Churchill: Aprés La Guerre
Having read about treaties and the formalities that end a war, but never having given much thought to what actually goes on after a war, reading Churchill: Walking with Destiny by Andrew Roberts, offered some detailed insights. Wars do not end when treaties are signed or agreements as to punishments and rewards are reached. Cities are in ruins and must be rebuilt. People do not forget their wounds and hostilities so easily. Feelings run deep and memories of wrongs are long. Even without armies, hostilities can continue. Whole nations can nurse resentments long after treaties are negotiated. Vengeance may be fomented inadvertently, and a war may erupt again. Once there was a Hundred Years War. It was a war that just wouldn’t stay ended. This same dynamic, Churchill believed, is how Europe ended up in WWII so soon after what Britain called The Great War.
Winston Churchill was old enough to be an adult during the two “world” wars in Europe, both of which centered in Germany. Not only was Churchill an adult, he was in Parliament, he was influential in the decisions made during and after these wars. Actually, Churchill tended to serve the nation best when Great Britain was at war. Churchill, though, had a sort of fixation with trying to win wars in Europe by going east towards Turkey through the Dardanelles as he did in WWI (big mistake) or capturing the Dodecanese Islands in WWII which was a strategy his American allies disagreed with. Roberts thinks Churchill had the protection of the far-flung members of the British Empire in mind when he made these decisions. The Dardanelles decision was a disaster, so much so that Churchill, sidelined by opponents, left the government and joined the British troops (actually the Scots Fusillars) dug in in France for a while in order to at least feel useful. In WWII, America had no interest in preserving the British Empire and after Pearl Harbor America had different priorities. Before Pearl Harbor Britain’s only ally was Stalin in Russia, an alliance that was a necessity but went against Churchill’s strong opposition to the Bolsheviks. Churchill was also privy to some top secret news about a mass execution of Poles in Russia. America eventually did decide to help end the war in Europe first, and the war in Japan second as Churchill wished.
Churchill was unhappy with the way the nations who won World War I dealt with the nations who lost the war. He worried that Russia and Germany would become allies. He felt that the harsh treatment of the Germans led to the rise of Hitler. Churchill knew what Hitler was from the moment he appeared on the scene. He wanted to be sure to do better after that second World War. But Churchill’s main fears after WWII were about Russia. There was little that could be done to weaken Russia however. Without Russia Hitler might have eventually annexed Great Britain. Millions of Russian soldiers lost their lives in WWII. Forcing Germany to fight on two fronts, or counting North Africa, on three, kept Britain in the fight until America joined the allies.
According to Andrew Robert these are some of Churchill’s reactions to WWI and its aftermath:
“Repair the waste,” he said, “Rebuild the ruins. Heal the wounds. Crown the victors. Comfort the broken and broken-hearted. There is the battle we have now to fight. There is the victory we have now to win. Let us go forward together.”
“He later regretted saying of the starving Germans, “They were all in it, and they must all suffer for it.”
“His true policy of advocating large grain shipments to Germany was the one he summed up with admirable brevity to Violet Asquith: “Kill the Bolshie; Kiss the Hun.”
(Churchill was 43)
“Instead, on 10 January 1919, to the press’s almost universal displeasure, Churchill became secretary for war and air.”
“Churchill faced enormous problems in demobilizing an army of 2.5 million men. His primary task was to get as many men back to their homes and jobs as quickly as possible, but he also needed to find enough troops to police the German occupation zone, Constantinople and the Dardanelles, Palestine and Iraq, and to reinforce a small contingent that in 1918 had been sent to help White Russians fight the Bolsheviks.”
He had been unimpressed by the way that Wilson had kept the United States out of the war for as long as he had, almost two years after the sinking of the Lusitania, and he thought that the President’s haughty treatment of the Republicans in 1919 was not the way to build the necessary consensus in Washington for the country to join the new international body set up by Versailles, The League of Nations. His estimation of Wilson in The World Crisiswas therefore harsh. ‘The spacious philanthropy which he exhaled upon Europe stopped quite sharply at the coasts of his own country’ he wrote. ‘His gaze was fixed with equal earnestness upon the destiny of mankind and the fortunes of his party candidates. Peace and goodwill among all nations abroad, but no truck with the Republican Party at home. That was his ticket and that was his ruin, and the ruin of much else as well. It is difficult for a man to do great things if he tries to combine a lambent charity embracing the whole world with the sharper forms of populist party strife.’
‘The aid which we can give to those Russian armies which are now engaged in fighting against the foul baboonery of Bolshevism can be given by arms, munition, equipment, and by the technical services,’ he said at the Mansion House in February. Churchill’s extravagances in his anti-Communist language served to undermine the very accurate predictions he made about the vast numbers of Russians that the Bolsheviks would kill’
“The Versailles Treaty was signed on 28 June 1919. Churchill deplored the harsh economic and financial provisions the Treaty imposed on Germany, which had been insisted upon by Clemenceau, but he was not in a strong enough position to do anything about them. He later described these clauses of the Treaty as ‘malignant and silly to an extent that made them obviously futile’ and ‘a sad story of complicated idiocy.’ He instead urged the humane treatment of Germany, warning of the ‘grave consequences for the future’ should the Russians and Germans ever come together.
‘Since the Armistice,’ he told Lloyd George on 24 March, ‘my policy would have been “Peace with the German people, war on Bolshevik tyranny.” Willingly or unavoidably, you have followed something very near the reverse.’
Here are some of the things Roberts tells us about Churchill after WWII: (pg. 894-95):
“[Churchill] was already also denouncing the tyrannical behaviour of the Communist government of Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Romania, and Bulgaria, the night-time ‘knock at the door’ from the secret police of these countries prior to the disappearance of citizens.”
“Churchill’s speech at Fulton was officially entitled “The Sinews of Peace” but was quickly called ‘The Iron Curtain Speech’, Andrew Roberts tells us.”
“The United States stands at this time at the pinnacle of world power’, [Churchill] began…It is a solemn moment for the American Democracy. For with primacy in power is also joined an awe-inspiring accountability to the future. If you look around you, you must feel not only the sense of duty done but also you must feel anxiety lest you fall below the level of achievement.”
“Of the United Nations, [Churchill] said, ‘We must make sure that its work is fruitful, that it is a reality and not a sham, that it is a force for action, and not merely a frothing of words, that it is a true temple of peace in which the shields of many nations can someday be hung up, and not merely a cock-pit in a Tower of Babel”….
“From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, he declared ‘an iron curtain’ has descended across the continent. Behind that line all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe: Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all those famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high, and in many cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow”….
“The dangers would not be removed by appeasing Russia, [Churchill] argued. “From what I have seen of our Russian friends and Allies during the war, I am convinced that there is nothing they admire so much as strength, and there is nothing for which they have less respect than for weakness, especially military weakness.’ He urged that therefore ‘the old doctrine of a balance of power is unsound.”
America did not react well to this speech. Russia had lost so many to the war. It was obvious they needed to be rewarded, but Churchill also proved to be correct. Russia could not be appeased.
Photo Credits: From a Google Image Search – TimesofYalta.com, nor.org, theinternationalchurchillsociety