Saturday, October 05, 2013

On Appeasement

James Bloodworth rightly takes issue with those who would make the Cold War a simplistic 'goodies vs baddies' narrative.  His is not an argument of moral equivalence - merely a reminder that those he agrees were on the right side made some pretty unpleasant allies along the way.  For those of us of a certain political political background, most of the familiar cases are cited: Vietnam, the secret bombing of Indo-China, the Chilean coup and support for apartheid South Africa.  One could have added the support for the mujaheddin in Afghanistan and, of course, the Ba'athist regime in Iraq.

A couple of observations: he's right to say that conservatives could do with being reminded of it but I'd add that the left has never forgotten it.  While there's obviously nothing wrong with that in itself, perhaps it should be admitted that this has not always been for the right reasons?  As the history of the Soviet Union unfolded, it became increasingly absurd to suggest that there was some kind of moral equivalence between the capitalist West and the Communist bloc with regards to how people living under these systems were treated. However, when it came to foreign policy, where the capitalist West was more explicitly allied with the enemies of freedom in various parts of the world, making the moral equation between the West and the USSR was not absurd.  It's perhaps controversial but I would suggest that this is why there remains on the left such a fixation with the politics of Latin America and particularly the Middle East.  I'm not making a moral point - just the suggestion that some of the self-styled 'anti-totalitarian' lefties may have unwittingly inherited a preoccupation from the 'Stalinists' they profess to abhor.  Witness the way anathemas are dispensed to those who fail to take the 'correct' view in relation to whatever regime is the latest to receive the 'Hitler of the Middle East' epithet.

One is reluctant to mention Appeasement because discussion of this in the MSM, never mind the blogosphere, is invariably infantile but James Bloodworth's plea for history not to be re-written needs to be taken a little further back because it touches on the ambivalence to dictatorship on the right that he mentions.  One of the aspects of the rise of Hitler that needs to be honestly confronted is that both the right and the left were initially divided.  Those who are fond of using their pulpits in national newspapers to accuse contemporary politicians of being Neville Chamberlain demonstrate that their interest in the period is limited to mining it for easy moral lessons.  You certainly don't get any sense of why they think the policy was ended.  Every school pupil knows that after the sacrifice of the Czech nation, it was understood by Chamberlain, Halifax and the rest that Hitler could not be trusted.  Less often noted in relation to the abandonment of Appeasement was that the Hitler-Stalin Pact had destroyed the argument - used more frequently than some on the right might care to remember - that as unpleasant as National Socialism was, it served as a bulwark against the Soviet Union.

This is not to suggest that the international left was pristine in its opposition to fascism.  Apart from people like Lord Rothermore, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact ended an ambivalence on much of the right towards fascism - but it marked the beginning of a similar attitude in some quarters of the left that did not end until 1941.  It is indeed right, as a number of historians have noted, that Communists were always and everywhere the most prominent among the resistance movements that grew up under the shadow of the swastika in occupied Europe - but it should be noted that this was only the case after Barbarossa.

But this ends as it has begun - a reiteration of Mr Bloodworth's central point: imagine yourself to have been on the right side in the historic struggle against totalitarianism if you will - but it is the talk of children to suggest this was managed without moral compromise, as it is to think there was noone who did not belong to your ideological stable who was on the same side.  Like Ralph Miliband - veteran of  Operation Overlord, opponent of Stalinism - for example.

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