Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

When hoisting the white flag can be the lesser of two evils

Europe this week commemorated the end of the Second World War with the 65th anniversary of the 'liberation' of the last Nazi-held European capital, Prague, by Soviet troops - who then, as it happened, stayed on for another 44 years.

The Second World War was not about the Jews. It was about the Nazi desire to create an empire in central Europe.

Even though Hitler had publicly promised in January 1939 that, if Germany found itself in a general war he would exterminate Europe's Jews, he did not mass-murder Jews in Poland, or France, or Holland, in 1940 or 1941.

Yes, his armies murdered many thousands of Jews in Soviet Ukraine and Belorussia in late 1941, but they murdered thousands of non-Jews also.

The Wannsee conference for the Final Solution did not occur until the US was in the war, in January 1942.

Thus, it is possible that, if Britain and France had not declared war in September 1939, the Jews of even Eastern Europe might not have been exterminated.

Anyway, Britain and France could do nothing to aid Poland, their justification for war. Nor was there any reason to.

In 1938, Poland had helped the Germans destroy Czechoslovakia, seizing the Czech city of Teschen. Neither justice nor prudence commanded the British to go to war for Poland a year later - but these cautionary virtues counted for nothing against the British desire to preserve their great-power status.

Hitler was an utter abomination, to be sure. But was he worse than Stalin? The latter's henchman, Beria, was personally a far more evil man than Eichmann - in addition to being a sadist and mass-murderer, he was also a serial rapist of young girls.

Two totalitarian powers, the Soviet Union and the Third Reich, destroyed Poland in 1939. So why did the Anglo-French go to war with only one of them?

Look at one alternative to war: speedy capitulation. The Nazi invasion of Denmark began at 5.15am on April 9, 1940.

That morning, Denmark breakfasted a defeated nation, for surrender had occurred at 8.34am. King Christian X was then allowed to stay on the throne, Denmark remained self-governing, and Denmark's Jews were safe.

Was that so bad? Was it worse than war? Moreover, in autumn 1943, as the Final Solution approached Copenhagen, 18 months after Wannsee, the Jews of Denmark were smuggled to safety in Sweden.

Who organised this? Why, SS Obergruppenfuehrer Werner Best, so violating personal orders from Hitler to send them to death camps in the east. Is such heroic subversion not more effective than all-out war? In Czechoslovakia, the conditions of workers and peasants actually improved under the Nazis.

It was only after British agents murdered Reichsprotektor Heydrich in 1941 that the Nazis indulged their truly satanic instincts, with the butchery of the town of Lidice.

So, might submission to a greater force not be a more sensible choice?

I have no answers to the many problems raised by this philosophy, but I simply suggest that capitulation and occupation are not always the worst outcome. Consider what actually happened in the years after 1939 - an unparalleled darkness fell upon the civilisations that had invented the modern world, consuming their children and their cities, their cultures and their laws.

Come back with me, 65 years, to mid-March 1945, to glimpse this hell, as conurbations burn and flaming bombers spiral to their doom.

See RAF Sergeant George Murray (25) from Lanesborough, Co Longford, along with his entire crew, vanishing for all time somewhere in the skies over Berlin. See air-gunner Austin Finnerty (23) of Newry, Co Down, parachuting to safety from his Lancaster and then being murdered by the SS. And see the crew of another RAF bomber bailing out and being captured.

Two days later, March 17, 1945, four of the crewmen are dragged from a cellar and lynched by a mob.

A fifth, in hiding, then surrenders, pleading mercy. He too is badly beaten, before being finished off with a headshot by a young pistol-toting Nazi, Gerd Biedermann. At war's end, Biedermann was sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment for this murder.

But just three weeks before that terrible crime, RAF aircraft had killed 17,000 civilians in a 20-minute bomb-attack on the nearby town of Pforzheim.

After the bombers were gone, Gerd Biedermann had dug the dead bodies of his mother, and all five of his brothers and sisters, from the rubble of their home. He was 15 years of age.

So tell me this: why is abject capitulation considered infinitely worse than war?

Latest News

Latest Sport

Latest Showbiz