to have consultation and
                          a synchronization of strategies between Portugal and Spain in order
                          to safeguard common interests. It was with this agreement that Franco
                          went to the Hendaye interview with Hitler, on 23 October 1940, where
                          he managed to keep Spain out of harm’s way and to circumvent Hitler’s
                          objections. Remember what is told in Portugal about Galicians: “If you
                          find a Galician on the stairs you never know if he is going up or
                          down."  General Franco was a Galician. Linz-born Adolf Hitler was a
                          victim of such an ability.

                          JE comments:  An excellent addition to this conversation from Mendo Henriques.  Portugal's historical alliance with Britain should never be overlooked when we discuss WWII and Spain's relationship with the Axis.

                          I am intrigued by the reputation Galicians have in Portugal.  I've always understood that in Spain, Galicians are seen as almost Portuguese--or more precisely, the Portuguese are considered to be Galicians who happen to have their own country.

                          Perhaps I oversimplify.  I do that occasionally.

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                          • The "Abduction" of the Duke of Windsor, 1940 (David Fleischer, Brazil 07/26/12 2:32 PM)
                            It might be interesting for our WAISers to comment further on the relationship between the UK, Spain and Portugal (see Mendo Henriques, 26 July) regarding the "abduction" of the Duke of Windsor and his American (Nazi-leaning) wife Bessie Wallis from Portugal in August 1940--and their "internment" for the duration of the War in the Bahamas.

                            JE comments: Wasn't His (ex-) Royal Highness made Governor of the Bahamas? Admittedly, this was a only a polite form of imprisoning him on a remote island for the duration of the war. Was St Helena unavailable?

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                            • "Abduction" of the Duke of Windsor; Franco and Salazar (Paul Preston, UK 07/27/12 5:30 PM)

                              In response to David Fleischer (26 July), I don't think that there was much love lost between Salazar and Franco. The highly cultured Portuguese intellectual despised the mediocre Spanish dictator. During the Second World War, Salazar, aware that Franco's Falangist supporters had plans to annex Portugal, dealt with the Caudillo in the hope of a conduit to the Nazis in the event of Axis victory. Franco, in contrast, dealt with Salazar in the hope of a conduit to the Allies in the event of Anglo-American victory.

                              On 23 June, Franco's then Foreign Minister, Colonel Beigbeder, offered to detain the Duke and Duchess of Windsor--who were passing through Madrid from the south of France to Lisbon--in case the Germans wanted to make contact with them.

                              Perhaps because he regarded Beigbeder as insufficiently influential, the German Ambassador, Eberhard von Stohrer, pursued the question of the Duke of Windsor through Franco's brother-in-law and Minister of the Interior, Ramón Serrano Suñer who, in his turn, consulted with the Caudillo. A Spanish diplomat, Javier "Tiger" Bermejillo, was assigned to accompany the Duke. Bermejillo's personal reports to Franco led the Caudillo to believe that the ex-King was keen to act as a peacemaker. Throughout the summer of 1940, Serrano Suñer and Franco were willing collaborators in German machinations to prevent the Duke of Windsor taking up the post of Governor of the Bahamas in order that he might be used against "the Churchill clique" in peace negotiations with England. Franco's brother Nicolás, the Spanish Ambassador in Lisbon, was mobilized on numerous occasions and Miguel Primo de Rivera, head of the Falange in Madrid and a friend of the Duke, was sent to Portugal to intercede with him not to go to the Bahamas. In the hope of persuading him to be a kind of English Rudolf Hess, the Duke was told by another emissary, Serrano Suñer's close collaborator Ángel Alcázar de Velasco, that the British secret service had plans to assassinate him. Their efforts were in vain.

                              Interestingly, Ángel Alcázar de Velasco was the model for Graham Greene's Our Man in Havana (and therefore at one remove for John Le Carré's The Tailor of Panama), by dint of his exploits in inventing an entirely fictitious spy-ring in Spain for the Japanese.

                              JE comments:  Salazar is a fascinating figure, whom I believe is viewed favorably by a higher percentage of Portuguese than Franco is in Spain.  He was perhaps the last unapologetic imperialist of Europe, clinging desperately and at great cost to Portugal's colonies in Africa and Asia.  Could Paul Preston (or Mendo Henriques) recommend a good Salazar biography?

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                          • on the Gallegos and Gallego Jokes (Richard Hancock, USA 07/27/12 7:55 AM)
                            In reference to Mendo Henriques's statement about the "Gallego" on the stairway [referring to Franco--JE], I would add that the Mexicans tell "Gallego" jokes, similar to those Polish jokes that were formerly common in the US.

                            JE comments: I stress formerly common. We don't tell Polish jokes in my house!

                            Gallego jokes are legion, not only in Mexico, but in Argentina and Spain itself.  Tomorrow we leave for Cali and Medellín, Colombia.  I'm going to ask around (tactfully, of course), to see if they are common in Colombia as well.  Cuba would be an interesting case, as so many Cubans--including the Castro boys--are of Galician descent.  Perhaps Francisco Wong-Diaz (we miss you, Francisco!) can shed light on this.

                            Confession:  I've exchanged some Gallego humor off-Forum with an unnamed WAISer or three.  It's uncanny how many of the jokes are carbon copies of the Polish humor of my youth (unless they involve puns or wordplay).

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                        • Why Did Franco Stay Out of WWII? (Paul Preston, UK 07/27/12 3:00 AM)

                          John Heelan asked on 26 July why Franco did not join WWII on the Axis side. This is a complex question and one that occupies over 300 pages of my book on Franco. Nevertheless, I will try to provide a brief answer.

                          The idea that Franco, with astute caution (hábil prudencia), hoodwinked Hitler and kept Spain out of the Second World War is a central myth of Francoist propaganda. In the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Third Reich, it was a crucial element in the operation mounted to prove the Caudillo's divinely inspired perspicacity and consequent indispensability. When opposition to his dictatorship was gathering internally and externally, the success of that propaganda exercise contributed significantly to a consolidation of his domestic support. More importantly, it provided a flimsy justification for the Western Powers, anxious to incorporate Franco into the anti-Communist front of the Cold War, to forget about his innumerable hostile acts of word and deed in the course of the Second World War. Those acts--the virulent devotion of the controlled Spanish press to the Axis cause, the re-fuelling and supplying of U-boats, the provision of radar, air reconnaissance and espionage facilities within Spain, the export of valuable raw materials and food to the Third Reich--although diminished by the spring of 1944, were never entirely halted until the end of the war.

                          Despite his continued enthusiasm for the German cause, Spain's economic situation forced Franco to acknowledge that Spain was dependent on food and fuel imports from Britain and the USA. Even Franco had to accept that the Spanish economic situation was disastrous. Accordingly, he refused to give a specific date for belligerency as long as Spain's economic problems persisted and Britain still had capacity to inflict great damage. Accordingly, he could contemplate fighting on the German side only if the Third Reich rebuilt the Spanish armed forces and effectively sustained the ruined Spanish economy. The Third Reich was in no position to do this. At the end of the day, one might argue that Spanish neutrality was in the interests of both the Western Allies and the Axis.

                          It was thus hardly surprising, as the German Ambassador Eberhard von Stohrer remarked to General Krappe in October 1941, that the Führer should conclude that Spain was more useful to the Reich under the mask of neutrality as Germany's only outlet from the British blockade. On 10 February 1945, Hitler told his secretary, Martin Bormann, "Spain was burning to follow Italy's example and become a member of the Victor's Club. Franco, of course, had very exaggerated ideas on the value of Spanish intervention. Nevertheless, I believe that, in spite of the systematic sabotage perpetrated by his Jesuit brother-in-law, he would have agreed to make common cause with us on quite reasonable conditions--the promise of a little bit of France as a sop to his pride and a substantial slice of Algeria as a real, material asset. But as Spain had really nothing tangible to contribute, I came to the conclusion that her direct intervention was not desirable. It is true that it would have allowed us to occupy Gibraltar. On the other hand, Spain's entry into the war would certainly have added many kilometres to the Atlantic coast-line which we would have had to defend--from San Sebastian to Cadiz... by ensuring that the Iberian peninsula remained neutral, Spain has already rendered us the one service in this conflict which she had in her power to render. Having Italy on our backs is a sufficient burden in all conscience; and whatever may be the qualities of the Spanish soldier, Spain herself, in her state of poverty and unpreparedness, would have been a heavy liability rather than an asset."

                          In the final days of the Second World War, Franco was still nurturing secret hopes of Hitler's wonder weapons turning the tide in favour of the Third Reich, believing that Nazi scientists had harnessed the power of cosmic rays. Indeed, as Allied forces stumbled across the horrendous sights of the extermination camps, the British at Belsen, the Americans at Buchenwald and the Russians at Auschwitz, the Francoist press played down the horrors of the Holocaust as the entirely unavoid­able and comprehensible consequence of wartime disorganisation.

                          Since this WAIS discussion has nothing to do with the USSR, I think we might change the title of the thread. Having said that, another interesting line might be the possible consequences of a declaration of war on Spain by Stalin after Franco sent the Blue Division to fight in Russia. If by the time of the Potsdam conference, Russia had been formally still in a state of war with Spain, the division of Europe into spheres of influence might have been a tad more complicated.

                          JE comments: In his closing thought of this post, Paul Preston offers more grist for the "what-if?" mill: what if Stalin had declared war on Franco's Spain? The presence of the División Azul on Soviet soil would have been justification enough for him to do so--although when did Stalin need justification for anything?

                          At the very least, Franco would not have remained in power in a post-WWII world. 

                          Maybe Paul could give us an idea of whether the Soviets seriously contemplated the possibility.  I also welcome the thoughts of David Pike and Boris Volodarsky.

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                      • Response to Anthony D'Amato (Paul Preston, UK 07/26/12 4:19 AM)
                        What a strange post from Anthony D'Amato (25 July).

                        I wonder why Anthony should think that "Like many historians, he [i.e. me] believes that once he has earned his stripes in one area, he knows all of history." In fact, I am obsessively aware of how little I know about most things. After forty years of specialisation, I do think I know a bit about the Spanish Civil War, but the new studies keep flooding out and reminding me that I don't know enough. However, to understand anything about the Spanish conflict, one is obliged to know about the international context and I have published on the foreign policies and ambitions of both Hitler and Mussolini.

                        What I do think is that, to comment on any topic on WAIS, one should have some degree of expertise. Since, even with disagreements among colleagues, this is predominantly the basis of the daily postings that enrich our lives, I keep on reading.

                        I'm sorry that Professor D'Amato regards my comments as incoherent. He asks, "What did Hitler want out of Spain?" He wanted what he actually got. An alteration in his favour of the European balance of power.

                        JE comments:  This thread has been one of the longest, and in my view, most interesting WAIS discussions in a long time.  For WAISers who want to review the entire conversation, it began with this appraisal of Chamberlain from Anthony D'Amato, dated 16 July 2012:


                        I'm at a loss, however, to explain why it got filed under "USSR/Russia."  The existing topics on the WAIS website, while necessary for organizing our posts, can be too constraining for our wide net of inquiry.

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          • Churchill and Chamberlain (Robert Gibbs, USA 07/20/12 10:37 AM)
            I hesitate to enter the conversation regarding Chamberlain and Churchill, mainly because it will change few minds and because "what is done is done."

            I would however offer as an overview that, first and foremost, the readiness of the British public to enter into another war. If memory serves, Chamberlain upon returning home from Munich was hailed as a hero. Most in Britain were not ready for a confrontation with Hitler. Still, Chamberlain did build the radar early warning system that saved the RAF in so many ways and was so underestimated by Germany. He also instituted the Bletchley Park decoding system, which contributed so much to the war effort. Tellingly enough, he also tried to institute conscription, which was fought tooth and nail by Labour (which I believe Atlee admitted was their major mistake after the war began).

            That being said, it doubt if Chamberlain could have been an effective war time leader, certainly not as well as Churchill. Remember after the fall of France, if memory serves there were many in the cabinet that wanted to sign the peace treaty with Germany. It is a hard choice, but in many instances a good leader in peacetime is not always the best wartime leader--not just in politics but in combat as well.

            I do believe we--as historians and in the political arena--have been overly harsh on Chamberlain, but as a wartime leader, few rise to the stature of Churchill.

            JE comments: Bob Gibbs adds three elements that we've overlooked so far in discussing Chamberlain's legacy: the RAF radar system, Bletchley Park and the attempt to re-introduce conscription (as during the Great War). The first two proved vital to the UK's survival, and the third came to pass soon enough in any case.

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        • Bletchley Park and Bentley Priory (John Heelan, UK 07/20/12 7:34 AM)
          A slight correction to Anthony D'Amato's praise (18 July) of "the incredible women radio operators at Bletchley Park who could keep track of all the aircraft in the sky [during the Battle of Britain]." As far as I am aware, It was Bentley Priory on the outskirts of NW London that was the Air Defence Operations Centre (ADOC), not Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire, the famous Enigma and radio intelligence code-breaking site. Actual control of fighters was decentralised around the country.

          In the late 1950s, I spent most of my two years of National Service in underground fighter control bunkers, mostly in ADOC but also others in England and Scotland, as a Fighter Plotter in touch with local control centres and tracking allied and hostile aircraft on a giant map table of the UK. Giant "tote" boards gave the readiness and assignment of all squadrons to whom "Scramble Orders" were relayed as necessary. Sometimes the transmissions between local fighter control and the pilots was broadcast over our local loudspeakers, and certainly could be picked up as background in our headphones.

          The Battle of Britain had been managed overall by the top brass from this centre: I even sat in what was reputed to be "Churchill's Chair" that he occupied watching "the Table" during some of the major battles.

          (By the way, we also picked tracks of what might have been UFOs--but that is a different story!)

          JE comments:  WAIS casts a wide net...John, share some of your UFO stories with us, please!

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      • Churchill and Chamberlain (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 07/18/12 2:09 AM)
        Nigel Jones (17 July) states the case against Chamberlain extremely well, and I admit that there are a lot of facts to support this case. The unbelievable "quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing" statement of Chamberlain's is rightfully infamous. But I am uncomfortable with all this personalization of power--whether or not Chamberlain was a man of peace, a man of war, a "pinhead," etc. The danger of oversimplification of the complex process of policy formulation is very great. It would be interesting to know the details. Britain was prepared for the Battle of Britain, and won it, after which Hitler left Britain alone other than throwing bombs and missiles on English cities. Who managed that achievement? How?

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  • Would Britain Have Lost WWII without US/Soviet Help? (Nigel Jones, UK 07/16/12 7:31 AM)
    I know that Tor Guimaraes's contention that Britain would have lost the war against Nazi Germany without the "massive military power" of the US and USSR is received wisdom, but it has recently been questioned.

    Despite the conquest of France in 1940, Germany was never in a position to invade Britain, as A) it did not have command of the seas, its small surface fleet having been badly depleted in the Norway campaign, and B) it did not have command of the skies, being defeated in the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940.

    Although its Army was clearly inferior to the Wehrmacht, Britain's Royal Navy and Royal Air Force were demonstrably superior.

    Apart from its own resources, Britain could also call on the military, manpower and other resources of its Empire/Commonwealth which were not negligible, amounting as it did to almost a quarter of the world. (Including such powers as Canada, Australasia, South Africa, India and smaller colonial countries in Africa and Asia.)

    After Hitler's incredibly foolish decision to invade Russia in 1941, it was Britain that was supplying Russia with war materiel, not the other way around.

    I agree that Britain alone could not have defeated Nazi Germany, but neither could Nazi Germany have subjugated Britain. Had the US and USSR not been forced into the war, a stalemate would have resulted. Churchill's incomparable contribution to the war was to keep Britain in the fight for the one vital year 1940/41 when the US and USSR were unwilling to take arms against Nazi Germany until they were finally forced to.

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    • Would Britain Have Lost WWII without US/Soviet Help? (Istvan Simon, USA 07/17/12 12:49 AM)
      I completely agree with Nigel Jones (July 16). I think his analysis is perfect. Britain alone would not have won the war against Hitler, but neither would have the Soviet Union. In fact without Britain and the United States, Hitler would have probably defeated Stalin.

      One thing common between Stalin and Hitler is that both were ruthless and foolishly squandered their resources. Hitler's imbecility at Stalingrad, in which he sacrificed an entire army rather than retreat, is the same imbecility that Stalin exhibited in the defense of Kiev, in which the Soviet Union lost 600,000 men.

      Hitler got close to defeating Great Britain, but it was not in the Battle of Britain and the Blitz, but in the Battle of the Atlantic. Great Britain is an island nation, like Japan. It depends on imports for survival. Hitler came close to defeating Britain when he decided with Admiral Donitz to sink unarmed merchant ships in the Atlantic with submarines.

      This is related to the revisionist view of Anthony D'Amato on Chamberlain (16 July), to which I will respond in a separate post.

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    • Would Britain Have Lost WWII without US/Soviet Help? (Anthony D`Amato, USA 07/17/12 12:55 AM)
      Nigel Jones has welcomely, though perhaps inadvertently, supported my claim, questioned by John Eipper, that Chamberlain made a greater contribution to saving Great Britain than did Churchill (16 July). Mr. Jones writes that Germany was not in a position to invade Britain after having been defeated in the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940. He adds, "Churchill's incomparable contribution to the war was to keep Britain in the fight for the one vital year 1940/41, when the US and USSR were unwilling to take arms against Nazi Germany until they were finally forced to."

      Substitute the name "Chamberlain" for "Churchill" in that quotation and you have the essence of my most recent post on this subject. For it was the extra year of aircraft production that Chamberlain won at Munich that enabled the RAF to win (barely) the air war of the summer of 1940.

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      • Battle of Britain (David Fleischer, Brazil 07/18/12 11:58 AM)
        Regarding the "Battle of Britain," the German Air Force concentrated its bombing against RAF airfields and suspected aircraft plants, so that during the last two days of the Battle of Britain the RAF had all of its available fighter planes in the air with no reserves left. At that point the German Air Force called it quits and halted the bombing raids. Churchill's famous quote was "Never so many owed their lives to so few" [the RAF pilots]. Regarding non-participation by the US, many young American pilots went to the UK and volunteered to join the RAF in the Battle of Britain. Also, we must remember the invention of radar that helped the RAF anticipate exactly when/where the German planes were approaching.

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  • Could the Soviet Union have Defeated Germany without US Material Aid? (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 07/16/12 7:39 AM)
    When commenting Tor Guimaraes's post of 15 July, JE asked whether the Soviet Union could have defeated Germany with US material aid (i.e., Lend Lease). It's an interesting question, endlessly debated by historians.

    By the numbers certainly yes--Lend Lease amounted to a bit less than 10% of materiel used by the Soviets. This 10% was a lot less than the margin by which the Soviets outproduced the Germans. The Soviets proved themselves to be masters of mass production of armaments, far surpassing the Germans despite having lost their main industrial areas in the initial months of Hitler's invasion. They simply packed up the factories and moved them thousands of miles to the Ural Mountains, hardly missing a beat in production. I find this impossible to understand. It takes at least two years to build a medium-size industrial building, from design to completion and commissioning. How could they move entire factories and have them producing at full output in a matter of weeks? How was it possible? In my opinion this aspect of the war has not been studied or written about enough; it's on my list of things to study. But I digress.

    Wars can be won with inferior resources and inferior production capabilities if they are won with a sharp, overwhelming blow--the way Hitler defeated France (I don't use the word "Blitzkrieg" because I don't like it--it was invented by Western journalists). But if an aggressor fails to defeat its enemy quickly, and a long war ensures, then the production and delivery of war materiel becomes a key factor in who wins.

    But it's not just the sheer quantity of materiel, you also cannot have any big holes in particular types of materiel, or in the quality of what you produce. So Lend-Lease was probably a more significant factor in the Soviet victory than the 10% figure implies. The Soviets obtained a number of items through Lend-Lease which they did not produce themselves. I have written about the Dodge and Studebaker trucks, supplied in enormous numbers by the US to the Soviet Army, which gave the Soviets a crucial advantage in mobility--as a result of being well supplied with trucks, the Soviets were better motorized and had better logistics altogether than the Germans, a crucial advantage. I suppose the Soviets surely would have been capable of mass producing their own trucks, but would that have diverted productive capacity away from the mass production of the T34 tank, a critical strategic weapon?

    I guess it's pure speculation, but my answer to John's question would be that yes--the Soviets would have won anyway, even without Lend-Lease, but it would have been much harder.

    Speaking of T34 tanks--it is a generally accepted fact that the T34 was the best tank of WWII, and gave the Soviets a crucial advantage against the Germans. Certainly it is indisputable that the T34 had a number of outstanding features and technical innovations--sloped armor which dramatically improved resistance to penetration, wide tracks which kept the T34 going on muddy roads while German tanks sank in and bogged down, powerful and reliable Diesel engines which gave the T34 speed exceeding most German tanks, and which were much less prone to catching fire when hit like the gasoline powered German tanks, and perhaps most importantly--capability of being produced in vast numbers, and being repaired in the field with rudimentary equipment. The problems the Germans had with their tanks are legendary--they wouldn't start in cold weather, they broke down endlessly, they were made in dozens of variants by artisan methods without standardized parts, their Maybach engines consumed vast quantities of gasoline which the Germans couldn't supply, they bogged down in the mud, they exploded instantly when hit, etc., etc.--to such an extent that the Germans eventually copied the T34, the ultimate flattery (imitation being the sincerest form of it, etc.). But why then did the Germans manage a 3:1 kill ratio against the T34 even in the last year of the war, with their allegedly inferior tanks?

    This is a tantalizing question which has always bothered me. And this question was taken up by the same statistician, Nigel Askey, who has done a unique deep statistical analysis of the war, and who among other things proved that the idea that the Germans were stopped at Moscow by hordes of Siberians is a myth. See:


    Askey makes a convincing case that the T34 had a fatal weakness in fire-control effectiveness, which made it relatively ineffective against German tanks despite all of the other great advantages of the T34 design. Which means that it is a good thing indeed for the Soviets that they were so successful in producing so many of them--they needed to. And that the Germans did such a poor job at producing good tanks in any quantity. Considering what an important weapon the tank was in WWII, if any of these things had been otherwise, we can imagine possibly even a different outcome.

    JE comments: Most interesting. Perhaps, when he has a chance, Cameron could discuss the relative firepower of the T34 vs. its German opponents.

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