On Ingratitude: A Reply to David Webb
To the question of whether Europeans owe anything to Britain the answer, I agree, is most certainly yes. As to whether Britons owe anything to Continental Europeans, the answer is surely an even more resounding yes. That is not to attenuate Britain’s enormous contributions or even to deny that she punches well above her weight but, instead, to give due credit to those other contributors of Western Civilization who are, together, far weightier. I can assure David that the Dutch do not thank Britain for capitalism, nor are Greeks likely to do so for democracy, or Germans for the automobile. To claim that Europe’s prosperity was built on a British foundation one would have to claim that the comparative successes of Renaissance Italy, the Hanseatic League, the free Imperial Cities of Germany, or seventeenth century Netherlands could somehow be traced to Britain. They cannot and yet those are the very foundations of the respective prosperities in those lands. Indeed, those countries in Europe with many of the strongest historical ties to Britain, such as Ireland, Portugal, Malta and a range of Greek islands are conspicuous for their lack of prosperity. Suffice to say that the ledger of give and take is not without dispute.
It is true that Britain entered the Second World War for the purpose of maintaining Poland’s sovereignty. However, this was entirely out of self-interest on the part of Britain. Having lost Tsarist Russia as an ally, Britain was dedicated to keeping Central Europe on-side to contain Germany much as it had sought to maintain the Holy Roman Empire as a bulwark against absolutist France in earlier centuries. In fact, Britain’s explicit strategic goal in 1939 was maintaining a Polish government tractable to London in alliance with France. To argue that Britain’s goals were loftier, in service to ‘freedom’ is to ignore that London not only did precious little to aid Poland against Germany in 1939 but welcomed the Soviet invasion of its territory weeks later in an act, the British must certainly have known, was irreversible. It is unlikely that Britain could have done anything to have changed Poland’s fate in 1939 but when the consequences of action so helpless it is identical to that of inaction then it is surely uncharitable to expect to be thanked generously for the effort. However, expecting Polish gratitude is absurd in light of historical revelations that came to light in 2012 with the release of previously classified correspondance. When, in 1943, it became evident that Stalin had been responsible for wiping out 22,000 Polish intellectuals and military officers three years earlier in the Katyn forest, an act that had sealed Poland’s post-war fate, Britain actively conspired to cover-up the atrocity. Britain’s ambassador to the Polish government in exile had written to Churchill that “We have in fact perforce used the good name of England like the murderers used the conifers to cover up a massacre.” It is worth remembering that both the massacre and London’s cover-up occurred while Polish patriots were risking their lives in defense of Britain.
David states that Germany is yet another country that owes its freedom to Britain. Yet, Germany is not free nor sovereign. Nor has it been since the conclusion of the Second World War. This is not even under contention by the German government itself. Indeed, in 2011, Wolfgang Schäuble, the German minister of finance stated that ‘at no time since 1945 has Germany been sovereign’ and of course he’s right. To what degree Germany’s sovereignty has been ceded to Brussels can be disputed but for most of its post-war history, Bonn and, later, Berlin has been subservient to Washington – particularly with regard to foreign policy. Indeed, Germany’s continued division after 1949 was a consequence of Washington unwilling to relinquish control.
I strongly dispute David’s claim that Germany is rising. What evidence is there of such a trend? Germany’s economy is growing at a steady albeit modest pace. Its demographics are dire and its immigration policy suicidal. It is investing very little in its military capability, even in the face of mounting pressure from Washington. A number of years ago it removed the draft and today’s military, far from being a professional outfit, has resorted to using broomsticks instead of guns during NATO exercises. In 2008, the German parliament’s military commissioner noted that more than 40% of German soldiers were overweight – which amounted to 5% more than that of the civilian population. Supposing the Bundeswehr is even capable of reforming itself into a genuine fighting force, there is no evidence that the German government desires this.
Today’s Federal Republic of Germany is a hollowed out shell of a nation-state. It is greater Prussia without Prussia. An anachronism. It’s only genuine raison d’être is the orderly replacement of its national existence with that of a pan-European identity (or Arabic, whichever comes first) that its political and pseudo-intellectual elites see as the only path out of perdition which conveniently dovetails with their continued ride on a gravy-train funded by the self-flagellating German taxpayer. For David, Germany’s demise might be good news. For those who are convinced the custodian of Western Civilization lies closer to its geographic centre, the omens are foreboding.