Orderly and Humane?

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by Peter Hitchens Daily Mail

     

Some time ago I decided to wrote a book about the damaging and deluded cult of national victory which has done this country so much damage since 1945. No doubt it will receive the usual mixture of abuse and silence which most of my books receive. But I shall write it anyway, as it seems to me to be a truth urgently in need to being expressed, especially as we shall soon be marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the supposedly ‘Good’ Second World War. It is now possible to have more-or-less grown-up attitudes towards the First World War, whose last remaining justification – that it was ‘The War to End All Wars’ – crumbled into dust and spiders’ webs in September 1939. But the 1939-45 conflict is still wreathed in delusions, delusions often employed to try to justify modern wars which are alleged to have comparably ‘good’ aims.

The belief in its goodness is in fact ludicrous. Our main ally (rejected at the beginning with lofty scorn, embraced later with desperate, insincere enthusiasm) was one of the most murderous tyrants in human history, whose slave empire we helped him to extend and consolidate, and to whom we afterwards handed thousands of victims, to whom we owed at least a life, though we knew he would murder them.

Our purpose in joining the war was not only not achieved, but the country whose independence we claimed to be ‘saving’ sank under successive waves of horror, cruelty, lawlessness, murder and despotism, to emerge 60 years later and many miles from where it had been when we ‘rescued’ it.

The main effect of the war on life in Britain (apart from the physical damage done by bombing, considerable though far less than the damage inflicted by us on Germany) was to bankrupt our economy, raise taxes to previously unheard-of levels, make state interference in all aspects of life more prevalent, wreck countless families, popularise divorce, weaken families, engender crime and delinquency, and subject the native culture to an invasion of American customs and language from which it has never recovered. The main effect of the war on Britain as a state and as an economy was to destroy her hold over her Empire, permanently weaken her currency and end her status as a first-class diplomatic and naval power. In the process, in Singapore at 1942, this country suffered the gravest defeat of its armies at any time in its history, a defeat so disastrous and irreparable that to this day most British people are – at best – dimly aware of it, though they are reasonably well-informed about the horrors which befell the captured armies.

During and immediately after the war, as I have discussed here, we employed methods which would have disgusted our forebears and which ought to disgust us, but which were so frightful that we still lie to ourselves about them, or hide them from our consciousness. Nobody who truly understood them could defend them, which is why the critic of these policies has first to confront a great wall of ignorance, sometimes wilful, sometimes not.

The first was the deliberate bombing of the homes of German civilians, not just in the famous incidents at Hamburg and Dresden, but all over Germany for many months, which has morally inexcusable and , as it happens, remarkably militarily ineffective. Most British people are either unaware of this operation, greatly underestimate it or refuse to believe that it was an act of deliberate policy, wrongly believing that the bombers were seeking to destroy military and industrial targets and only accidentally killed or mutilated civilians. The undoubted bravery and sacrifice of the aircrews in this operation, acknowledged unconditionally by me, has no bearing on the guilt of the politicians and commanders who authorised and executed it.

The second was the atrocious but still largely unknown ‘ethnic cleansing’ of perhaps ten million Germans from their former homes across Eastern and Central Europe, authorised and planned before the war’s end, approved by the victorious allies at Potsdam, and falsely portrayed – then and since – as ‘Orderly and Humane’. Those who ordered and authorised it knew perfectly well that it would be nothing of the kind. Those who carried it out made little effort to mitigate its chaos and cruelty, which well served their purpose – of driving their neighbours from their ancestral lands by mass terror and robbery.

These words, ‘Orderly and Humane’ which featured in the Potsdam document which authorised the atrocity, also provide the coldly bitter title of a new book by R.M. Douglas, recently published by Yale University Press.

Cold bitterness is the first reaction of any person who reads it, who claims to be in any way civilised. I have , night after night, sat in my homebound train reading this catalogue of horrors, unable to find any way of expressing or properly articulating my emotions.

The book takes us through several stages, the first being the deliberate planning of the expulsions, by civilised civil servants and politicians, who found very quickly, as they looked into the matter, that the thing could not be done without cruelty.

What of those who were there at the time? Many protested, notably the left-wing publisher Victor Gollancz, that fine journalist Eric Gedye, and our old friends from the campaign against bombing Germans in their homes, Bishop George Bell of Chichester and Richard Stokes MP.

But as usual when something wicked is going on , the ‘mainstream’ consensus was complacent and defensive. Winston Churchill, who had urged the plan for years, and had ignored warnings of its dangers, started making hypocritical noises about its cruelty long after it was too late. There is a fashion these days for according sort of sainthood to Clement Attlee, the post-war Labour Prime Minister. Well, Saint Clement, confronted with advice that the plan would run into grave problems, notably severe human suffering, said ‘Everything that brings home to the Germans the completeness and irrevocability of their defeat is worthwhile in the end”. Winston Churchill, who had urged the plan for years , started making hypocritical noises about its cruelty long after it was too late.

Everything? We shall see.

I have removed the nationality of the victims and of the soldiers from the following description. See if you can guess who they were, before I tell you, further down :

‘In a single incident, 265 *********** , including 120 women and 74 children, , were killed on June 18 by ****** troops, who removed them from a train at Horne Mostenice near Prerov, shot them in the back of the neck , and buried them in a mass grave that they had first been forced to dig beside the railway station.’

Well, if I tell you that the year was 1945, when by June 18 the war was over, perhaps you will be able to work out first of all who the killers were *not*. Yes, you are getting warm, they were not ‘the Nazis’ or even ‘The Germans’. The dead (mostly women and children) were Germans. The killers were supposedly disciplined troops of the Army of nice, friendly Czechoslovakia.

Two points emerge here. One, which Professor Douglas drives home repeatedly, is that these disgusting slaughters were not ( in general) the result of enraged civilians taking their revenge, which might at least mitigate the crime. They were state-sponsored and centrally controlled, and are to this day defended by the states concerned, rightly nervous of any suggestion that they might be subjected to legal investigation, or demands for compensation.

The second is that the authors of these filthy inexcusable things were the ‘decent’ Czechoslovaks and ‘gallant’ Poles, for so long treated with sentimental admiration by Britain (perhaps to make up for the fact that we betrayed them in 1938 and 1939).

I will also deal here with the muttering I can hear at the back, that ‘the Germans had done this first, and were being paid back in their own kind’, coupled with catcalls of ‘Wot are you then, some sort of Hitler apologist?’ and (no doubt) thought-police insinuations that I am a closet racialist.

Well, some Germans certainly had done such things and worse (though we let most of them off as we needed them to run the country after the defeat of Hitler) , but most of the victims of these incidents were women and children, and some of the others were (for instance) Czech German Social Democrats who had themselves resisted the Nazis. This was a racial purge, combined with a colossal mass theft of property, money , houses and land (those refuges who survived could take almost nothing with them), horribly comparable to German National Socialist Actions. Anyone who (rightly) condemns the German National Socialists as barbarian murderers cannot really, in all conscience, fail to condemn the authors of these actions too. (this point is addressed later)

Professor Douglas accepts that the expulsions did not sink to the level of the extermination camps(though on occasion, as we will see, they got remarkably close to it).

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