On Ingratitude: A Reply to David Webb

Aaron Kahland

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.


    1. I think you are right that the Dutch played a key role in capitalism, or I should say in finance in particular. I don’t know that they played a key role in the industrial revolution in particular. I think Belgium did have a role in the industrial revolution. Much of England’s success in the 18th century relied on the Dutch skills that William of Orange brought with him in 1688. The Greeks had some kind of slavery democracy in the ancient world, but it wasn’t what we would recognise as democracy and didn’t last, and Greece’s modern democracy was assisted by British military intervention in the civil war of the late 1940s. You rightly point out the car was a joint effort between the Germans, British and Americans. The achievements of “Renaissance Italy, the Hanseatic League, free cities of Germany and 17th century Netherlands” are not modern industry. Comparatively speaking, the British contribution is much larger. Without the industrial revolution in the UK, there would be no German cars.

    2. There was a strong argument in the UK, voiced by Lord Halifax, to stay out of the war. It is unsurprising that the Empire was entirely lost as a result of the war. At the worst point, the Battle of Britain, when Russia was an ally of the Germans in the Nazi-Soviet Pact and the US steadfastly staying out of the war, the temptation to sue for peace was great – and yet right at that moment, Churchill stated that we were remaining in the war with the aim of securing freedom for all European nations and not just us. Poland was treated shabbily after the war, but there was little the UK could do about that. I don’t support anything that the UK embassy did to cover up the Katyn massacre, and I believe it should be more widely known of in the West, but Poland’s current prosperity depends in large part on British money (from our net EU contribution; Poland is the largest recipient) and our willingness to host 1m Poles.

    3. I take the point that Germany is not free or sovereign to be absurd. Germany could leave the EU if it wanted to, and its freedom of action through the EU is greater than that of any other European country. Under the cover of “capture by the EU”, Germany is able to use the EU to establish local control of numerous foreign countries. I would love to see a collapse of the EU have a large impact on Germany’s export industries.

    4. Saying you dispute something is not a refutation of it. I made clear that Germany’s geopolitical position itself, and not its subjective desires, forced it to take charge of European crises. To argue that demographic ageing prevents a country from rising is itself absurd: dire demographics did not prevent the imposition of the bailout on Greece, did they? Actually, if we stop to think for a minute – dire demographics merely force Germany to ratchet up international tensions yet further. The UK Brexit is a threat to the euro and the EU and thus to Germany’s export industries, and knowledge of that forces Germany to inflame international tensions. Germany could rearm. At the moment, Merkel is charging about stoking international tensions without rearming, and if anyone suggests we should trade our important security profile for economic benefits, this is instantly denounced. However the end result of Merkel’s policy is that we will all rearm, and then Germany will drive the continent to war again. They are still Germans, don’t forget. In a real war, soldiers will be put on a fitness regime.

    5. I don’t welcome the demise of a German Germany but Germany is not the geographical centre of Western civilisation. England is, standing between Europe and America. I support German patriots who oppose Muslim immigration, but they should also oppose Merkel’s overreach in her attitude towards Brexit. The Western alliance is fraying and if in 20 years’ time there were another war in Europe, historians would look back and say that Merkel set the ball rolling.

  1. I’ve given Aaron’s reply 5 stars. I welcome focused debate. I’m not anti-German, quite the opposite; just anti what I see as Germany’s mistaken foreign policy at the moment, which is aggravating tensions.

  2. Aaron makes some pertinent points about :-
    (1) The Stalin-directed Katyn massacre/atrocity, the full conseqences of which were probably not seen at the time (even had it been reported or reportble in real time), and the corpses from which were discovered by von-Runstedt’s advancing German Armies and only publicised at that time (by the Wehrmacht, please note!)
    (2) Helping Poland by delcaring war. We could of course at the time no more have “helped Poland” than we could have had the ability to Land an Army on Mars. In 1992 I had to explain this point to Czech students of the History Faculty of Brno University, to whom I was graciously granted to honour of lecturing to them in English for several short sessions, about aspects of English history (a long story…) They said “Why didn’t you go to war over Munich, when you could have made a real difference to us, as our Armies on the border were strong and we could have still resisted better than the Poles later on, and Hitler’s Military Staffs might still just about have had him shot?” This was functionally-unanswerable and I admitted it.

    However, I still think David is right about Germany being both Free and Sovereign. And that too much is being made of Germany – or even any other EU country – being subject to the whims of American foreign policy. If anything’s true, the UK is more subject to thatthan any of the 27.

    • The Katyn Massacre was blamed on the Germans for decades, even though it was known by the British government as early as 1943 (the author of the piece is correct on this point) that true responsibility lay with the Soviets.

      I still maintain that Britain had no proper legal pretext to go to war over the Munich Agreement, as (contrary to popular belief) Hitler never violated it, but the larger question is why we should interfere in the affairs of central and eastern Europe at all.

      In my opinion, Britain would have been better off as an ally of a Nazi German superstate dominating the Continent, with Britain controlling a global thalassocracy. Better that than as the junior partner of, and debtor to, an American superpower.

  3. [quote]”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.”[/unquote]

    Are you suggesting, then, that Britain should not have bothered in its defence of Poland? If so, I would heartily agree with you, but I can’t quite get up what you’re trying to say, since you appear to want it both ways. I will assume, unless you correct me, that you are not blaming Britain for the Katyn Massacre itself, so what is it that you would have had Britain do differently, given the circumstances? I’m just trying to understand your logic.

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