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December 22, 2010
A Christmas Gift for Mr HitlerBy Greyhawk
"I cannot think of anything that would have made the loss of the election from my point of view more certain." - British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, 1936, on (what would prove in hindsight) why he didn't take actions to prevent World War Two. A low point in his career - but within months he would retire at peak popularity, leaving Neville Chamberlain, his hand-picked successor, to carry on the task.
In Mudville we observe the anniversary of VE Day this weekend - the day World War Two ended in Europe. (For those under 40: the "V" stands for victory.) It seems right to begin that with a look at how England missed her last good chance to prevent that global conflagration (that Churchill called "the unnecessary war") altogether. This post is originally from December, 2010, and there's a hard lesson to learn here: when one side wants war, what the other side wants doesn't matter. (Even, or especially if they're distracted by other more fascinating things that "arouse all civilization.") I say it's a hard lesson not because of the years of unprecedented global death and destruction that followed these events (the end of which was a rightful cause for celebration), but because so few have ever learned it - or this one: the vanquished, not the victors, decide when a war is over.
But banish those gloomy thoughts - there's celebrity scandal in the news, a story big enough in hindsight to help make war inevitable and in the moment its central character the Woman of the Year!
(Trivia: Lady Violet Bonham Carter - briefly mentioned below - is the daughter of Great War-era British Prime Minister Asquith and grandmother of actress Helena Bonham Carter, who played the Queen in the movie The King's Speech, a story peripheral to this one.)
Mrs Simpson? Who's that? Kids might ask today. "She's the American woman Madonna's making a movie about," you can reply. If they respond, "Madonna? Who's that?" just tell them to shut up and go play outside. (You're old, and you need peace and quiet.)
Then you can read about a celebrity who was bigger than Madonna, Michael Jackson, Justin Bieber, Lady GaGa and Princess Di all rolled into one. In fact, if you think I'm kidding, in 1936 she was Time's Woman of the Year. (They didn't call them "person of the year" back then, kids.)
She was selected over heavyweight contenders including British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin (whose "historic triumph at home came only after he had earned from History some pretty low marks for 1936 in statesmanship abroad" - more on that shortly), U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt (a past and future winner), Italian dictator Benito Mussolini ("he carved out for himself an Empire in Africa... but Ethiopia is not a prize so rich that because he won it history must call him Caesar") and Chinese nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek (who "might well have been Man of the Year had he not, at the zenith of his prestige, been suddenly kidnapped" - an event that happened mere days before that issue of Time went to press).
Time was even less impressed by Joe Stalin, and likewise dismissed up-and-comer Adolf Hitler as an also-ran: "Dur Fuhrer has yet to grapple with an external foe, and his "victories" to date have nearly all been in Germany's backyard." Both would try harder for recognition in years to come.
Wallis Simpson triumphed over sprinter Jesse Owens (whose "Olympic record ... has been equaled only by redskinned Jim Thorpe"), author Margaret ("Gone With The Wind") Mitchell, playwright Eugene (1936 Nobel Prize in Literature - "for work done in other years") O'Neill, and (in medicine) "Surgeon General of the U.S. Public Health Service, Dr. Thomas Parran Jr., the great syphilogist who this year got syphilis on the radio for the first time."
But none of these faintly approached or in any degree diminished Mrs. Simpson as Woman of the Year, the figure for whom 1936 will be especially remembered. She was first in the news; first in the heart of Edward VIII (who during most of 1936 was first in British hearts); first in that historic British crisis--moral, emotional, political, religious--which aroused all civilization.
At least, that was the view from Time at the end of the year when it happened. We'll pause now for a deep breath, and consider this much later recounting of events via William Manchester:
It had "completely absorbed the public interest," in Boothby's opinion, because "here at last, was something that was moving and exciting without being dangerous." One could safely commit oneself; whichever way it went, the solution would not be a matter of life or death.
Perhaps it is so - and certainly the list of Time's winners for the next ten years would re-define "aroused all civilization" - Chang Kai-Shek (who - temporarily - recovered from his kidnapping), Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin (twice), Churchill, Roosevelt, Marshall, Eisenhower, Truman, and James F. Byrnes (America's "First Secretary of State to face the cold war"). In that light, maybe Wallis Simpson was a welcome distraction in a year of relative innocence (not counting wars in far-off China and Spain - the latter one wherein "no masterful Man of the Year had emerged" by the end of 1936) before a darker sort of insanity gripped the entire world. And Time didn't make her the "Woman of the Year" - a global public did that by acclaim - they in turn merely acknowledged her as such. But frivolous though the choice may seem now, for reasons unknown to most of that public a case can be made that had she not been so prominent in that year the decade that followed might have seen an entirely different list.
"Oh you ain't seen nothin' yet," we might caution him from the future. Though he had a generally accurate vision of that future even then, Winston Churchill was not yet the Prime Minister - on that day he was a stodgy old British statesman, speaking not of Wallis Simpson but instead delivering another of his many warnings regarding Adolf Hitler. True, he was one who'd fought as a youth in the previous century's colonial wars, then risen to power and influence in time for the World War that nearly destroyed Europe in the early 20th. That conflict (then not yet known as merely World War One), was also commonly referred to as the war to end all wars, and - as blindingly obvious as it seemed to those who liked to imagine themselves as living in a post-war decade like the 1930s - Mr Churchill (who'd fallen from grace over other issues anyhow) never seemed to fully understand that. Out of step with members of his own party who formed the government, he'd been arguing for some time that England should respond to Germany's rediscovered belligerence before it reached the point where response could only mean war.
Your opinions are bolder and surer
Than is seemly today in an office of state -
You've even insulted the Fuhrer.
An obvious relic of a bygone age, he was mostly ignored. After all, much of what that Hitler fellow said he wanted sounded reasonable - and certainly the Treaty of Versailles was not. And say, wasn't Churchill one of those who'd argued for an arms race with Germany before the World War? And after all, wasn't that, to be fair to the vanquished, at least part of the cause of that conflagration? Indeed - pacifism was the order of the day, and the way of the future. And if appeasement (a new term, soon to be very much en vogue) was a possible way to ensure continued peace then it certainly couldn't hurt to give it a try.
Through the early 1930s few (a few fellow conservatives - though most chose not to rock the party boat on its steady course through seemingly tranquil seas) shared Churchill's sense of urgency. But that changed slightly in the middle of the decade. In March, 1936 Hitler ordered his army into the Rhineland, the German territory bordering France - a region "demilitarized" as part of the treaty that ended the World War. "First, we swear to yield to no force whatever in the restoration of the honor of our people," Der Fuhrer pledged (to cheers) in a speech to the Reichstag announcing his move - though his words were intended for a much broader audience. "Secondly," he continued, "we pledge that now, more than ever, we shall strive for an understanding between European peoples, especially for one with our Western neighbor nations." For emphasis he added, "We have no territorial demands to make in Europe!...Germany will never break the peace."
He desperately needed to sound convincing. Surprisingly, the German generals who'd planned and led the campaign expected an altogether different result than that they achieved, and his confidence was only slightly higher than theirs:
(See passages in Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Manchester's cited source, here)
Hitler needn't have worried - the response from the West would be nothing, really. France looked to England and England looked right back - both overlooked the rumblings on their doorsteps. (For a quick glance at contemporary French politics, look here.) But those few British politicians who chose to remember Hitler's pledge on reinstating military conscription the year before ("he appeared before the Reichstag in Berlin and delivered a conciliatory speech. "Germany wants peace...None of us means to threaten anybody," Hitler declared. He then announced a thirteen-point peace program containing all kinds of promises such as: Germany will respect all other provisions of the Treaty of Versailles including the demilitarization of the Rhineland...") began paying a bit more attention to what Mr Churchill had to say. Still, his fellow conservatives might have convinced themselves, that Hitler chap is looking eastward, not usward...
...and soon enough they could further reassure themselves on his designs, as he began active support of those fighting the communists in the Spanish Civil War.
On 27 July 1936, Adolf Hitler sent the Nationalists 26 German fighter aircraft. He also sent 30 Junkers 52s from Berlin and Stuttgart to Morocco. Over the next couple of weeks the aircraft transported over 15,000 troops to Spain. In September 1936, Lieutenant Colonel Walther Warlimont of the German General Staff arrived as the German commander and military adviser to General Francisco Franco. The following month Warlimont suggested that a German Condor Legion should be formed to fight in the Spanish Civil War...
That war was far from over in 1936 - and if, as Time said, no masterful Man of the Year had emerged from it by year's end, in hindsight they were mistaken to note of Hitler that (presumably in reference to the Rhineland) "his "victories" to date have nearly all been in Germany's backyard." In response to his actions all Europe had revealed itself as ready for his grasp.
Though events in Spain - not surprisingly - led more than a few British leftists to question their own long-cherished (and oft-stated - certainly since the days of Britain's armed opposition to the Bolsheviks in Russia) beliefs in pacifism. (Though some of them no doubt believed that everything was working out just as Mr Wells had said it would.) Most had supported or encouraged the official non-response to Hitler's (westward) employment of forces to the Rhineland, likewise few would be comfortable embracing British rearmament - but his actions in Spain a few months later roused them to the danger he represented. Many from all over the world would answer the call to join the International Brigades and fight the fascists, others in Britain would notice that - loathsome as he might otherwise seem to them - that Churchill fellow (who himself would soon acknowledge that if forced to chose between communism and Nazism he'd prefer the former) had a few points worthy of a hearing if you thought about it. (After all, he had some experience in such matters, too... and he was quite a good speaker, at that.)
Into this mix came news from observers in Germany that, far from playing catch up, the German Luftwaffe already exceeded the air forces of Britain and France combined. The grim lesson of Guernica wasn't taught till the next year, but still an odd sort of coalition began to form in Britain, as Churchill would recall in his memoirs:
At this time there was a great drawing together of men and women of all parties in England who saw the perils of the future, and were resolute upon practical measures to secure our safety and the cause of freedom, equally menaced by both the totalitarian impulsions and our Government's complacency. Our plan was the rapid large-scale rearmament of Britain, combined with the complete acceptance and employment of the authority of the League of Nations. I called this policy "Arms and the Covenant". Mr Baldwin's performance in the House of Commons was viewed among us all with disdain. The culmination of this campaign was to be a meeting at the Albert Hall. Here on December 3 we gathered many of the leading men in all the parties-strong Tories of the Right Wing earnestly convinced of the national peril; the leaders of the League of Nations Peace Ballot; the representatives of many trade unions, including in the chair my old opponent of the General Strike, Sir Walter Citrine; the Liberal Party and its leader, sir Archibald Sinclair. We had a feeling that we were upon the threshold of not only gaining respect for our views, but of making them dominant.
"Mr Baldwin's performance in the House of Commons" was a reference to his response to Churchill's own 12 November speech, in which he'd lambasted Baldwin's Government for too-long ignoring the growing threat posed by Hitler and the Nazis. Baldwin's response was, in fact, a guilty plea - with the explanation that his actions (or lack thereof) were in the best interest of his political party, and that as far as warning the nation that they must rearm: "I cannot think of anything that would have made the loss of the election from my point of view more certain." Churchill described that confession as "an incident without parallel in our Parliamentary history" - whether or not that's a fair or an accurate assessment, even from distant America Time's editors (above) could conclude Baldwin "had earned from History some pretty low marks for 1936 in statesmanship abroad" - so certainly Churchill's description of where the political winds were blowing sounds fair enough today.
In reviewing the period, biographer William Manchester gave the nascent rise of "Churchill's" group of rebels even more attention than his subject did in his own work.
If all that seems dramatic or important or grand to you, than perhaps you've already forgotten how this little blog post began. As for smaller details, what they called the group never mattered - it was doomed to failure, and mere days from it. The big story of the year was something else entirely - though most folks living in England had only heard whispered rumors of it (if that) just then. Not so the rest of the world (and Stanley Baldwin, for that matter) - as the BBC recently explained:
Oddly enough (given that wording), even in 1936 the days when a King of England wielded power at all were a thing of the past - though beyond any doubt the days of British royals making powerful news stories are far from over even today. The biggest such story of all time was set to explode in England not long after Churchill's attack and Baldwin's confession on that almost-fateful November 12. Though perhaps previously content to merely "have a relationship" with the soon-to-be Woman of the Year, "The following Monday, 16 November, the King invited the British prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, to Buckingham Palace and informed him that he intended to marry Mrs Simpson..."
Decorum would forbid it, but had he any foresight whatsoever the Prime Minister should have kissed him upon hearing that news. Fortune briefly smiled on Stanley Baldwin (as it would for a bit longer on Adolf Hitler, too). King Edward was the butterfly who flapped his wings - and soon history would turn in an altogether different direction than what many hoped or expected. Soon enough arms would mean everything, covenants near nothing - in the long years ahead the defence of freedom would become a constant and bloody reality - sans capitalization; peace would be just a dear memory and fond dream.
(Part two to follow.)
Posted by Greyhawk / December 22, 2010 9:22 AM | Permalink
Mudville's eighth anniversary falls in a time period with lots of military anniversaries. One occurring this week - the 150th anniversary of the South firing on Ft Sumter, has (rightfully) gotten a lot of media coverage. Others, like the 70th anniversa... Read More
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
Furthermore, I will occasionally use satire or parody herein. The bottom line: it's my house.
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