Sunday, September 30, 2012

Rehabilitating Neville Chamberlain

On this day in history, 30 Sept, in 1938 the reputation of Neville Chamberlain was at its zenith, and he was considered Europe's greatest statesman, being credited with permanently preventing what had seemed like an inevitable war. His statement, 'Peace in our time' was on everyone's grateful lips.

That reputation lasted for about 11 months, when the war he'd promised that he'd prevented came, and with it the crushing defeat of the British Expeditionary Force.

When I was in school, Churchill was Britain's greatest prime minister, and my schoolbooks were an unmitigated hagiography of Churchill. Chamberlain was Britain's worst prime minister, and his appeasement in Munich on 30 September 1938 was considered the cause of the downfall of the British Empire. As Churchill once said, history would treat him kindly, because he would write it. And that history was accepted with only limited quibbles for several decades. Today's history books treat Churchill a bit more even-handedly, but many (and I as well) still regard him as Britain's greatest prime minister, since any of the alternatives for PM in 1940 would have negotiated a truce with Hitler, and the result would have been dark in the extreme.

But Churchill and others blamed Chamberlain for things that were not Chamberlain's fault.  Now, according to Wikipedia, there are a few historians who think Chamberlain's position as Worst Prime Minister Ever was undeserved.

Churchill drew a straight line through two historical points that are inarguably true. The first historical point was in 1933, when Germany elected Hitler as Chancellor. Hitler made statements that violated The Treaty of Versailles while Germany was still disarmed, so regime change might have been accomplished with no more than a jawbone, but certainly by Britain sending a small Expeditionary Force to Germany, where the regime change could have been accomplished without bloodshed. The second historical point is in 1940. Britain declared war on Germany in 1939, and, when Germany finally started to actively prosecute the war in 1940, Britain, allied with France, was defeated by Germany in just a few weeks.

From those two points, Churchill drew his straight line: that that British victory in '35 would have required limited bloodshed, and British victory in '38 would have been difficult but certain, so Chamberlain's appeasement was what led to the defeat of the British Expeditionary Force and the dissolution of the British Empire.

That victory in '38 would have been difficult but certain was based on two highly arguable 'facts'. The first was that line: that, in '33, Germany was defenceless, while in '40 Germany easily defeated Britain, and this was a linear progression, so, in '38, Britain's military was still somewhat stronger than Germany's, but Germany's military surpassed Britain's sometime in '39. The second 'fact' was that Czechoslovakian Army was one of Europe's strongest, and, had Britain allied with Czechoslovakia against Germany in '38, British victory would have been absolutely certain.

I call, as a hostile witness for the defence, Winston Churchill, who, in 1924, wrote, 'Shall We Commit Suicide?' The paper said that it was fortunate that the Great War was the War to End All Wars, because the next war would completely depopulate Europe. Churchill wrote that, in 1918, Britain had developed some WMD that would have killed more Germans in the first quarter of 1919 than had died in the previous four years of the war. Churchill wrote of poison gasses against which neither shelters nor gas masks would provide the slightest protection, poison gasses that could be dropped from aircraft on every European city should there ever be another war, and there was no way to stop these aircraft.

Chamberlain knew that Britain didn't actually have such weapons, but he had heard that Germany did, and that the Luftwaffe could kill almost everyone in Britain.

So, in '38, Chamberlain was building a Top Secret anti-aircraft shield to prevent such a disaster. Chamberlain's 'appeasement' bought Britain a year in which to complete that shield.

The anti-aircraft shield didn't completely stop the Luftwaffe, but it was a crucial factor in Britain's victory in the Battle of Britain. Since the anti-aircraft shield was Top Secret, the RAF under Churchill's leadership (and carrots) were given full credit for the British victory,. This is the only thing anyone could say during the war (the shield was very vulnerable, had the Luftwaffe known about it). But Churchill and others used those primary sources after the war to deny Chamberlain the credit he deserved.

As Chamberlain said on his deathbed, 'without Munich the war would have been lost and the Empire destroyed in 1938.'

Of course, the British Empire WAS destroyed, but not because of Chamberlain (who died before it was destroyed).

For years, most historians rejected Chamberlain's analysis, although Evelyn Waugh supported it in his 1952 novel, Men at Arms.

Chamberlain and appeasement are still denigrated by many, and the importance of avoiding appeasement and its appearance has meant that many politicians stood in the rain without an umbrella and insisted on taking their nations into senseless wars. If only they'd caught their deaths and their successors had thereby learned that sometimes it's prudent to carry a brolly and to refrain from war.

(Of course, sometimes it's prudent or moral to fight rather than accede to evil, but no one likes having to make decisions, so having a simple policy like 'No Appeasement Ever' is much easier, and hence preferable to the tiny-brained politicians, who seem far more plentiful than the sage states-persons.)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

11 September 2012

Today's New York Times had its annual op-ed piece that Bush, Jr had ample warning of the 9/11 attacks but did nothing because he was incompetent. So I have to post my reply (the Times didn't allow any comments on that op-ed piece).

It is true that there was word that there were some people who considered the US a neocolonial power responsible for all of global poverty (I've spoken to some of them in Dubai, and, after hearing them, I always back away very carefully). It is also true that some of those people had sworn vengeance against the US. So the loony left says that Bush, Jr should not have complacently followed obsolete 20th century laws with their quaint, completely out-of-date ideas such as 'innocent until proven guilty.' No, in the 21st century, it's 'guilty unless proven innocent'.

Many of the hijackers had been identified by the Bush, Jr administration, but the security authorities had the antiquated thought that it would be impossible to hijack an airplane without any weapons, and illegal to arrest a person who had committed no crime just on suspicion. As the identified hijackers tried to board, they were stopped, carefully searched, found to be without any weapons, and allowed to board. At the time, the security authorities were too stupid to realise that the requisite tools for a hijacking--the box cutters used by the cabin crew to unpack the airline meals--were already on the airplane. Just because this had never been done, just because those box cutters had never been seen as weapons was no excuse.

If only Bush, Jr had been proactive and bundled every potential hijacker off to Guantánamo before 9/11, as a responsible president would have done. Not to mention banning all liquids, shoes, and belts, to keep America safe.

Instead, Bush, Jr followed established procedures to the letter. The most likely targets were identified, and every possible precaution taken to prevent an attack (and I know this because I was very nearly shot by a very nervous embassy guard in August, 2001). But the loony left thinks that doing things exactly as the top experts said they should have be done was irresponsible in the extreme, since it allowed the 9/11 hijackings.

Of course, while Bush, Jr has my sympathy that the loony left blame him for 9/11, what he did after 9/11 (for which he is idolised) is what I condemn him for.

Right after the hijacking, the hijackers were identified as (mostly) young Gulf Arab men, and the hijackers' itinerary was identified as starting in Dubai, then going to Germany, then to London, and finally to the US.

Since then, the historians had to call the booking agents and get that itinerary modified.

Now, the hijackers started in Osama's cave in Afghanistan where he gave them the outline of the plot and some of the money they needed. From there, they went to Pakistan where Khalid Sheikh Mohammed taught them almost everything they needed to know to hijack airplanes and gave them more money. From Pakistan, they flew to Baghdad where Saddam gave them the last bits of information and the money they needed, and sent several of his top Republican Guard agents along with fake Gulf Arab passports (this is in Ken Coughlin's book about Saddam and his evil plots).

The fact that none of this modified itinerary actually happened hasn't kept it from the history books, since the New York Times now reports it as absolute fact, except for the Saddam bit, since the Times (a Democratic newspaper) still objects to the Iraq War now that it has been repudiated by the Democratic Party, but the Times still supports the war on Afghanistan and the drone war on Pakistan, since those are supported by the Democratic Party. And the passports of the hijackers now have Afghanistan and Pakistan posthumously stamped in them as the hijackers' only stops before the US.

And this allowed the US to march into Afghanistan and Iraq and subject people to proactive imprisonment and 'enhanced interrogation' and carpet bombing of civilian neighbourhoods that might house terrorists and, and, and...

Real life is much too messy. The improved version is much neater and has a better ending that makes a perfect circle starting with Osama's initiating the plot and ending when the Seals serve him Justice.

And everyone much prefers the neater version, so that's the one that will go in the history books.