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Friday, 13 October 2017

Two scores for Nazi diplomacy

Amphibious landings by Japanese troops on the Yangtse turned one flank of the defending Chinese armies defending the line of the Beijing-Hankow railway and a pincer movement turned the other. The Chinese broke completely and some 200,000 soldier fled. Many were drowned trying to escape by river-junk.

The latest German diplomatic move showed a degree of finesse not normally associated with the Nazi regime and it was all the more devastating for this. The Belgian government was given a formal declaration of Germany’s respect for the inviolability of its frontiers and a promise of support if Belgium were invaded. It set the seal on the Belgium’s drift away from France with whom it had formally abrogated its 1920 alliance the year before.  It fed Belgian fantasies of remaining neutral in a war and removed any hope that Belgium would somehow help extend the Maginot Line to the north either in terms of physical fortification or mobile forces. Of course, when the day came in May 1940 Germany cheerfully ignored its commitments, but they had served their purpose.

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor arrived in Germany for the start of a “private” visit supposedly intended to inform the Duke about the conditions of working men in Nazi Germany. This avowed goal was intended to capitalise on the Duke’s well-founded reputation for sympathy with working people in Britain. This did not succeed and the true purpose of the visit – to relaunch the Duke’s career as a public figure – less than a year after his abdication was painfully obvious. All the labour angle earned him was the dubious pleasure of having Robert Ley, head of the Reich Labour Front, as his formal host. Ley was a drunkard given to personally chauffeuring his guests around in a powerful limousine at insane speeds.

Friday, 6 October 2017

New eras of public health in Britain and judicial clemency in the USSR

Italian dictator Benito Mussolini concluded his state visit to Germany on a high note. He was treated to an immense review of the Wehrmacht manifestly designed to impress him with Germany’s military might. The whole event was conducted with great cordiality and accompanied by expressions of friendship. No firm agreements were signed during the visit but few doubted that it market the de facto alliance between the two countries.

The murder of a British official and his police guard on the steps of the Anglican church in Nazareth prompted a sharp swing to repressive tactics against the Arabs by the British authorities in Palestine. The Higher Arab Committee and other national Arab bodies were declared illegal and a number of their members were arrested and deported. The Mufti of Jerusalem who was probably the single most influential Arab leader was not arrested but he was removed from his position as chairman of the Moslem Supreme Council.

The British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain launched his long-cherished campaign to improve the national health to coincide with the official inauguration of National Advisory Council for Physical Training and Recreation with a speech (broadcast on the BBC) at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the presence of no less than three former ministers of health and other sundry worthies.The campaign was dear to Chamberlain's heart and he lavished immense efforts on it but, curiously, he is little remembered for it.

The Soviet penal code was given a degree of added flexibility by introducing a 25 year prison sentence. Before that there had been nothing between a ten year sentence and death by firing squad. Originally the regime had prided itself on doing away with the Tsarist practice of lengthy imprisonment but, apparently, judges were perplexed by the excessive leniency of a ten year sentence for the wave of economic crime and subversion which had so recently come to light. It was even suggested that Stalin had become concerned at the number of death penalties being handed down.

Friday, 29 September 2017

End of a British newspaper era

Not content with the relatively undemanding task of massacring supposed opponents of socialism conveniently available in the USSR, Stalin turned his attention to White Russian emigrĂ©s. One of their leaders in Paris General Yevgeny Miller was lured into an ambush by NKVD agents on the pretext of meeting agents of the German Abwehr. He was drugged and smuggled to the USSR in a steamer trunk. He was tortured an eventually shot summarily in 1939. In the meanwhile the routine elimination of anyone who caught the eye of the competent authorities continued with the judicial murders of a clutch of officials in Karelia for an imaginary plot and of one Admiral Ivanoff for “demoralizing” sailors by unspecified methods.

The Far Eastern Committee of the League of Nations registered a formal protest against Japanese aggression in China notably the bombing of Nanking. It was ignored. Air raids continued undiminished and a fleet of junks was attacked by submarine with many casualties. British worthies including J. M. Keynes began to mutter about instituting an economic boycott of Japan, equally fruitlessly.

An epoch of newspaper history in Britain came to an end with the disappearance of The Morning Post supposedly merged into the Daily Telegraph but in reality closed with some staff including a young Bill Deedes transferred. Founded in 1772 The Morning Post had barely changed in appearance since then. Its readership was to put it mildly extremely conservative and was dying off rapidly. It had gained some notoriety in the 1920s by publicizing the anti-semitic forgery The Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion as an authentic text.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Aggressors on the front foot

The League of Nations in Geneva was treated to yet another desperate attempt by a nation facing the aggression of the dictators to enlist the help of that institution. Juan Negrin, the Spanish Republican Prime Minister, denounced Hitler and Mussolini as "international highway robbers" and pleaded for the League to recognize that they were aggressors. He also sought open access to weapons supplies - in effect reversing "non intervention" and for the removal of foreign combat troops. With organized Italian and German forces contributing much to the Nationalist military success, the loss of the International Brigade and a handful of Soviet advisers would have been no sacrifice. The League failed to rise to the challenge; perhaps it was comforted by a speech by British Foreign Minister Antony Eden explaining that the Germans and Italians were merely hurting themselves by their intervention in Spain. Self-interest would thus secure their departure. In a sign of which way the wind was blowing, its assembly blocked the return of Spain to its council because the defection of the Latin American members to the Nationalist side meant that less than two thirds of members voted for the measure.

Japanese aggression in China continued with a demonstration of how well Japan had learnt the lessons of modern warfare from the Spanish Civil War with a sustained campaign of bombing cities they had not conquered. 21 of its warplanes bombed the city of Canton which was practically defenceless killing many civilians. Raids on Nanking forced the US ambassador to flee his home for the safety of a US warship moored offshore.

The Mount Rushmore memorial in South Dakota where construction had begun in 1927 reached an important turning point with the official inauguration of the head of President Lincoln. The date was the 150th anniversary of the signature of the Constitution. The head of Washington and Jefferson had already been inaugurated in 1934 and 1936 respectively. These three presidents were unarguably national figures whose standing rose above party. The fourth president to feature would be Theodore Roosevelt, a much more contentious individual. Subsequent proposals to honour other national figures have come to nothing.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Futile Chinese appeal for League of Nations help against Japan

Paris was struck by two large terrorist bombs at the offices of two employers’ organizations including the umbrella body, the much hated Patronat. Two policemen were killed. The attacks were first blamed on the far left – supposedly still seeking revenge for the failure of the Blum government – but the real culprits were on the far right linked to the terroristic Cagoule movement perhaps in cooperation with Italian fascists. The bombings were provocations designed to hurt the image of the Communists.

The British police used its newly minted powers to extend a ban on political marches in the East End of London for a further three months. The British Union of Fascists lodged a more-or-less token protest, but in reality the high days of large-scale civil disorder had come to an end. Fascism was drifting swiftly to the margins of British politics.

The Japanese attack on China developed into a full-scale military assault on Shanghai which was forcing back the Chinese armies. The Chinese ambassador to Paris, Wellington Koo, appealed at the League of Nations for help to resist Japanese aggression. Ironically he gave the Nyon conference on Mediterranean piracy which had just opened as an example of what League powers could achieve. Nyon was in fact a risible demonstration of the League’s utter powerlessness. Koo was heard courteously but achieved nothing.

Friday, 8 September 2017

The western powers advertise their weakness against the Fascist dictatorships

Germany and Italy, declined to attend. Italy did so on the cheeky grounds that Franco had not been invited. The conference went ahead with all attendant ceremony and seriousness but nothing could disguise the fact that France and Britain had merely advertised their utter powerlessness and, more invidiously, their unwillingness to go beyond the politics of gesture in restraining the Fascist dictatorships.

The first Pan-Arab conference to discuss opposition to Zionist gathered in Syria. All of the Arab states sent delegates except for the Yemen. It was prompted by the continuing unrest in Palestine and the manifest improbability that Britain, who ruled the area under the pretext of a League of Nations mandate, would apply any solution to the problems it had created, least of all and equitable or lasting one. The Congress had little hope of achieving any practical changes in policy but by some measures marked the modern era of uneasy relationship between the West and the Arab nations.

The Nuremberg Rally of Germany’s Nazi Party was enlivened by a huge parade of members of the Reich Labour Service. It was an overwhelmingly male turnout but plans were afoot to expand hugely is nascent female arm. Its contribution to national agriculture was lauded to the skies and the widely brandished spades were labelled as tools of peace. This was immediately belied by the soubriquet “soldiers of the spade” applied to its members and the generally military conduct of the affair made plain that the service was simply another aspect of the regimentation of German society on a war footing.

Friday, 1 September 2017

The policy of the the big lie in operation around the globe

The Japanese attempt to conquer China got fully under way with a serious of amphibious landings at Liuhe aimed at taking the major commercial city of Shanghai. It was the start of the most intensive and bloodiest part of the conventional land war. The Japanese Foreign Minister was unwise enough to conduct a press conference in Tokyo to present Japan’s goals. The true Japanese motives could not, of course, be communicated honestly, so he launched into a rambling and incoherent exposition devoid of any real meaning. The Times correspond was reduced to quoting it verbatim as it defied paraphrase. Hirota was to be the only Japanese civilian executed for major war crimes.

The British destroyer HMS Havock was damaged by a torpedo from the Italian submarine Inde as it patrolled the Spanish coast to enforce the policy of non-intervention in the conflict promoted by Britain and France. The attack did not prompt Britain to any substantial action against Italy and its feebly outraged denial of any involvement was allowed to pass largely unchallenged. The only British response was to send more ships to the Mediterranean.

The contribution of national political leaders to the congress of the Auslandsorganisation (foreign organization) of the German Nazi party went well beyond supportive platitude. The AO was a major tool in co-opting Germans living abroad into the purposes of the Nazi regime. Goering was especially aggressive in setting out the support that they could expect from the mother country, expressing enormous pride at the vision of Germany’s new warships visiting foreign ports in an implicit threat to the governments of those countries should they show the least inclination to maltreat the local German population. He also warned imaginary Jewish representatives of German firms abroad from supporting a Jewish boycott of German goods which he threatened would cause reprisals in Germany.