THE PHONEY VIC­TORY

PETER HITCHENS CONFRONTS MANY OF THE AC­CEPTED BE­LIEFS ABOUT WORLD WAR II

History of War - - REVIEWS -

Au­thor: Peter Hitchens Pub­lisher: I.B. Tau­ris Price: £17.99

Peter Hitchens is no stranger to con­tro­versy, hav­ing passed from So­cial­ist Work­ers’ Party mil­i­tant to out­spo­ken critic of po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness. In this book, Hitchens has taken it upon him­self to launch a frontal as­sault on the con­ven­tional as­sump­tions sur­round­ing Bri­tain’s role in World War II.

The au­thor ac­knowl­edges he is tread­ing into per­ilous ter­ri­tory. The war, as he came to know it as a school­boy in the late 1950s, was “our mo­ral guide, the ori­gin of mod­ern scrip­ture about good and evil, courage and self-sac­ri­fice”. Yet he pulls no punches in de­nounc­ing the Yalta peace set­tle­ment as a cyn­i­cal, “large-scale pro­tec­tion racket”, with Stalin as the rack­e­teer and the Western Al­lies as his cowed vic­tims. The mass ex­e­cu­tions of Cos­sacks shipped off to Rus­sia by the Al­lies, the “eth­nic cleans­ing” con­ducted un­der the Pots­dam Agree­ment, are just two of the grim episodes rarely dis­cussed be­cause, as the au­thor says, they do not ac­cord with ac­cepted be­liefs.

Hitchens in­sists that Hitler and the Nazi regime had to be crushed and that war at some point was in­evitable. His ar­gu­ment is that Bri­tain should have fol­lowed the ex­am­ple of the US and waited un­til the

Al­lied pow­ers were ready to en­ter the war in a po­si­tion of mil­i­tary and di­plo­matic strength.

It was wrong, he says, to give Poland effective con­trol over Bri­tain’s de­ci­sion to de­clare war, which he de­scribes as “one of the gravest di­plo­matic mis­takes ever made by a ma­jor coun­try”. This was a con­se­quence of the March 1939 Mu­nich Agree­ment that al­lowed other pow­ers to dic­tate and has­ten the tim­ing of war in ways that did not suit Bri­tain’s main ally, France. Five months later Bri­tain signed a treaty agree­ing to guar­an­tee Pol­ish in­de­pen­dence, less than a week be­fore the Ger­man in­va­sion.

Poland emerges in the book as a pre­text for war, not a rea­son. As a con­se­quence, the tim­ing of the dec­la­ra­tion of war nearly led an un­pre­pared Bri­tain to de­feat, which Hitchens says would al­most cer­tainly have been the out­come had the USSR been de­feated by Hitler. Poland was swiftly con­quered and dis­man­tled in the face of un­pre­pared­ness and a lack of will by Bri­tain and France to act to save the coun­try. Ger­many al­most as quickly took charge in much of Scan­di­navia, as a re­sult of Churchill’s dis­as­trous Nor­way ad­ven­ture. The Ger­man of­fen­sive through Bel­gium and Hol­land de­stroyed the French army and ex­pelled Bri­tain from the con­ti­nent for the next four years.

Yet a war, be­gun in un­cer­tainty and con­fu­sion, con­tin­u­ing in de­feat, evac­u­a­tion and bank­ruptcy, be­came in the pop­u­lar imag­i­na­tion the war that re­stored good­ness to the world. Hitchens crit­i­cises this as a sim­plis­tic in­ter­pre­ta­tion of re­al­ity. He brings to light some of the un­com­fort­able af­ter­math – the Stal­in­ist purges, the “atro­cious butcher’s bill from In­dian par­ti­tion in 1947”, the trans­fer of up to 14 mil­lion eth­nic Ger­mans out of Eastern Europe, mostly agreed to by the Al­lies, and the ex­pul­sion of Arabs from Is­rael. The blood-soaked up­ris­ings by East Ber­lin­ers in 1953, the Hun­gar­i­ans in 1956 and the Prague Spring of 1968 then fol­lowed.

Hitchens em­pha­sises that what­ever hap­pened af­ter the war can­not be equated to the bar­barism of the Nazis. In high­light­ing these atroc­i­ties, he warns against fail­ing to con­demn the post-war abuses against hu­man­ity.

“HITCHENS IN­SISTS THAT HITLER AND THE NAZI REGIME HAD TO BE CRUSHED AND THAT WAR AT SOME POINT WAS IN­EVITABLE”

LEFT: Hitler watch­ing Ger­man soldiers march into Poland in Septem­ber 1939

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