Freedom Betrayed, by Herbert Hoover
Two weeks after they had announced their guarantee to Poland, the British, as a protection against Hitler, sought an alliance with Stalin. The French negotiated separately as, presumably, they had a more favorable relationship with Stalin [than – ed.] did the British, because of their military alliance with Russia.
Stalin’s asking price for an alliance with the Allies gradually emerged from Prime Minister Chamberlain’s statements before the House of Commons on May 10, May 19, and June 7, 1939. The price was British agreement to the annexation by the Soviet Union of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, East Poland, Bessarabia, and Bukovina, which had been part of the Russian Empire prior to the First World War.
As previously discussed, and as widely known, a prelude to Britain’s entrance into the war was the guarantee given Poland – a guarantee Britain had no means to enforce, yet one that likely stiffened the resolve of Poland’s political leaders at a time when compromise with either the Soviets or the Germans might have been the wiser path. Yet here we see Britain is negotiating with the Soviets, a negotiation to include the recognition of Soviet occupation of Poland – the same Poland that received a British guarantee before hostilities.
Churchill demanded that the Russian terms be accepted. In this he was supported by Eden and others….Churchill [was] prodding the British leaders to unmoral agreements.
Chamberlain could not bring himself to sign this agreement. As Hoover writes:
If Chamberlain signed it, there would be handed to the Communists the free peoples of eastern Europe. But his British integrity and conscience would not permit him to sign. If Hitler signed with Stalin, these small nations were destined to be ravaged….
Often, justification is given for entering a conflict: we must do something; the people are dying anyway without our help – therefore we should help. I never liked this reasoning. Yes, perhaps people are suffering – but the suffering is caused by the hands of another. And to offer assistance when in practical terms none can be given? Well what is the point of this?
Chamberlain saw this conflict, and decided there was no good outcome for the people of Eastern Europe. With or without Britain’s involvement, pain and suffering was in store for the people of this region. To join with Stalin meant agreeing to Stalin’s takeover; to allow Stalin and Hitler to agree meant a similar fate, for all practical purposes. Chamberlain concluded, it seems, that he did not want Britain to be a party to the destruction by agreeing with Stalin. As noted above, Churchill did not have the same “British integrity and conscience.”
Of course, on September 1, 1939, Hitler attacked Poland, with the Soviets following two weeks later. On September 3rd, Britain and France declared war on Germany. In May 1940, Hitler attacked along the entire front of Holland, Belgium and France. Of course, Hitler’s attack was overwhelming. The British evacuated and Dunkirk, and Hitler did little to stop this evacuation.
In August 1940, Germany began its air attack on Britain. Yet, Churchill felt Britain was not at risk of an invasion:
So successful was the British air resistance that the daylight battles in the skies were mostly over mid-September. So confident was Prime Minister Churchill that there would be no attempt at a land invasion of Britain that he dispatched troops from England to support the British forces in Egypt.
German sea power also did little damage (relatively) in the Atlantic:
The total tonnage losses in [allied and neutral] merchant ships…from all causes during the six from June 1 to November 30, 1940, including normal sea losses amounted to less than 3,000,000 tons [out of] the 30,000,000 to 40,000,000 tons of Allied and neutral shipping available to the British at the outset of the war.
While not minimizing the losses suffered, it seems in land, sea, and air, Germany was not a serious threat to Britain proper.
Why was Churchill so desirous of making Stalin an ally? If there is a reasonable answer to this question, I have not yet come across it. Even in this short section of the book, there is evidence that Churchill did not see Hitler as a strong enough threat to Britain, as he sent British troops from the homeland to Egypt. Shipping, while damaged, was not critically hampered.
Why choose sides at all? It would seem nothing good came out of this for the average Brit. Leave the Germans and Russians to slug it out – Hitler was even passive during the evacuation at Dunkirk.
Churchill is revered as a great leader. Yet his career, spanning from before the first war and through the second war, spans the complete decline of the British Empire. He held various leadership positions throughout this time.
A great leader supervising the demise of the empire. How can history remember Churchill so positively? It strikes me that he was in service to a master other than the people of Britain. Who? Your guess is as good as mine.