Monday, 21 February 2011

Were we right to declare war on Germany?

My father and grandfather both joined up in 1939 but neither saw action. But I still consider 'we' defeated Germany (or rather Russia did). Our finest hour. Or was our finest hour the Delhi Durbar of 1911? I am sure we should have avoided war with the Kaiser's Germany (not because I am unaware how unpleasant that regime was) and had we made peace in 1914 or 1915 between France, Russia, Austria-Hungary and Germany and equally important managed to remain at peace with Turkey that surely would have been our finest hour. 1939 is very much more problematic. Hitler wanted European war at some point though not with Great Britain. I am not sure how 'we' British could have avoided going to war in 1939 and had we done so how we could have kept out and yet I think it would on balance have been better if we had. Would a Europe ruled by Germany have been much worse than the outcome we had in 1945? Not for Central or East Europeans. We fought to throw away our power, our Empire, to become a client of America, for the USSR to conquer half of Europe. My educated guess is the Jews would not have been killed had we been neutral lookers-on. Are these speculations important? Coulda woulda shoulda..

I at school was bored by the familiar history of Western European fronts in both wars when what mattered clearly was Eastern Europe. The Great War after all was won in Bulgaria but how many know that? 'We' knew a lot in 1945 about Auschwitz but people at the time were surprisingly uninterested - see the postscript to Tony Judt's Europe. Yet the history of the Western World since 1950 is a disquisition on Auschwitz. The colonial powers had also ruled over subject races, sometimes with brutality (80,000 Madagascans may have been killed by the French in an uprising in 1946 though this figure is disputed) and in the moment of their restoration this fact and the loss of white prestige inflicted by the wartime Japanese made empires and colour bars untenable. It would scarcely be an exaggeration that almost everything flows from that.

In the former Communist Europe there is very little interest in the subject and no guilt even though Romania's record, for example, on Jews is pretty bad.

In Transylvania one is reminded how the Germans and Hungarians preserved the Romanians (Vlachs and gypsies too). Elsewhere Germans ruled over Estonians, Latvians and other subject races for centuries, whereas  the British Americans killed their indigenous peoples.

A. J. P. Taylor: ''If the Germans had succeeded in exterminating their Slav neighbours, as the Anglo-Saxons in North America succeeded in exterminating the Indians, the effect would have been what it has been on the Americans: the Germans would have become advocates of brotherly love and international reconciliation.'' Hitler himself said: who now remembers the Armenians?

1 comment:

  1. 'In Transylvania one is reminded how the Germans and Hungarians preserved the Romanians (Vlachs and gypsies too)'

    Since when are Romanians of two types: Vlachs and gypsies? I seems you haven't fully gotten it out of your head that gypsies and Romanians are not the same thing. Gypsies are as Romanian as they are Hungarian or British or Spanish or any other country in which they can be found (yes, they can be found in all countries in Europe not just in Romania).