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|From: Irish Foreign Affairs: Editorials|
|Date: December, 2010|
Why is there not a special relationship between Ireland and Germany?
|German national development was an influence on Irish development in the 19th century. The religious tolerance of Protestant Prussia was looked on as evidence that the strict Confessionalism of English rule in Ireland—the Penal Law system—was not a necessity of liberal statecraft but a bigoted aberration. The Prussian land reform that was part of the national resurgence against Napoleon after his victories at Jena/Auerstadt stimulated ideas of land reform in Ireland. The greatest influence that any British intellectual ever exercised on Irish national life was exercised by Thomas Carlyle, who seemed to be intent on developing the English language in accordance with its German roots. The Young Ireland leaders gave Carlyle a conducted tour of Ireland in the late 1840s, towards the end of the event that is officially known as The Famine. A generation later Carlyle’s Germanic influence is evident in the writings of Canon Sheehan, along with a wealth of direct influence from Germany. James Connolly went to war as an ally of Germany and his paper, The Workers’ Republic, has a strong German content. And of course Sinn Fein is a German idea.
So how did we become so remote from Germany? Did we cut ourselves off from it as a failure—because it failed to hold itself together in Britain’s “War Upon The German Nation”? (That is Connolly’s description of the Great War launched by Britain in 1914.)
Martin Mansergh, who combines the roles of Government politician and intellectual, tells us that Connolly got it all wrong about Germany in 1914. But he does not say why. He does not attempt to refute Connolly with facts and reasons. In fact he says little, but conveys by gesture and tone of voice, in a would-be ruling class way, that no heed should be taken of Connolly’s views on the Great War. Or of Casement’s views either.
Nicholas Mansergh, father of the politician and intellectual, certainly took no heed of the views of Connolly and Casement in a series of lectures on the causes of the Great War, which he delivered at Queen Alexandra College in Dublin during the Second World War. Mansergh senior was a British Imperial administrator who came to Dublin in order to make propaganda about the 1st World War. The propaganda was published as a book in London in the later 1940s and it appeared for a time on the University syllabus in Belfast. In recent years Mansergh senior has been hailed as one of the great Irish historians. (He was born on the remnant of a Cromwellian estate in Tipperary.) But it is a strange Irish historian of The Coming Of The Great War who could treat the writings of Connolly and Casement on the subject as if they did not exist.
Casement, as a member of the British diplomatic service, saw Britain preparing for the war, and began to write about it even before the actual outbreak of war. Connolly, when the strong socialist movements in Britain, France and Germany failed to live up to pre-War Resolutions to prevent war by socialist action, and supported their respective Governments in the War, re-assessed the situation. He saw conditions of working class life were much better in Germany than in Britain, that the German economy was for that reason much more productive than the British, and that Britain decided to resort to competition by war.
Arthur Griffith too supported the Central Powers in the War, but his view was not quite the same as Connolly’s or Casement’s. He saw Austria as well as Germany, and his position was drawn from both. He aimed to establish between Ireland and Britain the kind of relationship that existed between Hungary and Austria in the Hapsburg State. It was not a realistic project. Britain would never accept Ireland as a partner in the Empire, sharing the same Crown with Britain but not in any way subject to the British Parliament.
A British/Irish Dual Monarchy was never on the cards. The essential idea of Sinn Fein, got from the German national economist, List, was very much on the cards.
World economy, in which the individual was an atom, was not a possible mode of existence. Something was necessary as an intermediary between the individual and the human race. That intermediary was the nation, conducting a national economy: “Between the Individual and Humanity stands, and must continue to stand, a great fact—the Nation”.
Here is an extract from Griffith’s speech to a Sinn Fein Convention in 1905, issued as a pamphlet in 1907 under the title The Sinn Fein Policy:
“The Anglicisation of the Irish mind is best exhibited in its attitude towards economics. The system of economics which Adam Smith and his successors invented for the purpose of obtaining control of the world’s market for England, is taught in our educational system and believed by the people to be the quintessence of wisdom. It does not matter that all Europe has rejected it. England still holds on, and because England holds on, Ireland, under the British system of education, perforce concludes the ‘as-good-and-as-cheap’ shibboleth must be a gospel. Well, with the remainder of English impositions and humbugs, we must bundle it out of the country. I am in Economics largely a follower of the man who thwarted England’s dream of the commercial conquest of the world, and who made the mighty confederation before which England has fallen commercially and is falling politically—Germany. His name is a famous one in the outside world, his works are the text-books of economic science in other countries—in Ireland his name is unknown and his works unheard of—I refer to Frederich List, the real founder of the German Zollverein—the man whom England caused to be persecuted by the Government of his native country, and whom she hated and feared more than any man since Napoleon—the man who saved Germany from falling a prey to English economics, and whose brain conceived the great industrial and united Germany of to-day…
All of this remains very much to the point, apart from the remark about colonies. Griffith was not opposed in principle to Empires and Colonies. He was opposed to British colonialism and imperialism in Ireland. He did not see all peoples as equal. He saw advanced and backward nations. His case against Britain was that it engaged in Imperial oppression of the advanced Irish nation instead of making it a partner in Empire. It is in that respect rather like the British case against Germany over the extermination of Jews. Britain was not opposed in principle to the extermination of peoples. It had itself exterminated many peoples, and felt good about it. A leading British Liberal of the late 19th century, Sir Charles Dilke, in Greater Britain, an immensely popular book published less than twenty years before Griffith’s Sinn Fein Address, boasted that the Anglo-Saxons were the greatest exterminating race the world had ever seen. The historic British case against Himmler can only be that he exterminated the wrong people—as Griffith’s case against Britain was that it oppressed and perverted the development of, and came close to exterminating, the wrong people.
The Irish never got their colonies. The British would not accept them as partners in Empire—only as raw materials. And the more vital element in the national movement proved to be the one that was anti-Imperialist on principle.
With that proviso, Griffith’s view of things remains to the point, and it is more relevant now than it was twenty years ago, when the European Union promised a development that it proved unable to realise when it submitted itself to British influence.
What has happened in the world since Griffith’s speech?
Britain made war on Germany in 1914 and won.
Until Minister Mansergh, or somebody of his way of thinking, undertakes a refutation of the arguments of Connolly and Casement, let’s assume that they got it right. They are the Internationalists in our national Pantheon. If those who disagree with them on this great international issue do not undertake to refute their reasoned arguments on the Great War—or even to admit that their views on the War were what they were—it is reasonable to assume that the dismissal of them is based on other grounds than considered disagreements with their arguments.
So: Britain took Germany at a disadvantage, made war on it, and won. But the German resistance was unexpectedly strong and Britain damaged itself so badly in the course of winning (even though it got others to do the main body of the fighting) that it was unable to profit from this victory in the way it had profited from victory in its earlier Great Wars.
Britain constructed an alliance against Germany by encouraging French irredentism on the issue of Alsace-Lorraine, Italian irredentism on the southern Tyrol, and Tsarist Russian ambition to conquer and annex Istanbul.
The long resistance of Germany, Austria and Turkey put the aggressive Powers under such stress that all of them found themselves disabled, and in disagreement with each other, in the moment of victory. They were in no condition to make a workable Peace Settlement in 1919, as had been done a century earlier on the defeat of Napoleon. The evolutionary continuity of Europe was broken. The war-damaged victors bayed at the moon. They plundered Germany and then imposed further economic terms on it that could not be complied with, and damaged their own economies to the extent that they were complied with. And elemental political forces of a kind not seen for centuries arose within the war-damaged states of both the victors and the vanquished.
Britain refused to settle with Ireland on the basis of the 1918 Election result, even with the three-quarters of the country in which Sinn Fein had overwhelming support. Six months after deciding to strike down the Irish democracy, it presented the German democracy with a false Confession of War Guilt to sign under threat of a resumption of the War. The Government signed—and thereby discredited the new German Republic in the eyes of millions. The German military staff considered the possibility of resisting an Anglo-French invasion. Though it advised the government that resistance would fail to hold off an Anglo-Franco-Polish invasion, detailed consideration of the matter kept the Army functional in one of its vital parts, and brought home the vulnerability of Germany under Versailles conditions.
In 1923 Germany was invaded by France and Belgium for the purpose of plunder. There was no German attempt at resistance, but the fact of unresisted invasion naturally had an effect on German political life.
By this time Britain had begun to support Germany against France on the principle that the strongest Power in Europe was its natural enemy. France was now by far the strongest Power. It wanted to use its strength to insure itself against a German resurgence. It aimed to do this by advancing its borders and bringing about a Rhineland secession from Germany—a thing for which there was considerable support in the Rhineland. Britain would not allow this. It insisted that the German state should be kept intact against France.
The German Republic, in an indefensible position between France and Poland under Versailles conditions, began to break those conditions covertly and to engage in secret re-armament in complicity with Bolshevik Russia. The secret was soon out, but Britain preferred not to know.
German breaches of Versailles, begun under Weimar, continued under Hitler. Britain connived at the Weimar breaches, but collaborated openly with Hitler when he broke them. It did not consider itself bound by the Versailles Treaty either in its own affairs—disarmament was supposed to become general—or in its relations with Germany. The operative international body in its view was not the League of Nations (formed as part of the Versailles Treaty) but the British Empire. The League and the Empire were incompatible in principle and practice. Britain disabled the League and then treated it as useless.
“Appeasement” is a false and misleading description of Britain’s relationship with Germany between the Wars, especially with Nazi Germany. As used, it suggests that Britain conciliated Germany as a Power in the hope that Germany would behave beautifully in response. In fact the power of Germany was negligible until the middle 1930s, and Britain collaborated with Hitler to increase it.
Germany was reduced to the status of a third-rate Power in 1919—weaker than Poland and Czechoslovakia, much weaker than Italy, and off the scale of comparison with relation to France and Britain. And it was without an ally—Austria having been even more thoroughly disabled by the Victors than it was, and specifically forbidden by Versailles to be its ally.
Yet Germany approached the status of a first-rate Power at the end of 1938.
This was not something it could have done by its own efforts. It could only have been done with the help of the hidden hand of a powerful patron.
In fact the hand was not hidden at all. Britain did it quite openly, while at the same time causing it not to be seen. And then, as Victor for a second time, Britain made up a different story for the history written after 1945. (But in Churchill’s own History the real story is told in a muted secondary theme.)
Britain did not allow the German and Austrian democracies to merge in the 1920s, but it allowed a merger of Fascist Austria and Nazi Germany in 1938. And then, at the end of 1938, it made a gift of the stronghold of the Czechoslovak Sudetenland to Hitler, and the Czech arms industry along with it. It was only then that Germany could be said to have become a major military Power, though still not equal to the French or the British.
Within months of making Germany a major military Power, Britain decided to make war on it.
It went to war on the issue of keeping the German city of Danzig formally within the Polish State, even though the Polish State had failed entirely to establish a political presence in Danzig. It formed a military alliance against Germany with France and Poland.
Six months before Britain gave the Military Guarantee to Poland, the German military staff reckoned that Germany could not hold out in a war with France over Czechoslovakia. Britain had deterred France from honouring its Treaty with the Czechs and made a gift of the Sudetenland to Hitler, but German strength had not grown so spectacularly as a result of the Munich Agreement that it could afford to look on the 1939 military encirclement with equanimity. Britain, by means of its Polish Guarantee, had changed Poland from an ally of Germany (with whom it had signed a Treaty, and collaborated in the taking part of Czechoslovakia) into an enemy. Poland changed front with relation to Germany under the illusion of a dependable alliance with the two greatest military powers in the world (France and Britain). And Poland was the State in Europe which had most recently fought a war: it had defeated Russia in 1920.
Germany broke the encirclement by going on the offensive against Poland and defeating it. It saw that Britain was not making convincing preparations to deliver on the Polish Guarantee in the event that it precipitated war, and it gambled that France would not act unless Britain acted. And that is how Hitler got his first military victory. Britain left Poland in the lurch.
Britain declared war on Germany, but conducted that war at its leisure, without practical reference to Poland. It made no attempt to fight the limited war in September 1939 that it was committed to by Treaty and that would probably have stopped Germany in its tracks and deflated Hitler. What it did was slowly work up a World War against Germany for some purpose about which it is difficult to make any sense, except that it had nothing to do with defending Poland.
The attack on Poland was not such a clear-cut act of aggression as the British history which has saturated the world since 1945 presents it. It might be that Hitler wanted to make war on Poland anyway. There is no way of knowing such things as historical facts. They belong to the sphere of war propaganda—and Hitler admired Britain as the master of war propaganda. So, whatever Hitler would have done anyway, he made war on Poland under circumstances of military encirclement by superior power.
The Germany military staff had been dealing with the problem of how to cope with a war of military encirclement by superior powers ever since the Versailles ultimatum of June 1919 and the Franco-Belgian invasion of 1923. In 1938 they still saw little prospect of winning. What little chance there was lay in active defence.
Britain conferred a considerable increase of strength on Germany in the Fall of 1938, for a purpose which has never been disclosed. And then, in March 1939, it brought about the condition of active encirclement in a volatile situation which the Germany military had been thinking of how to deal with for twenty years. Something had to be done, and Britain’s gift the previous Autumn had increased the possibility of doing something.
Minister Mansergh denies that Britain organised a military encirclement of Germany in 1939. He seems to think that would have been an evil thing to do. But, if the Nazi regime was evil and needed destroying, surely the forming of a military alliance to crush it would have been a good thing?
The South African Government was consulted by Whitehall about the contemplated Guarantee to Poland. On 23rd March General Herzog, the Prime Minister, told Whitehall that it “can have no other result but that of war, not because Germany necessarily wants war, but because such policy of encirclement cannot be taken by her as meaning anything else than a declaration of hostilities differing but little, if at all, from a declaration of war” (see S. Newman: March 1939, The British Guarantee To Poland. Oxford 1976, p215).
The evil thing about the Guarantee which created the encirclement was that it was issued when there was no intention of honouring it.
And the issuing of the Guarantee means that the German action against Poland was not the pure and simple act of aggression that it is usually represented as being.
Success in the Polish War led to a further increase in German strength, but it was still far from equality with France and Britain, or even France alone.
An outstanding declaration of war lay against Germany on its western front. Its response to that declaration nine months later can hardly be called an act of aggression. During that nine months Britain tried to get itself invited into the Finnish-Russian War—either for the purpose of making war on Russia, or the secondary purpose of gaining control of Scandinavia and stopping Swedish export of iron ore to Germany. Finland made a settlement with Russia instead of inviting Britain to assist it—and a year and a half later it invaded Russia as an ally of Germany.
Britain then set about controlling Norway, breaching its neutrality in order to interfere with Swedish shipping. It planned a major move on Norway. Germany got wind of this and took a rapid gamble, with a pre-emptive invasion of Norway that came off. The contemporary military theorist, and later historian, Basil Liddell-Hart, wrote:
“One of the most questionable points in the Nuremberg Trials was that the planning and execution of aggression against Norway was put among the major charges against the Germans. It is hard to understand how the British and French Governments had the face to approve the inclusion of this charge and how the official prosecutors could press for a conviction on this score. Such a course was one of the most palpable cases of hypocrisy in history” (The Second World War, 1973 edn. P63).
While Britain was licking its wounds over Norway, Germany responded to the declaration of war in France, and won.
In all of this Britain acted at its leisure as the stronger force. Germany could not defend at leisure. It had to engage in the active defence which had been on its mind ever since 1919. Being the weaker force it had to be active and take risks. Through a mixture of luck, planning, and military insubordination by eager Generals it won a quick victory in France, which has been mythologised into a “tactic of Blitzkrieg”.
Italy joined Germany as an ally in the war in France on June 10th when it was clear that Germany had won. For this, Italy has been described as a jackal in British propaganda. But in other circumstances Britain has encouraged the way of the jackal. When it is winning it encourages others to join it and make a prudent accommodation with Power and bestow moral approval on it.
Italy prudently declared war on France when France was beaten, and took back some bits of Savoy that France had taken from it a few generations earlier.
Italy did not behave heroically in 1940. But in recent times in Ireland heroism has been much disapproved of. So let’s at least acknowledge that Italy did its best to act prudently in June 1940 by aligning itself with the victor.
In 1915 Britain lured Italy into the war on Austria and Germany by supporting its irredentist ambitions on Austrian territory. Austria was willing to concede some territory to Italy to secure its continuing neutrality, but Britain drew it into the Entente war with a very big bit of Austrian territory. In 1919 however Britain withheld part of what it had offered in 1915. In the Autumn of 1940 it set about extending its territory in the Adriatic and it invaded Greece.
Britain wanted to help Greece in its war with Italy. Hitler—displaying his unfitness for world conquest—had allowed Britain to evacuate a big chunk of its Army from France, apparently because he saw the British Empire as being necessary to a civilised world order. Britain, therefore, had quite a big Army, and it still dominated the surface of the oceans of the world. It refused to join France in making a settlement with Germany, thereby making a final settlement in France impossible. It let its declaration of war stand, though it had no intention of engaging in serious battle. Its object was not to fight the war it had declared with a view to winning, but to spread the war to other countries by marginal use of its forces so that others would be led to do most of the fighting.
It wanted to invest a small part of its available force in the Greek war with Italy. The Greek Government of General Metaxas refused to let Churchill into his war. It wanted to keep its war with Italy separate from the World War being waged by Britain on Germany and Italy.
Metaxas had been Chief of Staff in 1914-16 when King Constantine declared neutrality and held to it despite strong British pressure to launch a war of conquest on Turkey. Metaxas supported the King on military grounds. Britain and France invaded Greece, overthrew the Government, and installed a puppet Government which did declare war on Turkey. When the Greeks in 1919 went to take possession of the Turkish territory awarded to them by Britain, they suffered a catastrophic defeat at the hands of the Turkish national resurgence, and were left to their fate by Britain.
In 1940 Metaxas refused to let Churchill into his war, in which Greece was holding its own, on the grounds that British engagement would oblige Hitler to engage in support of Mussolini. That was, of course, was what Churchill wanted. What Metaxas wanted was to keep the Greek-Italian War separate from Britain’s war with Germany, and ensure that Greece did not again become an incidental casualty in Britain’s global ambitions.
Metaxas died in January of 1941. His successor gave into Churchill’s pressing offer of help. And Greece became a plaything in the forces set in motion by British success in spreading the war until it became a world war in earnest.
The War between Italy and Greece, which Greece was winning, became an Anglo-Greek war against Italy and Germany which was lost in a few weeks.
Hitler made a Treaty with Yugoslavia allowing the passage of a German Army through the country. Yugoslavia was a concocted state, consisting of antagonistic nationalities hustled together by Britain when it decided to destroy the Hapsburg Empire because it refused to change sides, or at least desert Germany, in the Great War during the Winter of 1917-18.
The Greater Serbia movement precipitated the Great War by assassinating the heir to the Hapsburg throne, who was suspected of being in favour of adding a Slav element to the formal structure of the Austro-Hungarian State and thus consolidating Hapsburg rule in Bosnia. Serbia was Orthodox and independent. A Greater Serb state would probably have been viable. A Serb-Croat state was not. The Croats were Catholic and were German-orientated. They fought for the Hapsburg state until the Entente destroyed it. When a great state is destroyed by external force, its abandoned subjects become manipulable. In 1918 the Croats were hustled into ‘Yugoslavia’ on the grounds of racial affinity: they, the Serbs and the Moslems were “South Slavs”. But race, or alleged race, proved to be no secure foundation for a Balkan state, and national separatist movements began almost as soon as the state was thrown together.
In March 1941 Serbia revolted against the Yugoslav Agreement with Germany (urged on by Britain). The Government was overthrown and a new Government set up which repudiated the Agreement. Hitler therefore had to fight his way through Yugoslavia in order to consolidate his position in the Aegean, and this delayed his attack on Russia by more than a month, possibly causing it to fail through being caught by the onset of Winter.
But Germany only had to fight its way through part of Yugoslavia—the Serbian part. It was welcomed in Croatia and parts of Bosnia as a force of national liberation.
When the Serb Army was defeated in formal battle a guerilla resistance was launched. The Germans conducted reprisals in response to guerilla attack, as they were entitled to do under the ‘laws of war’. The Serb resistance reduced its activity as the reprisals were undermining the civic structure of society, and only undertook actions that might have a discernible effect on the overall conduct of the War. The Communist movement took up a neutral stance at the time of the invasion, but after the invasion of Russia in June it launched the ‘Partisan’ resistance. The Partisans conducted a revolutionary class war within the war with Germany. The reprisals which deterred the Serb ‘Royalists’ encouraged the Communist Partisans because the civic structure they were destroying was a structure the Partisans wanted to be destroyed. Churchill encouraged the Partisan class-war actions, regardless of their consequences for the bourgeois order of things. The concern of the Serbian resistance to maintain the bourgeois civic order was depicted in the British black propaganda as virtual, or even actual, collaboration with Nazism. For a while Britain dropped arms to both Resistance movements, but in 1943 it boycotted the Royalist Serbs and increased arms supplies to the Partisans, thus enabling the Communist conquest in 1944.
The Government-in-Exile, based in London, was remade by Churchill at the behest of the Communists. The Serb Resistance leader, General Mihailovich, was branded a traitor. At the end of the War he was tried and executed as a traitor by the Communist regime that Churchill helped to power. Churchill then remembered what he was supposed to stand for in world affairs, indicated that the black propaganda against General Mihailovich had not been meant to be taken in earnest, and he set about working up the Cold War against the Communists—whilst wishing he had nuclear bombs before the Russians got them, so that the World War launched on the pretext of holding Danzig for Poland might be brought to a fitting conclusion with the destruction of the great ally (the main force of the Grand Alliance), and fundamental enemy, who had come into possession of half of Europe by winning the war that Britain started.
Within two years of Britain declaring war, Hitler controlled Poland, Finland, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Luxemburg, France, Yugoslavia and Greece. His proposal for a final settlement with Poland, which Britain urged the Poles to reject by offering them an alliance with the two strongest military Powers in the world, was the transfer of Danzig to the adjacent region of Germany (East Prussia), and an extra-territorial road across the Polish Corridor so that there would be a land connection between East Prussia and the rest of Germany.
The conquest of Finland etc. came about through defensive actions in the World War launched by Britain (in preference to acting in accordance with its Guarantee to Poland in September 1939). Those conquests do not figure in any Hitler plans so far discovered.
It is virtually an Article of Faith that Hitler would have done all of these things anyway, even if Britain had not provided him with defensive reasons for doing them. That seems to be a belief that Britain finds necessary in order to ward off a self-destructive line of thought—a thing that it encourages in others but shuns itself.
Its conduct of world affairs from 1919, and especially from 1933, until world affairs passed out of its hands in the second half of 1941, was bizarre. It does not bear thinking about. Therefore it has constructed a fantasy in place of thought. It luxuriates in its mesmeric myth about saving the world. Good luck to it in its escapism. Unfortunately the myth is spun at our expense, and what good does it do us to be mesmerised by it? And not only us.
“Wagstaffe shook his head. ‘The British Nation’, he said, ‘is quite mad. That fact, of course, has been common property on the Continent of Europe ever since Cook’s Tours were invented. But what irritates the orderly Boche is that here is no method in its madness. Nothing you can go upon, or take hold of, or wring any advantage from’…” (Carrying On: After The First Hundred Thousand by Ian Hay, 1917, p177).
Ian Hay was a major propagandist in the Great War and an official historian in the 1939 War. The First Hundred Thousand was the first mass army raised for the Great War. The First was used up quickly. Carrying On was about a second hundred thousand. Hay then wrote The First Million.
The unpredictability of British conduct to the orderly Continental mind is a recurring theme of British propaganda. The Continental wants to understand the British, so as to take their likely conduct into account when deciding what to do. The great British virtue in this regard is to be incomprehensible so that it can always take the orderly Continental by surprise. Germany was taken by surprise twice by capricious British conduct at critical junctures.
Continentals try to calculate their interests and take the interests of others into account in order to act rationally. The British view is that the attempt to understand what its view is, so that account can be taken of it, is immoral.
British caprice has two conditions of existence: a Navy that rules the waves, and moral conscience of an impenetrable kind.
Because of its Navy Britain needed never to prepare for war in advance of war because the Navy meant that it was always sufficiently prepared for whatever war it chose to have.
Though always sufficiently prepared for war, it was not “militarist”, as the Continentals were, because its military power that dominated the world floated on water. Military action is action on land, so Navalism cannot be Militarism!
Because of its Naval dominance of the world, Britain could make war with impunity without having made adequate land preparations before the event. It could launch a war and then, made secure by the Navy, set about constructing an Army for the land war.
Continental states, which foolishly neglected to be islands with powerful Navies, had to maintain large armies in peacetime. Therefore they were “militarist”. And they had to be prepared to wage all-out war from the moment war was declared, and therefore lay themselves open to the charge of being aggressive and not believing in the virtue of perpetual peace.
Britain was never the aggressor because it did not maintain a land army capable of waging Continental war. It could manipulate Continental conflicts to its advantage, go to war ‘unprepared’, and then make whatever preparations it deemed appropriate.
But the aggressiveness of continental states is a function of the fact that their Armies are their borders. The Continent could only approach British conditions of security through the establishment of a Continental State, or at least by the establishment of the hegemonic power of one of its States across the Continent. But that is what Britain was, and is, determined should not happen. Its policy for over three centuries has been to keep the continent sharply divided and in conflict with itself. That is the meaning of “Balance-of-Power”—one of whose earliest formulaters was John Toland, a Donegal Gael who saw the light in Londonderry in the 1680s and became a fanatical Whig propagandist.
When two states, which have to maintain large standing Armies for lack of natural frontiers, go to war, the issue of aggressor and victim is rarely clear-cut, so Britain could always present the State it chose to support for its own purposes as the victim.
The clearest instance of Continental aggression in recent centuries is the French attack on Germany in 1870. The German State did not actually exist at the time, but a German national movement was in the course of development. The French declared war on Prussia as a pre-emptive strike against the formation of a German State. Prussia was not a Great Power at the time and was not allied with any Great Power against France (as Poland was against Germany in 1939). The big French Army went into lumbering action in the expectation of crushing Prussia and preserving Germany as the politically ineffectual land of poets and dreamers. But it was destroyed in detail by the small but mobile Prussian Army, with the result that the German State was founded in 1871. The development of the German State during the next 40 years led Britain to see it as the European obstacle to its domination of the world, and to make an alliance with France against it. The moral British propaganda then performed the marvellous feat of transforming the clear French aggression of 1870 into Prussian aggression.
Erratic conduct of world affairs by Britain, which seems to the outsider to be caprice made possible by insular security through Naval dominance, is presented within Britain as an expression of moral conscience. Consideration of the meaning of British moral conscience must be left for a later occasion.
After 1945 there was an intellectual stratum on the Continent, particularly in France and Germany, which saw things much as they have been described here, and was determined that a serious effort should be made to carry Europe out of the reach of Britain’s moral mischief-making. That tendency combined with the Christian Democracy that came to the fore to lay the foundations of what became the European Union. Christian Democracy—which was not merely a Catholic movement—had kept itself free of both Fascism and the globalist capitalism fostered by Britain. Britain was just as bewildered by it as Continentals had previously been bewildered by British conduct. But it was necessary for Britain to get a grip on Europe and damage it in order to maintain its own self-respect.
Britain will not be European, and its boast is that it lies beyond European understanding. But neither can it do without Europe. It cannot be itself unless it has a grip on Europe.