The King’s Speech vs. History: an exchange. Plus much more.
A LITTLE PERSPECTIVE
Re: Daniel Mandel’s Appeasement’s Oscar:
Your review of The King’s Speech is unquestionable on its facts but highly informed by hindsight. The entire British establishment favored appeasing Germany until very late; and in 1939, nobody knew what was happening to the Jews inside the Reich, or what fate was planned for them. Even Churchill didn’t find out until two brave escapees arrived to inform the West; horrified, he did what he could, but hundreds of thousands, as Martin Gilbert has pointed out, were already dead.
Churchill’s political eclipse after his championing of Edward VIII was very brief, as events proved him right over Hitler; but so also was George VI’s reputation as an appeaser. Churchill later admitted, “Thank God I was wrong” about Edward, while saying of George, “We couldn’t have had a better King.”
A little perspective is in order. King George VI was scarcely alone in supporting Chamberlain and appeasement. A whole generation had been wasted in World War I, as Alistair Cooke elegantly put it during the 1988 Churchill Conference: “The British people would do anything to stop Hitler, except fight him. And if you had been there, ladies and gentlemen — if you had been alive and sentient and British in the mid-Thirties — not one in ten of you would have been with Churchill.” If anything, this magnifies Churchill’s courage in persisting to tell the truth at his own political expense — in those “wilderness years” that were perhaps his true “finest hour.”
I hold to the view I expressed that “The King’s Speech is primarily a personal story which is under no obligation to rehearse George’s record on appeasement beyond the little attention it devotes to the subject by way of necessary background. But it is under some obligation to provide a background that is truthful, not deliberately falsified.” As it didn’t, I wrote my piece.
Mr. Langworth correctly points out that George’s views on propitiating the dictators were commonplace and indeed indistinguishable from that of much of the British establishment. But he also says, I think mistakenly, that only with hindsight was it obvious that these views were perilously defective. That might apply to the general British public. But it cannot apply so easily to the establishment — if by this we mean the King, the government, the diplomats, the intelligence services and so on — which suffered from no shortage of relevant information (much of it excluded from the press) even before 1939.
Contrary to Mr. Langworth’s view that “in 1939, nobody knew what was happening to the Jews inside the Reich,” a good deal was in fact known, even though the full-scale policy of extermination lay in the future. The Nuremburg racial laws; the expulsion of 15,000 Polish-born Jews en masse without their property or resources; the establishment of prison camps for Jews and political dissidents; the exclusion of Jews from commercial life and the professions and so on, all occurred before 1939. George’s observation to Halifax approving the Chamberlain government’s efforts to stem the flow of Jewish refugees to Palestine, to which I referred in my piece, was made after the nation-wide Kristallnacht pogrom of November 1938. I don’t think George or anyone else by this point could have been in any doubt about the desperation of the situation.
Mr. Langworth says Churchill’s eclipse as a result of his championship of Edward VIII during the abdication crisis was “very brief, as events proved him right over Hitler.” Much might depend on how we define “very brief.” As Churchill could not summon a substantial opposition to Munich and remained excluded from office until the actual outbreak of war, it seems to me fair to say, as I did, that his misjudgment over Edward helped cost him three vital years.
I don’t think it can be said that George’s partiality for appeasement was “brief,” however defined, since it subsisted throughout the entire pre-war Nazi period and — though I didn’t dwell upon this — into the war itself. As late as May 1940, when the possibility of coming to terms with Hitler was under discussion in Whitehall, George offered to intercede with the Labor Opposition Leader, Clement Attlee, to urge him to join the government in a bid to preserve Chamberlain in office. When Chamberlain resigned three days later, George “of course, suggested Halifax,” the pro-appeasement Foreign Secretary, to succeed him. Had Halifax not refused, George would have handed him, not Churchill, the seals of office. “We couldn’t have had a better King,” said Churchill — but only after the war, when George had changed his mind about Churchill’s leadership and worked to assist him in preserving British morale.
But I certainly agree with Mr. Langworth that Churchill’s courageous anti-appeasement, in a time of widespread delusion and blindness, “magnifies Churchill’s courage in persisting to tell the truth at his own political expense — in those ‘wilderness years’ that were perhaps his true ‘finest hour.’”
Re: Ross Kaminsky’s E.J.’s Broken Record:
I believe Ross Kaminsky is a bit too upbeat when he states: “the federal government won’t technically go broke — but it can sure seem like it has when exploding entitlements and interest payments consume 100% of tax revenue — projected to happen within 30-40 years if we don’t reform Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. “
If you check the current budget, you’ll see that the future nightmare scenario has already come to pass: our taxes barely cover entitlement spending, and we are borrowing for everything else. Per Wikipedia (citing CBO Historical tables), 2010 budget outlays were 3.456T. If I subtract discretionary (.660T) and Defense (.689T), I get 2.107T for entitlements, mandatory, and interest. When compared to receipts of 2.162T, we are, for all intents and purposes broke today.
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