Thursday, September 02, 2010

And Everywhere The Ceremony Of Innocence Is Drowned.

A NATO spokesman: A "precision air strike" has hit a militant's vehicle in the Rostaq district of the northern province of Takhar. Provincial governor Abduljabar Taqwa has told the BBC News that ten election campaign workers were killed in the strike. President Hamid Karzai condemned the incident, saying that "pro-democracy people should be distinguished from those who fight against democracy."

Greg Mortenson: “Success in Afghanistan will come when the people themselves can determine their own destiny. We need to put more emphasis on empowering Afghans, which means involving them in the process. You have to get buy-in from the people themselves.”

Ghulam Sakhi Kargar, Afghan Healthy Ministry: Blood samples taken from Afghan schoolgirls who have collapsed in apparent mass poisonings showed traces of toxic chemicals found in herbicides, pesticides and nerve gas. Suspicion has fallen on sympathizers of the Taliban. Poisonous levels of organophosphates were found in samples taken from girls sickened in incidents over the past two years.

George Packer: What President Obama called the end of the combat mission in Iraq is a meaningless milestone, constructed almost entirely out of thin air, and his second Oval Office speech marks a rare moment of dishonesty and disingenuousness on the part of a politician who usually resorts to rare candor at important moments.

Candace Rondeaux: Short-termism has been the name of the game in Afghanistan since the start of this engagement. And it is not at all surprising that nine years later, we don't have much to show for this type of thinking. . . Anyone who spends any time in Afghanistan fully understands that if you want to make change here, you've got to get your arms around really big institutional change and you have to be prepared to fight that fight, but recognize that at the same time, if you don't have Afghan buy in, you're not going to go anywhere.

William Butler Yeats: The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity. And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

21 Comments:

Blogger vildechaye said...

Very depressing, Terry.

Should a pullout occur, when (not if) the bloodbath occurs, a lot of that blood will be on our hands, collectively, for asking the Afghan people to have faith in us and then abandoning them to their fate. The only positive thing I can hope for is an "aha" moment from our politicians (i have no hope for the reactionary left) similar to the one Chamberlain had when Hitler marched into Czechoslovakia on March 15, 1939, in violation of the Munich pact. Note: Nobody in the West -- certainly not Chamberlain or the French -- were paying much or any attention to the Czechs before or during the Munich negotiations; and nobody could look them straight in the eye afterward.

12:43 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

It's pretty grim right now. You've pegged the historic importance of the moment, too. A pal of ours, civil rights lawyer in Kabul, a Talib just shot his brother in the head so I'm in a bit of a mood.

1:40 PM  
Blogger Anton Deque said...

Neville Chamberlain will one day receive a fair hearing, one which takes into consideration numerous inconvenient facts which guided his policy, not least U.S. isolationism (as anti-British sentiment was then termed). Always portrayed as a fool and possibly, abnormally sympathetic towards the Germans, he was certainly no fool. If he had pro-German sympathies he was not alone at that time. One of the problems people have in dealing with this period is that they always know how 'history' goes. They forget that Great Britain's force in the world was overwhelmingly that of a system, not military power. Much of that had to be supplied in emergency by others, notably Canada, South Africa and Australia – the Dominions who wished for a policy of distance in Europe post 1919, scene of such recent carnage. It was Hitler who was hoodwinked at Munich into delay. Chamberlain well knew war was coming but needed time to prepare. (The first air defence radar stations were being constructed as he spoke to Hitler). To objections about the fate of small nations I note only that this concern does not extend to ethnic Germans 10-12 million of whom (including my in-laws family) were 'cleansed' from eastern Europe following Alllied victory in 1945.

1:28 AM  
Blogger The Plump said...

Anton

There is an extensive historiography on Munich, much of which contains the line you follow here. There are three broad interpretations.

1. The 'guilty men' hypothesis of Foot etc, that alleges, at best, naivety and stupidity, at worst, a misreading of fascism or even a closet sympathy with it as a bastion against Bolshevism.

2.The buying time thesis that you describe here.

3. The thesis that Munich was a colossal, even criminal, mistake and the sacrifice of a nation. However, this was done for the best of reasons to ward off an even greater evil, that of world war, especially after the experience of 1914-18. A terrible, immoral error made for the the most moral of reasons.

Personally, on balance I find the evidence for 2 is less convincing and think it may be a post hoc rationalisation (in the same way this was said of Stalin about the Nazi-Soviet Pact). Hitler was not ready for war in 1938 either, though he would have welcomed it. In fact, German Army officers had planned to stage a coup and arrest Hitler if war was declared in 38. The British government knew of this but were not prepared to take the risk. The line that Hitler was duped is the one proposed by AJP Taylor, it isn't an interpretation with much support and has had a great deal of critical attention from historians.

Fascinating stuff, but too long for a comments box.

Though I do not like the use of analogies, this historical debate is useful in looking at the nature of policy decisions being taken today.

Terry is a journalist firmly in the Michael Foot mode, and in this case I fear that he is right.

The fate of the ethnic Germans did not evince much sympathy after the war and this was hardly surprising. They were not seen as a small nation, but part of a larger one that had just waged an utterly destructive war. If you look at the role of some ethnic Germans in the Sudetenland it would be hard to see how (like ethnic Serbs in Kosovo) they would not be targets. Others were the victims of Stalin's ruthless territorial revisions and some of a desire for revenge. There is some good, published historical research on this.

An anecdote, my family were part of the occupying forces in Germany after the war. They remember the trains coming from the East, often full of corpses who died on the way. The grief of relatives was harrowing. They never forgot, but they had seen so much else.

So much suffering, so much death. That is why appeasement is still a hot historical topic and why we should be thinking about the consequences of a premature withdrawal from Afghanistan.

5:24 AM  
Blogger The Plump said...

Anton

There is an extensive historiography on Munich, much of which contains the line you follow here. There are three broad interpretations.

1. The 'guilty men' hypothesis of Foot etc, that alleges, at best, naivety and stupidity, at worst, a misreading of fascism or even a closet sympathy with it as a bastion against Bolshevism.

2.The buying time thesis that you describe here.

3. The thesis that Munich was a colossal, even criminal, mistake and the sacrifice of a nation. However, this was done for the best of reasons to ward off an even greater evil, that of world war, especially after the experience of 1914-18. A terrible,immoral error made for the the most moral of reasons.

Personally, on balance I find the evidence for 2 is less convincing and think it may be a post hoc rationalisation (in the same way this was said of Stalin about the Nazi-Soviet Pact). Hitler was not ready for war in 1938 either, though he would have welcomed it. In fact, German Army officers had planned to stage a coup and arrest Hitler if war was declared in 38. The British government knew of this but were not prepared to take the risk. The line that Hitler was duped is the one proposed by AJP Taylor, it isn't an interpretation with much support and has had a great deal of critical attention from historians.

Fascinating stuff, but too long for a comments box.

Though I do not like the use of analogies, this historical debate is useful in looking at the nature of policy decisions being taken today.

Terry is a journalist firmly in the Michael Foot mode, and in this case I fear that he is right.

5:29 AM  
Blogger The Plump said...

And

The fate of the ethnic Germans did not evince much sympathy after the war and this was hardly surprising. They were not seen as a small nation, but part of a larger one that had just waged an utterly destructive war. If you look at the role of some ethnic Germans in the Sudetenland it would be hard to see how (like ethnic Serbs in Kosovo) they would not be targets. Others were the victims of Stalin's ruthless territorial revisions and some of a desire for revenge. There is some good, published historical research on this.

An anecdote, my family were part of the occupying forces in Germany after the war. They remember the trains coming from the East, often full of corpses who died on the way. The grief of relatives was harrowing. They never forgot, but they had seen so much else.

So much suffering, so much death. That is why appeasement is still a hot historical topic and why we should be thinking about the consequences of a premature withdrawal from Afghanistan.

5:30 AM  
Blogger vildechaye said...

RE: It was Hitler who was hoodwinked at Munich into delay.

Unfortunately most historians, with the exception of AJP Taylor and perhaps a few others, entirely disagree with your interpretation, including, when I was at university, my professor of military history, who pitied Chamberlain for having been so duped so badly because of his arrogant belief that he could "handle" "Herr" Hitler.

As for the millions of Germans "cleansed" from Eastern Europe, at least most of them lived to tell the tale. The Jewish and other victims of Nazi Germany, including most of my family then in Poland, were not so lucky, and the few survivors had other things to worry about at the time than the sensitivities of displaced Germans.

Your historical argument might convince David Irving, but it leaves me stone cold.

7:33 AM  
Blogger screwy said...

Great round-up. Necessarily painful.

10:16 AM  
Blogger Anton Deque said...

vildechaye

Thank you for aligning me with Mr David Irving. I am sure I am much obliged to you.

Plump

Thank you. Comparison with Taylor is kinder. However, you like everyone else do not say how Chamberlain (in England, an island) would fight a war without international support. Nowhere was there any substantial desire to confront Hitler by going to war in 38, and certainly not in those countries who would provide the fighters in quantity (cf. Paul Kennedy). It is one thing to say "He should have stood up to Hitler" and another to explain how. The Hearst and Luce press in America at the time gave no encouragement from that quarter. Noel Coward's Diaries are good on this point. Coward was part of a small group who were charged in secret with trying to persuade American's to adopt a more sympathetic attitude towards Britain. He encountered stupefying indifference, this after months of bombing.

I never said Hitler was hoodwinked (by Chamberlain?). The often repeated story about a coup planned by the German High Command stumbles on an important detail. They did not carry it out.

The point about the post war ethnic cleansing of German speaking people is a simple one. They were the echo of that once great German speaking Mitteleurope which was supposed to vanish in a puff of Woodrow Wilson's overweening idealism. It was indeed this unsatisfactory 'nation terra forming' which laid the seeds of later problems. Wilson's other great achievement in dissolving the Austro-Hungarian Empire was, of course, Yugoslavia.

Many families have their sorrows from that time. Some have the comfort that they were part, small but significant of a society that fought alone. I knew these people and think of them daily. They were modest but certain only of this. No one would thank them and they were right.

Post war Neville Chamberlain was a useful fig leaf to many. Still is.

10:55 AM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

The last letter of Szmul Zygielbojm . .


To His Excellency The President of the Republic of Poland Wladyslaw Raczkiewicz Prime Minister General Wladyslaw Sikorski

Mr. President, Mr. Prime Minister,

I am taking the liberty of addressing to you, Sirs, these my last words, and through you to the Polish Government and the people of Poland, and to the governments and people of the Allies, and to the conscience of the whole world:

The latest news that has reached us from Poland makes it clear beyond any doubt that the Germans are now murdering the last remnants of the Jews in Poland with unbridled cruelty. Behind the walls of the ghetto the last act of this tragedy is now being played out.

The responsibility for the crime of the murder of the whole Jewish nationality in Poland rests first of all on those who are carrying it out, but indirectly it falls also upon the whole of humanity, on the peoples of the Allied nations and on their governments, who up to this day have not taken any real steps to halt this crime. by looking on passively upon this murder of defenseless millions tortured children, women and men they have become partners to the responsibility.

I am obliged to state that although the Polish Government contributed largely to the arousing of public opinion in the world, it still did not do enough. It did not do anything that was not routine, that might have been appropriate to the dimensions of the tragedy taking place in Poland.

Of close to 3.5 million Polish Jews and about 700,000 Jews who have been deported to Poland from other countries, there were, according to the official figures of the Bund transmitted by the Representative of the Government, only 300,000 still alive in April of this year. And the murder continues without end.

I cannot continue to live and to be silent while the remnants of Polish Jewry, whose representative I am, are being murdered. My comrades in the Warsaw ghetto fell with arms in their hands in the last heroic battle. I was not permitted to fall like them, together with them, but I belong with them, to their mass grave.

by my death, I wish to give expression to my most profound protest against the inaction in which the world watches and permits the destruction of the Jewish people.

I know that there is no great value to the life of a man, especially today. But since I did not succeed in achieving it in my lifetime, perhaps I shall be able by my death to contribute to the arousing from lethargy of those who could and must act in order that even now, perhaps at the last moment, the handful of Polish Jews who are still alive can be saved from certain destruction.

My life belongs to the Jewish people of Poland, and therefore I hand it over to them now. I yearn that the remnant that has remained of the millions of Polish Jews may live to see liberation together with the Polish masses, and that it shall be permitted to breathe freely in Poland and in a world of freedom and socialistic justice, in compensation for the inhuman suffering and torture inflicted on them. And I believe that such a Poland will arise and such a world will come about. I am certain that the President and the Prime Minister will send out these words of mine to all those to whom they are addressed, and that the Polish Government will embark immediately on diplomatic action and explanation of the situation, in order to save the living remnant of the Polish Jews from destruction.

I take leave of you with greetings, from everybody, and from everything that was dear to me and that I loved.

(Comrade Zygielbojm killed himself the following day.)

11:31 AM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

Which is only to say, all historical analogies are imperfect, but this history leaves us wth but one lesson: No Fucking Pasaran.

11:37 AM  
Blogger The Plump said...

Anton

This is where the historical debate on my side rests. First, when Britain actually did go to war over Poland there was no American alliance then or much of a prospect of one and the USA did not enter the war until 1941.

Second, there was an Anglo-French guarantee to Czechoslovakia. Britain's action in Munich effectively neutralised that. The Popular Front government in France may well have been willing to take action to support Czechoslovakian integrity, they were certainly concerned enough about Hitler and aware of the strategic importance of Czechoslovakia, but they were not given that chance due to Britain's unilateral action.

There were two possibilities in 1938 if the Munich agreement had not happened (and I am uneasy at the use of counterfactuals) either Hitler would have backed down temporarily or there would have been war between Britain and France with Germany, both with unknown consequences.

Thirdly,there was the elephant in the room - Russia. Everything depended on the actions of Russia.

Despite the urgent calls of the anti-appeasers, the possibility of an anti-Nazi alliance with the Soviet Union was missed and thus the Nazi-Soviet pact came into being.

An alliance with Stalin posed problems to say the least, but it was there and available. That was the opportunity that was missed at Munich.

And this encapsulates the moral dilemmas and necessities of international crises.

So Munich scuppered two possible anti-German alliances and handed Hitler the time, credibility and security to push ahead with rearmament.

The coup against Hitler was not carried out because it was planned that it would take place in the event of war being declared in 1938 and it was not. When Hitler took the rest of Czechoslovakia in 1939 it was too late. Without the territory ceded at Munich Czechoslovakia could not be defended, victory was assured and it was know that there would be no international resistance.

This is also the core of the argument of the anti-appeasers, not based on hindsight, but at the time. As it turned out, they were right.

I actually believe in Chamberlain's honesty, decency and sincerity. It was just that you needed a brute to confront Hitler. And a brute could have succeeded.

And yes, the comparison with Irving is unfair (I have actually read some of his stuff and he doesn't think like that) and as for the outcome of Versailles - well that is the subject for a book rather than a blog comment :-)

2:10 PM  
Blogger The Plump said...

And Terry,

Sorry to hijack your post for a debate over the historiography of Munich.

There is a relevance though.

No pasaran - the trouble is the buggers did, but not for ever. So I prefer your other saying, the people will win. And they will do so much quicker if they are given proper backing.

2:16 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

Nothing to be sorry for Plump one. Thanks for it.

2:27 PM  
Blogger EscapeVelocity said...

It is one thing to say "He should have stood up to Hitler" and another to explain how. --- The Plump


Stanley Baldwin should have nipped it in the bud, at the point of re-militarization of the Rhineland.

But alas...

5:39 PM  
Blogger vildechaye said...

RE: "I never said Hitler was hoodwinked (by Chamberlain?)"
and
"It was Hitler who was hoodwinked at Munich into delay."

Want to retract your first statement?

Incidentally, I didn't "link" you to David Irving. I simply pointed out he mightfind your argument convincing, whereas most real historians would not. Nor did I make a comparison with irving (as Plump erroneously maintains).

As for this nonsense about Britain not being able toconfront Germany in 1938: a) they wouldn't have been alone, they would have had France and -- let's not forget -- the Czechs, who had 30 well-armed divisions; b) they did confront Hitler in 1939 under worsened circumstances, as Churchill predicted in his speech after the munich capitulation.

As for this: "Many families have their sorrows from that time. Some have the comfort that they were part, small but significant of a society that fought alone. I knew these people and think of them daily. They were modest but certain only of this. No one would thank them and they were right"

I'm not sure what you're getting at here, but it doesn't smell too good.

6:12 PM  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

What is now almost totally forgotten is that in Sept. 1938 there a general belief--completely wrong, as the Luftwaffe had no such plans, but the belief was nonetheless real--in senior British military and civilian circles--that war with Germany would lead almost immediately to utterly ruinous and murderous mass German bomber raids on London and other cities.

This prospect served almost as effectively as a deterrent as did nuclear weapons after WW II.

See the para here (first quick reference I could find) starting:

"From 1934 onwards starting in Britain..."

The mass evacuations after war was declared in Sept. 1939 were for a (in fact unfounded) reason:

"Operation Pied Piper

The evacuation of Britain's cities at the start of World War Two was the biggest and most concentrated mass movement of people in Britain's history. In the first four days of September 1939, nearly 3,000,000 people were transported from towns and cities in danger from enemy bombers to places of safety in the countryside.

Most were schoolchildren..."

Nothing that substantial was ever seriously planned in the face of the threat of nuclear war; the threat of conventional bombing in 1938 was taken desperately seriously and worked heavily in Hitler's favour.

Not something to be taken lightly when trying to understand and assess what the British government did at Munich.

Mark
Ottawa

6:24 PM  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

One other thing to keep in mind. Despite all the perceived horrific risks, after Hitler raised his demands and was utterly inflexible at the Bad Godesberg meeting with Chamberlain, the British cabinet did not accept Hitler's new demands. They were thus implicitly willing to risk war.

Then Mussolini suggested the meeting that became the Munich Conference at which Hitler retreated a bit from his Bad Godesberg demands and...

Chamberlain et al. were not just a bunch of cowardly appeasers. They had good reason, as most would have seen at the time, to act as they did (Chamberlain himself more willing ultimately not to stand firm than most, Halifax stronger than is remembered). Sadly they were very wrong--in retrospect.

Mark
Ottawa

7:26 PM  
Blogger vildechaye said...

Mark: As I recall (and I'm in no position right now to verify, unfortunately), the only "retreat" Hitler made from his Bad Godesburg demands was that he wouldn't immediately invade Czechoslovakia. Some "retreat." Instead, he let Britain and France do his dirty work for him (and felt cheated out of his war), and then took the rest a few months later once Czechoslovakia lay prostrate, with no natural defencs and a weak govt. When the Munich conference ended, he yawned at the Czech representatives and wouldn'tgive them the time of day. I think history has it right: Chamberlain was a pompous ass; When Hitler finally took the rest of Czech in 1939, he at first tried to continue the appeasement game, saying that his previous guarantees couldn't apply to a state that no longer existed; only after the outcry from the British public (much more clever than he was) did he change course abruptly and offer guarantees he couldn't enforce to Poland, Romania, etc. And the rest is history.

1:28 PM  
Blogger vildechaye said...

PS: It was chamberlain, not hitler,who yawned at the Czech representatives at the end of the Munich conference. Sorry about the confusion.

1:29 PM  
Blogger Anton Deque said...

vilchayde "Hoodwinked". I stand corrected. Yet, Hitler thought so.

I am sorry. Two of us cannot be wrong. You compared me to Mr David Irving. I, alas, have not your knowledge of his work, since I long ago deduced he was not a serious historian dedicated to truth. Hence my surprise. I see now your other faculties are in play and I smell. So be it.

Suffering is suffering on whomever it falls and in the wars of the 20th century that has been chiefly on civilians. To ignore this is pitiless.

Still no one here ventures to explain how Britain could make war in 1938. Aerial bombing of civilians? Blockade, again of civilians? Both have had bad press subsequently, even when effective.

Much of western and northern Europe was neutral in 1938. Elsewhere hostility where it mattered was directed at Britain, not Germany. Nancy Mitford in her memoirs writes that after Munich everyone "right left or centre" rejoiced. There would be no European war.

How then to get a British army to the borders of Germany? What to do when they arrive? How to request from Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand et al troops to fight for Czechoslovakia? It had worked for 'brave little Belgium' but afterwards the Dominions felt understandably less enthusiastic. What are Britain's war aims in 1938? I ask this not from the perspective of 1945. It was much easier after 1942. The issues were clear cut, but they were essentially different to the ones confronting Chamberlain.

The Plump mentions the possibility of a pact with Russia. Correctly this was refused. Stalin's sincerity can be judged by what he did next.

My point is not to defend Chamberlain but to ask for an end to simplicity in what were and are still confused ideas about international affairs (cf. 'regime change' today). Neville Chamberlain was no fool, nor was he a sympathiser of Hitler. The choices which he had were none of them attractive. He made the cardinal error in international politics not so much for being wrong as unsuccessful. His is a bad lesson from which to learn much. I think the fact that he is dragged in whenever the context is negotiation rather than war is foolish.

The German people, as much as their creation Nazism and its leader Hitler, wished to re-run history and change the outcome. Sooner or later their intention was war and they were set upon it. The legacy of the 30s and 40s has been that democracies have now to prepare endlessly for war and at huge expense. This is Germany's gift to the world.


Canada has decided to withdraw its combat forces from Afghanistan. Given Canada's record no foreigner should criticise. I have seen with my own eyes the Maple Leaf flying over many Normandy graveyards.

I remain grateful to The Plump for his insights and observations.

12:21 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home