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Post Churchill and Chamberlain; on Apologists
Created by John Eipper on 07/20/12 10:55 AM

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Churchill and Chamberlain; on Apologists (Tor Guimaraes, USA, 07/20/12 10:55 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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    • 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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