Was the Second World War worth 56 million lives?

Share
Related Topics
We had grown used to having a prime minister who was ignorant, but now a much more worrying thought occurs. Has he gone mad? Perhaps this is a question that only doctors could answer. But Tony Blair's recent self-justifying speeches, delivered with laryngitic, manic jerkiness persuade me that war is almost always an act of madness. And the rhetoric that he has chosen to employ, with its pseudo-Churchillian echoes and its allusions to the Second World War, provoke disturbing, unwelcome thoughts, not merely about the conflict in Kosovo, but about the whole of 20th-century history, and the brave sorrows which our parents' generation underwent. Blair's speeches about war make me think that all war, even the war against Hitler, is and was worse than pointless.

The German culture minister, Michael Naumann, recently deplored the fact that Hitler's war continues to obsess the British. Over the last few weeks one sees not merely that Herr Naumann is right but that the British way of viewing the Second World War is deeply dangerous.

Tony Blair now seems to be by far the most hawkish of Nato's leaders. The German peace proposals, which would have involved bringing in the Russians to persuade Slobodan Milosevic to the negotiating table, have been dismissed by Blair as not enough. Blair wants blood, toil, sweat and tears; he wants Bill to give him the tools and we'll finish the job.

The early identification of Milosevic with Hitler was bizarre. Milosevic has shown no desire for territorial expansion, let alone world domination. The unending story of minor, nasty warfare in the Balkans is part of the story of the last 1,000 years. It is quite unlike the resurrection of German nationalism in the 1920s as a reaction against the unjust Versailles Treaty. Britain went to war against Hitler not because he was persecuting the Jews, as Blair implies every day, but because of treaties designed to check German expansionism. The treaties to "protect" Czechoslovakia were quietly forgotten - some said to Britain's shame. The treaty to protect Poland was observed, and it was because Hitler invaded Poland that Chamberlain declared war. As AJP Taylor caustically observes in The Origins of the Second World War: "In 1938 Czechoslovakia was betrayed. In 1939 Poland was saved. Less than one hundred thousand Czechs died during the war. Six-and-a-half million Poles were killed. Which was better - to be a betrayed Czech or a saved Pole?"

When we consider the 56 million people - most of them civilians - who died during the Second World War we of a younger generation can understand why those who watched their comrades die in it were obliged to tell themselves not only that it was an inevitable conflict, but that it was the only noble way of defeating an evil tyranny. Even this way of thinking only leads to more intolerable thoughts - namely that Poland, Czechoslovakia, and all the Eastern bloc countries were "liberated" only in the sense that they were taken away from the Nazis and given into Soviet slavery at the insistence of Stalin, who outstripped Hitler in the numbers he killed.

The one fact about Hitler which nobody believed during the Second World War was that he meant what he said about the Jews. The British Foreign Office and the BBC consistently refused to believe the stories of extermination as they began to come through from Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and elsewhere in the middle years of the war. Only in 1945 when people watched the newsreels of Belsen did the extent of the Nazi atrocities become clear. And of course - another intolerable thought - this slaughter only began after the outbreak of war. Could it be - intolerable question - that it was the cover of war alone which made the massacres possible?

For Tony Blair to liken Milosevic to Hitler is to trivialise every one of those 56 million deaths between 1939-45 and to miss the point which, tragically, they make. It is not an easy thought. It is literally unbearable, but it must be thought if politicians are not to go on repeating the mistakes of the past. It is this.

If the Second World War had never been fought, not only would those 56 million, most of them, have died in their beds; not only would the beautiful cities of France, Germany, Italy and Poland, which were destroyed, have remained intact, but Hitler and his crazy regime would almost certainly have been overthrown in the fullness of time by his own people.

Yet Blair tells us that the Second World War was "a war started by a dictator visiting racial genocide on his people". He tells us that. "You have to come down to the simple clear choice, to act, or not to act." This isn't even pseudo-Winston Churchill. It is government by Biggles. Blair's and Nato's decision to "act" has escalated a war which, in the three years previous to 25 March 1999 had killed between two and three thousand people. To act or not to act. There are so many actions other than bombing - to increase aid, for example, to flood a distressed or war-torn region with hospitals, schools, foreign observers who, if they can't stop the fighting, can at least ensure that the atrocities are kept to a minimum. The bombing raids have provided the biggest possible cover for acts of genocidal slaughter.

When one thinks of the war memorials all over Europe, and the stories of self-sacrifice which they embody, and the unselfish bravery of our parents' generations, one hardly dares to write these words. But the lesson they teach is that war never works, that the notion of a just war is a political con. God help us if our world order is now in the hands of those whose history books are closed and whose moral values are conceitedly summed up by the doctrine that whatever Blair thinks and does is right and whatever anyone else does is "evil".

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Polish Speaking Buying Assistant

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Superb opportunity for a BUYING...

Recruitment Genius: Support Worker

£14560 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company offers personalise...

Recruitment Genius: Key Account Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A really exciting opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Multi Trade Operative

£22000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An established, family owned de...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Children who fled the violence in the Syrian city of Aleppo play at a refugee camp in Jabaa, in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley  

A population bigger than London's has been displaced in Syria, so why has the Government only accepted 90 refugees?

David Hanson
Amjad Bashir said Ukip had become a 'party of ruthless self-interest'  

Ukip on the ropes? Voters don’t think so

Stefano Hatfield
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project