Churchill’s Choice: Hitler vs. Stalin

Churchill’s Choice: Hitler vs. Stalin

I find the glo­ri­fi­ca­tion of Churchill quite dis­gust­ing. It is typ­i­cal British-Amer­i­can arro­gance to ignore the out­come of WW2 for the peo­ples of East­ern Europe, not to speak of the Ger­mans. Churchill knew from the begin­ning about the ter­ri­ble fate of the Rus­sians and many oth­er East Euro­pean peo­ples under Bol­she­vist dic­ta­tor­ship. He obvi­ous­ly didn’t care. He was obsessed with anti-Ger­man hatred. Know­ing that he bombed Ger­man cities, killing thou­sands of civil­ians long before the Ger­mans were retal­i­at­ing, makes him in my opin­ion even worse than Hitler. Why  did he go into alliance with Stal­in against the Ger­mans? That is his crime and the recog­ni­tion of it will come. —H.W. via email.

“Total­i­ta­t­ian Eclipse,” car­toon by Zev in the Dai­ly Mir­ror, Lon­don, 8 April 1940.

The choice before Churchill and Britain in 1939-40 was any­thing but clear-cut. There were good rea­sons, how­ev­er, sup­port­ing the choice they made.

While con­sid­er­ing the fate of East­ern Europe it is rea­son­able also to con­sid­er that of West­ern Europe, and what Europe would have looked like had Hitler tri­umphed, and moved on into the nuclear age.

Before assum­ing that Churchill didn’t care about Bol­she­vism, it is nec­es­sary to read a lit­tle. Read about 1919-20, when he sup­port­ed the Whites against the Bol­she­viks, earn­ing no love from his prac­ti­cal, wise and emi­nent col­leagues, who didn’t see what he did.

Read on into the 1930s. Who occu­pied the Rhineland in vio­la­tion of treaties? What was the March 1938 Anschluss about? What hap­pened at Munich? What about March 1939, and the absorp­tion of all those Bohemi­ans, Mora­vians and Slo­va­kians into the Reich? Which coun­try first allied her­self with Russia—Britain or Ger­many? Cities like Guer­ni­ca, War­saw and Rot­ter­dam were all hit before the RAF had dropped a sin­gle bomb on the Reich. Indeed, for many months after the war start­ed in 1939, the most the British would drop were pam­phlets. Bomb­ing, some in the gov­ern­ment believed, would amount to destruc­tion of pri­vate prop­er­ty.

Why side with Stal­in in 1941? If your back is to the wall you tend to wel­come allies with­out being too choosy about them. It is a legit­i­mate crit­i­cism that Churchill was too trust­ing of Stal­in; those argu­ments are not com­ing out, they’ve been out for thir­ty years. But if he hat­ed Ger­mans, his post­war dec­la­ra­tion that the only way to sal­vage Europe was through rap­proche­ment between France and Ger­many was an odd way to express it. “My hate,” he wrote lat­er, “died with their sur­ren­der.”

In 1931 Churchill wrote “Mass Effects in Mod­ern Life”: words that still ring today:

No mate­r­i­al progress, even though it takes shapes we can­not now con­ceive, or how­ev­er it may expand the fac­ul­ties of man, can bring com­fort to his soul. It is this fact, more won­der­ful than any that Sci­ence can reveal, which gives the best hope that all will be well. Projects undreamed-of by past gen­er­a­tions will absorb our imme­di­ate descen­dants; forces ter­rif­ic and dev­as­tat­ing will be in their hands; com­forts, activ­i­ties, ameni­ties, plea­sures will crowd upon them, but their hearts will ache, their lives will be bar­ren, if they have not a vision above mate­r­i­al things.

“Implic­it in those words,” says Dr. Lar­ry Arnn, “are the speech­es of 1940. Churchill told the British peo­ple we must fight to the death—better to die than to give this thing up. The sin of Hitler, almost super­hu­man in its scale but not, is that he tried too form a poli­ty that would elim­i­nate the very heart of human­i­ty. No one saw that more clear­ly than Win­ston Churchill.”

 

2 thoughts on “Churchill’s Choice: Hitler vs. Stalin

  1. Con­grat­u­la­tions to your son. He is a sharp observ­er. In anoth­er few years he will be writ­ing some­thing like my favorite what-if: “If Churchill had Not Won the 1945 Elec­tion.” (Scroll to this head­ing on my last Brex­it post.)

    On Poland, he is spot-on. On the Pol­ish guar­an­tee, Churchill writes in Their Finest Hour that it was unfor­tu­nate, but inevitable:

    Here was deci­sion at last, tak­en at the worst pos­si­ble moment and on the least sat­is­fac­to­ry ground, which must sure­ly lead to the slaugh­ter of tens of mil­lions of peo­ple. Here was the right­eous cause delib­er­ate­ly and with a refine­ment of invert­ed artistry com­mit­ted to mor­tal bat­tle after its assets and advan­tages had been so improv­i­dent­ly squan­dered. Still, 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.

    No one can be cer­tain, but I think your son is as like­ly as any­one to be right about the out­come, had Hitler turned away from Poland, avoid­ing war with Britain and France, and invad­ed Rus­sia in, say, April 1941. Cer­tain­ly the Wehrma­cht would have been for­mi­da­ble, fresh and unat­ten­u­at­ed from its con­quests in the West, how­ev­er suc­cess­ful. Would Churchill even have become Prime Min­is­ter had West­ern Europe not been attacked? Cer­tain­ly the appeasers dom­i­nat­ed Par­lia­ment until the Pol­ish con­fronta­tion.

    This was the jist of my argu­ment with Pro­fes­sor John Charmely’s Churchill’s Grand Alliance, a read­able crit­i­cal work. His book was chal­lenged main­ly over a brief sec­tion argu­ing that Britain should have backed away from war with Ger­many after France fell, pre­serv­ing the Empire and British great­ness.

    Had that hap­pened, I argued, Hitler might have launched his Sovi­et inva­sion ear­li­er than in June, leav­ing him time to get to Moscow before win­ter, and ulti­mate­ly emerged tri­umphant. At the very least, he’d have had more time to devel­op an atom­ic bomb. And would efforts on the bomb been as urgent as they were in Britain and Amer­i­ca, had they not both been in the war up to their necks by 1942? It’s legit­i­mate to won­der.

    Full marks to your son, and may he keep read­ing and writ­ing!

  2. Sir, would you please weigh in on an ongo­ing ‘alter­na­tive his­to­ry’ debate between myself and my thir­teen year old son (who is a seri­ous his­to­ry buff). He’s con­vinced that if Hitler had not been con­strained by the Molo­tov-Ribben­trop pact and, hav­ing tak­en Poland, sim­ply attacked Rus­sia ASAP with a view to tak­ing out the Bol­she­viks, he would have suc­ceed­ed. Stalin’s army purge of 1938 left the Russ­ian army in dis­ar­ray and it was ripe for the tak­ing.

    He main­tains that Britain and France were actu­al­ly in defen­sive mode in 1939-40 and that the alliances with Poland were not act­ed upon in good faith.

    He is con­vinced that if Hitler hadn’t turned his atten­tion west­ward and, instead focused on destroy­ing Stal­in, the allies might have qui­et­ly let him get on with it!

    Does he have a point?

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