Saturday, 23 March 2013

'March 1939, The British Guarantee to Poland', Simon Newman.

Neville Chamberlain

This book is the author's PhD thesis and was published in 1976. It has been out of print for many years. I met the author at a party in December, and, just for fun, bought the book on my phone while we were talking. Naturally it came from a second-hand dealer, so he didn't make anything on the deal.  I didn't get round to looking at it for a while, but when I did I was fascinated. It is a kind of apologia for Neville Chamberlain, and you don't see much of THAT these days. He says Britain could have avoided war with Germany, either by containment or by capitulation. He doesn't use the latter word, but calls it "granting her requirements wholesale". (When did countries stop being called "she", I wonder? Not in 1976, clearly. Faintly distasteful, I find it.) He refers to "Britain's continued interest in maintaining the independence of the central and south-eastern European states, an interest which most historians do not generally concede". No, it appears they do not. And what actually happened to those central and south-east European states, hein? Other historians, including a pair called Gilbert and Gott, who I do not think were artists in suits pratting around with their own turds, and from whom Newman quotes extensively, call it thus: "Chamberlain's policy was to allow Germany a free hand in eastern Europe". That went well, then.

not the historians Gilbert and Gott
Newman says it is not true that most of the Foreign Office were against Chamberlain's appeasement policy. Halifax, as Foreign Secretary, although he was loyal, was no pacifist. He had written to his father in 1918, about Germany, "It goes much against the grain not to burn some of their towns." That's my boy, though I'd like to think I wouldn't have said that in 1918. Halifax was a High Anglican, who saw the Nazis as a threat to Christian civilisation (he wasn't far wrong there), whose biographer wrote that he saw any war which might come as a "crusade". The Government became unpopular on foreign policy in the late 1930s. However, the appearance of this was deceptive, as it usually is. You can see where I'm going with this, can't you? Labour under Tony Blair won the 2005 election easily, despite the cry-baby "Not In My Name" nonsense. My own doorstep verdict at the time was about a quarter for the action in Iraq, about a quarter against, and the rest didn't care. No Guardianista would believe me, because none of them talked to anyone except other Guardianistas at their dinner parties. In December 1938 there was a by-election in Kinross andWest Perthshire, fought by the Duchess of Atholl specifically on the issue of her opposition to Chamberlain's foreign policy. She lost, rather comprehensively.
misguided or malevolent? You decide

The whole book seems to be an attempt to rebut an earlier book called 'The Appeasers' by the said Gilbert and Gott. Did you know that in 1939 the Anglo-German Payments Agreement was still funding German rearmament? Nor me. It's all very readable, to a non-historian like me who is nonetheless interested in history and world events. Chamberlain told the Commons in March 1939, after the annexation of Czechoslovakia, that appeasement had failed and that the "spirit of Munich" had been violated. Quaintness, looked at from the 21st century: when an article appeared in the Nazi paper 'Volkischer Beobachter' denying that Germany had issued an ultimatum to Romania, Halifax as Foreign Secretary "suppressed the distribution of the report inside and outside the Foreign Office". Imagine trying that one now.

The book is chiefly about the process which led to the British guarantee to Poland, which was spun very successfully to the public at the time as a noble thing. Foreign Office papers of the time say "the value of Poland lay not in the capacity of her army to launch an an offensive against Germany, which was virtually non-existent, but in her capacity to absorb German divisions." Cynical, but true. And wise. Did Chamberlain understand this stuff?

Britain feared a German-Polish deal: they had reason to, as Poland had gone into alliance with Germany in the Sudeten crisis in "demanding the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia".

Gdansk, picture tripadvisor
Danzig (present-day Gdansk, in Poland, a fine city) was at the time a free city under the Treaty of Versailles, under the protection of the League of Nations. The League had a commissioner resident in Danzig, who could do nothing to halt or oppose Nazification and enactment of anti-Jewish laws there. There was even a British representative in Danzig, by the name of Gerald Shepherd, who wrote "Halifax now wanted Polish adherence to an anti-German coalition at all costs." And then he wrote "By encouraging the Poles to reject German terms for a settlement of Danzig, the British increased the likelihood that Hitler would resort to force in order to break the deadlock." So it was decided to plant a parliamentary question and put unequivocal support for Poland in the answer. Tactics don't change.

Newman's line is that you can't say appeasement never worked, because it was never really tried. And that the British guarantee to Poland was not deterrence, but a deliberate challenge. Interesting.

Perhaps people who are cleverer at history than I am might like to give their views in the comments. They'd be really welcome. Jew-hating will not, however, get in, and there's plenty of it around, especially on the Guardianista left, as any fule kno. The cry-baby bully-boys (TM Julie Burchill) who have been active in recent months will also be welcome to leave their comments. But their tactics are more extra-blog and personal, hein?

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

cry-babies cry

these vehicles have cry-babies in them
Paris north-west and western France have a lot of snow, and sub-zero temperatures, and have had for several days. They don't usually get much of that in the winter. Here in Alsace we do, every year, and there is rarely any disruption to transport or other services. Although at present we have no snow in town, and temperatures are above freezing in the daytime. There are so many people who have been in vehicles on main roads like the one pictured for a long time that the Interior Minister, Manuel Valls, a man of quite startling dullness, has made a statement this morning. I managed to stay awake for most of it. He appeared to blame lorry drivers (not French, most of them, you see), who did not follow the  advice to stay off those roads, broadcast on most of the French media a day or two ago. Hmmm. A driver who has been in her car for 28 hours was interviewed this morning. She sounded worn out, as well she might. She moaned and complained that although the firefighters were doing a good job of visiting cars and asking if their occupants needed anything, the people in the cars were getting no real help. The State should do something, she said, and the broadcasters interviewing her agreed. Yes. Weather, hey? I blame the Government. Me? I blame the cretins who go out on icy roads in their stinky tin boxes, engage in risky behaviour, and then expect to be bailed out by State employees (and how did the firefighters reach the cars, huh?) Those drivers CHOSE to spend 28 hours in their cars. Idiots. I like most things about living in France, but the constant cry-baby behaviour is not one of them. Grow up, La France, and take responsibility for  your actions. Oh and stop State funding of homeopathy. Homeopathy is BOLLOCKS.

Bonne journee peeps. Have a nice day.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Iraq ten years on (sigh)

No, I'm not going to write about WMD, and not even about the red-socked fop "Sir" Christopher Meyer, who has weighed in with Tony-hatred. Anyone who reads me regularly will know that I am a liberal humanitarian interventionist who supported the action in Iraq and voted for it in 2003 and who still thinks it was the right thing to do. I won't rehearse the arguments here, though I will remind that there have been several independent judicial inquiries - some people want to keep having inquiries until they get the result they want - none of which have concluded that anything criminal or in breach of international law took place. There are two main issues I still cannot understand or deal with. The first is the notion of "us" and "them". You still hear it today. "It's not our war" and similar. Well then, who are "we"? White people? Christians, or not-Muslims? Guardian readers? And who are "they"? People with brown skin? Muslims? Arabs? People who do not live in the UK or, perhaps, north America? Apart from anything else, that argument does not reflect the reality and the diversity of "Western" populations. Are we one human race, or are we not? And if we are, then how can we tolerate the mass slaughter of people by their rulers? As is happening in Syria now, and has happened in Burma, and plenty of other places than Iraq. And if we are not, but are to be divided along racial, religious or other lines, please explain to me how that should work, and tell me where it leads. I think there are enough parallels in twentieth-century history, in Germany, Rwanda and Bosnia, to give us some clues.

The second difficulty I have is the belief, or argument, used by those who protested and marched against the war back in 2003. If you don't think your government should send troops into military action because you believe the cause is wrong, fair enough. In this case I would not agree with you, but that argument is at least coherent. But the marchers, or at least those claiming to speak for them, never used that argument. "Not in my name", they shouted. And yet they lived in democracies, where their governments acted precisely thus. In their names. That's how democracy works. If you don't like your government's policies, you can let them know it. And vote for someone else next time. March in Saddam's Iraq and see how far you get. Or in Venezuela today, come to that. I watched one of the marches, in Glasgow as it happens, in February 2003. Around one in five of the marchers, by my estimation, were waving the flag of Saddam's Iraq, and some of them had pictures of him. Why were they doing that? Did anyone reading this march ten years ago? Did you wave an Iraqi flag or a picture of Saddam? If you did, please get in touch, I'd like to know why you did it. I'm definitely missing something here.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

lists meme

I got this from Lady Jennie, who blogs as A Lady in France (she is American, married to a Frenchman). You can read her answers here. I thought it might be a  pleasant lunchtime distraction.

What were you doing ten years ago?
Being a Member of Parliament in the UK. It was a good year, all told, but that was another life, and another world. And it didn't leave time for books, music or anything else, much.
What five things are on your to-do list?
More than five! But - (1) go through my bank account and cancel a lot of silly little subscriptions I have for things I don't use, to save some money.
(2) Get my short stories into shape for publication (six linked stories, started a year ago and now finished)
(3) sort out either an ISA or regular premium bonds for my two granddaughters
(4) get back to Murakami 1Q84 in Japanese. I can read about a page a day if I concentrate.
(5) start gathering legal and other information for where I plan to live when I retire, which is, (in my dreams!) Cyprus September-June and the Baltic coast June-September.

What are five snacks you enjoy?
Twix bar
Miniature vegetable samosa
Royal Gala apple
miniature meatballs (Swedish ones)
Leerdammer cheese slices

Name some places you have lived.
Born in west London, grew up mostly in Leighton Buzzard Bedfordshire, lived in Japan in my late twenties, South Korea for a little while in my mid-thirties, and Latvia for some months in 2006, before moving to France in 2007.

Name some bad habits that you have.
Falling asleep in a chair in the evenings when I should go to bed.
Spending more time on Facebook than is good for me.
Taking the tram instead of cycling, because I want to read my book.
Not following links people send me when I express an interest in something.

Name some jobs you have had.
Shop assistant.
Factory assembly worker.
Member of Parliament.
Legal editor (now).
Name some things you would do if you were a millionaire

Acquire retirement dwellings (see above)

Saturday, 2 March 2013

that codeine lift

Here is an interesting piece, by Andrew Brown in the Telegraph, about over-the-counter painkillers. We probably all use them from time to time, those with conditions like sciatica or interstitial cystitis (Google it) more often. He describes the mild mood lift that patients experience, in addition to pain relief, when they take painkillers which include codeine. And after all, chronic pain is depressing. Well, we know where codeine comes from, it can trace its ancestry back to the poppies of Afghanistan ultimately, so the mood lift is not hard to understand. And if you grow to rely on that mood lift to make your day tolerable, then dependency is not far off. The comedian Mel Smith was very honest about his dependency on Nurofen at one time - 50 tablets a day, and he was hiding the packets as alcoholics do bottles. Good for him for coming out about it. Myself, I take Nurofen Flash for headaches, which are mainly caused by reading in poor light (if I read entirely on the Kindle, with a comfortable font size, I don't get headaches), not every day but two or three times a week. So I wonder. Am going to watch that intake from now on. I used to be a heavy smoker, so I know what addiction is all about. And boy was THAT hard to kick.

I might not have taken the article so seriously, but for the fact that I broke a rib in 2011 (granny goes inline skating) and it was agonisingly painful. It took about ten days to mend and stop being seriously painful (still aches in wet weather) and for that period I was prescribed some codeine-based painkillers. Only just enough for the ten days, and I can understand why. When I took one, the edge would go off the pain almost immediately, then I would start to feel rather serene, as though there was nothing in the world worth worrying about. Then I would fall asleep for an hour or two, and have vivid, banal and very pleasant dreams. By the time I had just one of the tablets left, the pain had nearly gone. So I took the last one in celebratory fashion, on the last day of my sick leave, and spent half the afternoon "smacked into a trance" as the old Steely Dan choon has it. And I just know that if I had had any left I would have looked forward to taking them. The doctor told me when she prescribed them that it would be no good asking for more, so she was probably used to people pretending they still had pain, to try and get more of those little white tabs of serenity. Sig other was prescribed something similar a few years ago for tendonitis (at one stage he couldn't put his own socks on) and he still has one left "for emergency use", he says.

So - I am not a fan of media-induced panics over medicines and various substances which, used correctly, are entirely beneficial. Nurofen and similar are not dangerous. People around the world who don't have access to safe prescription drugs often have to live with chronic pain. But, let's all try and understand what drugs we are using, and why. Those of us (boomers) who are facing the beginnings of old age, know that as we increasingly ache in the places where we used to play we are likely to consume more prescription drugs and over-the-counter medication. Many of us have parents alive, in their eighties or older, and in the UK, under the NHS at least, those parents are rattling with pills, most of which they have no idea of the provenance, contents or effects. That's not going to be us. Four years ago I had one of the comprehensive medicals you get here in France, and it revealed a heart murmur (confirmed by another check) which I have probably always had, and never knew. It doesn't cause a problem, and is nothing to worry about, but apparently medical services need to know about it if I ever have major surgery. Please not. It also revealed a patch on the right lung, undoubtedly caused by the smoking years, which also doesn't cause a problem, though it won't ever go away. I decided then that I would start swimming more seriously, to make the heart and the rest of the lungs more efficient. And it seems to be working. A kilometre a few times a week, which I hope to increase in both speed and distance as time goes on. A legal and non-prescription high. We live on the second floor, forty steps up and no lift. I can take those steps fast, with two bags of heavy shopping, without the rhythm of my breathing changing. I couldn't do that two years ago.
this is not me

Friday, 1 March 2013

Syria, and betrayal

Robert "make it up, they'll never notice" Fisk has a splendid piece in the Independent on Syria and "the West". It's barely coherent even by his standards. At a certain point I thought I was hallucinating when he started going on about Churchill and Potsdam, which obviously has everything to do with the war in Syria. Part of it is below, and it deserves - well, perhaps here it should be called an Eponymous-ing.

I sniff treachery. Because – let’s be frank about it – something is going very wrong with the narrative of the Syrian war. Whose narrative? Our Western lords and masters we live in democracies in these countries and elect our leaders – as untrustworthy today as they were when they sold Poland to Stalin at Yalta what's Poland and Churchill got to do with Syria today? – have started to talk much less about their visceral desire to destroy Bashar al-Assad they never talked about that in the first place and much more about their fear of the corrosive presence of al-Qa’ida within the rebel forces fighting to remove the Syrian president. well, der, if you don't intervene you get the medieval barbarians As the Syrian tragedy deepens, so our moral Western policy you what? meaningless towards the damned of this ghastly war has turned into a betrayal of its people. not intervening was the betrayal
... While claiming that Britain had not lost faith in the Arab revolutions – Churchill said as much about his fidelity to Poland after handing the country to Stalin Churchill again - he's been dead for well over 40 years, and the world, and the Middle East, have changed a bit since– William Hague said that Syria was the most serious case of a revolt being “hijacked” by militants. The country, he claimed, was “the No 1 destination for jihadists anywhere in the world today”. And your problem with that is?
Incredible. This might almost have been a speech by Bashar al-Assad himself Ah, we see who has been repeating this for almost two years about “al-Qa’ida terrorists” in Syria. Even putting aside the fact that Mali was supposed by whom? to have assumed the mantle of “terror centre” less than two months ago, that's not why France intervened this was an extraordinary statement for the pitiful Hague to make. except it's true
He babbled on about UK and other European extremists in Syria, then added: “They may not pose a threat to us when they first go to Syria, but if they survive, some may return ideologically hardened and with experience of weapons and explosives. The longer the conflict continues (in Syria), the greater this danger will become.”
Ergo, I suspect, let’s bring this war to a close. except that that's not being done. Fisk just made that bit up. Why else are Hague and Lavrov now talking about “dialogue” between rebels and regime? 

Did you know that in Fisk's book on Lebanon he wrote that Jesus was born in Jerusalem? Yes, he really did.