Thoughts about D-day (4)


The bizarre conduct of the British Empire as the Superpower of the inter-War years, and the controlling Power of the Versailles settlement, inclines post-War British historians towards mythology, and has led to the selecting out of the attempt at exterminating the Jews as the centrepiece of the War.

Though it cannot be argued that Britain declared war on Germany in order to save the Jews, the fact that it was at war with Germany when the attempt to exterminate the Jews was undertaken is used as a justification of the War which stops further questioning by right-minded people.  If you persist in wondering whether the War was really a Good Thing, after the Holocaust has been mentioned, there must be something wrong with you.

And yet it is a fact that cannot be denied that the attempt to exterminate the Jews was undertaken in the particular circumstances brought about by the War, and especially in the circumstances that came about when Britain used its Naval dominance of the world to keep the war situation alive after June 1940, when it had lost the ability to carry the war to Germany—it had never had the will to do it.

It was the strategy of spreading the War, after the defeat of France, that led to the German invasion of Russia.  And it was in the hinterland of that War, outside Germany and in occupied countries in which there was widespread spontaneous anti-Semitism that needed no propaganda to stimulate it, that systematic extermination was put into operation by the SS from late 1941 to 1944.

The British Government knew about the extermination process, having broken the most secret German codes at the start of the War, but refused to do anything about it.  It was not made a central war issue until after the War.  And elements of the Polish Resistance who, at considerable risk, carried direct information about the Extermination Camps to London and Washington were fobbed off.

The Jewish issue became the post-War issue of the War.  During the War the Jewish Problem was understood by the Western Allies to be a real problem.  An Oxford War Pamphlet—which was as close to being a statement of official policy as there was—said that, after the War (assuming a Western Allied victory), a quota system would need to be applied in Europe to keep the Jewish percentage of the general population below the level at which, as a matter of objective fact, Anti-Semitism would be generated.  (See J.W. Parkes, The Jewish Question, Oxford War Pamphlets 1941.)

A Jewish writer in the late 1930s explained the prevalence of Anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe as a consequence of the Versailles policy of setting up nation-states in place of the Hapsburg Empire.  The Jews constituted the bulk of the commercial and professional classes of the Empire.  When the Empire was broken up and nation-states with undeveloped nations were put in its place, the Jews could not play the part in these states that they had played in the Empire, and they were squeezed by the post-state nationalism of the native middle classes.  (See O. Janowski, People At Bay, London 1938.)

The Extermination Camps were sited between the borders of Germany and the front-line of the War in Russia.  And, in some areas, the mass killing of Jews in public was popular entertainment.

An unusually thoughtful English intellectual, John Gray, wondered recently on Radio 4's A Point Of View (23.9.2011, Churchill, Chance And The 'Black Dog') whether it was unquestionably a good thing that it was Churchill who succeeded Chamberlain in May 1940 and continued the War, rather than Halifax who would probably have called it off after the retreat from France.  Could it be that the Holocaust and all the other great catastrophes happened because England kept the War going after it was defeated in battle.

It was a daring thought for a mind in the English media Establishment to have entertained even for a moment.  And Gray discarded it quickly. He had the knowledge that Hitler would have done exactly what he did, even if Britain had called off the War in July 1940.  It was a comforting thought:  that Hitler was driven by a power that was somehow independent of circumstance.  (See:  Brendan Clifford, The Cost Of Continuing The War:  Churchill & John Gray in Irish Foreign Affairs, Vol. 6 No. 1, March 2013.)


Martin Mansergh, the Englishman who functions as the Irish political intellectual, had a similar thought.  He knows, somehow, that Hitler would have gone on to do what he did, even if the Danzig anomaly had been dealt with by transfer to East Prussia in 1939, instead of being used by Britain as the means of starting a World War.  Hitler's terms for a Polish settlement were more moderate than the terms of the German democracy had been:  transfer of Danzig to East Prussia, and an extra-territorial road across the Polish Corridor to establish a land communication between the two separated parts of Germany.

It is hard to see how the circumstances established by such a settlement could have facilitated Hitler's plan for world conquest—supposing he had such a plan.  But the circumstances brought about by military encirclement etc. laid on a war for Hitler, which led in the course of two years to a phenomenal expansion of German military power.

It requires a great power of belief, lying far beyond what is usually required in the affairs of life, to have this certainty that things would have turned out much the same if the relatively small matter of Danzig had been resolved on Hitler's terms, the Polish border stabilised, and the last irritant of the Versailles system removed.

Where does this extraordinary power of belief come from?

Not from a review of the probabilities of circumstance, but from a desperate spiritual need to understand Britain's conduct of world affairs, following its victory in its Great War, in counterfactual terms.