THE EAST: FAIR GAME FOR GERMANY:
THE BRITISH ESTABLISHMENT’S VIEW
The victory of the Allies, in World War I would have been impossible were it not for a number of favourable factors whose existence could not in the future be taken for granted. The United States played an important role in bringing fresh troops on the battlefield, thus increasing the aggregate military power of the Allies and strengthening their morale with the promise of inexhaustible military supplies. Russia also played an essential role by launching a great offensive against Germany at the start of the war, forcing Germany to divert important resources from the Western to the Eastern front. There is little doubt that otherwise, Germany’s attempt to overpower the French army at the very start of the war would have been successful.
At the end of the war, these two favourable factors were already unreliable. The United States refused to sign the Versailles Treaty, refused to join the League of Nations and retreated into a policy of isolation. As to Russia, not only was her future foreign policy unknown, though suspected to be unpalatable, but the Allies were reluctant to recognise its Bolshevik regime and were unwilling to accept her in the concert of nations. She was held in ‘quarantine’ and could not be considered as an ally, even if she wanted to be one.
Japan and Italy soon exhibited tendencies for expansion. These tendencies while tolerated by the British establishment, had no public support. The British Government had to recourse to acrobatic acts of diplomacy to implement pro-Italian and pro-Japanese policies, while having to deny that such was the case.
Considerations of public opinion restricted the British government in this respect. It resulted in political confrontations with these two former Allies, confrontations the British establishment would have rather avoided, but could not. Soon it became evident that Japan and Italy could not, in case of need, be counted upon to implement a policy of military restraint against Germany. Events developed to the point that it became necessary to consider the possibility of these two countries siding with Germany in case of a conflagration. Compared with what was the case in 1914, any war with a rearmed Germany would put the Western countries in a desperate situation.
Militarism and the spirit of revenge were quite alive in Germany. Lord d’Abernon, British ambassador to Germany, acknowledges that :
...it is clear that among the extreme Right, among the territorial aristocracy, and among the military caste there are influential groups who are in no way reconciled to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles.
The extreme Right, the territorial aristocracy, the military cast and, forgotten by d’Abernon, the lords of industries, this amounts to the essential elements of the German establishment. D’Abernon, who so vehemently advocated a policy of co-operation and trust with Germany, did nevertheless recognise that there was a will for revenge among influential groups in Germany. Later, with the growth of Nazism, the will for revenge and for aggressive expansion could not be doubted.
Political reconciliation between the Allies and Germany presupposed the latter would become peaceful and contented with her boundaries. At that time, as we shall later see, such a Germany was not in the cards.
There remained essentially two alternatives for taking care of the potential German threat. One would be to prevent defeated Germany from rearming. That would have entailed taking the proper verification measures, provided by the Treaty of Versailles, to ensure the respect of that treaty which imposed severe limitations on German armament. It would have meant also imposing effective sanctions on Germany whenever she would be found contravening the treaty.
The other alternative would be to reach an understanding with Germany ensuring that German rearmament would be used against the East and not against the West. It is important to realise that this is the real bottom line. There is absolutely no third choice . Naturally enough, the situation could not be reported so crudely. Principles of justice were invoked to justify treating Germany on a base of equality in armaments. It was said that it is not fair to impose, on as great a nation as Germany, verification measures and limitations not imposed on other countries. It was later said that England trusted the good intentions of Germany. It was also argued that only war could have prevented Germany from rearming and that the British people, after the first World War holocaust, was not prepared to go to war just to prevent Germany from rearming. So many dresses to cover the same policy.
Much more has been said much more will be said and still much more will always remain to be said. However, beneath everything said and to be said, there is once more the unavoidable naked truth, viz, there were no more than two choices: either to prevent Germany’s rearmament , or to make sure that it will be used only in the eastern direction.
The fact is that Germany was allowed to rearm without being subjected to verification. This is already an indication of the option the West chose, that of letting Germany reconstitute her military strength. She could then use it to implement her well-known ambitions for eastern expansion which had, ultimately, to result in a German-Soviet confrontation.
There are numerous scenarios allowing to implement such a policy without having to acknowledge it publicly: ‘we have been surprised unprepared; now it is too late’ is but one of the scenarios. ‘Germany is aware that war solves no problem; we must trust they value peace as we value it ourselves’ is another one. ‘We must avoid war till we will be strong enough’ is a third one which cannot deny the fact that the west chose not to be strong as well as it did choose to permit Germany to become stronger. There is no sense in going over all the scenarios. They cannot hide the bottom line.
Just on that base a historian could rest his case. He could declare that the evidence is overwhelming that the west, somehow secure that Germany’s aggressions would be directed to the East, allowed Germany to rearm and reach a relative military strength much greater than it was in 1914.
However, the story is not complete without examining what could have made the West so secure in its belief that German military strength would be directed towards the East. The story is not complete without examining the steps taken to implement a policy which could not be avowed officially.
The story is riddled with instances of distrust between Neville Chamberlain and the Foreign Office, with instances of by-passing the Cabinet, the Cabinet policies, and with instances of diplomats disregarding their official instructions, acting more devotedly than recommended towards the appeasement of Germany. They were sometimes reprimanded but had the satisfaction of being supported by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain.
Meetings were held between a few trusted Cabinet members and advisers to Chamberlain, and German representatives to discuss far reaching policies. These discussions had to be shrouded in a thick veil of secrecy. The Cabinet itself was not informed and the policies discussed were not approved by them.
The one point of contention in these discussions was the doubt expressed by the German side concerning Chamberlain’s ability to implement agreements which, being at odds with the stand of the Cabinet and with public opinion, had to be negotiated in such secrecy. On the Chamberlain side there were no doubts at all.
In order to be so confident, Chamberlain must have known that he had powerful backing, that of the establishment. It is thus important to analyse the establishment’s prevailing tendencies.
The establishment, however, is not a regular club with well defined membership rules. It is not possible to poll all the members to figure out the opinion of the majority. Polling some of its members faces a difficulty. There are some dissenting voices in the establishment. Who is to say which voice was the most representative? How can the opinion of the establishment be gauged and stated?
One can rely on the fact that the more a person is considered by the establishment as representative, the more he is trusted, then the more he is likely to reach positions of prestige and pre-eminence. Many gifted and prestigious members of the establishment, Churchill among them, were kept away from leading functions when their opinions were at odds with that prevailing among the establishment. When, therefore, a well known member is continually covered with honours, and given positions of importance, missions and responsibilities, it may safely be assumed that he is quite in tune with the Establishment’s frame of mind.
In this respect, Lord Lothian (Philip Kerr) has impressive credentials. Therefore we feel justified in giving importance to his statements. We will also quote the opinion of other important members of the establishment who, not surprisingly, were thinking alike
Lord Lothian (Philip Kerr) had been secretary to Lloyd George for five years. He played an important role in the formulation of the terms of the Versailles Peace Treaty. He was the first editor of “The Round Table” (1910), Secretary to the ‘Rhodes trustees’, under-secretary for India, a regular at the “Cliveden meetings”, a friend of Smuts and of Dawson , a welcomed officious intermediary between German and English Leaders and, finally, the British ambassador to the United States in August 1939. By his nobility, wealth, culture, political experience and constant relation with the governmental leaders, as well as by his political opinions, he can be considered a trusted representative of the ruling establishment.
Lord Lothian was a passionate proponent of the policy of appeasement. He was given, at one time, an official position which entitled him to receive all the Cabinet minutes. Unceasingly he was making policy recommendations which more often than not were appreciated and taken into account. At a time at which the Baldwin Government was dissatisfied with the anti-nazi reports of their ambassador Phipps in Berlin, it was felt useful to have alternative officious contacts that would report differently concerning the German threat.
Not restricted by an official capacity, he could express himself more freely than the Cabinet members. His numerous political statements have no bearing on the diplomatic history of the time and can hardly be used as evidence concerning the Government’s policies. They are, however, valid indications of the political inclinations of the Establishment, and help us realise how strong was the congruence of its views with those of the Government.
At the beginning of 1933 he stated that it would be very dangerous to allow substantial modifications to the territorial boundaries in Europe however, according to Butler :
he stood on a slippery slope and the more Hitler claimed, the more he [Lothian] was ready to concede in the name of justice.
Likewise, he urged firmness against Japan and Italy when they started their course of aggression. Soon after, he discovered that the dictators had justifiable claims.
On May 2, 1935, speaking of Germany, he wrote to an American friend :
Humanity is not ready to apply ideal solutions. If that is so, our problem is to find that place for Japan and Germany in the world to which they are reasonably entitled because of their power and traditions with the minimum destruction of the liberty of other people and without a world war.. Unless we are prepared to stand in the way of her course in the East, which this country certainly is not, the only real answer is that the oceanic democracies should be strong and prepare themselves to stand together to prevent the dictatorship from interfering with their own liberty and coming out into their own zone.
Lothian is suggesting to accept that East Europe be under the German sphere of influence, while the democracies would, by their strength, prevent Germany from interference in their zone. Qualifying the democracies as ‘Oceanic’ is an indication that their zone in Europe is limited, and concerns rather the British colonial empire and their interests in the Far-East.
Lothian does not clarify here if, in his opinion, the country lacks the will to stand in the way of Germany’s course to the East, or if Britain is not militarily prepared for such a stand. He does so one year later on June 3, 1936, in a letter to Anthony Eden :
The fundamental decision we have now to take is whether we are going to continue to recognize that the basis of any stable peace must be that Germany must have the position in Europe and the world to which she is entitled by her history, her civilization and her power, or whether we are going to support,, the policy of a group led by France and Russia which seeks to prevent her from obtaining those adjustments without which she will not have equality in the true sense of the word, by maintaining an overwhelming military alliance against her
British public opinion, with its traditional sagacity, feels that Germany has not yet had justice, though many people in high places do not recognize the strength of Germany’s claims
Lothian is against the maintenance of an overwhelming military alliance against Germany. The matter of standing in the way of her ‘course to the East’ is therefore not, in his opinion, a matter of military preparedness. It is a matter of Germany’s entitlements, and of justice being done.
Lothian advances what seems to be reasonable arguments, He asks for justice for Germany and for granting her equality. Nobody can take exception to justice and equality in the name of History and Civilisation. There, however, are additional factors to take into consideration. The Germany in question is a racist and dictatorial Germany with acknowledged aggressive tendencies for expansion. To be just with a Germany determined to use that justice to imperil the life of her neighbours, is a travesty of justice.
Lothian does not take into account the strategic worries of France, Russia and the smaller states of Central and Eastern Europe. This is not a sign of ignorance. He played a great role in formulating the texts of the Versailles Peace Treaty and, at the time, proved to be fully aware of the importance of protecting Europe from the potential danger of German military power. He did not then speak of justice for Germany.
Lothian is even ready to justify the dark side of Germany’s interior policy. J.R.M. Butler speaking of Lothian states:
And he seriously held the curious view that Nazi brutality was ‘largely the reflex of the external persecution to which Germans have been subjected since the war’. He became obsessed with the idea that Germany had been denied ‘justice’, and that until her just claims were satisfied the Western powers had no right to complain of, though they might deplore, her one-sided actions
His obsession for justice is not apparent in his address on April 2, 1936 at Chatham House :
Let us make it clear therefore that we would not go to war simply to maintain the status quo or to prevent German predominance in Eastern Europe. Let us free ourselves from the automatic sanctions of the Covenant and stand apart from the European Balance of power. A war against Germany, Italy and Japan together would mean the end of the British Empire.. Detachment is the only basis upon which we shall be able to find a common policy with the Dominions and move towards that informal naval cooperation with the United States — i.e. the United States in the Pacific and ourselves in the Atlantic — which is the best way of preventing the dictatorships establishing themselves on the oceanic highways and therefore the best security for free institutions over half the world.
That is a clear proposal for the division of the world into spheres of influence. To proclaim our detachment with regard to Germany’s dominance over Eastern Europe is, in any language, the equivalent of a free hand being given to Germany with respect to that region. The justification is no longer justice, but the fear of loosing the empire. Once more he preaches the weakening of the League of Nations. He is against automatic sanctions against an aggressor. His recommended policy may be a way to keep Britain out of a conflict. It is certainly not a way to preserve peace.
Lothian’s confusing language is evident in his address in June 1937. We quote from Butler :
‘..the first article of British policy should be to avoid at any cost becoming part of an anti-German alliance unless it is absolutely clear that she is organizing an alliance [sc. with Italy and Japan] not for justice but for attack and domination’, In that case we should have to fight, but another war between two such alliances would go far to reduce Europe to anarchy. We ought therefore to make it clear that we were not committed to defend the existing frontiers of Eastern Europe..
There are therefore two eventualities to be considered. In the first case Germany, together with Italy and Japan may enter an alliance only for justice. At the time, Italy stood condemned by the League of Nations for her invasion of Ethiopia. She stood also condemned by the world public opinion for having gassed a defenceless native population. That much for Italian justice.
Japan had been condemned by the League of Nations for her invasion of Manchuria and the creation of the puppet state Manchukuo. She still was aggressively extending into Chinese territory. So much for Japanese justice.
As to Germany’s justice, it had been proclaimed in Mein Kampf for all to see: racist theories, necessity to expand to the East (Ukraine included) for the realisation of her Lebensraum — living space.
All of the above, in Lothian’s opinion, did not yet constitute aggression or domination. What then would constitute it? The only possible answer is that only encroachment on Britain’s sphere of influence would qualify for aggression or domination. Anything else, expansion in China, in Ethiopia, in Eastern Europe is no more than justice.
Words are clearly loosing their traditional meanings. When Lothian, for instance, affirms that he is convinced that Hitler wants peace while, at the same time, he, Lothian, insists that we should make it clear that we will definitely not go to war for the sake of Eastern Europe, he indicates that peace, like domination, refer only to the British sphere of influence. Hitler wants peace means that Hitler does not want to make war with us.
Butler, who in his biography of Lothian displayed his great sympathy for him, nevertheless writes :
Lothian continued to insist, in opposition to the regular supporters of the League, that the collective security which it offered was delusive, at least where a great power was concerned, and he urged Mr. Baldwin, now Prime Minister, to strike out a new line. Our right policy as regards Europe was one of ‘armed neutrality’, in which the United States might perhaps join independently. He would not admit that this meant giving Germany a free hand in the East.
At one time Lothian would argue that Russia and France are overwhelmingly stronger than Germany. He urged to give Germany equality in armaments and the right to remilitarise the Rhineland. Not much later, he would defend an isolationist position on the grounds of the impossibility to resist Germany’s military strength :
..Though it is impossible to say so in public.. there is today no way in which you can prevent rearmed totalitarian Germany from extending its influence Eastwards unless you are willing.. to face a war.. That course seems to me the course of madness because another world war will reduce the whole world to communism or fascism.
Two possible resulting regimes with the two possible endings of the war: victory or defeat. Defeat would mean fascism, since the victor would be Germany. Communism would therefore be, in Lothian’s opinion, the result of victory over Germany. We have already quoted the Western leaders expressing similar opinions.
Lothian exposed his views in a long letter to Eden. He also sent a copy of that letter to Chamberlain. Neville Chamberlain replied by a personal and confidential letter parts of which are quoted by Butler who writes that :
..Mr. Neville Chamberlain.. agreed with a great deal of what he [Lothian] had said..
In this letter, quoted in full by Butler and written on June 3, 1936, Lothian wrote:
..Fundamentally, the policy outlined above means a return by Great Britain, so far as her security is concerned, to her traditional attitude to Europe — that is non-commitment to either half of a regional European balance of power, save for a defensive guarantee in the West. How far is that consistent with support of the League of Nations? It is perfectly consistent with it provided we abandon the universal automatic commitment to take sanctions under Articles X and XVI of the Covenant.
Deprived of the ability to impose sanctions, the League would become a poor deterrent to aggression. Lothian goes on :
Under such a revised League system it is vital that we should refuse to form part of the European regional balance and (except for the defensive guarantee to France and Belgium) return to that detachment from automatic military commitment in Europe, which has been the secret of Empire security in the past, because it forces the European powers to preoccupy themselves with security in Europe while we have had a free hand elsewhere
Lothian candidly admits the interest of England in a free hand ‘elsewhere’. Will then Germany not have a free hand in Eastern Europe? That Lothian’s stand is not motivated by the strength of Germany’s military might is explicitly stated earlier in the letter. Lothian considered Germany as much weaker than Italy and Russia. He knew however that this situation could not last. He adds:
..Europe will not come to terms peacefully with Germany and substitute a system of Balance for the attempt to maintain a system of preponderance against Germany and against revision until it knows that it cannot get us in on the anti-German side. Indeed, if it was sure that we could be dragged in, the anti-German group might precipitate war in the next few months before Germany is fully rearmed
This was written a short time after Germany proceeded to militarily reoccupy the Rhineland. The Locarno Pact obligated Britain to assist France if she choose, as formally entitled, to consider a German infraction of the Treaty as an act of aggression to be resisted by force. Lothian is hinting to this possibility. He states that it is only British refusal to honour the pact that could prevent a military action by France, while Germany was not yet fully rearmed. At the time Baldwin, as we have seen, was afraid that a German defeat would result in the spread of communism in Germany. Lothian’s stand was taken with the full knowledge of Germany’s military weakness.
We finally quote a most revealing part of his letter:
..provided our complete disinteressment in Eastern Europe is combined with the Locarno guarantee against unprovoked aggression against the frontiers and soil of France and Belgium, the German General Staff, in the event of another European war, will probably reverse the Schlieffen plan and strike Eastwards first while remaining on the defensive in the West. It may be difficult to keep out of another European war to its end, but there is all the difference between automatic commitment to go to war on one side when somebody else presses the button and a free hand.
Lothian predicts a congruence of Anglo-German interests. Britain will follow a policy of ‘complete disinteressment in Eastern Europe’, while Germany will strike eastwards first, and remain on the defensive in the West. ‘First’ suggests a follow up. It indicates the possibility of a strike Westward to follow, in good time, the strike eastward. To stay on the defensive in the West is to give Germany the opportunity of facing one enemy at a time. Lothian does not analyse the wisdom of allowing Germany to fight on a single front. He does not consider the strategic situation that would result from a German victory in the East. He wants to keep a free hand for England giving her freedom not to automatically be involved in a war in the East. He does not say that a complete disinterest in Eastern Europe constitutes a free hand given to Germany.
Other prestigious members of the establishment were advocating similar policies. Keynes was one of the most influential people of his time. Correli Barnet wrote about him :
..it was not this rather technical economic chapters that so appealed to the British opinion, but Keynes’ bitter attacks on the peace settlement as a whole and on those responsible for it; attacks written with all the moral passion of the non-conformist.
His ‘moral passion’ did not prevent him from writing :
It is in our interest to hasten the day when German agents and organisers will be in a position to set in train in every Russian village the impulses of ordinary economic motive
This, of course, amounted to suggest a free hand be given to Germany for attacking Russia and destroying the Bolshevik regime. Any doubt dissolves with the next quotation from Keynes :
When Germany has recovered her strength and pride, as in due time she will, many years must pass before she again cast her eyes Westward. Germany’s future now lies to the East, and in that direction her hopes and ambitions, when they revive, will certainly turn
Keynes ‘moral passion’ made his heart bleed for the unjust way Germany was being treated. He, however, felt no moral pangs at the idea of Germany fulfilling her ambitions in the Eastward direction. He reassures the West that Germany’s recovery of her pride and strength will, for a long time, not be directed toward the West.
Believing like Keynes that Germany will move towards the East, Lloyd George said in the House of Commons on November 28, 1934:
In a very short time, perhaps in a year or two, the Conservative elements in this country will be looking to Germany as the bulwark against Communism in Europe. She is planted right in the centre of Europe, and if her defence breaks down against the communists — only two or three years ago a very distinguished German statesman said to me: ‘I am not afraid of Nazism, but of Communism’ — and if Germany is seized by the Communists, Europe will follow... Do not let us be in a hurry to condemn Germany. We shall be welcoming Germany as our friend.
Lloyd George was not naive. He was well aware of the traditional German expansionist tendencies. At the time, the evil nature of the Nazi regime was well-known as was known Hitler’s statements claiming ‘Lebensraum’ in the East. However, his anticommunism and anti-sovietism were also notorious.
When, on June 26, 1936, Austen Chamberlain spoke in the House of Common, he was no longer the British Secretary of State, position he held from 1924 to 1929. However, being an influential Conservative, his opinion was indicative of that of the ruling Establishment. He said that Britain should fight in defence of France, Belgium and Holland. But “to say that we would fight only under these circumstances would licence war everywhere throughout the rest of the world. That was a thing which we had no right to do”. Britain, according to Austen Chamberlain, should judge each case on its own merits.
As Salvemini remarks, this amounts to state that Britain should have the right to license or not a war, according to her own convenience. One can add that except, for the Western countries, mentioned by Austen Chamberlain and which should enjoy therefore an explicit British guarantee, an act of aggression has first to be cleared with Britain.
Austen Chamberlain would like England to proclaim that, when it comes to aggression, there are two classes of countries. The first class countries are ‘taboo’. No country is authorised to attack them. The second class, while not considered ‘fair game’ for would-be-attackers, could be made the object of particular permits.
We will see in the next chapter that, eleven years earlier, when he was the Secretary of State, Austen Chamberlain proclaimed that it was exclusively in the power of Great Britain to prevent war. This did not prevent him from urging that British commitments be limited to the Western boundaries of Germany.
Mr L. Lawton wrote in 1934:
Whereas formerly German statesman looked both to the East and to the West, Hitler at present looks to the East only... No one that studies the map of Eastern Europe can doubt that there are immense possibilities of a German-Polish compromise at the expense of others. The idea of including Ukraine within the Western European system, and moving Russia towards the East is certainly tempting.. With Ukraine as part of a democratic federated system there would, it is hoped, come into existence a grouping of states with which Great Britain could be on friendly terms. The moment is long overdue for the creation of some such grouping in Eastern Europe
This appeared in the Fortnightly Review. The language is that of the times. ‘To look to’ has here an unambiguous meaning given by the context. The context is not always so helpful, but the meaning is understood by those in the know. The suggestion of Ukraine being detached from Soviet Union as a result of a compromise between Poland and Germany, is not new. It would, of course, necessitate a rearmed and strong Germany. What is more original is the concept of the detached Ukraine becoming part of a ‘democratic federated system’. This miracle was to come into being with the help of two dictatorships: Poland and Germany. Presumably, the ‘democratic federated system’ was to include these two dictatorships. Moreover, how much democracy is there in deciding the fate of Soviet Union and Ukraine without consulting them?
Democracy is a nice and respected word. To throw it in a sentence loaded with a spirit of aggression, may make the latter more ‘palatable’.
Frederick Schuman mentions that:
Mr. L.S. Amery, former Colonial Minister, wrote in The Forward View (1935): “The first condition of European peace today is the frank acknowledgement that Germany’s armaments are now her own affairs and nobody else’s” (p.71). “The time has come for such a revision of the Covenant as will get rid of all those clauses (more particularly 16 and 17) which give an encouragement to the super-State theory of the League” (p. 272). “The doctrine of the inevitable contagion of war is, of course, pure nonsense” (p.283).. It would be of no concern of ours.. to prevent Japanese expansion in Eastern Siberia (p. 288).
Amery suggest that Germany be allowed to rearm with no external interference. Armed as she will then become she may invade some neighbours. However, since he also urges to rid the League of its teeth (the automatic help to the victim), there will therefore still be ‘Peace in Europe’.
Once more words have special meanings. German expansion could be resisted by the victims. A war could result. This however is to be called ‘peace’, and European at that, provided nobody interferes with the victim’s slaughter.
The writer of these words is not a confused politician but a very able and trusted member of the Establishment.
G. Ward. Price wrote in 1938:
The last time the Teuto-Slav conflict broke out, Britain and France were dragged into it. On that occasion Russia was backing Serbia against Austria. She is now backing Czechoslovakia against Germany. If this ancient feud flames up again, it would be well to deflect it into those regions where it can do least harm. Humanity and common sense alike suggest that the broad steppes of Little Russia are a more suitable locality than the densely populated centers of civilization in Western Europe.
Lawton summoned the help of Democracy to justify the detachment of Ukraine from the Soviet Union. Price is summoning ‘humanity’ for a similar aim.
On June 23, 1936, Stuart Russell, conservative M.P. opposed a League of Nations “all-embracing in its commitments”. He wanted to prevent Britain from having to apply sanctions against Germany in the name of the League :
When these demands are made we shall either have to go into a first class war with Germany or we shall have to repudiate our contractual obligations. To repudiate such obligations would be a deplorable action. To go to war with Germany because war broke out in Eastern Europe would be sheer distaste to this country.. I say that in the immediate future the far-reaching commitments of the League of Nations must cease, and the automatically coercive clauses be expunged from the Covenant
To weaken the League of Nations is part of the de-facto agenda. Many arguments would be designed to justify it. Here Stuart Russell does not use gloves: the League of Nations is to be weakened so that Germany could expand in Eastern Europe without Britain being involved in stopping her.
Liddell Hart reports in his memoirs that Dill, who was then Director of Military Operations and Intelligence and who, in 1940, became Chief of the Imperial General Staff, paid him a visit in March 1935:
He clearly disliked the idea that we might be on the side of Russia, in a French-Italian-Russian Bloc against a Germano-Japanese bloc. Could we not let Germany expand Eastwards at Russia’s expense?
If she is not told that Britain intends to let her expand Eastwards, Germany, in her doubts could attack the West first. The benefit of the policy would be lost. Such a policy could only achieve its aim if, somehow, it is communicated to Germany. It would then represent the granting to Germany of a free hand in the East. The conversation between Dill and Liddell Hart is very candid. Dill never expressed such opinions publicly. Other Establishment figures are less candid when their statements are liable to become public. Convoluted expressions become a must.
Liddell Hart, for instance reports how difficult it was in a given instance to get to the truth of the matter :
At the beginning of November 1936 I wrote a leader on ‘The Army in War’ and was surprised to find.. that the editor had made very considerable alterations to it, while inserting fresh passages with a foreign policy bearing. One that particularly perturbed me was the sentence: ‘While taking vigorous measures for its own protection, it [Britain] will refuse until the last moment possible to quench the hope of a general peace settlement by giving its sanction and adherence to a system of antagonist blocs.’ The next sentence emphasised that under the Locarno Treaty Britain was committed only to resisting ‘unprovoked aggression in Western Europe’, and also suggested that even this might have to be modified.
It was not the first nor the last time that the editors of ‘The Times’ would intrude in Liddell Hart articles to the point of inserting text in his articles without prior authorisation. He did not like the resulting text and wrote to Barrington-Ward the next day :
expressing my uneasiness about the implication of the insertion, saying: ‘It looked rather as if we were suggesting that Germany should have a free hand to do what she liked in the East — e.g. against Czechoslovakia. What is our policy on this undoubted possibility?’
Barrington-Ward wrote back:
“I have again looked at the leader on ‘The Army in war’ and I cannot think why it should have left you with any uneasiness. ‘The Times’ has most definitely set its face against the foolish, cynical and short-sighted idea that it is desirable or profitable to purchase a deal with Germany by giving her a free hand in the East”
Where Liddell Hart reads a free hand, Barrington-Ward sees that The Times ‘has most definitely set its face’ against such views. Liddell Hart is not quite convinced by Barrington-Ward’s answer. He tried to get him to express an opinion on specific issues. He wrote again:
I am glad to hear ‘The Times’ attitude on the question of giving Germany a free hand in the East, but I would still like to know what is its policy as to the policy this country should adopt if Germany tries to use her influence there, especially against Czechoslovakia...
What I read in the leader was a predominant concern with security in the West to the comparative disregard of what might happen elsewhere, and the consequent possibility that others, especially the Germans, might read it still more definitely in this way.
Barrington-Ward’s reply is ambiguous and convolute :
The British policy, as the Times would like to see it at present, could be expressed in a doctrine of this kind. ‘We will not be indifferent to aggression anywhere. Aggression in the Mediterranean or in Western Europe will immediately encounter determined military resistance. As to aggression elsewhere, we are not prepared to say in advance precisely what we will do but the aggressor can take it as certain that he will encounter our resistance in some form.’ This is broadly how the gap left by the crash of Article XVI ought to be filled, I think. But it is, after all, a negative though important fraction of a policy which must be positive if it is going to succeed as a whole...
P.S. ... I should, perhaps, add that it seems to me essential for Eastern Europe to find its own equilibrium as far as possible without interested disturbance from the West. The point of our policy must not be to forbid new groupings or agreements in the East but to ensure, as far as we can, that the attempt is not made to accomplish them by war. The safe and peaceful dissolution of the French ‘system’ was, after all, the central hope of the original Locarno treaties
We saw in the first chapter that Britain, through Chamberlain, did later give Germany a free hand in the East. ‘The Times’ played an important role in support of Chamberlain’s policies. It is therefore not surprising that Liddell Hart reads, in the editorial intrusion to his article, a policy of granting a free hand to Germany. What is of importance is to realise how much that policy while being pursued was denied, and even denounced as cynical and short-sighted, by those who were playing an important role in its implementation. This denial and denouncing was essential to the success of the policy. When off-guard, Establishment people such as Dill, even in important governmental positions, do not hesitate to be candid.
The convoluted way suggesting a free hand be given to Germany, while denying that such is the intent, did not escape Lord Strabolgi’s observation. On April 8, 1936, Lord Snell warned that the Labour Party would have no part in any agreement giving Germany a free hand to the East. After him Lord Strabolgi stated :
I find a tendency in many influential quarters to clear the field, if I may express it, for a German attack on Russia. It is called by other names of course. “Limiting the risks of membership of the League of Nation” is one of the phrases used. “We must not entangle ourselves in the East at all and limit our commitment only to the West” is another. Lord Halifax.. said we must limit our commitment in the West, and that French obligations must not involve us in trouble in the East, or words to that effect.. We are bound also by the Covenant of the League of Nations.. to go to her assistance if she is attacked. I find suggestions in many quarters, from important people, to the effect that Russia must be left to her fate and Germany must perhaps be compensated in Europe in that way..
It is interesting to note that the Government, in its reply, did not deal with the matter of the free hand to Germany.
Harold Nicolson writes in his diary on July 16, 1936:
Foreign Affairs Committee. Winston argues from the premise, which everyone accepted, that our main duty is to defend the British Empire and the Rhine frontier. This in itself.. is a ‘gigantic task’. What we have got to ask ourselves is whether that task would in the end be facilitated by our telling Germany that she could take what she liked in the East. Were we to say this, Germany, within the course of a single year, would become dominant from Hamburg to the Black Sea, and we should be faced by a confederacy such as had never been seen since Napoleon. The general impression left was that the majority of the National Party are at heart anti-League and anti-Russian and that what they would really like would be a form of agreement with Germany and possibly Italy by which we could purchase peace at the expense of the smaller states.
Telling Germany that she could take what she liked in the East meant, in short, giving Germany a free hand in the East. Churchill argued against that. It is clear that he tried to convince ‘the majority of the National Party’ that such a policy is against the national interest. The fact that he was kept away from the levers of power is an indication of his failure in this attempt.
L.R. Pratt writes :
Writing in the first shadows of civil war and revolution in Spain, Hankey thought that Britain must detach itself from European entanglements and eschew Locarno-type treaties or alliances: ‘In the present state of Europe, with France and Spain menaced by Bolshevism, it is not inconceivable that before long it might pay us to throw in our lot with Germany and Italy.’
Hankey was Secretary of the Cabinet and of the Committee of Imperial Defence. Though not a formal member of the Cabinet, he was a man of influence whose views were respected and welcomed. In both Spain and France a Popular Front, in which the communists were a relatively small minority, was ruling. The governments were antiestablishment but still far from being communist. The French government, in particular, was very tame in its stand which consisted mainly in legislating improvements in the workers’ condition. Even that was too much for Hankey and he was seeing red to the point of ‘throwing in our lot’ with Germany and Italy.
Thomas Jones, a regular at Cliveden, a former secretary of Baldwin, and still a friend constantly consulted and in touch, mentions on April 15, 1936 in his diary :
Last Wednesday (8th) I had lunch alone at the Carlton with Von Ribbentrop and went over the usual topics between us and Germany. He talks English very well and I’m sure does not want war in the West.
Tom Jones does not say that Germany wants peace. What prevented him from saying it was the knowledge that Germany restricted her will for peace to the West. That, however, does not worry him. What matters is that the West is safe, as far as Ribbentrop is concerned.
Tom Jones was a member of what was sometimes called ‘the Cliveden set’, a collection of influential members of the establishment sharing common views on foreign policies. These views were sympathetic to Germany. These views are clearly expressed in Tom Jones’ diary. They are characterised by a distrust of France, a fear of being entangled in a war at the side of Russia, a desire for an ‘understanding’ with Germany, a desire for a policy of non-commitment in Eastern Europe, a distrust of the League of Nations and an expression of the need to prevent automatic involvement of the members against an eventual aggressor.
Since these views are quite similar to those of Lothian, who was a member of ‘the set’, we will not quote here Tom Jones any more. The interested reader will find his diaries worth reading. Cliveden has sometimes been considered the centre that plotted the appeasement policy of the British government. It is unlikely to be true and, in any case, the matter is not very relevant. It is certain that a community of views made the relations between the Cliveden set, the establishment and the government, friendly and trustful. It is equally certain that the views of the set were a faithful reflection of the views of the British leadership.
In the measure in which there was a plot and a conspiracy, it was not drawn in Cliveden but within a very restricted group around Chamberlain. This became necessary when attempts at reaching an ‘understanding’ with Germany strongly ran against public opinion and had therefore to be kept secret if they were to succeed. Any awareness, by the opposition, of such attempts could raise such an uproar as to possibly lead to the fall of the government. It was sometimes necessary to take special precautions when the extent of the appeasement was such that only the most virulent pro-German and anti-Soviet members of the establishment would be ready to support it. At such times, plotting, as we will see, was against the Cabinet itself.
Harold Nicolson wrote on September 20, 1936:
The Channons.. thnk that we should let gallant Germany glut hr fill of the red in the East and keep decadent France quiet while she does so. Otherwise we shall have not only reds in the West but bombs in London... Chips says that we have no right to criticize a form of government or thought in another country.
Channon was a conservative MP and a member of a coterie at the service of Chamberlain
The French Establishment was in dire straits. In France the Right was traditionally anti-German and much aware of the threat constituted by the German military. However, with the increase of strength of the Socialist and Communist Parties, its fear of social revolution became greater than that of German predominance.
Paul Reynaud was one of the rare men of the Right who put the national interest above the narrow views of his class. He was the French Prime Minister at the time of the German invasion. He wrote :
On the Right wing, Coty, a perfume manufacturer who had turned himself into a politician, found in the profits of his business the means to found a paper with a wide circulation called L’Ami du Peuple. Under the title of ‘France D’abord! Avec Hitler contre le bolchevism’, he published, on December 13, 1934, an article in which he showed his indignation with those who preached the encirclement of Germany and an alliance with Russia. He called for an alliance with Italy. He branded ‘the short-sighted politicians with their false ideas as a hateful and anti-French sect in the service of the financial-social International who were proclaiming that there existed in the Italy of Mussolini as well as in the Germany of Hitler, a warlike, formidable and so called menacing ill-will against France.
The influential Francois Coty must have been a good representative of the establishment to be given the position of French President to replace Rene Lebrun, when, in 1940, it became clear that France was about to ask Germany for an armistice.
Paul Reynaud, the ex-prime minister continues:
From 1936 many of the bourgeois, antagonised by factory disputes, and the five-day working week, did not ask themselves if these strange happenings were not the result of the monetary problem which they had sanctioned, but, seeing with reason a danger for France, embraced as a consequence dictatorial theories and became susceptible to the slogan of ‘Rather Hitler than Stalin’. Nazism seemed to them the antidote of Communism.
Paul Reynaud, himself a leader of the ‘bourgeoisie’, is disgruntled by its betrayal of the French national interest. The slogan “Rather Hitler than Stalin” disguises the fact that Hitler was an external enemy while Stalin was just a pointer to the internal ‘enemy’: a French social revolution.
Robert Coulondre wrote in his memoirs:
[The Soviet Union] is too well informed to be unaware that there are many in Paris who would happily pay with the abandonment of the Soviet alliance for a rapprochement with Hitler, and that in London a Fuhrer’s crusade in USSR is not looked at everywhere with disfavor.
It is already clear that in giving a free hand to Germany, the British Government was not out of step with the Western European (i.e. British and French) Establishments.