ANOTHER day, another denigration of Winston Churchill. This time, it’s a rather frenzied rant by Nick Cohen on the Guardian website, attacking not just Churchill, but the image of Churchill.
I won’t detain you with details of his convoluted thinking; you can it read it yourself here. Suffice it to say he’s managed to combine Churchill and Boris Johnson with Brexit and put a downer on them all. (Throw in climate change, Trump and BLM and we’d have the quintessential Guardian article).
Anyhow, there is one specific claim Cohen makes that needs clarification and refutation. He says: ‘Britain did not stand alone in 1940. It was at the head of a vast empire, able to command millions of black and brown troops written out of history by the Right.’
It’s true that in May 1940 – as the German armies scythed through the Low Countries and France, pushing British troops back to Dunkirk – Britain was not alone in the sense that it lacked allies. It did indeed have the backing of its overseas dominions and colonies, and of foreign forces who had managed to evade Hitler’s grasp when he conquered their lands.
But this country was physically alone against Germany in those world-changing days of May after the French were vanquished. There was no other immediate prospect of the mass military assistance urgently needed to turn the tide.
The bulk of our empire and Commonwealth armies were a long way away, while Hitler would end up just 21 miles across the Channel, threatening to invade.
Whether German seaborne landings in Britain would have succeeded is another matter. But the whole point about the crisis of 1940 is that an invasion may not have been needed for Hitler to triumph.
Everything hinged on whether Britain was ready to fight on to the bitter end, or enter negotiations that would inevitably have ended in Nazi domination.
It was Churchill, the newly appointed Prime Minister, who in a series of War Cabinet meetings between May 26 and May 28 killed off any idea of parleying with Hitler via the Italians, as mooted by Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax.
He said Britain would not get better terms from Germany by negotiating than if she fought it out – ending up in either case as a puppet state of the Third Reich.
Churchill declared that nations which went down fighting rose again, but those which surrendered tamely were finished. He is reported as saying: ‘If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground.’
And so came the decision, when Britain was at its lowest ebb militarily, with no immediate prospect of effective help – alone, in fact – to fight it out.
If Britain had negotiated with the Germans and ended up neutralised or occupied, there would have been little hope of Europe ever emerging from Nazi rule. Indeed, we wouldn’t be squabbling today over Brexit, because Großbritannien would be well incorporated into the Greater Reich.
Cohen also says: ‘Commentators who see the Brexit movement as imperial nostalgia miss the point, I think. It’s an isolationist movement fuelled by nostalgia for a war hardly anyone left alive fought in and a paranoid fear that Brussels is Hitler’s Berlin.’
A war hardly anyone left alive fought in? It’s true that there aren’t many veterans of the Second World War left and those that are will be in their 90s. But in Britain, they probably still number in the high thousands.
Cohen shouldn’t dismiss them so brusquely. It probably doesn’t chime with his agenda, but those old soldiers, sailors and airmen fought for the freedom he now enjoys to pen his Guardian guff. Surely he doesn’t want them written out of history?