Learning from History? Questions from a Back Bencher 

Commenter and Blogger Dale Coberly

I have been reading William Manchester’s biography of Winston Churchill. I do not know how reliable Manchester is, but I think I have learned more about a couple of things I thought I knew about, which might be worth thinking about with regard to events in Ukraine.

Churchill was a very gifted man who made mistakes, but he got Hitler right when no one else did, and so earned his place in History. In the past I have liked to point out that Neville Chamberlain’s “peace in our time” appeasement of Hitler over Czechoslovakia bought England the time it needed to rearm before Hitler started WW2.  I thought Chamberlain understood this and accepted the permanent stain on his reputation to “take one for the team.”  It would be very British not to say after the war that he knew what he was doing at Munich…if for no other reason than to allow perfidious Albion a chance to get away with the same dodge in the future if necessary.

But according to Manchester, Chamberlain was always if not an appeaser, at least a victim of the understandable universal “peace at any cost” mood of England following the horror and stupidity of the Great War.

Less noted has been the willingness of Churchill if not to appease, at least not to vigorously oppose Mussolini’s crime against Ethiopia.  Apparently, Churchill hoped that by not annoying Mussolini he would keep Italy as a potential ally against Hitler. And after all, crimes against uncivilized people was an acceptable practice by the civilized people of Europe.

Hitler was reading a different message from Ethiopia. It demonstrated to him that Britain and France and the League of Nations would not act to oppose him if he undertook similar adventures in Europe.  This was before Munich, and before Spain. 

From the perspective of the 1930’s Hitler had the equivalent of nuclear arms, in a world that had not yet invented them.  WWI killed millions of people, and it was understandable that people would not want to risk that again.  But, in hindsight of course, it was foolish of them to ignore the evidence of HItler’s intentions.  It would have been better if England had listened to Churchill and began rearming much sooner than it did. 

But of course there was also the money. As Manchester points out the British had not yet discoved the nature of money that Roosevelt and Schacht had (spending creates money).

Parallels to Ukraine: The United States is not innocent of aggression against uncivilized people.  Europe did not oppose that  American aggression. Putin has nukes and threatens to use them. We are right to be afraid that he would. But if he gets away with it when we had the power to stop him,  what will prevent him from doing it again and forcing us to face the same question when we have less power relative to him?

 I think Biden is finding a way to stop him . . . at great cost to the people of Ukraine . . . but my very primitive instincts tell me that if sanctions and arms to Ukraine even start to look like they may not be enough to stop Putin, then overwhelming NATO (US) force . . . perhaps kept within the borders of Ukraine . . . will be necessary.  We can only hope the people around Putin will stop him from launching a nuclear war. A link to someone who disagrees with my findings. . . . “Siding with Ukraine’s far-right, US sabotaged Zelensky’s mandate for peace” (substack.com)

Or maybe we just have to let him get away with it, and hope we are saved by some as yet unforeseen miracle.