The ‘Neutrality with Hitler’ argument is a sad reflection of today’s politics

Those who say we should have stayed out of WW2 really mean that the likes of Hitler and Putin are not the cause of wars – rather it is interference by Western warmongers


British statesman and prime minister Neville Chamberlain (1869 - 1940) at Heston Airport on his return from Munich after meeting with Hitler, making his 'peace in our time' address. (Photo by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

June 18, 2024 14:50

I have been interested in the strange tale of Ian Gribbin, the Reform party candidate for Bexhill and Battle who, if elected, would represent the most famous battlefield in England.

With so many small parties standing so many candidates, this election has been punctuated by the sound of rattling skeletons. Even before close of nominations, the Green Party had deselected four candidates and had come under criticism from the Board of Deputies for acting slowly to vet wannabe Green MPs for utterances that had crossed the line between criticism of Israel and you-know-what.

Meanwhile, prospective candidates of George Galloway’s Worker’s Party were discovered not so much to have crossed the line as to be firmly encamped on the other side of it. You know where you are with someone who accuses the Jews of killing Jesus and suggests that Jewish misbehaviour led to the Holocaust.

Mr Gribbin’s skeleton was of different kind. If we want to extend the metaphor we might think of it as partially clothed. The UnHerd site, funded by hedge fund tycoon Sir Paul Marshall, should be famous for the unreconstructed nature of its below-the-line comments contributed by readers. Mr Gribbin was one of these.

In July 2022, apropos of some obscure argument, Mr Gribbin summarised what we might call a revisionist account of 20th- century British history. “Britain would be in a far better state today had we taken Hitler up on his offer of neutrality,” he wrote, adding the more contemporary observation that “but oh no – Britain’s warped mindset values weird notions of international morality rather than looking after its own people.”

Days later he attacked “the cult of Churchill” which, he said, needed to be “exorcised”.

When this set of observations emerged, Mr Gribbin felt forced to apologise – assaults on Churchill not being an infallible way of attracting Conservative voters. These were, he said, “old comments” and had been taken out of context.

Old? Can you remember as far back as the summer of 2022? Those balmy, barely recalled far off days when Boris Johnson was forced out of Downing Street and my first grand-daughter, now aged two, was three months old.

Strangely, a Reform UK spokesman was far less contrite. Accusing the BBC of “offence archaeology” (the word derives from the Greek for “ancient”) this person defended the original utterances. “They were written with an eye to inconvenient perspectives and truths”, he said. “That doesn’t make them endorsements, just arguing points in long-distance debates.”

Then he added that Gribbin’s “historical perspective of what the UK could have done in the Thirties was shared by the vast majority of the British establishment including the BBC of its day and is probably true”. Since Reform has included teaching a “patriotic curriculum” in schools in its manifesto, such matters may be considered to be of importance to the party.

But where does this stuff come from? In this instance, it’s clear that Mr Gribbin was influenced by the work of the historian John Charmley, who in a 1993 biography of Churchill made just these arguments.

But as Robert Skidelsky wrote at the time, ”most of this is nonsense...The myth of the lost peace, the peace which might have been won, which would have been won had Churchill not been there, has been peddled by appeasers and pessimists for a long time. It takes two to parley. The impossible and ghastly nature of Hitler’s ambitions, even if they fell well short of world domination, is ignored [by Charmley]”.

Gribbin is a declinist. He writes in his election statement that he is a “passionate observer of the decline of British culture and the economy”. A decline that Charmley argues set in when Britain went to war over Poland. After that, we lost the Empire and became entangled in global arrangements and men started sleeping with each other. Whereas, if we had done a deal Adolf would have stopped at Warsaw, beaten his Stukas into threshing machines and contented himself with keeping Jews out of the parks.

These arguments had a brief fashion 30 years ago – and are always there on the further right of politics. They are ostensibly about the past but inevitably have a current application and an obvious declension, even if the academics who espouse them fail to point it out or even stoutly deny it. Wars are not the fault of the Hitlers and Putins but of Western warmongers who interfere with the natural inclinations of these leaders. And given that, who is behind the warmongers? The profiteering elite, of course. And who is behind the profiteering elite?

It’s a hop, skip and a jump to Charles Lindbergh’s America First speech in Des Moines, Iowa in September 1941: “The three most important groups who have been pressing this country towards war are the British, the Jewish and the Roosevelt administration.”

“Instead of agitating for war,” he warned, “the Jewish groups of this country should be opposing it in every possible way for they will be among the first to feel its consequences.”

By then the Einsatzgruppe had been in existence for six months. But Mr Gribbin may not know this.

June 18, 2024 14:50

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