Joe Hendren

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Was World War Two fought for a progressive cause?

Go read Reading the Maps' great post where he argues that Anzac Day actually does a grave disservice to the Anzacs who fought against fascism in World War Two, because it links them to "criminal enterprises" like the Vietnam War.

Maps says WWII is the only conflict New Zealand and Australian troops have been involved in that was fought for a progressive cause - the war against fascism. This is a view I have sympathy for - especially since I read the autobiography of British philosopher Bertrand Russell a few years ago. Russell, a prominent pacifist during the First World War, saw no contradiction in opposing WWI and supporting the war against Hitler.

That said I also think there is a lot in British historian Eric Hobsbawm's characterisation of the entire period 1914-1945 as the "Second Thirty Years War". Hobsbawm likens the mix of major battles and smaller skirmishes throughout the period as being similar to the drawn out war of the 17th century. So, if there had been not been WWI and Versailles it is unlikely there would have been WWII and Hitler.

NZ can be proud to be the only country besides the USSR to show their opposition to the threat to democracy posed by fascist Spain, when our so called Allies (mostly under right wing leadership) supported the policy of appeasement, right up to the point Hitler invaded Poland.

Right wingers who support imperialist wars have a habit of screaming 'appeasement' at left wing opposition, rather than confronting the issues at hand. It is an irony that 'appeasement' largely represents baggage for the right. Prior to the start of the war in 1939, support for the policy of appeasement was most widespread among right-wing conservatives.
According to Hobsbawn:
"Many a good conservative felt, especially in Britain, that the best of all solutions would be a German-Soviet war, weakening, perhaps destroying both enemies, and a defeat of Bolshevism by a weakened Germany would be no bad thing"*.
British Intelligence services continued to concentrate on the 'Red menace' to such an extent that they did not abandon it as their main target until the mid 1930s. It would not be the first or the last time right wing foreign policy 'hawks' had their priorities all out of whack.

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At 11:55 am, Blogger Rich said...

if there had been not been WWI and Versailles it is unlikely there would have been WWII and Hitler.

That depends, surely on what you suggest might have happened instead of WW1:
- if the Central Powers had not attacked in 1914, it's possible that the situation would have calmed, Germany and Russia would have progressed to democracy and a peaceful world order might have evolved.
- if Britain had stood aside, it's to be assumed that Germany would have won and wound up dominating Europe. The Russian Revolution may still have happened, but Western Europe would have been dominated by a right-wing military dictatorship for many years. Not one of Nazi levels, but still unpleasant. This may have eventually have led to war (and in the Pacific, Japan's progress to a militarist state is likely to have proceeded much as it did in reality).

There is also the possibility that had WW1 not happened, the Ulster crisis would have led to a military coup in Britain. The effects of that would be a whole different ball game...

At 9:58 pm, Blogger Joe Hendren said...

I suspect there might have been a limited local war between Austro-Hungary and Russia, and the armies of both were pretty weak.

The Kaiser died in exile in 1940, but thats assuming he held on in power - my feeling is that he was so politically inept he would have been rolled. Without reading up on stuff again I think you could even argue that WWI distracted the german ruling class from finding a way to get rid of him.

With a name like Hendren (and a mother with a maiden name of Cooney) you should realise I would have no problem with the Ulster Crisis leading to full Irish Independence. Why do you say there would have been a military coup in Britian if WWI had not happened?

Perhaps (being cheeky here) you could say the onset of war lead to countries all over europe being dominated by the needs of their military - its not a coup but it has some of the same effects!

On the whole I think it would be pretty difficult to come up with an alternative century than the one that happened - especially the horrifying scale of the holocaust.

At 2:10 pm, Blogger Rich said...

(Blogger ate this comment first time so this is V2)

Why do you say there would have been a military coup in Britain if WWI had not happened?

I meant *might* not *would*.
Basically, the Asquith government was rightly in favour of home rule for (all of) Ireland. In 1913 it was in the process of legislating for this, having passed a Parliament Act to override the Lords veto. The Tory opposition were violently opposed to this (as well as to the governments fiscal policy). In Ulster, elements of the military were in semi-open rebellion against Irish independence. The outbreak of war delayed Irish independence and rendered this moot.

Had this not happened, it is possible that the confrontation would have escalated - possibly to the point where the military took action in NI or even on the mainland.

See: The Strange Death of Liberal England by George Dangerfield and
The Ulster Crisis by Anthony Stewart.

An interesting period of history and one of my special subjects in case you didn't guess...

(Joe: email me if you want to borrow either book)


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