The Phoney Victory: The World War 2 Illusion

Peter Hitchens has been threatening for some time to write a book on the Second World War. The Phoney Victory: The World War 2 Illusion is as provocative and unsettling as you would expect.

I’ve read a great deal on this subject so much of what he has to say comes as no great revelation to me but Hitchens does make a couple of important points that I hadn’t come across before.

The first is that World War One not only left Britain broke, she has never actually paid for that war. Britain ran up enormous debts to the United States which have never been paid. In fact no payments at all have been made since 1934.

The second point is his claim that far from being a doddering old fool who cravenly tried to avoid war Chamberlain was actually a doddering an old fool who actually sought war and was determined to get it. Hitchen’s contention is that the infamous and disastrous Polish Guarantee of 1939 (a guarantee that Britain shamefully never intended actually to honour) was a cynical and dishonest ploy to bring about war.

The details of the Poles’ own cynicism and folly are certainly not new to me but Hitchens’ demolition of the myth of Plucky Little Poland will doubtless come as a shock to many readers.

The third crucial point is that the Second World War was actually two separate wars. The first war began when the British and the French declared war on Germany in September 1939 and ended less than a year later with the total defeat of Britain and France. They were not merely defeated. They were destroyed forever as Great Powers. Henceforth both countries were minor powers of no consequence.

The second war was fought and won by the Soviet Union with some assistance from the United States. Britain played no significant rôle.

The intention of the book was to demolish the many myths that make up the average Briton’s understanding of the Second World War. As Hitchens explains it has long been common knowledge among historians that most of the official story of the war was a collection of myths but these myths are remarkably persistent.

One of the myths at which the author takes aim is the one that surrounds U.S. policy before and during the war. He makes the point that there was nothing particularly immoral about U.S. policy. It put America’s interests first. Britain’s interests were not considered at all. Of course no government has any obligation to consider the interests of foreign states. The problem was that people in Britain, including many who should have known better, convinced themselves that the Americans really did see them as cousins. In fact the U.S. regarded Britain as a troublesome rival that ideally should be stripped of its power and its empire. But the propaganda of the time stressed the fantasy that Britain and America were two branches of the same family and that propaganda is still believed today.

Hitchens doesn’t claim to have undertaken any original research. As he explains, everything in the book has been well known to professional historians for decades. Well known to professional historians but unknown to the general public. The war’s dirty little secrets have been hidden in plain sight. More seriously, the myths surrounding the Second World War are still being used by politicians and the media to manipulate the public into acquiescing in dangerous and futile foreign policy adventures.

The most upsetting parts of the book for many people will be the chapters dealing with the Battle of Britain and the strategic bombing of Germany. Of all WW2 myths none is more sacred than the Battle of Britain myth but Hitchens points out that it really was largely a myth. Hitler never had the slightest intention of attempting an invasion of Britain.

On the bombing offensive Hitchens pulls no punches. It was barbarism, pure and simple. And it was not even effective barbarism.

You won’t be surprised to learn that Winston Churchill emerges as a man not only entirely lacking in honour and decency but equally lacking in good sense.

Perhaps just upsetting will be the account of the ethnic cleansing of millions of Germans from eastern Europe in 1945, which cost the lives of between half a million and one-and-a-half million people, the vast majority of them women and children. It was a tragedy but it was no accident. It was a deliberately planned and entirely unnecessary act of savagery.

The most important point which is made again and again is that you cannot use one evil to excuse another. You cannot even use a great evil to excuse a slightly lesser evil. Evil is evil. The fact that Britain’s leaders were willing to commit acts of unequivocal evil is in Hitchen’s view part of the reason for Britain’s postwar moral decline (and the evils committed by the other victorious allies have also doubtless contributed to their moral decline as well). It is not just the acceptance of evil that has been the problem, but the stubborn refusal to acknowledge the lies and the deceptions.

What makes it all worse is that the final victory was, for Britain, no victory at all. Poland was not saved. The British Empire was lost. Britain was reduced to the status of a third-rate power and an American vassal. The country was bankrupted. The world was not made safe for democracy. Postwar Britain looked more like a defeated nation than a victor.

The book will doubtless will be greeted with howls of outrage. It is important to note that Hitchens deserves no pleasure from demolishing these myths. It is an unpleasant but necessary task since these very same myths continue to be the basis for British foreign policy.

A book that I recommend very highly indeed.

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The First World War and the death of empires

It is now exactly a hundred years since the guns stopped firing in the First World War. I don’t propose to discuss the rights and wrongs of the war since there is little to be said on that subject that hasn’t already been said.

I do want to take about one of the most evil of all the evil results of the war.

The war destroyed four great empires – the German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires. I’m sure that none of those empires could have been described as perfect but they were all significantly better than what replaced them.

The destruction of the German Empire led to the chaos of the Weimar Republic and then to Hitler.

The destruction of the Russian Empire paved the way for the Bolshevik seizure of power in 1917. The Russian Empire was autocratic and authoritarian certainly but it was not especially brutal. It was also an empire that was booming. Contrary to popularly held views the collapse of the Tsarist empire was by no means inevitable. In fact in 1914 there was every reason to think that it had a bright future in front of it. The war brought Lenin to power. Without the war Lenin would have lived out his days as just another failed revolutionary in exile. He would hardly have qualified even as a footnote to history.

The destruction of the Austro-Hungarian Empire led to some extraordinarily ill-advised territorial reorganisations which were always going to end up leading to further war.

And most of the horrors that have been visited upon the Middle East in the last century can be said to be due to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

The First World War changed everything and remarkably it changed almost everything in extraordinarily disastrous ways. It’s difficult to think of a single good thing that came out of that war.

That’s the trouble with wars. They set in motion events that are entirely unpredictable and are often the exact opposite of the result that had been hoped for. What they destroy can never be rebuilt. They kindle a fatal desire for political and social experimentation. They encourage the entirely pernicious desire to change things.

Most wars would have been better not fought. That applies particularly strongly to the First World War.

conservatives and history

It is a curious fact that conservatives (I mean mainstream political conservatives rather than social conservatives) have never conserved anything and have never seriously tried to do so. The explanation is of course that mainstream conservatives are in fact liberals. Their entire worldview is liberal to the core. But how is it that these conservatives have never been troubled by the contradictions inherent in being liberals who call themselves conservatives?

Perhaps part of the explanation is the Whig view of history which has reigned unchallenged (particularly in the Anglosphere) for centuries. The Whig view of history is that the whole of history is an inevitable progression towards the Promised Land in which society will be organised entirely upon pure liberal lines. Its only challenger has been Marxist history but the Marxist approach to history is merely a variation on the Whig approach. To Marxist historians the endpoint of history is a society organised upon pure Marxist lines but the process is identical. History is inevitable, history is progressive, the trend is always towards a better and more virtuous world, change is good because change is always for the better (because old things and old ways are always bad), the good guys (the liberals) always triumph in the end.

In other times and places quite different views of history have prevailed. Cyclical views of history seemed to have predominated in the ancient world and in the East. The Christian view of history, that it is the unfolding of God’s plan, was at one time immensely influential. For the past couple of hundred years cyclical views of history have been very much on the fringe whilst the Christian view of history is now held only by extremist Christian heretics such as dispensationalists. Mainstream Christians accept the fundamentally anti-Christian Whig view of history.

It’s inherent in the Whig view that everything that happens in history will always turn out in the long run to be liberal and progressive and good and in accordance with Whig principles, because it’s in the very nature of history that liberalism must be the winning side. Liberalism is on the right side of history.

So naturally the outcome of historical conflicts, whether military or political, must tend to contribute to the defeat of those on the Wrong Side Of History. This means that the winners of any military or political conflict must be the good guys. Conservatives tend to believe this, and in fact most of us believe it because for several centuries we have been thoroughly indoctrinated in the Whig approach to history. It’s interesting that this even applies to obviously disastrous wars like the First World War. No matter how appalled we may be by that exercise in butchery most of us still feel that somehow the Germans must have been the bad guys, simply because they lost.  The fact that they lost is enough to prove that they were in the wrong.

This is an attitude that is unconsciously adhered to by most people in the Anglosphere. Victory in war is proof that one is on the Right Side of History. Mainstream conservatives do not question this because to do so would be to question the rightness and the inevitable triumph of liberalism.

This also applies to victory in political struggles. While it may seem obvious that the Sexual Revolution that began in the 60s was a catastrophe in every way and is something that needs to be undone if society is to survive very very few mainstream conservatives would dare to think such a thing, much less say it. It’s the same with the triumphs of feminism and the homosexual lobby. Mainstream conservatives are unwilling to adopt a radically critical stance towards such matters because the very fact that those who pushed the Sexual Revolution and feminism and the homosexual agenda succeeded proves that they were on the Right Side of History. Clearly those cataclysmic social changes were Meant To Be.

The irony is that conservatives end up being totally opposed to the idea of conserving anything because the only way to be on the Right Side of History is to be favour of constant change.

France after the Liberation, an orgy of revenge?

Ron Unz has been posting some interesting articles on historical revisionism lately. Historical revisionism always gets my attention.

Of course revisionist historians have to be approached with caution since they usually have an axe to grind, but on the other hand the mainstream historians pushing the orthodox line usually have axes to grind as well. That’s the thing about history – everybody has an axe to grind. Everybody has an agenda. Not surprising, since as Orwell tells us, who controls the past controls the future. History is and always has been propaganda. As Napoleon put it, history is a set of lies agreed upon.

One of the most interesting of Ron Unz’s posts, Post-War France and Post-War Germany, deals with France under the Vichy regime and France after the Liberation. The idea that after the Liberation of France up to 80,000 people, or possibly even as many as 105,000, were summarily executed as collaborators is rather disturbing. It’s even more disturbing that a very large number may have been executed by the communists in the Resistance, for the crime of being anti-communist.

The whole subject of the Resistance is one that the defenders of the orthodox line would prefer to avoid. There is no doubt that most of those who claimed to have fought for the Resistance actually joined after the Liberation. By the late 40s it seemed that every single Frenchman claimed to have been a brave Resistance fighter.

In fact most of the these wartime resistance movements that were so enthusiastically supported by Churchill were dominated by communists who were more interested in strengthening their position in the post-war world than in actually doing anything useful to win the war. What they mostly achieved was to provoke retaliations that led to the deaths of countless innocent people, whilst contributing very little to winning the war. Churchill may in this case have been merely deluded in believing that these groups were more useful than they actually were but it’s also pretty clear that he wasn’t especially bothered by the deaths of so many innocent civilians in the resulting reprisals. Just as he was quite unconcerned by the deaths of civilians (including French civilians) in British bombing raids.

Of course these are still very emotional subjects that most people would prefer not to think about. The orthodox historical account, the accepted narrative, is very comforting and inspiring. And it has to be admitted that revisionist historians are sometimes wrong. They do sometimes attract people who are candidates for tinfoil hats. But the revisionists are not always wrong.

looking to the past, but which past?

Traditionalists and social conservatives have a very natural tendency to look to the past. Gaining inspiration from the past is quite healthy.

The problem, when you’re faced with a civilisation like ours that is bent on self-destruction, is deciding exactly which past we should be looking to. Some pasts may be useful to us in trying to rebuild civilisation whilst other pasts are not so useful. We need to regard the past with a critical eye.

Take nationalism for example. Since the great evil of our age is globalism it’s tempting to think that the antidote must be nationalism. Nationalism in fact is not all that traditionalist. It’s a fairly modern concept. It did not exist before the early modern period. The Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 was an important step in the recognition of the modern nation state as the basis for European civilisation.

If you’re a traditionalist it is worth noting that the modern nation state is entirely secular and can only be secular and is fundamentally hostile to Christianity, and to religion in general. The nation becomes a replacement for God.

The modern nation state is not particularly favourable for any traditional institutions. It tends to be hostile towards regional identities and it’s not exactly wildly pro-family.

Perhaps we need to look back, not to the great age of nation states, but to the great age of other political structures. For example, the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Or even the Ottoman Empire.

These were in fact remarkably successful entities. The empire of the Habsburgs lasted for for four hundred years. The Ottoman Empire lasted for about six centuries. They were reasonably stable. They did not fail. They were deliberately destroyed in 1918. In both cases the destruction of the empire led to chaos and a hundred years later we are still dealing with much of this chaos.

As a recent post at A Political Refugee From the Global Village points out, the fall of the Ottoman Empire explains most of our current ills.

film review: Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)

Speaking of naval fiction and screen adaptations of naval fiction, like so many youthful fans of this genre I eventually ran out of Hornblower novels to read and moved on to other writers. Writers like Patrick O’Brian. I think most people would concede that C.S. Forester and O’Brian are the two giants of this genre. My admiration for O’Brian’s novels has caused me to avoid seeing the 2003 movie adaptation  of his work, on the assumption that a 21st century movie version would almost certainly be riddled with political correctness and would almost certainly miss the subtleties of the novels.

Now that I’ve finally seen Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World I have to confess that my fears were not really justified. It’s actually pretty good.

The problem with historical fiction, and historical movies, is that they almost always say more about the era in which they are produced than about the era in which they are set. This problem has always existed but has become steadily worse. Contemporary historical fiction and movies are populated entirely by 21st century characters wearing period costume. The beliefs, values, attitudes, opinions and prejudices of the characters reflect today’s world and appear so hopelessly anachronistic in historical films that such books and films become merely absurd. It is very difficult to avoid this trap.

Watching Master and Commander it’s obvious that screenwriters John Collee and Peter Weir have at least tried to avoid this pitfall. The characters do to a certain extent reflect the very different outlook and the very different values of the early 19th century. Captain Jack Aubrey is motivated by a sense of duty that would seem absurd in a character in a modern movie but it feels reasonably right for the period. His views are roughly what you expect from a British frigate captain in the middle of the Napoleonic Wars.

He is even allowed to give a little speech on the subject, and (even more surprisingly) on the subject of patriotism. Most surprising of all is that he is permitted to deliver the speech in a refreshingly non-ironic manner.

The great temptation would have been to make his friend naturalist/physician friend  Stephen Maturin into a proto-SJW. Mercifully this does not happen. Jack and Stephen disagree strongly on countless subjects but both men remain fairly plausible as men of their time. Stephen might be a religious sceptic but he deplores the egalitarianism of the French Revolution. He believes in social hierarchies.  Stephen likes to give the impression that he sees the Navy mostly as a way to pursue his interest in natural history but when push comes to shove and the survival of the ship is at stake he is more than willing to grab pistol and cutlass and indulge (with considerable enthusiasm) in hand-to-hand fighting.

This is certainly a magnificent looking film. It’s grungy enough to be convincing without overdoing it. The action scenes are great. As far as entertainment is concerned it scores very highly.

The biggest plus is Russell Crowe as Jack Aubrey. I’ve never had much time for Crowe as an actor but he’s superb here. Most crucially he plays Aubrey as a genuine hero. He’s not an anti-hero. He’s not a flawed and tortured hero. He’s the real deal.

There’s also a welcome lack of political correctness. It’s not that the film is politically incorrect – it simply ignores the existence of PC and gets on with the story. Of course you have to remember that it was made fifteen years ago and you probably wouldn’t get away with such a film today.

All in all Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is much much better than I’d expected.

It’s also interesting to compare it to the roughly contemporary Hornblower TV series.

The never-ending Cold War

In Orwell’s 1984 Oceania is in a permanent state of war, either with Eurasia or Eastasia. The advantages of permanent war are obvious – it distracts people from the realities of economic stagnation and it’s a perfect justification for more and more political repression. In actual fact the endless wars are largely illusory. People see newsreels of epic battles but in reality these wars are mostly small-scale border skirmishes.

In other words it’s much like the Cold War – lots of fear-mongering but mostly fairly small-scale proxy wars.

In fact it’s pretty much like the world today. It seems like we can look forward to never-ending Cold Wars. It certainly seems that those who shape U.S. foreign policy are determined that there must always be a Cold War. It’s not just for the reasons outlined above. There are other even more compelling reasons to maintain a permanent state of Cold War. War is very profitable. It’s not profitable for everybody of course, but it’s profitable for the people who count. As far as those people are concerned the business of America is war.

The difficulty lies in justifying vast and completely unnecessary military expenditures for a country that has no actual viable enemies and doesn’t actually need to spend more than a token amount on defence. The solution is simple. If the U.S. doesn’t have enemies, make up some pretend enemies. In order to justify the massive spending they have to appear to be at least vaguely credible enemies. There are only two possible candidates, Russia and China. Therefore Oceania (the U.S. and its satellites) must be constantly at war with either Eurasia (Russia) or Eastasia (China).

But wars are messy things and don’t always turn out the way you’d hoped. Sometimes you even lose, as happened to the U.S. in Vietnam. So the best solution is permanent Cold War. It’s just as profitable but a lot safer.

There’s an even worse downside to fighting an actual war. What if you win and there’s no enemy left to fight? How do you continue to keep the money flowing to the military-industrial complex? That was the nightmare scenario facing the American defence establishment in 1945. With Germany and Japan totally defeated the U.S. no longer needed an enormous military. Fortunately an answer was found. The Cold War was like an answered prayer. Pretty soon the money was flowing again in a very satisfactory manner. The military-industrial complex has no intention of facing such a nightmare again so the new Cold War must never end.

It’s important to understand that it makes no difference who happens to be in government in Russia and China or what policies those nations pursue. The U.S. must have enemies, so therefore Russia and China must be those enemies.

It seems highly probable that the Russians are well aware of all this, and have come to the conclusion that there is absolutely no point in trying to negotiate with the Americans. The Americans will never negotiate in good faith. Therefore the permanent Cold War just has to be accepted.

There are certain advantages to this situation for both Russia and China. The biggest threats they face are the economic and cultural menace from the West, especially the cultural menace. If a Cold War encourages anti-American feeling it might provide some protection from the tidal wave of western degeneracy that threatens to engulf the entire planet. Cultural isolationism may well be the only hope for survival for both Russia and China.