The excitement of the Scottish referendum is over and it is time to turn our attention to other and, possibly, more important matters: the coming issue of the Conservative History Journal. First things first: if, by some remote chance, you have not subscribed to this excellent publication, you still have time to do so by using this link. As to why you should do it? Well, here are a few answers:
Matthew Francis writing about the search for Constructive Conservatism, which will discuss the idea of "property owning democracy". I must admit that I am particularly looking forward to this as I am in the middle of a book about Noel Skelton, the onlie begetter of that concept. In fact, I may preempt the Journal and write a blog on the subject before that.
Articles by Nigel West on MI5 and the First World War (was it really called that at the time?) and Professor Simon Ball on Prime Ministers in the First World War (hmm, I wonder whose side he will take).
Dr Richard A. Gaunt, an expert on Robert Peel has an article entitled A Power Behind the Throne? Sir Robert Peel, Prince Albert and the Making of the Modern Monarchy and Dr John W. Hawkins on The Queen’s Member: The unregretted life of Colonel Robert Richardson-Gardner.
There is much more but those are enough to be going on with.
On September 17, 1939 the war that is known as the Second World War entered its crucial phase though, possibly, this was not recognized at the time. The Soviet Union, acting in accordance with the Pact that the two Foreign Minister, Molotov and Ribbentrop had signed, invaded eastern Poland, thus squeezing the Polish army and the population of that country between themselves and Nazi Germany.
One cannot really ignore Low's brilliant cartoon on the subject.
Here is a photograph that remains one of my favourites from that period and that region: the jolly meeting at a German military parade in Brest of two tank commanders, General Heinz Guderian and General Semyon Krivoshein who was, as it happens, Jewish. Astonishingly enough, General Krivoshein survived two purges: that of the armed forces in 1938 and that of prominent (and not so prominent) Jews in 1951. As the great Sovietologist, Robert Conquest, said to me when I asked him why he thought Krivoshein survived: "Someone had to".
Both generals were prominent in the Battle of Kursk. Friendships between tyrants have a short life.
I wrote more about that here.
So spoke the Prime Minister, the Rt Hon. Neville Chamberlain at 11.15 BST on September 3, 1939. After the announcement by Alvar Lidell that the Prime Minister would now address the nation, Mr Chamberlain said:
This morning the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German Government a final Note stating that, unless we heard from them by 11 o'clock that they were prepared at once to WITHDRAW their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us.In the end, right did but it took a good many more decades than just the Second World War and the news from eastern Ukraine makes one feel that the battle is not over yet.
I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany.
You can imagine what a bitter blow it is to me that all my long struggle to win peace has failed. Yet I cannot believe that there is anything more or anything different that I could have done and that would have been more successful.
Up to the very last it would have been quite possible to have arranged a peaceful and honourable settlement between Germany and Poland, but Hitler would not have it. He had evidently made up his mind to attack Poland whatever happened, and although He now says he put forward reasonable proposals which were rejected by the Poles, that is not a true statement. The proposals were never shown to the Poles, nor to us, and, although they were announced in a German broadcast on Thursday night, Hitler did not wait to hear comments on them, but ordered his troops to cross the Polish frontier. His action shows convincingly that there is no chance of expecting that this man will ever give up his practice of using force to gain his will. He can only be stopped by force.
We and France are today, in fulfilment of our obligations, going to the aid of Poland, who is so bravely resisting this wicked and unprovoked attack on her people. We have a clear conscience. We have done all that any country could do to establish peace. The situation in which no word given by Germany's ruler could be TRUSTED and no people or country could feel themselves safe has become intolerable. And now that we have resolved to finish it, I know that you will all play your part with calmness and courage.
At such a moment as this the assurances of support that we have received from the Empire are a source of profound encouragement to us.
The Government have made plans under which it will be possible to carry on the work of the nation in the days of stress and strain that may be ahead. But these plans need your help. You may be taking your part in the fighting services or as a volunteer in one of the branches of Civil Defence. If so you will report for duty in accordance with the instructions you have received. You may be engaged in work essential to the prosecution of war for the maintenance of the life of the people - in factories, in transport, in public utility concerns, or in the supply of other necessaries of life. If so, it is of vital importance that you should carry on with your jobs.
Now may God bless you all. May He defend the right. It is the evil things that we shall be fighting against - brute force, bad faith, injustice, oppression and persecution - and against them I am certain that the right will prevail.
On September 1, 1939 German troops crossed into Poland and the Second World War began. Britain and France, having guaranteed Poland's borders, would declare war on Germany in two days' time. The Soviet Union was, at that stage, Germany's ally and would, itself, invade Poland on September 17. Nobody guaranteed the country's eastern borders.
This is a well known picture: German soldiers move Polish border fences to open the road to tanks, armoured vehicles and for the troops to march in.
Below is a more optimistic picture: Poland for years under German and Soviet occupation became independent again in 1989. Today they were commemorating the German invasion and the tragedies that followed for many years.
On August 24, 1814 Washington burned.
Soldiers and marines under Major-General Robert Ross and Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn put Washington’s public buildings, including the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Library of Congress, the Treasury building, the State and War Departments, the historic Navy Yard and the President’s House (as the White House was then known), to the torch.Mr Madison's war seemed of little importance to the British who were fighting Napoleon and many Americans have preferred to forget what was a serious national humiliation created by a series of misjudgements on the part of the President and the Secretary of War.
An interesting account and analysis in History Today, as ever.
It is possible that the remembrance season we entered two days ago will last the four or five years until it will be time to commemorate the tragic peace that followed the unusually tragic war but it is much more likely that there will be a complete exhaustion of commemoration all round and even politicians and media hacks will stop reminding us about the need to remember those who died for us and to draw the necessary lessons.
It seems very unlikely that people will remember the dead of the various wars of the last century on a day to day basis but equally unlikely that they will forget them completely. We are, after all, reminded of them every year at the moving and solemn Remembrance Day events. Is that not enough? In recent years, because of Britain's involvement in two major wars in Iraq (at an end for several years) and Afghanistan (coming to an end) there has been a revival of interest and emotion connected with that solemn moment of the Eleventh Hour on the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month, which has become a time when we recall all the other wars as well and their various heroes and victims. It is my great fear that the multiplication of remembrance and the outright gorging on sentimentality of the last few days will take away attention from Remembrance Day. People may well feel quite bloated with remembrance by the time we get to the right day.
And so, on to August 4, 1914, generally seen as the beginning of the First World War, the horror unleashed on Europe and the world that, in its turn, precipitated further horrors. On that day Britain declared war on Germany. While there is evidence that politicians and diplomats felt that they had failed in solving the crisis, the public in both countries was enthusiastic about the war but, as is natural, lost that enthusiasm in years to come.
In Britain, when Asquith addressed a packed House of Commons, he said:No reply came and the Foreign Office released the following statement:
“We have made a request to the German Government that we shall have a satisfactory assurance as to the Belgium neutrality before midnight tonight. The German reply to our request was unsatisfactory.”
Asquith explained that he had received a telegram from the German Ambassador in London who, in turn, had received one from the German Foreign Secretary. Officials in Berlin wanted the point pressed home that German forces went through Belgium to avoid the French doing so in an attack on Germany. Berlin had “absolutely unimpeachable information” that the French planned to attack the German Army via Belgium.
Asquith stated that the government could not “regard this in any sense a satisfactory communication.”
“We have, in reply to it (the telegram), repeated the request we made last week to the German Government that they should give us the same assurance with regard to Belgium neutrality as was given to us and to Belgium by France last week. We have asked that a reply to that request and a satisfactory answer to the telegram of this morning, should be given before midnight.”
Owing to the summary rejection by the German Government of the request made by His Majesty’s Government for assurances that the neutrality of Belgium would be respected, His Majesty’s Ambassador in Berlin has received his passport, and His Majesty’s Government has declared to the German Government that a state of war exists between Great Britain and Germany as from 11pm on August 4th.The nightmare began and has lasted to this day. Two days ago, on August 4, 2014, a great deal of commemoration went on.
We cannot argue with the importance of the date or the fact that the centenary should, in some way, be remembered. But one cannot help thinking that it was all overdone to an almost nauseating extent. Military parades, restrained speeches, the laying of wreaths (will they all be laid again in November?), beautiful services in various cathedrals are all solemn and, up to a point, moving. Photographs and newsreels of the period are enormously interesting and a number of exhibitions around the country have been fascinating.
But did we really need the call for darkness and the lighting of candles? Sir Edward Grey's famous comment about the lamps going out in Europe was not a literal description of what happened. Did we really need all the commentary, the endless sentimentality, the glorification of Britain's decision to go to war? Let me make it quite clear: I am not, in this posting, discussing either that or the various military campaigns, merely the surfeit of remembrance. We must remember! We must learn our lessons! But what must we remember? That war is hellish? Who doesn't know that? Given the fact that most of what was repeated in those endless comments was the old old myths about the war and the trenches, as if there had been no naval war, no air war, no fighting elsewhere in Europe and the world, nothing much seems to have been learnt about the actual events outside the pages of such magazines as History Today.
Those lessons we must learn? What are they exactly? That war is a bad thing? Well, who knew? That war is sometimes unavoidable? I am shocked, I tell you, shocked. The slightest suggestion that perhaps British generals were not quite as stupid as the mythology would have it, that many people came back from the war and got on with their lives, that British casualties were not as high as other countries', that, perhaps, signing those treaties with France and Russia was not such a good idea when we look at what they led to, that maybe it was not simply Germany's fault though they were hardly victims and of other not very controversial matters was greeted with hysterical outbursts about visiting battle fields (I have not done that but have visited at least one military cemetery and it was very moving) and the need to remember. Not to understand, not to keep a stiff upper lip but to remember.
It is one of the curious developments of the last few years that as Britain becomes less and less of a military power for psychological as well as practical reason, so there is a greater proliferation of memorials and remembrance festivities, till they have become a season, whose end is not in sight.
I should like to quote relevant comments from two writers, both, as it happens conservative. Dorothy L. Sayers's novel The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club which starts on Remembrance Day (and raises an interesting question about the wearing of the poppy) has a number of characters who had gone through the war and had been affected by it in a greater and lesser degree. Lord Peter Wimsey who, as readers of Sayers's books know, had suffered from shell-shock but had more or less overcome it meets at the beginning of the novel George Fentiman who seems to have been gassed and shell-shocked. He is in a bad state and seems unable to recover from his experiences. (There is a sort of a happy solution at the end of the novel but it does not ring true. Sayers's own marriage to a man who had never really recovered from the war was not happy.)
Listening to George Fentiman's complaints, Wimsey diagnoses the problem:
Cheer up. All this remembrance-day business gets on your nerves, don't it? It's my belief most of us would only be too pleased to chuck these community hysterics if the beastly newspapers didn't run it for all it's worth. However, it don't do to say so.That was written in 1928.
My other quotation is from John Dickson Carr, a writer who was more than a conservative, positively a Tory, and it refers to the period immediately after the Second World War. Carr was in Britain at the end of the war and was not particularly happy by the regime imposed on the country by the Labour government (a good many people were unhappy about it, feeling justifiably that war-time rationing and regulations should not intensify once the war was over).
In November 1945 he went back to the States and together with Frederick Dannay (one half of Ellery Queen) scoured the second-hand bookshops for the detective fiction of his youth. He emerged with what must have been a remarkable haul, including a complete set of novels by Carolyn Wells, an extremely popular writer in her day but almost forgotten now. Carr wanted to bring the books back to Britain but found it an incredible chore, it being necessary. apparently, to obtain a licence for the process from a government that rather sniffily discouraged, according to what Carr quoted in a letter to Dannay, the importation of fiction. (Who but a socialist government would think of that?)
As Douglas G. Greene quotes in his superlative biography of Carr and as Curtis J. Evans re-quotes in his essay on Carolyn Wells in the recent collection Mysteries Unlocked, Carr wrote to Dannay in May 1946 that the British government has finally (after six months) agreed to grant that licence though he also received "a stern letter saying it is not customary to allow importation of fiction". Carr goes on:
The regulations in this country go more and more damnable. One more war for liberty and we shall all be slaves.Something to mull over in this remembrance season.
The point is that the WSPU, though it is extraordinarily well known and has had a great deal of attention devoted to it by the journalists, writers and the entertainment industry, was only one of several organizations and not a particularly popular one among suffragists in general. (The word "suffragette" was first coined by the Daily Mail as an insult and has been used as a sort of rough distinction from "suffragists" who wanted to achieve votes for women through peaceful means and rational arguments.)
Looking at the undoubtedly fascinating collection of photographs, some known but mostly not, and documents issued by the police and the Home Office I was reminded that I still have not written sufficiently about Conservative suffragists, which I shall do very soon.
However, it was undoubtedly annoying to see some of the old myths being peddled if only indirectly. The introductory comments explained that the fight for women's suffrage had been going on for almost a century before the WSPU was formed but with no success. Therefore, some of the suffragists, led by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters, especially the lawyer Christabel, decided on ever more violent action. This made the cause well known though divided opinion, added the note. The implication, unstated because it would not be true, that the militant activity of the Pankhursts was successful in the way previous peaceful campaigning had not been.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Women did not get the vote until 1918 and that was the result of their supreme war effort that really destroyed the argument that women cannot be trusted to think about bigger issues than their homes.
It does seem to me that the myth of the victorious violent and often left-wing (certainly as far as Sylvia and Adela Pankhurst were concerned) should be laid to rest. Would the National Portrait Gallery consider an exhibition of portraits of Suffragists, many of whom were Conservative?