Having read Churchill’s The Gathering Storm for the third or fourth time, it strikes me as frighteningly inauspicious, and not only for the United States today. Churchill was a leading proponent of stopping Hitler before stopping him would involve the massive devastation inflicted on much of the world when World War II eventually came. He noted:
We must regard as deeply blameworthy before history … [all British parties] during this fatal period. Delight in smooth-sounding platitudes, refusal to face unpleasant facts, desire for popularity and electoral success irrespective of the vital interests of the State, genuine love of peace and pathetic belief that love can be its sole foundation … the strong and violent pacifism which at this time dominated the Labour-Socialist Party, the utter devotion of the Liberals to sentiment apart from reality … constituted a picture of British fatuity and fecklessness which, though devoid of guile, was not devoid of guilt, and, though free from wickedness or evil design, played a definite part in unleashing upon the world of horrors and miseries which even so far as they have unfolded, are already beyond comparison in human experience.
Far worse horrors and miseries are now, decades later, easily possible. The world has changed dramatically and we are now in an exponential age. Now, we have little more than “Churchillian resolution in the face of untrammeled cow flatulence” and the horrors of global warming; this seems a misplaced priority. History remains important — perhaps to a greater extent than ever before.
There are those who dilute the conception of what happened in and was done by Nazi Germany by drawing analogies to far less malign events. Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles recently said the following in reference to Arizona’s new immigration law: “I can’t imagine Arizonans now reverting to German Nazi and Russian Communist techniques.” Ironically, he went on to say, “Let’s not allow fearful and ill-informed rhetoric to shape public policy.” We have also declared war on obesity and possibly acne.
One petty example of the problem facing England was the 1933 Oxford resolution, which stated that “this House will in no circumstances fight for its King and Country.” This attitude (perhaps understandable not very many years following the end of World War I) and its all too adequate representation of the pacifist mood then pervasive in the country caused Churchill to write:
Mussolini, like Hitler, regarded Britannia as a frightened, flabby old woman, who at worst would only bluster and was, anyhow, incapable of making war.
Britain and France were both weary and reluctant to do much of anything about Hitler until too long after he had conquered territory which, had there been any showing of willingness to use force against his depredations, he would not have attempted. At the Nuremberg trials:
Colonel Eger, representing Czechoslovakia, asked [German] Marshal Keitel: “Would the Reich have attacked Czechoslovakia in 1938 if the Western Powers had stood by Prague?
Marshal Keitel answered: “Certainly not. We were not strong enough militarily. The object of Munich [i.e., reaching an agreement at Munich] was to get Russia out of Europe, to gain time, and to complete the German armaments.”
The Treaty of Versailles imposed grave and unreasonable burdens on a defeated Germany, and Hitler rose to power at least in part due to German resentment and his genius in taking full advantage of it. President Wilson’s League of Nations was toothless and impotent, and its objections to such things as Mussolini’s invasion of Abyssinia had no effect except, perhaps, to make it the butt of jokes. Would things have been different had the United States joined the League of Nations? I doubt it, but it is impossible to know. Churchill observed:
[T]he Americans merely shrugged their shoulders, so that in a few years they had to pour out the blood and treasures of the New World to save themselves from mortal danger.
The world is quite different now than in the 1930s, but President Obama in some respects resembles both Neville Chamberlain and his predecessor, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin. Baldwin found foreign affairs a bit of a bother but wished to be on good terms with the European dictators Hitler and Mussolini; he believed that “conciliation and the avoidance of anything likely to offend them was the best method.” Chamberlain also “wanted to be on friendly terms” with them, and “conceived himself capable of achieving this relationship.” He did not know what was going on between Mussolini and Hitler. Desirous of peace in our time, Chamberlain worked diligently to promote it. According to Churchill:
His all-pervading hope was to go down to history as the Great Peacemaker; and for this he was prepared to strive continually in the teeth of facts, and face great risks for himself and his country. Unhappily, he ran into tides the force of which he could not measure, and met hurricanes from which he did not flinch, but with which he could not cope.
Finally, when the Nazi aspirations toward much of Europe became so clear that Chamberlain had to face them, he did. By then, it was almost but not quite too late. Germany had for years, in gross violation of treaties but with the acquiescence of others, built up her army, her navy, her air corps and the materials needed to arm and otherwise to supply them. Britain had not and had instead pursued her own disarmament in the interest of parity and showing the way of righteousness to the rest of the world.
Increasingly in recent years, the United States has seemed to be more intent upon ensuring political correctness in the military than upon preparing for the next war, in the forlorn hope that there will never be another. She has seemed to be more interested in gaining popularity with our enemies — and turning upon our own military in the process — by apologizing for perceived past slights and by assuming that they will, in turn, accept us as equals rather than as bullies. This has not been helpful. Instead, like the Oxford resolution of 1933, it has produced perceptions of weakness and submission; it has made the U.S. appear as an ally not to be relied upon.
Historically, the U.S. has had a special relationships with Britain and Israel. Those special relationships are fast fading into history, and we seem willing to sacrifice Israel, Poland, and the Czech Republic upon the altar of good will toward their enemies. Perhaps the Obama administration “is incapable of believing that their actions can have marked consequences on the free world.”
In the late 1930s, Czechoslovakia and Poland were also sacrificed due to an illusion that Hitler’s appetite for lebensraum would be satisfied; it wasn’t. A few mild words are now occasionally spoken about the ill treatment of citizens in Venezuela, now becoming a Cuban colony, and in Iran by their masters, but I strongly suspect that those words are more productive of giggles than of peace. Meanwhile, China is strengthening its military relations with Cuba and, presumably thereby, with Venezuela. Russia seems to be doing much the same. The advice of “hold your friends close and your enemies closer” seems to have been misconstrued.
Like (formerly Great) Britain in the 1930s, the United States seemingly lacks an overall strategic objective. This problem is made worse, if such is possible, by continuously making the gross mistake, as Churchill put it, of “behaving as if all the world were as easy, un-calculating, and well-meaning as herself.”
Poor England! Leading her free, careless life from day to day, amid endless good tempered parliamentary babble, she followed, wondering, down the downward path which led to all she wanted to avoid.
Hitler’s Germany during World War II may have wanted peace, but not until after she had achieved victory by subduing many other countries and harvesting their human and natural resources. Japan may also have wanted peace and prosperity on her own terms; peace was eventually accomplished, but not in the way she or Germany must have intended. China and Russia presumably want peace on their own terms as well and, like Germany under Hitler, seem more than willing to assist such useful idiots as Iran, Venezuela, Cuba and even the Obama administration as best suits their purposes. The United States can no more afford to be complicit in this process than could Britain in the 1930s.
This article is in memory of Sir Winston Spencer Churchill (1874-1965), whose bronze bust was removed from the Oval Office less than a month after the ascension of President Obama to the United States throne.