Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Necessary Wars

[Been busy, and had technical issues the past couple days. So you don't forget me, here's an old thought to chew on]

On April 5, 1940, as the war between the Nazis and the democracies of western Europe was about to kick into gear, Goebbels called together a small group of loyal German journalists for a secret briefing. Among other things, he said:

Up till now we have succeeded in leaving the enemy in the dark concerning Germany's real goals, just as before 1932 our domestic foes never saw where we were going or that our oath of legality was just a trick. ... They could have suppressed us. They could have arrested a couple of us in 1925 and that would have been that, the end. No, they let us through the danger zone. That's exactly how it was in foreign policy, too. ... In 1933 a French premier ought to have said (and if I had been the French premier I would have said it): 'The new Reich Chancellor is the man who wrote Mein Kampf, which says this and that. This man cannot be tolerated in our vicinity. Either he disappears or we march!' But they didn't do it. They left us alone and let us slip through the risky zone, and we were able to sail around all dangerous reefs. And when we were done, and well armed, better than they, then they started the war!

None of the Iraq War critics I've seen who invoke the "unnecessary war" cry then go into detail about what they think makes for a "necessary" war. What would a "necessary" war look like, in their eyes?

I'll give you my version of a necessary war: The brief 1936 conflict between Germany, alone, and France, Britain, and Czechoslovakia.

It began when Hitler, the German dictator now little remembered in history, marched 20,000 troops into the Rhineland demilitarized zone, in violation of articles 42 and 43 of the Treaty of Versailles. France pulled itself out of a political crisis and united behind this threat from its old enemy. It used the treaty violation as a pretext to declare war. France's stauch allies in Czechoslovakia joined them, secure in the fastness of the Sudeten mountains, thus tying down Nazi troops in central Germany.

Britain, too, stood with its French ally, though not without some debate over France's unilateralism. The British in the end provided key air support and blockaded German North Sea ports, though relatively few British troops crossed the Channel until the fighting was almost over.

When war began, French divisions crossed into the Rhineland at several points, and the overwhelmed Germans, after brief resistance, retired across the bridges. They set up a defense on the east bank, but when the French penetrated this at several points, the German army rose up under von Blomberg and von Fristsch and overthrew Hitler and his gang. The top Nazis were executed after trial in German courts in which horrible crimes -- and even more horrible plans -- came to light, along with evidence of their vast corruption. The German military leaders negotiated a new settlement with the Allies, revising several provisions of Versailles that no longer reflected realities on the ground. Nazi functionaries were purged from local offices, extremist parties were banned from German politics, and, with the aid of the occupying powers, after much difficulty and insurgency, Germany gradually returned to a democratic system of self-government, more robust than the failed Weimar Republic.

Why is this war "necessary?" Because it prevents World War II in Europe, the Holocaust, and the deaths of tens of millions of people, from the North Sea to the Russian steepe.

But would it stand up to the modern anti-Iraq-War activists' definitions of justified? Put him in the Wayback Machine and set the dial to 1936. Remember, he doesn't know there's going to be a World War II in Europe. Like the pacifists Orwell scorned, he probably thinks Hitler is not such a bad guy as he's made out to be in the press, and anyway the leaders of Britain and America are far more dangerous to world peace.

What will he say, in protesting this "unjust and unnecessary" war?

  • Hitler was provoked. Just a month before the remilitarization of the Rhineland, France and Russia had signed a mutual assistance pact that was a direct threat against Germany. France had engaged in a massive build-up of fortifications right on the border of Germany, and it was denying Hitler's right to defend himself. It was the old hegemony double standard.

  • What Hitler did was merely an internal matter. The French violated German sovereignty without just cause. Why, Hitler had never attacked France. Hitler was just moving troops in his own backyard. As G.B. Shaw said, "It was as if the British had reoccupied Portsmouth."

  • Hiding behind the Versailles Treaty was a red herring. It had already been violated. Germany had effectively renounced it a year before by bringing back the draft, and France and Britain had done nothing but make diplomatic protests.

  • Even worse, Britain herself had signed the Anglo-German Naval Treaty with Hitler that allowed Germany to build a battle fleet that included submarines, something forbidden by Versailles. Britain itself already had participated in a violation of the treaty!

  • There was no public support for the war in France and Britain. The people were solidly against war. They remembered the betrayed ideals of 1914, and they had indicated again and again their revulsion with the very idea of warfare.

  • By contrast, the remilitarization was wildly popular with the German people. In the Rhineland, women tossed flowers and priests showered blessings on German troops marching under the Swastika flag.

  • The door was still open for negotiation. Hitler, in announcing the resumption of German authority in the Rhineland, had said unequivocally, before the whole world, "we pledge that now, more than ever, we shall strive for an understanding between European peoples, especially for one with our Western neighbor nations .... We have no territorial demands to make in Europe! ... Germany will never break the peace."

  • France did not go first to the League of Nations and attempt to use its authority to condemn the German action. Thus, its invasion lacked legitimacy. Instead of evicting the Nazis at once, France should have gone the Leage route and then put its military forces entirely under control of the League, to be bound by whatever the League decided to do.

  • False pretenses! A scare that never materialized. The British were told over and over that they would be at the mercy of German bombers. Churchill asserted that the first week of the war would kill up to 40,000 Londoners [Nov. 28, 1934]. Baldwin warned the "man in the street" that "Whatever people may tell him, the bomber will always get through." Yet in the lightning defeat of Germany's small military, the air force never got off the ground. The mighty swarm from the skies that struck fear in so many in Britain and France existed only on paper.

The excuse offered by the French leaders would be absurd:

Monsieur Flandin [French Foreign Minister] emphasized that the next challenge would not be an attack upon France or Belgium, but very likely an attack upon Czechoslovakia or Austria. If we failed to meet the present challenge, who could possibly say that Germany would be stopped in her next venture?

Necessary war? More like pre-emptive, illegal, immoral war. More like, "He was going to hit me first!" And now, back to the history as it played out in fact:

The French delegation left for the Munich airport almost exactly twenty-four hours after arriving. Once again, a well-programmed crowd offered cheers, and Ribbentrop provided the escort. During the flight Daladier sat silent and morose, worried about the reception he would receive at Le Bourget, about how the French would react to his having betrayed Czechoslovakia and France's promises. As the plane circled for landing, he and others saw a massive crowd awaiting them. Expecting jeers, hisses, rotten fruit, and maybe worse, Daladier declared stolidly: "They are going to mob me, I suppose. ... I appreciate their feelings," and insisted on absorbing their wrath by being the first off the plane. But as he stood dumbfounded on the gangplank, thousands surged forward carrying flags and flowers, shouting "Hurrah for France! Hurrah for England! Hurrah for peace!" Daladier turned back to Léger and cursed, "The God-damned fools!" [Benjamin F. Martin, "France in 1938"]