Page 7, 18th March 1988

18th March 1988
Page 7
Page 7, 18th March 1988 — lying in the face of war-time propaganda READING a copy
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lying in the face of war-time propaganda READING a copy

of a leader published in the Catholic Herald in January 1941, I am filled with nostalgia. I did not read it at the time that it was written, being a non-Catholic and therefore not a regular subscriber. Had I done so, though, I would have welcomed the good news that others thought as I did and were bold enough to say so. This did not become apparent to me until 1942.

This leader, written by the editor of that date (as I am informed) gives a strong warning that a policy of unconditional surrender, should it be adopted in the future, would turn out to be a grave mistake. In fact, it was adopted two years later, but the stage was set already for its introduction by the publication of Vansittart's broadcast talks which called for the severest measures to be taken when the war was over.

Hence this leader which deplores the threat aimed at the German people and goes on to say (I quote) "We do not underestimate the immense difficulties of any peace settlement, but, if it is to bring any real peace, it must be based on giving to each nation its fullest chance, ensuring the moral, social and economic satisfaction of its people".

It's interesting to note that the above quotation echoes the contents of the Atlantic Charter, still to come but jettisoned by Roosevelt and Churchill with regard to Italy and Germany.

As I said earlier, the thoughts expressed above were very much in my own mind at that time. Indeed, in the following year, while serving as an army officer, I expressed them publicly in two by-elections, only losing the second by 2,000 votes to the Coalition Government, which proves beyond all reasonable doubt that there were quite a lot of citizens who thought as I did. The trouble was of course that it was difficult — indeed, well-nigh impossible — to fight against the war-time propaganda and win.

In fact when, in 1944, I stood for Parliament again, a month or two before the Second Front, support for anti-unconditional surrender candidates was at its lowest ebb, due to the fact that victory was not far round the corner and the public (the nonfighting voters anyway) were disinclined to argue about how soon it would come.

And yet an easing of the impact of that slogan, judging from the evidence that has accumulated since, could easily have shortened the war.

All this evidence can be found in a new book called The Ghosts of Peace, by Richard Lamb, published by Michael Russell, which I finished reading recently. In it, one learns the details of the many overtures made to the Allies by highranking anti-Nazis, whose attempts to rid themselves of Hitler were inevitably hamstrung by "Vansittartism", later to be known as "unconditional surrender" by Churchill and Roosevelt.

I've heard it said that Roosevelt dangled this slogan before Churchill in the context of the Civil War when Grant or Lee (I can't recall which) asked it of his enemy, adding a rider that it would not mean surrender of his arms and saddle-bags. The tale, apocryphal or not, appealed to the romantic side of Churchill's nature which was — dangerously as I see it — never far below the surface.

Thus, it was adopted, but without the rider added by Lee (or Grant) with, as illustrated in The Ghosts of Peace, disastrous results.

The fact is that there always were, before the war and during it (apart from Hess who would appear to have been a lone operator, although we were never told) important Germans, military and otherwise, who were prepared to overthrow the Fuhrer given some encouragement from Roosevelt and Churchill as regards the post-war fate of Germany.

But always they were met with stony silence from both governments although the soldiers in the field deplored the slogan, which in their view led inevitably to the loss of many golden opportunities.

Take Italy, when Mussolini was deposed. Had unconditional surrender (which both Eisenhower and MacMillan heartily deplored) not been the order of the day American and British troops could have joined forces with Badoglio without a shot being fired and together held the Germans in the north at bay. Instead, because of the delay in signing the Armistice due to the hamstringing effect of the policy of unconditional surrender, this chance was missed and the Anzio beachhead and the long fight up through Italy were substituted for a peaceful take-over.

All this is documented in the book I have already mentioned, as is the attempt in 1944 in Germany to destroy Hitler. The plan went awry, but had the Allies been in contact with the plotters there seems little doubt that — Hitler dead or not — Rommel and von Rundstedt and von Kluge would have sued for peace.

But, lacking that cooperation, it seems likely that they were afraid the German people would reject them out of hand because they were still saddled with the policy of unconditional surrender.

So the war went on for ten more months, with its inevitable casualites, until the enemy was beaten to his knees, with almost all the disaffected generals still fighting for the Fuhrer, because they were not encouraged to do otherwise.

The moral of all this would seem to be that war leaders should pause before indulging themselves in an irreversible commitment which is likely to prolong the struggle and, instead, adjust their policy to suit those on the other side who are prepared to risk their lives and lose them in a brave attempt to overthrow the tyrant.

Only by such means can wars be shortened. Stubborn policies can only lengthen them.

• A selection of Herald cartoons during the Second World War.




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