War Aims & Mythology

In 1939 the British people were told by their leaders that they were again going to war with Germany to defend the sovereignty of Poland, however by 1940 Poland had effectively ceased to exist after being defeated and then divided by the Nazis and the Soviets. The invasion of Poland by the forces of the Third Reich led directly to the outbreak of the Second World War, with Britain (and her ally France) obligated by promises to declare war upon the German invader. None of this need have happened had the terms of the Treaty of Versailles been adhered to by the western allies, had the Poles not sought to expand their territory westward to the river Oder, to annex the city of Danzig and it’s population of 370 000, 97% of whom were Germans and had halted the forced deportations of thousands of ethnic German families from their ancestral homesteads into the country’s interior. Moreover, in the month before the outbreak of war, 80 000 German refugees were being housed in camps in their fatherland having fled the systematic atrocities that were being ruthlessly carried out by Polish army and police units as well as by civilian mobs. The Polish government, encouraged by their British and French allies, had rejected every compromise that was offered to them by their German counterparts. Winston Churchill had declared to former German Chancellor, Heinrich Brüning, that his desire, ever since the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, was to crush Germany both economically and militarily. The French Ambassador to Berlin, André Francois-Ponçet, had wished that their foe across the Rhine could be driven from Europe as the Moors had been from Spain. With this knowledge at the forefront of their thinking their Polish ally knew that they could yet again profit from any war with Germany and increase it’s territory, having being left unsatisfied by the agreement at Versailles which already had generously given it possession of the German lands of West Prussia and Upper Silesia. The victorious powers of the Great War had not moderated their hostility toward Germany in the two decades that followed the signing of the armistice and their resistance to compromise and their unwillingness to follow their political and military obligations under the terms of the Treaty demonstrated to Germany their true intentions. War was not averted and by 1940 not only was Poland lost but it’s ally France had surrendered and her armies were all but defeated, other than the 130 000 who managed to escape across the English Channel with the retreating British Expeditionary Force.

From this point the reasons for continuing the war changed. It was now sold to a shocked citizenry that it was a matter of preserving the British Empire from ruthless and relentless German armies intent on conquering all before them. What the British people were not told, was that half the cabinet were willing to accept a generous offer of peace that had been conveyed to them by Adolf Hitler. In fact the ordinary men in the street who were expected to fight to their deaths if necessary, had not been told that there had been any offer of peace at all. As far as Germany was concerned the lands that had been seized from it under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles had now been recaptured and brought back into the fold of the Fatherland, honour had been satisfied and the injustice of the treaty of 1918 undone. There was no threat made to the islands of Britain or to her Empire, indeed Hitler considered the far flung global empire to be a force for good and a civilising influence in the world. He also believed it to be a bulwark against both American and Japanese imperialism, neither of which he relished. Had the colonies of Britain ever been threatened, even by an ally of Germany, the Führer was willing to offer divisions of his own troops in their defence. He sought no reparations for the twelve months of warfare that had come between them, nor would he seek to restrict the size and scope of the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force nor the British Army. The citizens of the United Kingdom had been sold their second myth of the conflict.

The third and final myth that was offered as a justification for the continuation of the conflict for a further five long and bloody years was not even a known fact until 1944, at which time allied troops discovered the emaciated inmates of the emancipated concentration camps, barely living alongside the skeletal remains of prisoners who had been less fortunate. By this time, Adolf Hitler, the Führer of the Third Reich, had come to be considered by all and sundry to be the Devil himself, the most sadistic and evil man ever to have lived. The point remains, that until the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, Dachau and the other camps, nothing had been known about the atrocities that had occurred there or in the extermination camps located in Poland. Britain did not declare war on Germany because of her enemy’s treatment of it’s own citizens, whether prisoners or otherwise, or because of the treatment of Jews or the Gypsies. The British cabinet did not vote to sacrifice the lives of a generation of it’s finest young men because of gas chambers, the abuse of human rights and non-compliance with the rules of the Geneva Convention. Britain entered into the war, as did France and Poland, because they sought to destroy Germany economically, militarily and politically. They sought to fashion the future of the European continent in a style that suited their tastes. The demonisation of an entire country, it’s population, it’s political class and one man in particular, served this purpose, it did not however, serve the truth. As Churchill himself once said, “the truth is so fragile that it must be protected by a bodyguard of lies.”

 

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