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Thursday, September 03, 2009

A State of War

His soft, lilting voice called the Empire to war. In a three minute radio speech on September 3rd, 1939 Neville Chamberlain announced the declaration of war on Germany. In fulfilling his guarantee of Polish sovereignty, ten months after having betrayed the Czechs to Hitler, Chamberlain did so with all the enthusiasm of a doomed man. His language was pleading that Britain had no other choice, that he had tried his very best but that war couldn't be helped. In the popular imagination the time between Poland's conquest and the invasion of the Low Countries and Norway are the "Phony War." Chamberlain vanishes from the scene during this period. A spent force - in every sense, he would die in late 1940 - the full consequences of his years of inaction would only be fully realized by the British public in the frantic days of Dunkirk. 

This war was not like the last war. The slow grinding war of attrition was replaced by Blitzkrieg. The little known irony was that this German word had partly British origins. The military theorists J. F. C. Fuller and Basil Lidell Hart had envisioned a new kind of warfare in the dying days of the last war. The Hundred Days of 1918 had seen Australian, Canadian and British troops spearhead the destruction the Kaiser's Army using Blitzkrieg like tactics. 

The first two years of the new war showed, very bloodily and painfully, how horribly unprepared the Allies were for it. The Wehrmacht utterly outclassed anything in the world at the time, and arguably since. The legendary German officer corp, its origins going back to the birth of the Prussian state more than two centuries before, granted German forces a remarkable skill for improvisation. All of this was placed at the disposal of a psychotic with a gift for oratory. The strange and sordid tale by which one of the world's leading nations fell into the hands of Nazism is beyond the scope of this post. An object lesson not simply of evil but how otherwise decent and respectable people fall under its sway. 

Good men doing nothing. In Germany and in Britain. Chamberlain's name has become a epithet in the seven decades since the beginning of the Second World War. In his defence it has been said that appeasement was simply a skillful stalling for time, allowing Britain to rearm. His protestations of seeking peace a blind for preparations for war. Certainly after Munich British spending on arms rose dramatically. The theory, however, imparts a level of cynicism and skill that Chamberlain is not known to have had. A more likely explanation is pragmatism. Seeking peace, while preparing for war, was a strategy to appease factions within his own party and the country.

Parliament and the nation turned to Churchill as a last resort. A loose cannon whose name was still associated with the disaster of Gallipoli and his "ratting" from Tories to the Liberals and back again. His wilderness years had begun not because of his opposition to appeasement, but his refusal to support a measure to grant India greater self-rule and his support for free trade. Excluded from Ramsey Macdonald's National Government of 1931, Churchill spent much of the early 1930s writing histories and biographies. In the 1934 he gave his famous The Threat of War speech. It was only in early September of 1939 that he was recalled to his old post as First Lord of the Admiralty. "Winston is Back" went the signal to the fleet. 

Posted by Richard Anderson on September 3, 2009 | Permalink


It's hard to believe that 70 years have passed since the start of the Second World War. For my generation it was the pivotal event of all recent history. Then-current events around the world flowed directly from the waging and resolution of that war. May we never forget those who sacrificed something or everything for human freedom.

I just wish that the Ontarians saw things this way. For them the war was a gigantic opportunity to make money. Recruitment there was limited to the jobless who believed in a paycheck more than the cause. Even Quebecers showed more enthusiasm. The Ontario-based governments of the time neglected military, naval and air preparedness which made Canada's military efforts rather lethargic compared to others. Quantity they had, but not the quality they possessed in the First World War.

How disrespectful is Ontario to the war? Later-day revisionists at the CBC and the NFB have openly praised the Axis for their humanity and damned the Allies as war criminals. Worse, Holocaust denial remains a viable issue in Ontario, thanks to their hero Ernst Zundel. Only in the Palestinian territories do schools repeat that act. Incredible!

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2009-09-03 7:27:40 AM

It just occurred to me there are parallels between Hitler and you.
You hate everything about Ontario.
Hitlers hate of Jews stemmed from his art professor when told he lacked talent.
What is it about Ontario that sends you off the deep end every time the name comes up ??.

Posted by: peterj | 2009-09-03 11:29:34 AM

Pike, I'm surprised you didn't blame the rise of Hitler on Ontarians.

Posted by: Charles | 2009-09-03 12:06:04 PM

Ontario had precious little to do with his decline, except rampant profiteering.

peterj: see my comments above about Toronto's favorite son, Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel, and the recent decision to segregate their schools. You people are an atrocity.

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2009-09-03 12:21:20 PM

Thank you.We're all refreshed and challenged by your unique point of view.

Posted by: peterj | 2009-09-03 12:32:52 PM

Er, Zeb old son, when I lived in Toronto I was just about literally the only guy in town who actually liked Ernst Zundel. He lived across the street from me, and his security - which was pretty durn thorough - kept my doorstep safe, so I though of him as a good neighbour. 99% of the population, meanwhile, wanted to burn his house down with him in it. Not a favourite son by any stretch.

Posted by: ebt | 2009-09-03 2:54:23 PM

ebt: but they didn't burn his house down with him in it. Hmm, they might as well have been his supporters. They clearly did not try hard enough. Don't give me the story that the authorities failed to act. Alberta tossed Jim Keegstra in a fraction of the time that Ontario did for its favorite son. I don't know why people put up with Ontario's lethargy and disrespect for veterans. Heck, they cheered 9/11.

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2009-09-03 3:54:23 PM

but they didn't burn his house down with him in it.
Posted by: Zebulon Punk | 2009-09-03 3:54:23 PM

Now Da Punk advocates vigilantly justice. If you don't like what someone says or stands for kill him. Only in a backward society like Alberta could a moron like Da Punk emerge.

Posted by: The Stig | 2009-09-03 5:04:04 PM

"Winston is Back" went the signal to the fleet.
Posted by PUBLIUS on September 3, 2009

His wartime speeches notwithstanding, Churchill's ineptness in diplomacy from the end of WW1, when he continued the food blockade of Germany through through 1930's when he ended the Anglo-Japanese alliance to appease the Americans, his refusal to rearm, to forcing Chamberlain to announce that Britain would go to war for Poland, when he knew that Britain wouldn't send a single soldier to Poland, to his appeasement of Stalin during WW2, brought a war upon Britain that need not have happened, which ultimately bankrupted the country, ended the empire and reduced Britain to that of a second tier power.

Posted by: The Stig | 2009-09-03 6:06:52 PM

Churchill gave Britain precious thing: a future. It was cheap at twice the price.

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2009-09-03 6:17:48 PM

"to his appeasement of Stalin".
That's a bit of a low blow because all the allies kissed Stalins ass during the war.Also , Britain would have been dragged into the war regardless.

Posted by: peterj | 2009-09-03 6:27:12 PM

Churchill gave Britain precious thing: a future. It was cheap at twice the price.
Posted by: Zebulon Punk | 2009-09-03 6:17:48 PM

What he gave Britain was a bankrupt country, rationing that went on into the mid-50's, loss of empire and chief toady to the US with the myth of a "special relationship". And the British public were so grateful they turfed him from office as soon as the war ended. Da Punk as usual hasn't a clue what he talking about.

Posted by: The Stig | 2009-09-03 6:33:24 PM

Stig: Was any of that better or worse than losing to the Nazis and possible extermination? Have you any idea of what it was like to live under Nazi occupation? They killed anyone who got in their way, not just Jews or other so-called "Untermensch" but people they considered equal to Germans like Norwegians, Danes, Dutch, etc. It was the worst regime in world history, and putting it down was the greatest act of justice.

His defeat in 1945 symbolized the need for new leadership in peace, not an attack on his wartime policies. During the war, the national emergency government with Labour implemented reforms such as the Beveridge Report on Social Security. So it was not all his fault. Most Britons seemed happy enough to live with the results of the war.

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2009-09-03 7:02:02 PM

That's a bit of a low blow because all the allies kissed Stalins ass during the war.Also , Britain would have been dragged into the war regardless.
Posted by: peterj | 2009-09-03 6:27:12 PM

I was referring to the forced reparation of close to 2 million Russians, Poles, etc sent back to Stalin. Churchill knew from intelligence reports what was going to happen to them, shot or the gulag. He could have said no.

Posted by: The Stig | 2009-09-03 7:03:54 PM

Stig: Was any of that better or worse than losing to the Nazis and possible extermination?
Posted by: Zebulon Punk | 2009-09-03 7:02:02 PM

There is significant evidence both from Britain and Germany that Hitler had no intention of invading Britain or dismantling the empire. Germany was a continental power that looked east not west. France and Britain gambled on Poland and lost. Go back to reading your Sgt. Rock comic books.

Posted by: The Stig | 2009-09-03 7:16:32 PM

Then why did the Nazis attack Britain from the sea and the air throughout the war and threaten invasion in 1940? Why did German submarines raid the sealanes between North America and the British isles? Why did German raiders raid as far away as Tasmania, Australia? Hitler intended to wage war against Britain and its empire. To say otherwise is foolish. Moreover, Churchill to his credit forbade any peace dealings with Hitler. I suggest you put away the David Irving books - the man is a notorious Holocaust denier.

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2009-09-03 7:27:23 PM

I suggest you put away the David Irving books - the man is a notorious Holocaust denier.
Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2009-09-03 7:27:23 PM

Nice try asshole. The discussion is of the invasion of Britain not the holocaust. The evidence I use comes from Beevor, Evans, Tooze etc. And don't ever, ever, ever suggest I am a holocaust denier you fucking piece of shit.

Posted by: The Stig | 2009-09-03 7:36:28 PM

Pat Buchanan or John Charmley then? It's all the same really.

Your ideas make no sense and fly in the face of well-defended interpretations. Hitler may have given up on his land invasion of Britain but he never intended to let them live in peace. He kept substantial forces in France for that purpose, and sent more to North Africa, Iraq, and the Mediterranean, especially the Afrika Corps. Sea and air power was active everywhere. Hitler was the bad guy, not Churchill. Far from it in fact.

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2009-09-03 7:44:21 PM

Pat Buchanan is not a holocaust denier. In fact, he lost a relative at one of the concentration camps. His uncle fell out of a guard tower! Seriously though, Hitler wanted global domination. Look, you can blame politicians like Churchill and French leader Clemencu for imposing heavy financial burdens, or reducing Germany's Weimar Republic armed forces to a paper tiger. However, Hitler was a nut who wanted a global empire. His writings call for remaking the world(not just Germany in his image). Also, lets remember that rearmament was politically impossible in 1930's Britain. Anti-war sentiment strongly dominated British society. Clement Atlee and his British Labour Party campaigned against rearmament(then in his 1945 campaign against Churchill faulted Winston for not preparing Britain for war. Then, Atlee promised the public that his socialist economic policies would resurrect war damaged Britain). Many members of the Conservative Party held similar views. If you look at British movies of the time, there is a strong anti-war sentiment(together with the concept that a new war would destroy humanity). The same non-involvement sentiments existed in America(until Pearl Harbor, U.S. citizens opposed intervening in the european conflict by about 67%-16%). Also, if Hitler had no intention to invade Britain then what was Operation Sealion(the planned invasion of Britain which Hitler officially cancelled on Sept 17, 1940). It called for multiple amphibious landings as well as paratrooper drops at Dover and Brighton. Sorry, but this was one fight that couldn't be avoided!

Posted by: Jack | 2009-09-03 9:11:04 PM

So, Zeb, by your own standards you're a hero in Toronto! Or else you're the most voluble corpse I've ever encountered. Which is it?

If you're really proud of what was done to a harmless lunatic like Jim Keegstra, then you're a filthier turd than anyone you could have met in Toronto. And you and I both know what kind of standard that is.

Posted by: ebt | 2009-09-04 12:12:24 PM

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