by Gwydion M Williams
Hitler’s rise would have been impossible if he had not been treated as a normal and sometimes useful politician by a large section of the British Tory Party. A possible ally in the Imperial end-game, in which the main issue was Britain maintaining its status as the world’s number one power. The Tory mainstream shared Churchill’s aspiration that the British Empire might last another thousand years. The Tory mainstream thought they could do this by using Hitler against the Soviet Union. Whereas Churchill, who had got on well with pioneering fascist Benito Mussolini, realised much sooner than anyone else that Hitler was also determined to make Germany supreme over Europe – Hitler was happy for Britain to keep its colonial empire, but all Europe was to be unified under German supremacy, an expanded version of the Prussian and Austro-Hungarian empires as they had been before World War One.
The war actually left the British Empire so weakened that there was little objection to the Labour government of 1945 giving away the bulk of it by giving independence to India and Pakistan. The Tories had not quite lost their imperial reflexes, hence the Suez adventure. But by then, Europe was dependant on either the USA or the USSR and crude colonialism was not acceptable.
Both Churchill and ‘Hitler’s Tories’ were committed to maintaining the Empire and to limiting the Soviet Union. Since the actual result of the war was the loss of the Empire and a vast expansion of Soviet power, the war from their point of view had been a disaster. But it was convenient then to rewrite history and pretend the war aims had been more in line with what actually happened. And everyone else was guilty for having treated Hitler as a normal and sometimes useful politician, whereas the Tory mainstream and the leading figures in Britain’s ‘National Government’ were regarded as foolish but well-intentioned.
Pius XII is sometimes labelled ‘Hitler’s pope’, because he negotiated a Concordat with Germany in 1933. In 1933, Hitler was merely Chancellor under the authority of President Hindenberg, and it was moot whether his government would last very long or do very much. And he did this as Eugenio Pacelli, still under the authority of Pius XI.
Short of personally assassinating Hitler, it’s hard to see what either Pius XI or Pius XII could have done to change history for the better. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, “the Vatican had disliked the Munich Agreement (1938), by which Czechoslovakia was sacrificed to expanding German power by Britain and France. Pius [XI] especially strove to keep Italy neutral and was deeply saddened when he failed.”
Present at Munich was Sir Alec Douglas Home, parliamentary private secretary to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, later Foreign Secretary and briefly Prime Minister. He and other Tories who were part of appeasement had grand careers, provided they switched when the British imperial mainstream switched.
It also did not hurt the career of Ambassador Joe Kennedy that he was willing to write off Britain in 1940 and accept a Nazi victory as an accomplished fact. His son’s presidency was to be the high point of US Liberalism. Likewise Robert Kennedy was forgiven his part in the anti-left hysteria of the 1950s–conveniently blamed on Senator Jo McCarthy after almost everyone accepted it had gone too far. And people still think of his pursuit of trade union boss Jimmy Hoffa as admirable–never mind that almost every American politician has done at least as much as Hoffa did.
And what of the Nuremberg Trials? Justice might have been better served had a crowd of enraged survivors of the death-camps broken open the prisons and lynched anyone famous with a Nazi connection. The duly constituted tribunal applied much the same rule, only it was done under the pretence that International Law had somehow been established.
International Law was not established at Nuremberg, because it applied exclusively to the defeated. It does not exist today. A proposal to establish it is being blocked by the USA, which will not risk its own people being prosecuted by foreigners for breaking laws and civilised norms that the USA may find inconvenient.
The current trial of Slobodan Milosevic is no different. They’d be hard put to convict him of anything that couldn’t also apply to some past US Secretaries of State or even ex-Presidents, not to mention British Home Secretaries or Northern Ireland ministers who may well have known more than they should about state-sponsored murders.
This can’t happen, because it is a Tribunal “established by the Security Council in 1993, and has jurisdiction over individuals responsible for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in the former Yugoslavia since 1990” (BBC Online). Crimes outside of Yugoslavia are exempt, unless the world’s great powers on the Security Council chose to make provision for them. So are crimes committed before 1990, which avoids the embarrassing issue of pro-Nazi Croat genocide of Serbs in World War Two.
In any case, the Security Council seems to have broken the rules by ignoring the UN General Assembly, much less under great-power control. Milosevic has said: “I consider this tribunal false tribunal and indictments false indictments. It is illegal, being not appointed by UN General Assembly, so I have no need to appoint counsel to illegal organ.”
The USA has openly advertised that it will ignore the 1972 treaty banning missile defences. Bush Senior decided to fight the Gulf War with or without UN approval. Law is used to further US policies where possible, and otherwise ignored. Nor is Europe any better, with the ‘humanitarian imperialism’ in Africa. The great powers have re-established their right to intervene anywhere as and when they please, the very thing the UN was supposed to replace.
But isn’t this at least a way of establishing some humanitarian principles, after the UN failed? Not really. The UN was not allowed to succeed, and the USA intentionally sabotaged the first big attempt at peacekeeping in the Congo, where a democratically elected leader was unwise enough to invite in the UN as if it were a genuine ‘international policeman’, was deposed by the UN and was then murdered by his enemies with UN connivance. But the UN is not always so malleable, so the USA has mostly preferred to bypass it.
Just as Britain before the war preferred to let the League Of Nations get discredited, and allowed Nazi Germany to aid General Franco to overthrow a democratically elected left-wing government in Spain.
Britain did far more to pave the way for Hitler than is commonly acknowledged.
Concentration camps were an invention of the British ruling class, used by them to win the Boer War. Elements of the technology had previously been used by the Spanish in their attempts to hang onto Cuba. But what the Spanish did was create what we would now call ‘strategic hamlets’, meaning something like house arrest for entire populations that probably supported the enemy. What the late-Imperial British ruling class did was effectively imprisonment for entire populations, shipped off to unpleasant camps which had a very high death rate.
The system differed from the later Nazi system, only in as much as there was no deliberate killing of the unwanted population. That and the choice of targets was the only distinction. And regarding Stalin’s system of Labour Camps, I can’t see how it differs significantly from what the British did in South Africa.
Also note that the Bolshevik system as pioneered by Lenin and continued by Stalin established the ideas of sexual equality, racial equality, the ending of colonial empires and the breaking down of class barriers. All things that the British ruling class in the 1920s and 1930s were keen to preserve.
Why do people speak of ‘Hitler’s Pope’, but not of ‘Hitler’s Tories’? Large parts of the Tory Party and the later National Government regarded Hitler as someone they could ‘do business with’. Virulent anti-Semitism and an obvious desire to wage war in the east were not seen as a problem, so long as it seemed as if British interests would be respected. The decision to fight came only after Hitler broke the Munich Agreement and showed (as should have been obvious) that he was just as much interested in vengeance on Britain and France as he was in a war with Soviet Russia
The Germans decided from the way they’d been treated in World War One that they’d be called criminals whatever they did. They had been punished severely after having fought a fairly ordinary war. They had thought they surrendered on the basis of President Wilson’s ideas for equal rights of nations–or at least white nations, Wilson was a racist who admired the original Ku Klux Klan and had no intention of allowing non-white nations to claim the same rights as Europeans. But in the event, even this imperfect rule was not applied, with Germany and Austria and Hungary being stripped of territories that they should have kept had national self-determination been honestly applied.
The rise of Hitler was aided by the widespread knowledge that Germany had been treated unfairly. And the fact that Germans after World War One had been branded as criminal for doing just the same as everyone else meant that there was little incentive to stay within the norms in World War Two. Might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, as the saying goes, and the Nuremberg tribunal did in fact hang people who had done nothing different from what lots of Britons and Americans had also done.
After World War Two, the Germans were again found guilty, this time with more justice. But then the brief alliance between Britain, the USA and the USSR broke down. Britain needed the USA, and the USA decided it needed the Germans. So punishment of Germany was suspended, everyone had supposed it had ended apart from some oddities like Spandau Prison that the USSR insisted on maintaining. But when the Cold War ended and Germans no longer had anywhere else to go, a lot more German guilt was suddenly ‘discovered’. Even some Polish guilt, they are the most independent-minded of the serious candidates for the European Union. But I’ve yet to hear of any Hungarian guilt, though their own histories freely admit that they willingly joined Hitler. Nor about the equally willing Croats, who also and unlike the Hungarians were keen participants in Nazi genocide.
Regarding Milosevic, he did do a lot to push Yugoslavia into conflict, but also the various wars happened because the USA and European Community strongly signalled that a break-up of Yugoslavia was desired. Nations like Hungary respect existing borders because that is the price for future admission to the European Union.
In the case of Yugoslavia, ‘get Milosevic’ was the only rule, because he managed for a time to carry on with Tito-style socialism rather than capitulating to the West. Multi-ethnic Yugoslavia must be divided, but multi-ethnic Bosnia must be kept as a unit rather than split ethnically by some impartial tribunal. Ethnically Serb areas in Croatia must be ruled directly by Croats, but ethnically Albania Kosovo could not be ruled by Serbs. And yet also an ethnic division of Kosovo was forbidden, which meant that its residual Serbian population have been driven out and the war moved on to Macedonia.
No impartial tribunal would convict Milosevic for his handling of a disaster that other much stronger powers did far more to create. But then much the same could be said of most of the Nuremburg defendants.
A recent dramatised reconstruction was good enough to show how the prosecution deliberately muddled the issues. The men who ran the death camps – obviously guilty of breaching established norms – were put together with people like Goering who had merely gone on serving Germany after ‘Hitler’s Tories’ unexpectedly switched sides.
Goering should not have been convicted unless a whole bevy of British politicians had been convicted, including Lord Hume, the future Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas Hume, along with Quintin Hogg /Lord Hailsham, who started his public career as the successful pro-appeasement candidate in the famous Oxford by-election of 1938
It is hard to see how Goering could have made much positive difference whatever he did. As for Pope Pius, ‘Hitler’s pope’, to have made a public protest at genocide he ‘d have had to sacrifice the Jews of Rome whom he could see for the sake of others who might not be helped.
It would be nice to stage an historic re-enactment of Goering’s trial, this time without the confusing presence of other senior Nazi or pro-Nazi figures whose historic role was quite different. And if I could chose a jury, I’d chose a selection of officers in the Israeli air force, who would surely be sympathetic to the view that military officers can not be held responsible for what the security forces of their own state might be up to.
In the case of ‘Hitler’s Tories’, almost anything they did would have made the mass killings less likely. Had they drawn clear lines much earlier and warned Hitler not to go beyond them, he might have stopped, or been overthrown by the German General Staff. And yet up until 1941, when Britain and France declared war, the Nazis had actually killed no great number of their enemies, probably no more than Pinochet did in Chile. The mass deportation of Jews happened only after the war began, and would almost certainly not have happened without the war that was later justified by the mass killing in the Death Camps.
There is wanton confusion of three very different stages of Nazi policy. Up until 1941, Jews had been reduced to the status of second class citizens. There position was similar to blacks in USA except the Nazi laws did not pretend equality, whereas segregation in the USA was held to be the provision of ‘separate but equal’ rights, held to be valid up until the 1950s despite the very obvious lack of equality. And it was only after racism in general had been discredited by its Nazi associations that US racism began to be eroded.
When the war began, the Nazis organised a mass deportation of Jews – something that also happened to Jewish refugees in Britain, classed by the British government as ‘enemy aliens’, in defiance of logic. This was the second stage, and was well known to everyone.
The third stage – mass killings, at first ad-hoc and then systematised – was much more ambiguous, secretive and uncertain. It is very moot how many people outside of the Death Camps actually knew about it. Guilt was created by deciding that anyone involved in any of the three stages of Nazi anti-Jewish policies was guilty of the whole lot.
But only if they were German or German allies, because the laws had been framed that way. And even blatantly guilty characters like Klaus Barbie could escape if the allies found them useful. Talk of International Law began as shysterism and remains shysterism.
The UN was supposed to change that. Up until 1991, there was some doubt as to whether it was just Russia that had undermined it, or Russia and the USA both.
From 1991 onwards, there has been no doubt at all. The USA will not tolerate International Law unless they themselves are definitely above that law and immune to its effects. And Britain has been just as bad, with ‘ethics’ cited as no more than an excuse to ignore such legal norms as did exist.