It was a time described by historian A.J.P. Taylor as:
Until August 1914 a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state, beyond the post office and the policeman. He could live where he liked and as he liked. He had no official number or identity card. He could travel abroad or leave his country for ever without a passport or any sort of official permission. He could exchange his money for any other sort of currency without restriction or limit. He could buy goods from any country in the world on the same terms as he bought goods at home. For that matter, a foreigner could spend his life in this country without permit and without informing the police. Unlike the countries of the European continent, the state did not require its citizens to perform military service. An Englishman could enlist, if he chose, in the regular army, the navy or the territorials. He could also ignore, if he chose, the demands of national defence. Substantial householders were occasionally called on to perform jury service. Otherwise, only those helped the state who wished to do so.But that was about to change severely. UK Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey had said the previous day:
The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.On August 4, 1914 – 94 years ago – the United Kingdom declared war on Imperial Germany.
Winston Churchill was involved in the affairs of war at this time. That, however, is another story. Today we present quotes from Churchill’s six-volume work The Second World War, whose first volume was first published 60 years ago this year. We present extracts regarding World War I from volume 1, chapter 1; The Follies of the Victors 1919-1929. We let readers judge for themselves. The theme of the first volume was:
HOW THE ENGLISH-SPEAKING PEOPLESChurchill says:
THROUGH THEIR UNWISDOM
CARELESSNESS AND GOOD NATURE
ALLOWED THE WICKED
THROUGH THEIR UNWISDOM
CARELESSNESS AND GOOD NATURE
ALLOWED THE WICKED
In the summer of 1919 the Allied Armies stood along the Rhine, and their bridgeheads bulged deeply into defeated, disarmed and hungry Germany. The chiefs of the victor Powers debated and disputed the future in Paris. Before them lay the map of Europe to be redrawn almost as they might resolve. After fifty-two months of agony and hazards the Teutonic coalition lay at their mercy, and not one of its four members could offer the slightest resistance to their will. Germany, the head and forefront of the offence, regarded by all as the prime cause of the catastrophe which had fallen upon the world, was at the mercy or discretion of conquerors, themselves reeling from the torment they had endured. Moreover, this had been a war, not of Governments, but of peoples. The whole life-energy of the greatest nations had been poured out in wrath and slaughter. The war leaders assembled in Paris had been borne thither upon the strongest and most furious tides that have ever flown in human history. Gone were the treaties of Utrecht and Vienna, when aristocratic statesmen and diplomats, victor and vanquished alike, met in polite and courtly disputation, and, free from the clatter and babel of democracy, could reshape systems upon the fundamentals of which they were all agreed. The peoples, transported by their sufferings and by the mass teachings with which they had been inspired, stood around in scores of millions to demand that retribution should be exacted to the full. Woe betide the leaders now perched on their dizzy pinnacles of triumph if they cast away at the conference table what the soldiers had won on a hundred blood-soaked battlefields.Churchill goes on:
The territorial provisions of the Treaty of Versailles left Germany practically intact. She still remained the largest homogeneous racial block in Europe. When Marshal Foch heard of the signing of the Peace Treaty of Versailles he observed with singular accuracy: “This is not Peace. It is an Armistice for twenty years.”Further:
The economic clauses of the Treaty were malignant and silly to an extent that made them obviously futile. Germany was condemned to pay reparations on a fabulous scale. These dictates gave expression to the anger of the victors, and to the failure of their peoples to understand that no defeated nation or community can ever pay tribute on a scale which would meet the costs of modern war.Yet further:
The multitudes remained plunged in ignorance of the simplest economic facts, and their leaders, seeking their votes, did not dare to undeceive them. The newspapers, after their fashion, reflected and emphasised the prevailing opinions. Few voices were raised to explain that payment of reparations can only be made by services of by the physical transportation of goods in wagons across land frontiers or in ships across salt water; or that when goods arrive in the demanding countries, they dislocate the local industry except in very primitive or rigorously-controlled societies. In practice, as even the Russians have now learned, the only way of pillaging a defeated nation is to cart away any movables which are wanted, and to drive off a portion of its manhood as permanent or temporary slaves. But the profit gained from such processes bears no relation to the cost of war. No one in great authority had the wit, ascendancy, or detachment from public folly, to declare these fundamental, brutal facts to the electorates; nor would anyone have been believed if he had. The triumphant Allies continued to assert that they would squeeze Germany “till the pips squeaked”. All this had a potent bearing on the prosperity of the world and the mood of the German race.
The second cardinal tragedy was the complete break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire by the Treaties of St. Germain and Trianon. For centuries this surviving embodiment of the Holy Roman Empire had afforded a common life, with advantages in trade and security, to a large number of people, none of whom in our own time had the strength or vitality to stand by themselves in the face of pressure from a revivified Germany or Russia. All these races wished to break away from the Federal or Imperial structure, and to encourage their desires was deemed a liberal policy. The Balkanisation of South-Eastern Europe proceeded apace, with the consequent relative aggrandisement of Prussia and the German Reich, which, though tired and war-scarred, was intact and locally overwhelming. There is not one of the peoples or provinces that constituted the Empire of the Hapsburgs to whom gaining their independence has not brought the tortures which ancient poets and theologicians had reserved for the damned. The noble capital of Vienna, the home of so much long-defended culture and tradition, the centre of so many roads, rivers, and railways, was left stark and starving, like a great emporium in an impoverished district whose inhabitants have mostly departed.He continues:
The victors imposed upon the Germans all the long-sought ideals of the liberal nations of the West. They were relieved from the burden of compulsory military service and from the need of keeping up heavy armaments. The enormous American loans were presently pressed upon them, though they had no credit. A democratic constitution, in accordance with all the latest improvements, was established at Weimar. Emperors having been driven out, nonentities were elected. Beneath this flimsy fabric raged the passion of the mighty, defeated, but substantially uninjured German nation. The prejudice of the Americans against monarchy, which Mr. Lloyd George made no attempt to counteract, had made it clear to the beaten Empire that it would have better treatment from the Allies as a Republic than as a Monarchy. Wise policy would have crowned and fortified the Weimar Republic with a constitutional sovereign in the person of an infant grandson of the Kaiser, under a Council of Regency. Instead, a gaping void was opened in the national life of the German people. All the strong elements, military and feudal, which might have rallied to a constitutional monarchy and for its sake respected and sustained the new democratic and Parliamentary processes, were for the time being unhinged. The Weimar Republic, with all its liberal trappings and blessings, was regarded as an imposition of the enemy. It could not hold the loyalties of the German people. For a spell they sought to cling as in desperation to the aged Marshal Hindenburg. Thereafter mighty forces were adrift, the void was open, and into that void after a pause there strode a maniac of ferocious genius, the repository and expression of the most virulent hatreds that have corroded the human breast – Corporal Hitler.
While all these untoward events were taking place, amid a ceaseless chatter of well-meant platitudes on both sides of the Atlantic, a new and more terrible cause of quarrel than the Imperialism of Czars and Kaisers became apparent in Europe. The Civil War in Russia ended in the absolute victory of the Bolshevik Revolution. The Soviet Armies which advanced to subjugate Poland were indeed repulsed in the battle of Warsaw, but Germany and Italy nearly succumbed to Communist propaganda and designs, and Hungary actually fell for a while under the control of the Communist dictator, Bela Kun. Although Marshal Foch wisely observed that “Bolshevism had never crossed the frontiers of victory”, the foundations of European civilisation trembled in the early post-war years. Fascism was the shadow of ugly child of Communism. While Corporal Hitler was making himself useful to the German officer-class in Munich by arousing soldiers and workers to fierce hatred of Jews and Communists, on whom he laid the blame of Germany’s defeat, another adventurer, Benito Mussolini, provided Italy with a new theme of government which, while it claimed to save the Italian people from Communism, raised himself to dictatorial power. As Fascism sprang from Communism, so Nazism developed from Fascism. Thus were set on foot those kindred movements which were destined soon to plunge the world into even more hideous strife, which none can say have ended with their destruction.There is also some correspondence. We cite from volume 6 a message:
Prime Minister to Foreign Office 8 Apr 45Another message, three and a half weeks later:
This war would never have come unless, under American and modernising pressure, we had driven the Habsburgs out of Austria and Hungary and the Hohenzollerns out of Germany. By making these vacuums we gave the opening for the Hitlerite monster to crawl out of its sewer on to the vacant thrones. No doubt these views are very unfashionable....
Prime Minister to Sir H. Knatchbull-Hugessen (Brussels) 26 Apr 45
It is no part of the policy of His Majesty’s Government to hunt down the Archduke Otto of Habsburg or to treat as if it were a criminal organisation the loyalty which many Austrians friendly to Britain cherish for their ancient monarchy. We should not actively intervene on their behalf, being at all times resolved that in any case where we are forced for the time being to depart from the ideal of non-intervention our guide is the will of the people, expressed by the vote of a free, unfettered, secret ballot, universal suffrage election. The principle of a constitutional monarchy, provided it is based on the will of the people, is not, oddly enough, abhorrent to the British mind.
2. Personally, having lived through all these European disturbances and studied carefully their causes, I am of opinion that if the Allies at the peace table in Versailles had not imagined that the sweeping away of long-established dynasties was a form of progress, and if they had allowed a Hohenzollern, a Wittelsbach, and a Habsburg to return to their thrones, there would have been no Hitler. To Germany a symbolic point on which the loyalties of the military classes could centre would have been found, and a democratic basis of society might have been preserved by a crowned Weimar in contact with the victorious Allies. This is a personal view, but perhaps you would meditate upon it.