battle never done

John Lukacs once made the rather pessimistic observation that had Hitler succeeded in subduing England and conquering the Island, the English would have acted with the same dynamic of complicity and collaboration with the victors that the French had exhibited. That is, an English Vichy on par with the lack of spine and character associated with the French. A conquered England would release a well-spring of pent-up inferiority complexes egged on by the likes of Oswald Moseley and that toxic mix of nationalism. Opportunism and the incentive to claw up the social status scale. The phenomenon of Fascism is still with us, a central political factor  over seventy-five years after Hitler. With these daunting prospects in mind, why would Churchill have taken the path of most resistance and not taken to making the “best deal possible” in the dark days of 1940? Certainly, he was a complex figure, both compelling and annoying, a racist by our more politically correct analyses, but also a keen observer of human character….Lukacs also said that all history is revisionism in some form….

(see link at end) John Lukacs: …In Italy, neo-Fascist parties get about 12 percent of the national vote. Mussolini’s body, secretly recovered by some of his followers, now rests in a kind of mausoleum at his birthplace, Predappio, visited every day by throngs of his admirers, who bring flowers and inscriptions in his honor. Fresh flowers are placed almost every week on the grave of the parents of Adolf Hitler in Leonding, Austria, 64 years after his death. In France, six decades after its liberation, Jean-Marie Le Pen’s National Front was able to gather 18 percent of the vote in 2002. The main appeal of Le Pen’s party (and also of nationalist parties elsewhere in Europe) is its understandable opposition to the accumulation of immigrants. But on innumerable occasions Le Pen has stated that the German occupation of France during the Second World War was not a national tragedy. Among other things, he has extolled Robert Brasillach as a French national martyr and hero—an extreme Nazified French intellectual, one of the few condemned to death in 1945 whom General De Gaulle refused to pardon. Without exception, the ideas of these so-called right-wing (more precisely: radically nationalist) parties rest on their views of the Second World War, views contrary to the accepted views of their governments and of other governments….

—Many of the most powerful people in his own party believed it was time to settle for the best deal you could get from the Germans.
At that moment when all seemed lost, something was found, as Winston Churchill pronounced some of the most famous lines of the past century. “We shall go on to the end,” he said defiantly, in tones plummy and, on the surviving recordings, surprisingly thick-tongued. “We shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” Churchill’s words did all that words can do in the world. They said what had to be done; they announced why it had to be done then; they inspired those who had to do it.
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In the United States, too, there were and still are people who did or do not think that the Second World War was a good war. I am not referring to the customary small minority of idealist pacifists but to people who, on occasion, thought and said and wrote that America’s alliance with the Soviet Union—and, more telling, its support of Churchill’s Britain in 1940 and 1941—was wrong. At that time this was an “isolationist” (in reality, a nationalist and populist) minority, even though a considerable one, represented by such national figures as the former president Herbert Hoover, Senator Robert Taft, and the national hero Charles Lindbergh. But soon after the Second World War, they and their supporters became the core of the American “conservative” movement—worth noting, since three decades later “conservatives” became something like a majority among the American people, electing popular Republican presidents, of a party that had become nationalist and populist. It is true that by now not many American “conservatives” suggest or say that the Second World War was not a good cause; but some of them still do. One example: a book by Patrick Buchanan (once an adviser to and communications director for Ronald Reagan), excoriating Churchill and stating that the entire Second World War against Hitler’s Germany had been a mistake—on a best-seller list in 2008….

—Churchill saw that he was a fierce nationalist who had found a way of resurrecting and winning the obedience of the great engine of recent European history, the German Army. “You must never underrate the power of the German machine,” he said, “this tremendous association of people who think about nothing but war.” And then Churchill understood in his bones that Hitler was an apocalyptic romantic, who genuinely wanted a war. Churchill had always been perfectly willing to negotiate with bad guys, even with people he thought of as terrorists: one of the high points of his political career was the agreement for Irish independence that, as Colonial Secretary in the Lloyd George government after the war, he arrived at with the I.R.A. leader Michael Collins, a man who, in Churchill’s mind, was simply a murderer. Churchill not only negotiated with Collins but came to admire his character and dash. Churchill’s point, in the thirties, was not that bad guys should never be placated but that Germans possessed by a big idea and a reformed military are extremely dangerous to their neighbors.
For Churchill always thought in terms not of national interest but of a national character that could trump interest. The Germans “combine in the most deadly manner the qualities of the warrior and the slave,” he said firmly. “They do not value freedom themselves and the spectacle of it in others is hateful to them.” Or, as he put it more succinctly, “They are carnivorous sheep.” We do not think this way anymore. (Except during the World Cup, when we do.) As an intellectual exercise, defining Germans seems perilously close to defaming Jews. Churchill did not see it this way. Germans for him are disciplined, servile, and dangerous when their servility meets a character out of Wagner; Russians are sloppy, sentimental, and brutally effective in the long haul; the French are brilliant, gallant, but prone to quick collapses through an excess of imagination and blind, vindictive self-assertion—these are the clichés of European history, but they are Churchill’s touchstones. The Germans were trouble because they needed a nanny and they had got a nihilist.
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…Seventy years later we must understand, too, that Germany and National Socialism represented an intellectual and spiritual and ideological movement that for a while—throughout the 1930s and at least during the first part of the Second World War—was very powerful, surely in Europe. By and large this was a reaction against communism and, perhaps even more, against international capitalism, and against the liberal and democratic intellectual ideas and political practices of the 19th century. Such practices seemed antiquated and corrupt by the 1930s, at the latest. We must be careful with these words. A reaction, yes; but reactionary this inclination was not. The mistake of many conservatives across Europe (and especially and disastrously of German conservatives such as Franz von Papen and others) was their belief that the great change, including Hitler, was a natural swinging of the pendulum of history backward, away from the ideas and principles of 1789, of the French Revolution. They—like, alas, many “conservative” thinkers even now—did not see, or did not wish to see, that Hitler and National Socialism were populist and modern (and even democratic, in the narrow sense of that word, extolling popular sovereignty). Hitler’s contempt for the old and creaking aristocratic and monarchical states of the 18th century was deeper and stronger than his dismissal of 1789. (Thomas Carlyle, whom Hitler admired, would, had he lived into the 20th century, unquestionably have admired Hitler. Edmund Burke, who saw 1789 otherwise than Carlyle did, would have not.)…

…“The historian . . . must always maintain towards his subject an indeterminist point of view. He must constantly put himself at a point in the past at which the human factors still seem to permit different outcomes. If he writes of Salamis, then it must be as if the Persians might still win.” Two decades ago I chose this passage to be the epigraph and motto of my book The Duel, dealing with the history of the 80 days between May 10 and July 31, 1940, since at that very time Hitler could have won his war. What if Hitler had subdued England in June 1940? This “What if?” is not a counterfactual question. It is admissible, because the success of Churchill’s and Britain’s defiance of Hitler was not inevitable….

…Let me now ask a painful question that I have often asked myself: Was the Holocaust inevitable? No. Let me put this reasonably: What if there had been no Holocaust?—more precisely, no planned and completed murder of six million Jews and other victims during the Second World War? What if Hitler and his minions had chosen to sequester and corral and deport Jews and other victims of Germany from much of Europe into miserable concentration camps, but not proceed to kill most of them—whereby most Jews and other victims in Europe and in the western Soviet Union would have survived the war? Hitler did think that Jews and his other dangerous opponents must be expelled; but by 1941 there was no way to gather and send them to some faraway place at the end of the world; they had to be liquidated: for what would they do if, God forbid, his Germany lost the war? Well, there is one certain answer I think I can give to this—not at all implausible—potentiality. It is that, if so, after the war and surely now, 60 or more years later, the reputation of Hitler and of National Socialism would be much better than it is. So these hecatombs of the dead, these “crooked lines” have had at least one “straight” result. (Even those who deny or argue to diminish the extent of the Holocaust do not quite say that, yes, there was a war, and the Jews got what they deserved.)…

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(see link at end)…In May of 1940, Halifax, the Foreign Secretary, was open to negotiations with Hitler, by way of Mussolini, to see what terms were available, and he had the confidence of the Conservative Party, and of the British establishment, in a way that Churchill never would. “If we got to the point of discussing the terms of a general settlement, and found we could obtain terms which did not postulate the destruction of our independence, we should be foolish if we did not accept them,” Halifax said bluntly. Churchill grasped the sort of terms that would likely be on offer from the Germans: the same sort of terms offered to and accepted by Vichy France in June. He could even name those whom Hitler would surely have picked to be the Pétains and Lavals of England: the Fascist Oswald Mosley as Prime Minister; King Edward called home from abroad; and Lloyd George brought out of retirement. The list of internees already existed.

The usual explanation for Churchill’s advancement is that Halifax, as a peer, would have had to lead the government from the House of Lords, an implausible situation. But Lukacs argues persuasively for the importance of Churchill’s genuine magnanimity to the defeated and ailing Neville Chamberlain—an ancient rivalry of fathers brought forward into a new generation and healed—which kept Chamberlain from opposing his old rival Churchill. And the Labour ministers who had been brought into the coalition in the War Cabinet were thoroughgoing anti-Hitlerians; Churchill ascended with the crucial support of the socialists.
So, with nothing else to be done, Churchill began to speak. He gave six major speeches, in Parliament or on the radio, in the next four and a half months, and much of his reputation rests on those.

…Churchill’s telepathic sense of Hitler also allowed him to grasp that shaking a rhetorical fist in his face might make the dictator act with self-destructive rage. Peter Fleming, Ian’s more gifted older brother, summed it up well in the decade after the war ended:

It required no profound knowledge of the British character to realise that threats would strengthen rather than weaken their will to resist; but it did require more imagination than Hitler possessed to see what immense advantages might have been gained if in June 1940 he had turned his back on England instead of shaking his fist at her.

Churchill, understanding that Hitler wanted not just to conquer but to be recognized by the British Empire he admired, knew that he could provoke in Hitler the rage of a spurned suitor. When, in late August, a German bomber hit London, perhaps by accident, Churchill shrewdly retaliated, though to no particular harm, against Berlin—but the insult to Hitler’s pride was so intense that he discarded the strategic plan to take out airfields and aircraft factories, and began the terror bombing of London, just to show them. This killed a lot of people, and let the R.A.F. regroup. The worst was over, and the war, though hardly won, would surely not be lost.

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