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Britain, 1939 -1940 And Its Alliances


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#21 Tony Williams

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Posted 14 February 2005 - 0417 AM

"The conclusion I came to (you can read this in detail - the first chapter is available on-line from my website) is that the Brits would have decided that:

1. War with Hitler was inevitable

2. Trying to stop the forthcoming German invasion of France was too risky."

Tony,  I haven't read your book, but from what you listed here.  You missed an few important points that Britian could of done before 1940.

First Germany was weak in when it marched troops in the Rhineland, the Brits could of done something at that point and it would stopped Hilter. Or in 1938 teh Czechs hasd a very powerful army and lost of tanks and it was ready to fight if support had of been there.  If Britian had the knowladge that this Historian had then would known that it could stop war before it started.  Or if it waited until France was invaded, it would known that the german victory was do luck in most part and surprise.  without surprise the the germans couldn't have won as quickly if at all. The France had more tanks and more planes, and could planned for an attack.  As it was the Germans were close to being stopped, if the attack had lasted a few weeks it would of run out gas and ammo.


Well, we could debate this at length! The first chapter (which you can read) does give the British thinking behind their choices. basically, they want to make as few changes to what actually occurred as they can, because the moment they start to depart radically from the historical time-line, they lose their advantage of 'foreknowledge' and will be groping in the dark like anyone else. So if they tried to stop Hitler in 1936 or 1938, no-one knows what the outcome would have been.

However, I am happy to concede that there were all sorts of possibilities. All I could do was choose some which were justifiable and internally consistent.

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#22 Tony Williams

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Posted 14 February 2005 - 0423 AM

The problem is that the British should not have done anything about Italian "agression" in Africa. Especially coming from a country who has a history of it, how much of the world was under British control at the time? I realize the Abyssinians were a member of the League of Nations however the fate of this nation was so much writing on the wall.


Well it wasn't just the UK but the League of Nations which was against the invasion of Ethiopia/Abyssinia, leading to the Italian walk-out. And it wasn't the UK which declared war on Italy or launched the first attacks....

As far as Mr. Williams book, it is somewhat interesting yet irritating in the way it treats the Italians. If Mr. Williams had not been interest in using the Italians as some sort of disturbing comic relief for the book I'm fairly sure a more realistic interpretation would have been the Italians quietly staying out of the war. Or at the very least his German protagonist making sure the Italians are threatened with having their Romanian oil supplies cut off and any deals with the Soviets sabotaged if they try to join in the war. In the case of the Germans in his book not wanting their participation. Although I imagine the incredible pace of technilogical development would have been enough to keep Italy out of war in a serious approach at the subject. It's also interesting that his German antagonist didn't seem concerned about having the Lybian oil fields brought on line much earlier or having Italian industrialists influenced to try out German manufacturing methods and/or licensed equipment. I realize it was a very short book, more of a small script added to a very specific what if timeline of equipment.


You are right that I could have had the Germans trying to stop Mussolini, although they wouldn't necessarily have succeeded; Mussolini was very proud and didn't want to be seen to be remaining on the sidelines while Germany was succeeding.

When faced with a subject as huge and diverse as WW2, it is necessary to be highly selective about what is covered. Other authors would certainly have made different choices, and are welcome to do so!

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#23 Guest_aevans_*

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Posted 14 February 2005 - 1030 AM

I think that Doug has an arguable point, in case there was any doubt about that :)

 


Sorry Richard, but there is no moral argument in favor of leaving the Nazis alone. That there were elements in both the US and Great Britain that supported an immoral course of action does not reflect on me or my position. The only practical argument revolves around preserving British wealth for the maintenance of the Empire -- and that has obvious moral implications as well, which I have pointed out, albeit somewhat sarcastically. That somebody at this late date can actually suggest that Hitler was merely an aggressive European unifier or devote a single second of thought to how to avoid fighting him literally makes my guts churn.

Edited by aevans, 14 February 2005 - 1032 AM.

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#24 cdnsigop

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Posted 14 February 2005 - 1031 AM

"Well, we could debate this at length! The first chapter (which you can read) does give the British thinking behind their choices. basically, they want to make as few changes to what actually occurred as they can, because the moment they start to depart radically from the historical time-line, they lose their advantage of 'foreknowledge' and will be groping in the dark like anyone else. So if they tried to stop Hitler in 1936 or 1938, no-one knows what the outcome would have been."

Timelime... now your talking about Star trek. Just by knowing the history they are departing from the timeline. Britian and France were pretty good allies, and I if it was known that the Uk waited til after it was too late to save France... the world would not be looking at the UK as a very good allie and not one who could be trusted. And really there is no reason to wait till France if defeated to stop Hilter, as this lets him own Europe, and lets not forget that he can still deal with the Jew question... and kill of all the European Jews. Knowing what would happen, do you really think the UK would do nothing to stop this? Even leaving the timeline as it was, there was lots that UK could do stop Germany in 1940, there is Norway moving enough troops there in 1939 would of stopped its take over. Changing its use of tanks would helped stopped the German advance into France. Better use of the airpower that both France and UK had would made a mess of teh German tank forces.

Its your story, but I really think you need you re-write it. maybe have this historian wake up in 1939, then you could still get the story you want.
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#25 KingSargent

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Posted 14 February 2005 - 1117 AM

I'm not going to fault your views in the morality of the thing, but your "alternatives" could use some work.

Even leaving the timeline as it was, there was lots that UK could do stop Germany in 1940, there is Norway moving enough troops there in 1939 would of stopped its take over.

Excuse me, just WHAT troops are we talking about here? Do a little research; if you can find any spare British troops anywhere, let me know.
Even if they did have some, "moving into Norway" means invading a neutral nation. This is not a good idea, it makes people think you are as bad as Germany.

Changing its use of tanks would helped stopped the German advance into France.

Once more WHAT tanks? The UK had about half a battalion of combat-worthy tanks (A12 Matilda IIs) in May 1940. This is hardly enough to train troops to "change their use of tanks." They had even fewer in 1939. The British sent their only Armoured Division over, so understrength and undertrained that they didn't accomplish very much. Before you can "change the use of tanks" you really do need tanks and crews.

Better use of the airpower that both France and UK had would made a mess of teh German tank forces.

 

This one is possible, but would require a major doctrinal change, especially by the RAF, and a change early enough to train personnel in the ways of Close Air Support. That was not going to happen unless most of the Air Staff were sacked.
France had very little in the way of operational attack planes (they had some on the way) and their bomber groups were just transitioning to new types, so they had the choice of flying deathtraps or planes they were not practiced in flying.
French fighters had decent 20mm guns that would be effective if strafing the German tanks of the time (and even better on the trucks), but again it would require a major shift in doctrine and training early enough to know what to.

And this would not be happening in a vacuum. Germany would surely note a doctrinal change to low-level attack and change her interceptor tactics and AA operations to counter.
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#26 Sparviero

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Posted 14 February 2005 - 1251 PM

You are right that I could have had the Germans trying to stop Mussolini, although they wouldn't necessarily have succeeded; Mussolini was very proud and didn't want to be seen to be remaining on the sidelines while Germany was succeeding. 

When faced with a subject as huge and diverse as WW2, it is necessary to be highly selective about what is covered. Other authors would certainly have made different choices, and are welcome to do so!

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I believe you chose the wrong word given how your book plays out, given your book I believe it should read more like: Mussolini was very stupid and didn't want to be seen to be remaining on the sidelines while Germany was succeeding. and you handily ignore the fact that he was not a true dictator in the sense that he controlled all power. The king, industrialists and generals would have balked at such action if one was to make a serious go of it. In your book the Germans are not succeeding as in our time and you've made the two main countries become leaps and bound ahead of the rest of the world in technology and have Italy make no alteration whatsoever in how she reacts. Given the way the sequences were written in regards to Italy it is rather clear why you did such, as I stated above, no matter how you wish to sugar coat it. I am just saying it would have been better to ignore them than to feed into 60 year old Albion propaganda that feeds on belittling the Italians as much as possible. It gets rather tiring reading such things over and over again.

As I've said before this is just my opinion and I'm sure your main audience ate it up and will demand more of the same.
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#27 Colin Williams

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Posted 14 February 2005 - 1327 PM

I've been reading in this area lately, and although I still have more ground to cover I have to say the British government, particularly Neville Chamberlain, bears most of the responsibility (say 60-75%) for the appeasement and failed diplomacy that led to war and the fall of France.

There were a number of occasions after the remilitarization of the Rhineland when the French were at least willing, if not enthusiastic, to take a stronger line against Hitler. Unfortunately, in every case the British failed to back them up. Even worse, many of Chamberlain's diplomatic initiatives, including his trip to Germany during the Czech crisis, were launched without either consulting with or informing the French in advance.
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#28 UN-Interested Observer

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Posted 14 February 2005 - 2018 PM

and lets not forget that he can still deal with the Jew question... and kill of all the European Jews. Knowing what would happen, do you really think the UK would do nothing to stop this?

 


Well, Hitler shamed most of the Allies into silence when they protested about unfair treatment of Jews earlier - he sent boatloads to each country, and each government promptly shut up rather than take the exiled emmigrants in. Though it was clear from abundant intelligence and aerial photography where the camps were, what they did, and how - no action was ever taken against them. No bombing missions were ever flown to destroy the ovens, infrastructure, or even just blast holes in razor-wire fences. The entire horrible operation could have been derailed for little expenditure, but we all know it wasn't. It wasn't even condemned publicly, for god's sake, until it was all over.


KingSargent: "Even if they did have some, "moving into Norway" means invading a neutral nation. This is not a good idea, it makes people think you are as bad as Germany."

Ironically one of the humorous coincidences of the war was that German and Britain both decided to violate Norwegian neutrality on the same day! Granted the British would have done it earlier, but you know how things can get delayed...


Colin Williams:"...the British government, particularly Neville Chamberlain, bears most of the responsibility (say 60-75%) for the appeasement and failed diplomacy that led to war and the fall of France."

I feel that in a democracy, with free press and open debate, the people are responsible for government actions. This rings especially true when crowds gather to cheer Chamberlain on his return from Munich. If Chamberlain had been met by thousands of protesting hippies, held back by riot police and CS gas, complaining about media censorship and occlusive and pernicious goverment policy-making - then I would agree with you.
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#29 Colin Williams

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Posted 15 February 2005 - 0025 AM

Colin Williams:"...the British government, particularly Neville Chamberlain, bears most of the responsibility (say 60-75%) for the appeasement and failed diplomacy that led to war and the fall of France."

I feel that in a democracy, with free press and open debate, the people are responsible for government actions. This rings especially true when crowds gather to cheer Chamberlain on his return from Munich. If Chamberlain had been met by thousands of protesting hippies, held back by riot police and CS gas, complaining about media censorship and occlusive and pernicious goverment policy-making - then I would agree with you.

 


Only to a degree and in the longer (i.e., many months to a few years) term. The responsibility for a public figure in a democracy is both to obey public opinion as expressed through the polls and to try to lead public opinion when necessary. This is particularly true in the case of foreign/defense issues, but one can see this throughout history (e.g., Thomas Paine's "Common Sense" changed many opinions). In the case of Neville Chamberlain and the British government, your characterization is partly valid for the early days of appeasement, but it is also true that the government did its best to sell appeasement to the people and avoid casting German activities in a threatening light (hence the leaking of top secret info to Churchill by some in the military). In the end, your view of the role of the public in democracies may have worked in reverse, for Chamberlain himself the decision to go to war was motivated to a great estent by the desire to stay in power, as public and political opinion had changed dramatically.
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#30 Tony Williams

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Posted 15 February 2005 - 0327 AM

I believe you chose the wrong word given how your book plays out, given your book I believe it should read more like: Mussolini was very stupid and didn't want to be seen to be remaining on the sidelines while Germany was succeeding. and you handily ignore the fact that he was not a true dictator in the sense that he controlled all power. The king, industrialists and generals would have balked at such action if one was to make a serious go of it. In your book the Germans are not succeeding as in our time and you've made the two main countries become leaps and bound ahead of the rest of the world in technology and have Italy make no alteration whatsoever in how she reacts. Given the way the sequences were written in regards to Italy it is rather clear why you did such, as I stated above, no matter how you wish to sugar coat it. I am just saying it would have been better to ignore them than to feed into 60 year old Albion propaganda that feeds on belittling the Italians as much as possible. It gets rather tiring reading such things over and over again.

As I've said before this is just my opinion and I'm sure your main audience ate it up and will demand more of the same.


It was not my intention to belittle the Italians. It is a fact that while some Italian units fought extremely well (their elite troops in particular - those frogmen did huge damage to the British battleships), most performed poorly, partly because of lack of motivation and partly because most of their equipment was poor by comparison with the British. It is an historical fact that General O'Connor swept through the Italian forces in North Africa in 1940 with great ease.

In 'The Foresight War', the British are far better prepared and equipped than they historically were, so to portray their victory in North Africa as quick and comprehensive is IMO no more than realistic in the circumstances. The Italians do not improve their own equipment or tactics (neither do the Americans, the Russians or the Japanese) because, unlike the British and the Germans, they do not have the benefit of any advice from the future - so how could they?

You could of course write a similar book on the basis of the Italians having such foreknowledge. If I had the power to influence Mussolini, I would tell him to maintain friendly relations and trade with Hitler (in the interests of survival) but to avoid any pacts with him and to stay out of the war at all costs.

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#31 richard g

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Posted 15 February 2005 - 0440 AM

The morality issue may be plain to see now but that does not appear to be so at the time at all. Even if it was plain to see then, its a huge responsibility to commit a country to all out war, particularly in the situation GB was faced with. After all a countries first responsibility is to its own people, we can talk about morality but not many democracies would or do today go to even a limited war on the basis of morality alone. Africa anyone?

Considering the world situation at the time there is some considerable support for the view that Nazi Germany was not the greatest threat, so soon we forget the threat posed by Stalin and communism.

They were turbulent and difficult times in which to make high level decisions, actually I have this image of an impetuous Churchill rushing towards war without too much consideration, a cigar in one hand some refreshment in the other :) History rightly judges that his decision that time was the correct one, as we know some of his other decisions have not stood the same test of time.
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#32 swerve

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Posted 15 February 2005 - 0633 AM

Richard has a point: Nazi anti-semitism was not viewed in the same light then as now (remember that both Britain & the USA were unwilling to accept many German Jews, & open anti-semitism played a part in that refusal. Poland refused to accept back from Germany Polish-born Jews in the 1930s - and that was the country the UK went to war to help!), & nobody thought extermination would become Nazi policy. After all, if you want to exterminate Jews, why try so hard to expel them? It wasn't Nazi policy before the war. When the Allies were told of the death camps, they were reluctant to believe the full story. It took eye-witness testimony by credible witnesses to convince them, & took months.

Beware hindsight.
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#33 DougRichards

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Posted 15 February 2005 - 0748 AM

As an extendion of the MeK thread:

France did nothing, when it had the chance, to prevent Germany from remilitarising the Rhineland in 1936.

Then , then after the declaration of war by France and Britain in Sepember 1939, followed with no more action by the European partner of the Franco-Britain alliance until Germany took the initiative in May 1940.

Should Britain have seen the inevitable and withdrawn from the alliance in January or February 1940 and left France and Germany to fight it out?

This would have left Britain in a much stronger military position, and except for Churchill, would have been in a better position to reach an agreement to leave Europe to Germany?  The result would have been that the European Union would simply have come about twenty or thirty years sooner.  Nazism may have eventually fallen over in the same way that Comunism did in the early 1990s?

Did Britain lose more than it had a hope to gain by supporting France? 

Along the same vein:

Did think that Britain expect the French Empire to act in the same way that the British Empire would have acted, that is, that if Britain had fallen, then the British Empire would have continued to fight as best as it could?

Or was the French Empire tied too closely to Metropolitan France for its own good?

Weren't the French Fleet and other colonial assets meant to continue the war with a view to the eventual liberation of France?

 


By the way, I think that Britain did the right thing in fighting alongside France in 1939-1940. I think, in hindsight, that neither army fought as smart as they could have, and they should not have just let the Germans come to them.

But it is also too easy to see things simply, an example of the nature of European politics 1939-1940 can be seen in the ordering, by the RAF, of a batch of Reggiane Re.2000 fighters (themselves copies of Republic P-35 Lancers) in JANUARY 1940. What is more astonishing is that Germany approved the deal. In January 1940 it was clear that Hitler considered that peace with Britain was achievable. None of the aircraft got delivered to Britain, by the way, but Hungary got 70 of them.


And if you thought that Britains attempted destruction of the French naval forces at MeK was bizarre, the British had a plan to bomb Soviet oilfields at Baku in 1941, after Barbarossa had commenced, to stop Russian oil getting into German fuel tanks.

see

http://www.thehistor...ionunthinkable/

This was after an earlier British plan to bomb Soviet oil fields whilst the Soviet Union was still 'neutral' (Operation Pike)
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#34 DougRichards

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Posted 15 February 2005 - 0749 AM

Sorry Doug, but this thread is worthless, as it is based on an interpretation of History from (your) modern political perspective. I'm afraid it's going to turn into a big flamewar soon. And BTW, read books about the diplomatical talks between UK & France reguarding the 1936 events to have a more objective point of view.

 


I am glad that this topic has generated some good natured and intelligent discussion. And no flames in sight (or site): thanks fellas.
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#35 Pachy

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Posted 15 February 2005 - 0834 AM

By the way, I think that Britain did the  right thing in fighting alongside France in 1939-1940.  I think, in hindsight, that neither army fought as smart as they could have, and they should not have just let the Germans come to them.

But eventually they didn't, they went into Belgium. And that's how they got surrounded in the North.

But it is also too easy to see things simply, an example of the nature of European politics 1939-1940 can be seen in the ordering, by the RAF, of a batch of Reggiane Re.2000 fighters (themselves copies of Republic P-35 Lancers) in JANUARY 1940.

The Armée de l'air had a few Caproni biplane trainers and twin-engine light bombers delivered from Italy, very late, sometime in March/April 1940 IIRC.

In January 1940 it was clear that Hitler considered that peace with Britain was achievable.

He still believed so in late June 1940, didn't he?
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#36 Sparviero

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Posted 15 February 2005 - 1203 PM

It seems the Brits were clever to some degree at purchasing strategic materials they didn't need to deny it to the Axis. Oil from Romania early in the war which partially led to the Germans inviting themselves over for lunch iirc and Chromium(or some other vital metals) from Turke, buying out the Turkish production of such for several years are a couple of key items I recall. The Turkish deal I've read in a book the bit about Romanian oil I can't recall reading in a book off the top of my head so I'm not as confident about that information.
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#37 p620346

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Posted 15 February 2005 - 1239 PM

[code=auto:0]The very IDEA that letting Hitler conquer Europe would in any way be in Britain's interest and would "simply amount to the European Union 20 or 30 years earlier"
Is so mind boggling to me that I have to wonder...

If the idea of a German dominated Europe was "unthinkable" why was the possibility of a Soviet dominated one not. After all, Hitler "only" killed 12 million while Stalin killed up to 30 million. Why is killing people based on race/religion so much worse than killing them based on economic class. In any event, Hitlers successors in 2000 probably would have had as much relation to him as Putin has to Stalin.
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#38 Alex

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Posted 15 February 2005 - 1326 PM

If the idea of a German dominated Europe was "unthinkable" why was the possibility of a Soviet dominated one not. After all, Hitler "only" killed 12 million while Stalin killed up to 30 million. Why is killing people based on race/religion  so much worse than killing them based on economic class. In any event, Hitlers successors in 2000 probably would have had as much relation to him as Putin has to Stalin.

 


First, Europe was never Soviet dominated and was never in danger of being Soviet dominated. Second, Hitler killed "only" 12 million in 6 years (mostly in 3-4 years), Stalin killed his 30 million in 29 years (mostly in 10-15 years). And most of that 30 million (actually probably around 25 million) died in the famines so weren't really "killed" though the famines can be attributed to Stalin's policies.

Finally, no matter how much you may dislike some people you should never compare them to the nazis. The Communists were not as bad as the nazis. The Islamic terrorists are not as bad as the nazis. The Japanese militarists weren't as bad as the nazis. Certainly the EU is not as bad as the nazis. The worst mass murderers in history were not as bad as the nazis. No one was even close. What they did has no parallels in history. The invented industrial mass murder. They killed not by their brutality or stupidity but by their efficiency. Their best scientific minds competed in inventing the quickest and cheapest way to exterminate people.

And if that regime was allowed to survive until 2000 only the "master race" would be around to enjoy it's new "enlightened" fuhrer.

Edited by Alex, 15 February 2005 - 1328 PM.

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#39 R011

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Posted 15 February 2005 - 2015 PM

Alex,Tue 15 Feb 2005  1826

The Communists were not as bad as the nazis.

You mean by only murdering half as many per year, Stalin wasn't comparable to Hitler? How about Mao or Pol Pot? Pol didn't kill as many as Hitler, of course, but he did manage to kill a much higher proportion of the population under his control than the Nazis ever did. I might also note that Hitler never attempted quite the same level of totalitarian opression that Stalin acheived. I would much rather be an ordinary, non-political German living in Berlin in 1939 than an ordinary, non-political Russian in Moscow that same year.

The Islamic terrorists are not as bad as the nazis.


They aren't as efficient as the Nazis or as powerful. They're still brutal totalitarian racists. A bin Laden government would not be any better than a Nazi one.

The Japanese militarists weren't as bad as the nazis

Even though they probably killed more people?

Certainly the EU is not as bad as the nazis.


Even though they haven't killed anyone and are a democratic . . .oh wait a minute, you're right.

There are certainly some people and regimes that are comparable to the Nazis, and others that are not. Claiming that because of the latter, the former does not also apply is fallacious.
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#40 UN-Interested Observer

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Posted 15 February 2005 - 2035 PM

Only to a degree and in the longer (i.e., many months to a few years) term.  The responsibility for a public figure in a democracy is both to obey public opinion as expressed through the polls and to try to lead public opinion when necessary. This is particularly true in the case of foreign/defense issues, but one can see this throughout history (e.g., Thomas Paine's "Common Sense" changed many opinions). In the case of Neville Chamberlain and the British government, your characterization is partly valid for the early days of appeasement, but it is also true that the government did its best to sell appeasement to the people and avoid casting German activities in a threatening light (hence the leaking of top secret info to Churchill by some in the military). In the end, your view of the role of the public in democracies may have worked in reverse, for Chamberlain himself the decision to go to war was motivated to a great estent by the desire to stay in power, as public and political opinion had changed dramatically.

 


I rather like the old-fashioned idea that you say what you plan to do before the election, you get elected, and you do it. Churchill, however, was just as influenced by public opinions as anyone. As a matter of fact, in 1941 the bad news from Africa was credited with a by-election being won by an independent in what was thought to be a completely secure riding. The political atmosphere was very tense, there was to be a vote to remove Churchill, and he put enormous pressure on Wavell to deliver impossible miracles - then sacked him, and his successor, after who-knows how many troops died in ill-planned offensives.


Alex: "First, Europe was never Soviet dominated and was never in danger of being Soviet dominated. Second, Hitler killed "only" 12 million in 6 years (mostly in 3-4 years), Stalin killed his 30 million in 29 years (mostly in 10-15 years). And most of that 30 million (actually probably around 25 million) died in the famines so weren't really "killed" though the famines can be attributed to Stalin's policies."

I think that we credit 'Hitler' with all the work done, but iirc there was a high-level meeting in 1943 which actually created the policies. In fact, Germany was divided into regions and each region had a sort of 'regent' with absolute power in charge of it, who answered only to Hitler. This much decentralization meant that any vast organization was difficult. That is beside the point, though. I rather agree that Stalin was not as bad as Hitler, but not because of the numbers. Stalin was collectivizing farms, the farmers organized and fought back. They were fighting over food, with food, and wouldn't you know - people starved. Hitler killed for the sake of making people dead. You are contributing to the economy, you are law abiding, but you will be killed, and we're taking all your money.
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