In the 1930s, many of the British people didn’t consider Adolf Hitler a menace, seeing him as a bit comic. Many pooh-poohed Winston Churchill as he spoke of a “deepening and darkening danger.” Churchill was dismissed as a reactionary and alarmist. Tony Blair is now receiving the same treatment. His poll numbers are slumping as obtuse Brits remain unconvinced that Saddam Hussein is a danger.
Antiwar protesters say that Hussein is not an “imminent threat.” But doesn’t threat imply imminent? That tautological phrase shows little thought. Churchill certainly would have skewered it.
In the 1930s, Churchill told the Brits that their weakness and ignorance would cause war. He said they were “only a few hours away by air” from a country “which has abandoned all its liberties in order to augment its collective might.” Germany was in the “grip of a group of ruthless men preaching a gospel of intolerance and racial pride, unrestrained by law, by Parliament or by public opinion…Now they are rearming with the utmost speed, and ready to their hands is this new lamentable weapon of the air, against which our Navy is no defence, before which women and children, the weak and frail, the pacifist and the jingo, the warrior and the civilian, the front line trenches and the cottage home, lie in equal and impartial peril.”
Imagine what Churchill would say in our age of weapons of mass destruction.
Churchill thought it absurd to treat Hitler as a sovereign statesman. He described him as a terrorist, which at the time many dismissed as a stretch and rhetorical hyperbole. (No doubt somebody said, “Hitler would never work with Communist thugs. He hates Marxism.”) Churchill saw Hitler as a successor to the German barbarians of the Dark Ages, a savage drawing upon the “most brutish methods of ancient barbarism, namely the possibility of compelling the submission of races by terrorising and torturing their civil population.”
“Is it prudent, is it possible, however we might desire it, to turn our backs upon Europe and ignore whatever may happen there?” he asked. Churchill would ask a similar question today: Is it prudent to allow a savage dictator like Saddam Hussein to build nuclear and chemical weapons? And are you so foolish as to think he would lay them down on his own accord?
Cynical Nazi officials marveled at the obtuseness of the British and French in allowing the author of Mein Kampf to build an enormous army. All they needed to do, said one official (as recounted in Paul Johnson’s Modern Times), was read Mein Kampf and they would have understood Hitler’s plans for war. Instead, they let him arm, invade his neighbors, and only then went to war.
If you wish peace, prepare for war, said the Romans. History has proven the reverse true as well: if you wish war, pretend like there is peace.
Like Blair, Churchill was accused of inventing a threat. Hitler is not arming to hurt Britain, he was told. Here was his reply: “It may well be that we are the last people the Germans would wish to attack. Certainly it would be in their interest to have our goodwill while they decided their deep differences with other countries. There is even a theory that the Germans are rearming only out of national self-respect and that they do not mean to hurt anyone at all. Whatever you believe, whatever you think, however it may be, I venture to submit to the House that we cannot have any anxieties comparable to the anxiety caused by German rearmament…We cannot afford to see Nazidom in its present phase of cruelty and intolerance, with all its hatreds and all its gleaming weapons, paramount in Europe at the present time.”
Brits called Churchill a warmonger for harping on Germany’s rearmament. “I am looking for peace. I am looking for a way to stop war, but you will not stop it by pious sentiments and appeals,” he said.
Tony Blair is in much better historical company than his critics.