Before the Second War a number of leading politicians and prominent people in society in Europe might have been suspicious of Hitler’s intentions, but preferred to come to terms with him, if they could. These were the Appeasers. They include Britain’s Prime Minister at the time, Neville Chamberlain, and his French colleague Edouard Daladier. But in Britain there were also Opposers, those who actively opposed the idea of going to war with Hitler at all.
The German Chancellor’s demands, made principally between 1936 and 1939, were exorbitant, and fuelled by his need for revenge against the Powers which had sentenced Germany to pay for the First World War, bringing about massive inflation and loss of national pride. The Appeasers seemed willing to accede to Hitler’s demands, much to the fury of Winston Churchill, a leading opponent of appeasement. For this stance he was (and still is), accused of warmongering.
Appeasement led to Germany’s occupation of the Rhineland, the annexation of Austria (Anschluss q.v.), the grabbing of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia in 1938. But it had to stop when Hitler, directly in contravention of his assurances at Munich, invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia in March, 1939.
This led to Britain and France providing a series of guarantees, pledging an immediate military response should Rumania, Greece or Poland be invaded by Germany or Italy. It was useless. A few weeks later Poland was indeed invaded, as France herself would be. Total war, which Churchill and others had been predicting since the Twenties, broke out in September, 1939.
One of the great twentieth century myths was the idea of Britain, alone and hardly defended, standing up to the Nazi War Machine in Britain’s finest hour. It is a wonderful myth, Britain standing openly for Good against Evil. Others, like France in quick order, surrendered. Some countries, especially the United States, either dithered or made it clear that Europe’s problems were Europe’s; Uncle Sam wasn’t interested.
Now, however, the events of 1940 are being re-examined by experts, and we find that memories of that period may not be as complete as they should be. The popular version is that by the time war started in September, the appeasers and opposers (to war) had vanished, and that the British were united, not exactly ready, but standing together. Unfortunately this is is not true. The opposers to war were just as united. The Right Club founded by Member of Parliament Archibald Maule Ramsay had established itself during the ‘Phony War’, and was functioning well even by the end of the first year of war. Members were MPs, businessmen, and military men of note, as well as a smattering of nobles. They were united in their opposition to war with Hitler, even when the war was under way.
Their meeting place, a restaurant in Kensington, saw the 5th Duke of Wellington chairing the meeting, with Lord Redesdale to support him. Redesdale was father to the famous five Mitford girls, one of whom, Diana, was married to Sir Oswald Mosley the British Fascist. Another, Unity, had already met and fallen in love with Adolf in Germany. The former King Edward VIII had already famously said, when he was Prince of Wales: “I rather like the look of this little now they’ve got now in Germany”. It is not known if the former king attended the Right Club’s luncheons, but Captain G. H. Drummond certainly did. He had a house in the country where one had to wear Nazi uniform if invited for the weekend. The mansion’s pool had a swastika painted on its floor. Another member Lord Lymington wrote that he dreamed of an agrarian England full of blond men and ‘flaxen-haired maidens’, vegetarians all, and wholly pacific.
The Right Club was flourishing well into 1940, as well as The Anglo-German Fellowship, the Nordic League, the Imperial Fascist League, the White Knights of Britain, and the English Mistery (sic). The last-named had a badge showing an eagle killing a snake and a maxim – “Perish Judah” – which seems clear enough. The founder of the Right Club used to sing a special version of the English hymn ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ whose first line was, ‘Land of dope and Jewry’.
As students of history know, Chamberlain resigned and Churchill became Prime Minister. Among his first moves were the shutting up of the Opposers; Mosley and his wife were interned in a London prison, where they would stay until the end of the war. Maule Ramsey’s parliamentary privilege was ignored and he woke up in Brixton in May, 1940, where he stayed until 1944.
In case the blogger thinks that only the Right was involved, most of the most revered figures from the Left were opposers too. Names still remembered with reverence by progressives were violently anti-war with Germany. Admirers of Nazi eugenics include William Beveridge, the playwright George Bernard Shaw, the philosophers Bertrand Russell and John Maynard Keynes, founders of the Fabian Society Sidney and Beatrice Webb, and liberal publications like the New Statesman and Manchester Guardian.
One of the most important Opposers was a whole nation, the United States. In June, 1939, the King of England and his Queen went to meet President Roosevelt at his home, to beg for US support in the impending war. We are told that Roosevelt might himself have been sympathetic but neither Congress nor the Senate were. They were determined the States would not involve itself in the war with Germany. The isolationist American First Committee (nearly one million members) was the biggest anti-war movement in American history.
It was therefore not inevitable that Britain and America should stand together to fight the Nazi menace. Later, after Pearl Harbor, the US was forced to fight, but always on its own terms. We all saw this policy in action when we watched Steven Spielberg’s superbly directed movie Saving Private Ryan, in which the United States was the sole force on the side of Goodness and Justice, playing the crucial part in defeating Hitler. Where, you could ask, could the States be but on the side of Freedom against Tyranny? The problem is, what would have happened if there had not been a Pearl Harbor?
(Source consulted: The Spectator February, 2012)