The Second World War (I?)

“I am perhaps the only man who has passed through both the two supreme cataclysms of recorded history in high executive office. Whereas […] in the First World War I filled responsible but subordinate posts, I was in this second struggle with Germany for more than five years the head of His Majesty’s Government. I write therefore from a different standpoint and with more authority than was possible in my earlier books. I do not describe it as history, for that belongs to another generation. But I claim with confidence that it is a contribution to history which will be of service to the future.”

“Let no one look down on those honourable, well-meaning men whose actions are chronicled in these pages without searching his own heart, reviewing his own discharge of public duty, and applying the lessons of the past to his future conduct.”

I am currently reading this book, which is really an abridgement of 6 different volumes written by Churchill. All of the stuff included is Churchill’s own stuff; the only thing that has been done is that some stuff has been left out, and some of the remaining stuff has been rearranged. Which means that you in this book get four books/subsections, rather than six. The titles of these are: Milestones to disaster (1919-May 10, 1940), Alone (May 10, 1940-June 22, 1941), The Grand Alliance (Sunday, December 7, 1941 and onwards), and Triumph and Tragedy (1943-1945). I have by now finished Book 1 (the Milestones to Disaster part), and I’ve read close to 100 pages of Book 2. It’s great stuff, and very detailed. In this post I have included quotes from roughly the first 150 pages of the book’s coverage, all of which belong to the ‘Milestones to disaster’ part.

“When Marshall Foch heard of the signing of the Peace Treaty of Versailles he observed with singular accuracy: “This is not peace. It is an Armistice for twenty years.””

[In the context of the reparations:] “whereas about £1,000 millions of German assets were appropriated by the victorious Powers, more than £1,500 millions were lent a few years later to Germany, principally by the United States and Great Britain […] until 1931 the victors, and particularly the United States, concentrated their efforts upon extorting by vexatious foreign controls their annual reparations from Germany. The fact that these payments were made only from far larger American loans reduced the whole process to the absurd. Nothing was reaped except ill-will. […] History will characterize all these transactions as insane. […] All this is a sad story of complicated idiocy”

“Deliberate extermination of whole populations was contemplated and pursued by both Germany and Russia in the Eastern war.”

“”We are apparently finished and done with economic cycles as we have known them,” said the President of the New York Stock Exchange in September.” [That would be September, 1929. Talk about bad timing… – US]

“The opinions of the Press and public were in no way founded upon reality […] 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, obvious lack of intellectual vigour […] marked ignorance […] the utter devotion […] to sentiment apart from reality […]: all these 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 the unleashing upon the world of horrors and miseries which, even so far as they have unfolded, are already beyond comparison in human experience. […] It is difficult to find a parallel to the unwisdom of the British and weakness of the French Governments, who none the less reflected the opinion of their Parliaments in this disastrous period” [the period in question being the early thirties – US].

“Several visitors of consequence came to me from Germany and poured their hearts out in their bitter distress. Most of these were executed by Hitler during the war.”

“It would be wrong in judging the policy of the British Government not to remember the passionate desire for peace which animated the uninformed, misinformed majority of the British people, and seemed to threaten with political extinction any party or politician who dared to take any other line. This, of course, is no excuse for political leaders who fall short of their duty. It is much better for parties or politicians to be turned out of office than to imperil the life of the nation. […] To be so entirely convinced and vindicated in a matter of life and death to one’s country, and not to be able to make Parliament and the nation heed the warning, or bow to the proof by taking action, was an experience most painful.”

“the number of Germans under regular military training in 1936 was 1,511,000 men. The effective strength of the French Army, apart from reserves, in the same year was 623,000 men, of whom only 407,000 were in France.”

Abyssinia [see also this] was a member of the League of Nations. By a curious inversion it was Italy who had in 1923 pressed for her inclusion, and Britain who had opposed it. The British view was that the character of the Ethiopian Government and the conditions prevailing in that wild land of tyranny, slavery, and tribal war were not consonant with membership of the League. But the Italians had had their way” [incidentally if you want an update on how things are going in that part of the world, apropos all those migrants coming to Europe from that region these days, here’s some updated information: “Eritrea is a one-party state in which national legislative elections have been repeatedly postponed.[111] According to Human Rights Watch, the government’s human rights record is considered among the worst in the world. […] In June 2015, a 500-page United Nations Human Rights Council report accused Eritrea’s government of extrajudicial executions, torture, indefinitely prolonged national service and forced labour, and indicated that sexual harassment, rape and sexual servitude by state officials are also widespread.” (wikipedia)]

“One day in 1937 I had a meeting with Herr von Ribbentrop, German ambassador to Britain. […] he had asked Hitler to let him come over to London in order to make the full case for an Anglo-German entente or even alliance. […] What was required was that Britain should give Germany a free hand in the East of Europe. She must have her Lebensraum […] All that was asked of the British Commonwealth and Empire was not to interfere. There was a large map on the wall, and the Ambassador several times led me to it to illustrate his projects. After hearing all this I said at once that I was sure the British Government would not agree to give Germany a free hand in Eastern Europe. […] Ribbentrop turned abruptly away. He then said, “In that case, war is inevitable. There is no way out. The Fuehrer is resolved. Nothing will stop him and nothing will stop us.” We then returned to our chairs.” [At this time Churchill was just an MP, so Ribbentrop was not asking Churchill himself to consent to the proposed scheme and ‘make a deal’; he was trying to figure out if there was any deal to be made. The year after, on July 26, 1938, Lord Halifax, the British Foreign Minister, incidentally stated in Parliament that: “I do not believe that those responsible for the Government of any country in Europe to-day want war.” – US]

“On the day of the march of the German armies into Austria we heard that Goering had given a solemn assurance to the Czech Minister in Berlin that Germany had “no evil intentions towards Czechoslovakia” […] On the evening of the 26th [of September, 1938 – US] Hitler spoke in Berlin. […] He said categorically that the Czechs must clear out of the Sudetenland, but once this was settled he had no more interest in what happened to Czechoslovakia. “This is the last territorial claim I have to make in Europe.” […] Chamberlain returned to England [after signing the agreement – US]. […] from the windows of Downing Street he waved his piece of paper again and used these words, “This is the second time in our history that there has come back from Germany to Downing Street peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time.”

“In 1938-39 British military expenditure of all kinds reached £304 millions,* and German was at least £1,500 millions. It is probable that in the last year before the outbreak Germany manufactured at least double, and possibly treble, the munitions of Britain and France put together […] in the single year 1938 Hitler had annexed to the Reich and brought under his absolute rule […] a total of over ten millions of subjects, toilers, and soldiers. […] The German armies were not capable of defeating the French in 1938 or 1939. The vast tank production with which they broke the French front did not come into existence till 1940”

“if you will not fight for the right when you can easily win without bloodshed, if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not too costly, you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance of survival. There may even be a worse case. You may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than live as slaves.”

“At the Kremlin in August 1942 Stalin, in the early hours of the morning, gave me one aspect of the Soviet position. “We formed the impression,” said Stalin, “that the British and French governments were not resolved to go to war if Poland were attacked, but that they hoped the diplomatic line-up of Britain, France, and Russia would deter Hitler. We were sure it would not.””

“There were known to be twenty thousand organised German Nazis in England at this time [at the end of August, 1939US], and it would only have been in accord with their procedure in other friendly countries that the outbreak of war should be preceded by a sharp prelude of sabotage and murder. I had at that time no official protection, and I did not wish to ask for any; but I thought myself sufficiently prominent to take precautions. I had enough information to convince me that Hitler recognised me as a foe. My former Scotland Yard detective, Inspector Thompson, was in retirement. I told him to come along and bring his pistol with him. I got out my own weapons, which were good. While one slept the other watched.”


April 6, 2016 - Posted by | books, history

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