Posted by: Dr Pano Kroko Churchill | September 16, 2017

What would Winston Churchill Do? (Chapter 42)

At this moment, the Empire was facing headwinds, and waves, that might split it apart.

Hitler is the most powerful person on the planet.

The Nazis are attacking their targets now outside of Germany.

Europe is going up in flames.

Evil seems to control the day, the year, the century.

And it was then that Winston Churchill found out that he was not to be included, in Stanley Baldwin’s new Government.

He was not even invited to advise on any of his big subjects.

Seems also that the India issue was close to imploding…

And most famously, although all of his timely warnings about Germany were being fulfilled; and the Government had received a mandate to rearm — nobody was taking the looming war or Winston’s advise about how to deflect it, seriously.

Indeed although it was widely forecast in the press, that Churchill would soon be asked to take over the Admiralty, and he could confidently expected the offer to be made any time — still he didn’t believe all these silly rumors.

Still for Winston the clarion call had aroused in him first and foremost the deep sense of duty to fight and lead his people to safety: “The growing German menace made me anxious to lay my hands upon our military machine. I could now feel very keenly what was coming. Distracted France and timid peace-loving Britain would soon be confronted with the challenge of the European Dictators. I was in sympathy with the changing temper of the Labour Party. Here was the chance of a true National Government. It was understood that the Admiralty would be vacant, and I wished very much to go there, should the Conservatives be returned to power.”

But this was not going to pass, because as soon as the election results became known; Baldwin announced through the Conservative Central Office that Winston Churchill would not going to be asked to join the Government.

Now Winston believed that his exclusion was a sop to the pacifist element in the House, but remembering that Baldwin had complained in the late twenties that Churchill flooded the Government with memoranda and advice and that “a Cabinet meeting when Winston was present did not have the opportunity of considering its proper agenda” it seems more likely that he was merely adhering to his resolve never again to have him as a colleague.

However, the Prime Minister was one of the shrewdest Party managers in the history of Conservatism and it stands to reason that he would have put his reservations aside if Winston had commanded any serious political or even popular following amidst the voters of the country. And at this point, we must admit sadly, that Winston did not.

Because back in 1935 Churchill had practically no support either in Parliament or amongst the people. It was a curious situation, since the public freely acknowledged his great gifts, they admired his courage, they read his books, they were impressed by his superb oratory, and yet they would not follow him to the voting station. Maybe because they believed him to be emotionally detached, and politically unsafe like a weathervane that changed too much based on the weather and could jump from one party to another at moment’s notice. Maybe because they had watched his career and listened to his wonderful eloquence for thirty-five years and had thus formed the opinion that his thirst for adventure always led him in search of heroic parts, or maybe because he left the impression that he overly dramatized himself, and the stage on which he performed.

Indeed, it appeared that in his hands, all incidents swelled into large events, and engulfed the whole world. And that is what one understood; if one had the temerity to follow his sturdy, yet easily combustible logic. And that they liked aplenty…

But they also remembered the young Minister who had sent field guns to Sidney Street; and the Home Secretary who had dispatched troops all over Britain in the railway strike of 1911 without waiting for the local authorities to ask for them; same as the First Lord of the Admiralty who had asked to take command of the army defending Antwerp; and the Minister for “War who had secured Allied intervention in the Russian revolution; or the Minister for Colonial Affairs who drafted the Chanak communique… and other Winston debacles, ‘ad infinitum.’

They remembered his frequent warnings that the Labour Party would destroy the constitution of the country, and that self-rule for India would mark the downfall of the British Empire.

Yes, he had exaggerated situations before. And now he was crying “Woolf” in exaggerated tones, and screaming to all the sundry, the Germans are coming.

Is he to be believed?

And if they choose to believe him — how could they know that he was right this time?

But personal misgiving was not the only reason for Winston’s failure to command a following. The public felt that he was offering them little hope of a better world. They had no faith in power politics. The idea of a Grand Alliance, based on the balance of power, had been tried often before and had often failed. On looking back it is clear that the only hope of arousing the people of Britain and France lay in the League of Nations.

Here was a great new concept; here was a concert of nations joined together in a common desire to establish for the first time a reign of international law; in the hope that they will be able to substitute the principles of diplomacy and of negotiation versus the acts of war.

The detractors of the League of Nations argued that it had been hopelessly crippled, soon after birth, by the withdrawal of the United States. Nevertheless, the fact remains that throughout the twenties and most of the thirties Britain and France together, if they had had the will, could have enforced the League’s authority.

But could they have commanded public support?

During the twenties the vast number of people who supported the League regarded it merely as a “moral force.” The Disarmament Conferences were held under its aegis and helped to swell the impression that it was an instrument of pacifism rather than an authority for the maintenance of order.

In the early thirties this conception gradually began to change.

Europe was growing increasingly frightened of Germany and by the middle of 1934 disarmament was abandoned. Many people said this spelled the death of the League of Nations because it had failed to deal either with the Chaco clashes in 1928, or with the Manchurian incident in 1931, or with the German rearmament at present time. So now that rearmament was seriously beginning anew, the last vestiges of its peaceful purpose seemed to have been stripped from it.

Winston Churchill was the only Leader that fought against this feeling of despair and told the House as early as 1932 that he deprecated “the kind of thought that, unless the League can force a general disarmament, and unless it can compel powerful nations in remote regions to comply with its decisions, it is dead and we must do away with it.”

Nevertheless it is a curious fact that even Winston Churchill did not understand the potential power of the League as a weapon for rallying public opinion. In the summer of 1935 it became apparent that Mussolini had designs on Abyssinia. The situation could scarcely have been more awkward. Italy was an ally of Britain and France and the three nations had pledged themselves to stand together against further aggression. On the other hand Abyssinia was a member of the League of Nations. If she was attacked what was the duty of Britain and France?

Winston’s attitude on this question was understandable.

All alone among the leading British statesmen he realized the full gravity of the German menace, and the increasingly desperate case for Liberty and Democracy, across the globe.

Yet in his desperate and lonely efforts to build up a strong balance of power he had no wish to see Italy estranged from France and Britain. In the fresh of July, 1935, he expressed his uneasiness to Parliament and cautioned the Government to move slowly: “We seemed to have allowed the impression to be created that we were ourselves coining forward as a sort of bellwether or fugleman to lead opinion in Europe against Italy’s Abyssinian designs.”

“It was even suggested that we would act individually and independently. I am glad to hear from the Foreign Secretary that there is no foundation for that. We must do our duty, but we must do it with other nations only in accordance with the obligations which others recognize as well. We are not strong enough to be the lawgiver and the spokesman of the world. We will do our part, but we cannot be asked to do more than our part in these matters.”

“As we stand today there is no doubt that a cloud has come over the old
friendship between Great Britain and Italy, a cloud which, it seems to me,
may very easily not pass away, although undoubtedly it is everyone’s
desire that it should. It is an old friendship, and we must not forget, what
is a little-known fact, that at the time Italy entered into the Triple Alliance
in the last century she stipulated particularly that in no circumstances
would the obligations under the Alliance bring her into armed conflict
with Great Britain.”

A month later he was invited to the Foreign Office and asked how far
he was prepared to go against Italian aggression in Abyssinia. He replied
that he thought the Foreign Secretary was justified in going as far with the
League of Nations against Italy as he could carry France.’But that he ought
not to put any pressure upon France because of her military convention
with Italy and her German preoccupations.’ This, of course, was tanta-
mount to doing nothing for as Churchill himself admitted: “In the circum-
stances I did not expect France would go very far.”

Winston’s point of view was understandable, nevertheless it was a serious mistake. Here was the man who had been asking his countrymen to take the lead against the treaty-breaking of Germany, now advising them to hang back over the flagrant aggression of Italy, knowing full well that unless Britain took the lead the act would be condoned. His attitude opened him to a charge of cynicism and expediency and revealed a complete misunderstanding of the drastic change that was taking place in British public opinion. There had been some indication of this evolution earlier in the year when the League of Nations Union sent out a questionnaire under the heading of “The Peace Ballot” the two most important
questions were these: ‘Do you consider that if a nation insists on attack-
ing another, the other nations should combine to compel it to stop by:
(a) economic and non-military measures? (b) if necessary military measures?’ Eleven million people answered (a) in the affirmative and nearly eight million answered (b) in the affirmative.

Stanley Baldwin was conscious of which way the wind was blowing and he fought the election of October 1935 on a promise to uphold the League of Nations. This same month another significant event occurred.

The Labour Party dismissed its pacifist leader George Lansbury, mainly
due to the influence of Ernest Bevin who told a large audience that he
was “tired of having George Lansbury’s conscience carted about from conference to conference” and put in his stead Major Clement Attlee, a Socialist who had been an infantry officer in the late war.

The British Government went ahead and rallied the support of fifty nations in the laying down of economic sanctions against Italy. Once the step had been taken, once Italy had been estranged, Winston gave the League his unqualified support. In a strong and eloquent speech in the House he professed his hope that sanctions would prove a decisive stumbling block to Mussolini’s conquest, and declared with emotion that the League of Nations had ‘passed from shadow into substance, from theory into practice, from rhetoric into reality.’ He announced courageously that if he were asked how far he would go in support of the League Covenant he would go “the whole way with the whole lot.”

But disillusion was soon to set in for Winston Churchill, for the British
people, and for all the whole of the Free world. Prime Minister Baldwin’s sanctions were only sham sanctions. He was determined to prevent war at all costs although we know today that if the Royal Navy had taken action, the matter would have been settled in a very few weeks. Yet, the Prime Minister was not prepared to impose the only sanction that really mattered, that of the oil sanctions. Furthermore, once the gesture had been made against Italy, he did not rule out the idea of a settlement. So no incentive was given for Italy or Germany to shift their position. Somehow, in January the British and French Foreign Secretaries met by accident at Geneva and concocted a plan, known as the Hoare-Laval proposals, which gave Italy a fifth of Abyssinia in return for calling off the war.

This cynical compromise profoundly shocked the British people and rocked the Government to its foundations. Stanley Baldwin was forced to withdraw the proposals and apologize to the House. Sir Samuel Hoare was forced to resign and Anthony Eden took his place. The sham sanctions continued against the fascists, and regardless os all that, Italy went ahead and completed her conquest of Ethiopia, and Abyssinia.

It was a dismal story.

Winston Churchill was traveling in Spain, and North Africa, during the Hoare-Laval crisis. If he had been in England he might have been able to exert enough pressure to force Baldwin to take him into the Cabinet, or at least to accept his positions, because the latter’s prestige had sunk to its lowest level ever. However, he profited from the lesson. He perceived that a new force had come into being in England. He understood the deep urge of the people for a righteous stand against oppression, and he saw that it was only by championing the League of Nations that he could finally rally the masses to his cause: “The cause of maintaining a balance of power on the side of Britain” or towards the right path as Winston saw it.

Two months later, in March 1936, he told this to the Conservative Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs: “You must not underrate the force which these ideals of the League of Nations, exert upon the modern democracy. One does not know how these seeds are planted by the winds of the centuries in the hearts of the working people. They are there, and just as strong as their love of liberty. We should not neglect them, because they are the essence of the genius of this island. Therefore, we believe that in the fostering and fortifying of the League of Nations will be found the best means of defending our island security, as well as maintaining grand universal causes with which we have very often found our own interests in natural accord. He then outlined his three, simple contentions: “First, that we must oppose the would-be dominator or potential aggressor. Second, that Germany under its present Nazi regime and its prodigious armaments, so swiftly developing, fills unmistakably that part. Third, that the League of Nations rallies many countries, and unites our people here at home in the most effective way to control the would-be aggressor.”

 

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The old cry “Disarmament and the League” was dead, and in its place Winston tried to substitute the slogan “Arms and the Covenant.” Throughout 1936 he commanded a growing following. Labour and Liberal leaders who, only a few years before, had regarded him as an archenemy, were now marching behind his banner. Sir Walter Citrine, the great Trade Union figure and one of the leaders of the General Strike, occasionally sat on his platform. But although Churchill had the moral backing of the Labour Party he failed to win the practical support that was so vital to his cause. The Socialists voted repeatedly in favour of the League of Nations but at the same time they refused to back any increase in armaments. This fantastically muddled policy was put forward on the grounds that Labour did not trust the Tories to use weapons in defence of the League.

Winston was also supported by a number of Conservative MPs but they were only a small splinter group, for the bulk of the Parliamentary Conservative Party was staunchly behind their leader, Stanley Baldwin.

And Baldwin was still determined not to take any risk, no matter how minute, which might lead to war. In March 1936 Hitler electrified Europe by marching into the Rhineland, in direct contravention of all the treaties.

France was paralysed with fear, and refused to move, unless Britain moved with her. But Baldwin still would not commit himself and urged the French to take the matter to the League. As we know today, if the French Army had advanced they would have forced Germany to move back with scarcely a shot fired. Hitler had occupied the Rhineland against the advice of his military experts with only a handful of troops. It was a gigantic bluff. He was gambling on the inertia of the democracies and if his gamble had not succeeded it is more than likely his whole regime would have crumbled. Thus one more chance to avert war was lost.

While France stood back trembling and undecided Winston tried to galvanize the world through collective action. “If the League of Nations were able to enforce its decree upon one of the most powerful countries in the world found to be an aggressor.’ he told the House of Commons on the 13th of March, “then the authority of the League would be set upon so majestic a pedestal that it must henceforth be the accepted sovereign authority by which all the quarrels of the people can be determined and controlled. Thus we might upon this occasion reach by one single bound the realization of our most cherished dreams.”

The people of Great Britain were ready to make a stand but they were not given the chance to do so. The country’s rulers were not prepared to risk anything, no matter how large the gain. Prominent men and leading newspapers began to play the crisis down. After all, at the same time that Hitler had invaded the Rhineland he had offered the democracies a non-aggression pact. The Times and the Daily Herald both expressed their faith in his offer. Such leading statesmen as Lloyd George and Lord Lothian said, respectively, that they “hoped we should keep our heads” and that “after all, they are only going into their own back garden.” Winston pointed out that if Germany fortified the Rhineland, which she was bound to do, it would “enable German troops to be economized on that line, and will enable the main forces to swing round through Belgium and Holland.”

This is indeed what exactly happened later, but at that time, in Britain those in responsible positions of power within the government and in the military — were not prepared to even listen.

 

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Winston continued to hammer home his theme throughout the years and his following continued to grow. He castigated Baldwin for not fulfilling his promise that British air power would not be “inferior to any country within striking distance of our shores” and turned the full force of his vehement and polished rhetoric upon him.

“The Government simply cannot make up their minds, or they cannot get the Prime Minister to make up his mind. So they go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent. So we go on preparing more months and years precious, perhaps vital, to the greatness of Britain for the locusts to eat.”

Stanley Baldwin’s stock once again was declining; Winston’s stock once again rising. Once again he might have regained high office, but for the strange intervention of fate. An event occurred which tipped the scales heavily the other way.

This was the Abdication Crisis.

Everyone knows the deftness and skill with which Stanley Baldwin handled the Abdication Crisis. As Philip Guedalla put it “the King was handled with a firmer touch than the King’s enemies.” He gave the Sovereign two clear choices: he could either renounce Mrs Simpson and keep the throne, or wed Mrs Simpson and abdicate. There was to be no “morganatic marriage.” The Prime Minister was treading on firm ground for public opinion was strongly behind him. He knew the British people would never accept a thrice married woman as their Queen.

It was expected of Winston to take the King’s side and plead the side of the
King’s cause, whereas in reality he counseled the German leaning fascist and misguided King, to swiftly abdicate. He could not possibly have hoped to gain from it: indeed he had everything to lose. But he had a romantic nature and a sympathy with the monarch’s wish to marry for love, but he couldn’t stand his Nazist leanings. Moreover although he had a deep sense of loyalty, and he had known Edward VIII, since his childhood, and as Home Secretary had read out the proclamation creating him as Prince of Wales — he responded honestly when the King sent for him on his own initiative, to ask for advice and help. As Lord Birkenhead had once pointed out: “Winston never failed a friend, no matter how embarrassing the obligation appeared at the time. He felt it his duty to serve the King until the end.”

Winston actually drew his sword and attacked Baldwin, for trying to rush the issue, and pleaded with the House of Commons for delay. Public sentiment was
so strong, however, that a storm of wrath broke on his head. He was
accused of lacking all principal and trying to make political capital of the
matter. He was accused of trying to form a King’s party and wreck the
constitution. He was accused of his usual bad judgment. The tragedy was
that the following he had gathered, so important for the life of Europe,
began to melt away, while Stanley Baldwin, a discredited Prime Minister,
was once again installed high in public favour. ‘There were several
moments when I seemed to be entirely alone against a wrathful House of
Commons. I am not, when in action, unduly affected by hostile currents of
feeling; but it was on more than one occasion almost physically impos-
sible to make myself heard. All the forces I had gathered together on
“Arms and the Covenant”, of which I conceived myself to be the main-
spring, were estranged or dissolved, and I was myself so smitten in public
opinion that it was the almost universal view that my political life was at
last ended.’ [1 Hansard: 12 November, 1936]

The history of the thirties makes tragic reading. If even a small part of
Winston Churchill’s advice had been heeded the second great world
catastrophe would never have taken place. He will be remembered in
history as a man of war, but no statesman has ever tried more valiantly to
save.the peace. ‘My mind was obsessed by the impression of the terrific
Germany I had seen and felt in action during the years of 1914 to 1918
suddenly becoming again possessed of all her martial power.’ he wrote,
‘while the Allies, who had so narrowly survived, gaped idle and be-
wildered.’ Under Stanley Baldwin the Allies continued to gape; under
Neville Chamberlain they moved forward but on the wrong road.

The vacillation of the French and British and the blindness of the
Americans during the late thirties almost passes comprehension. Nearly
every foreign correspondent in Europe was aware of the derision in which
the dictators held the democracies, and the determination of the dictators
to strike while the going was good. There is a mass of journalistic warn-
ings on the subject. In 1937 Winston had a long conversation with the
German Ambassador in London, Herr von Ribbentrop. The latter told
him that Germany must have a free hand in Eastern Europe, and Winston
replied that he was sure that the British Government would not agree to it.
‘In that case,’ said von Ribbentrop, ‘war is inevitable. There is no way out.
The Fuhrer is resolved. Nothing will stop him and nothing will stop us.
This conversation was not unique. In Germany similar sentiments were
expressed freely to anyone who would listen. Indeed it would be difficult
to find another period in history where the aggressive designs of a nation
were so unconcealed.

 

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It is therefore even more remarkable that of all the statesmen in the
Western world Winston Churchill alone perceived the danger from the
start and consistently pointed out the only course to follow. He never, for
one moment, took his eyes off the balance of power, and every action he
urged was to strengthen the balance in favour of Britain and France.
During the first half of the thirties he begged the democracies to build up
their strength. ‘If you wish to bring about a war, you bring about such an
equipoise that both sides think they have a chance of winning. If you
want to stop a war, you gather such an aggregation offeree on the side of
peace that the aggressor, whoever he may be, will not dare to challenge.’
This advice was not followed. During the second half of the thirties he
begged the democracies to combine to uphold law and order. ‘Why not
make a stand while there is still a good company of united, very powerful
countries that share our dangers and our aspirations? Why should we delay
until we are confronted with a general landslide of those small countries
passing over, because they have no other choice, to the overwhelming
power of the Nazi regime?’

But even more remarkable than his prescience was his unflagging
courage. His boldness illuminates the darkness of the thirties and saves it
from the scathing judgment of posterity. When in 1937, despite all his
warnings and prophecies, he was shunned by his Party and ignored by
Parliament, a lesser man might have turned from the House of Commons
in despair and occupied himself with his own affairs. But Winston never
faltered. Whether the tide was with him or not he sailed on. He was
derided by his enemies, patronized by his friends, and mocked by the
press, yet he continued to work feverishly to stave off the approaching
calamity.

Although Stanley Baldwin excluded Churchill from office, he offered
him a sop. In 1935 he invited him to sit on the newly constituted Com-
mittee of Air Defence Research. A man of smaller stature might have
refused the offer, arguing that if his Party did not think highly enough of
him to employ him in a Ministerial capacity they would have to do with-
out his services in minor spheres. But Winston was determined to serve,
no matter how humble the capacity. He asked that Professor Lindemann
should be placed on the Technical Sub-Committee so that they might
work together. For the next five years he mastered every aspect of
scientific air defence. He heard Professor Tizard make his report on radiowave location, which resulted in the setting up of an experimental
organization. In 1939 when the Air Committee held its final meeting
twenty radar stations were in operation between Portsmouth and Scapa
Flow and it was possible to detect aircraft from fifty to one hundred and
twenty miles away flying above ten thousand feet. Winston was also given
free access to the Admiralty and made it his business to acquaint himself
with every detail of the new building programme, and the latest develop-
ments in guns, armour and explosives. Thus when he became Prime
Minister he had more knowledge of the technicalities of sea and air
defence than any other statesman called to lead a nation in war.

Winston’s persistent and lonely efforts to save his country from war for
nearly ten years, unsupported by any single political party in the House of
Commons, are without parallel in English history. Many politicians have
opposed the Government but they have usually had the backing of a Party. Winston stood alone. In 1920 an anonymous writer in the Daily News had written prophetically:
“Politics for Winston Churchill, if they are to fulfil his promise, must be a religion. They must have nothing to do with Winston Churchill. They must have everything to do with the salvation of mankind.”

Winston had found his cause; and no one would argue today that it was not concerned with the salvation of mankind.

The year 1937 was one of the most painful of Winston Churchill’s life. His influence had fallen to zero, partly because of his attitude over the Abdication Crisis, partly because Hitler and Mussolini remained quiet and people began to feel that perhaps there would not be a war after all. Winston Churchill’s stock remained at low ebb throughout the early months of 1938, and it was at this period that a journalist first met him. His son, Randolph, took her to Chartwell House one day for lunch, when Winston Churchill was down by the pond, in a torn coat and a battered hat, prodding the water with a stick, looking for his pet goldfish which seemed to have disappeared. He was in an expansive mood and at lunch the conversation centered, as it usually did, on politics. He expressed his fear that England would refuse to show her hand until it was not only too late to avoid war, but too late to hope to even win a war.

As he talked one could not help being struck by the restless energy and the deep frustration of the man. In spite of his writing, his weekly contributions to
the press, his long and masterly speeches in the Commons, one was aware that only a quarter of his resources were being used, and you felt that he was like a mighty torrent trying to burst its dams.

The sense of frustration was not difficult to understand.

Shortly after this luncheon, people heard him speak in the House of Commons, on the 24th of March, 1938, two weeks after the German invasion of Austria. As they looked down from the gallery on the sea of black coats and white faces, Winston seemed only one man of many; but when he spoke his words rang through the House with terrible finality. He stood addressing the Speaker, his shoulders hunched, his head thrust forward, his hands in his waistcoat pockets, and he just started:
“For five years I have talked to this House on these matters not with very great success. I have watched this famous island descending incontinently, fecklessly, the stairway which leads to a dark gulf. It is a fine broad stairway at the beginning, but after a bit the carpet ends. A little farther on there are only flagstones, and a little farther on still these break beneath your feet. Look back over the last five years. It is true that great mistakes were made in the years immediately after the war. But at Locarno we laid the foundations from which a great forward movement could have been made. Look back upon the last five years since, that is to say, Germany began to rearm in earnest and openly to seek revenge. If we study the history of Rome and Carthage we can understand what happened and why. It is not difficult to form an intelligent view about the
three Punic Wars; but if mortal catastrophe should overtake the British Nation and the British Empire, historians a thousand years hence will still be baffled by the mystery of our affairs. They will never understand how it was that a victorious nation, with everything in hand, suffered themselves to be brought low, and to cast away all that they had gained by measureless sacrifice and absolute victory gone with the wind.”

“Now the victors are vanquished, and those who threw down their arms in the field and sued for an armistice are striding on to world mastery. That is the position that is the terrible transformation that has taken place bit by bit. I rejoice to hear from the Prime Minister that a further supreme effort is to be made to place us in a position of security.”

“Now is the time at last to rouse the nation. Perhaps it is the last time it can
be roused with a chance of preventing war, or with a chance of coming
through to victory should our efforts to prevent war fail. We should lay
aside every hindrance and endeavour by uniting the whole force and spirit
of our people to raise again a great British nation standing up before all
the world; for such a nation, rising in its ancient vigour, can even at this
hour save civilization.”

When Winston Churchill sat down there was a deep silence for a moment, and then the show was over… The House broke into a hubbub of noise. Members rattled their papers and shuffled their way to the lobby. A prominent Conservative leader talking to a friend, was asked what he thought of the speech he replied lightly: “Oh, the usual Churchillian filibuster; he likes to rattle the long curved saber, and he does it jolly well, but you always have to take it with a grain of salt.” This was the general attitude of the House of Commons in those days. Many years later Churchill wrote: “I had to be very careful not to lose my poise in the great discussions and debates which crowded upon us. I had to control my feelings and appear serene, indifferent, detached. In view of the circumstances, this was no small feat in itself.”

Unlike Stanley Baldwin, Neville Chamberlain had a positive policy. This policy was completely contrary to Winston’s belief in the balance of power, and to the age-old formula which Britain had always followed in refusing to allow any single Power to dominate the Continent of Europe. Chamberlain believed that Britain and Germany could come to a peaceful understanding about spheres of interest. In short, Chamberlain thought along the lines of the simplistic philosophy that tottered around the day: “Let Germany extend her influence on the Continent, let Britain look to her Navy and her Empire.”

Chamberlain had not been in office long before he set about putting these ill-fated theories into practice. He forgave the Nazi invasion of Austria and journeyed to Italy to try and establish friendly relations with Mussolini. This brought about the resignation of Anthony Eden, whose heart was in the right place, but who had never had the moral strength to dissociate himself from Baldwin’s vacillating and fascism appeasing policies, that had allowed Hitler to occupy a score of countries unopposed.

Then came Munich.

Chamberlain flew to Germany three times, and returned home with the famous agreement which gave Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland to the Germans. When Chamberlain waved that piece of toilet paper to the people upon his arrival back in London, Winston cried foul and attacked the Appeasers of the German Tyrant saying first that this agreement was worth it’s weight as toilet paper and then he spoke more circumspectly and respectfully in the Hose of Commons by saying this: “One pound was demanded at the pistol point. When it was given, two pounds were demanded at the pistol point. Finally the Dictator consented to take all the rest of the gold, in promise of goodwill for the future.”

But Chamberlain enunciated his belief that it was “peace with honor” and what is more “peace in our time” and the whole world acclaimed him as a saviour. Never before, had Chamberlain, been so popular. But this alternative dream made up of fake news, was not to last for very long. Only six months after Munich, and after a solemn declaration from Hitler that he had no “evil intentions towards Czechoslovakia” the German army moved into Prague. At last the scales fell away from the blind eyes of the British leader; and the British public, and at last they all saw what Germany meant as regular business. From that moment on, the policy of appeasement was over, and England and France quickly signed a guarantee for Poland’s defense and territorial integrity.

“By this time, though — the German military, navy, and air force, had every form of military superiority against all the rest of the major powers. The British could never catch up.” This is the story Winston played up on “The Gathering Storm.”

At this point Winston Churchill regarded war as inevitable. There was only one faint hope left, and that was an alliance with Russia. Although Winston had been the Soviet Union’s most hostile critic during the twenties, he welcomed Russia’s entry into the League of Nations in 1934, for he saw it as added reinforcement to the balance of power. A few months before the Munich Agreement he spoke out plainly, describing her as: “a country whose form of government I detest, but how improvidently foolish we should be when dangers are so great, to put needless barriers in the way of the general associations of the great Russian mass with resistance to an act of Nazi aggression.”

After Munich he spoke again, begging Chamberlain to accept the Soviet offer of a Triple Alliance which would bind Great Britain, France and Russia in a guarantee for the safety of the states in Central and Eastern Europe.

But Poland feared Russia as much as Germany, and asked for help from England. But Mr Chamberlain hesitated and didn’t want to offend his new friend the Socialist Mr Hitler, and thus the alliance with Poland was never established. Instead, in the summer of 1939 Hitler outsmarted the old willy Albion, and made a nifty deal with Stalin to carve up neutral Poland n two, amongst themselves.

The secret deal held, and Hitler unsuspecting Poland and annihilated it, same as Stalin did on his half of the Polish corpse of a country.

The systematic murder of all the Polish leadership and intelligentsia numbering in the hundreds of thousands of people — burst upon the world as the Soviet-German Pact.

The English lion slept fitfully…

Germany’s hands were now free for other business.

In September the second World War began.

 

To be continued:


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