English-speaking people still stand together against tyranny

English-speaking peoples still stand together against tyranny

By Andrew Roberts

(Filed: 23/09/2006)

In 1956 – half a century ago this year – Sir Winston Churchill published the first volume of his A History of the English-Speaking Peoples. He had won the Nobel Prize for Literature three years earlier, and this new four-volume work rightly won massive critical acclaim. A J P Taylor considered that "it is one of the wisest, most exciting works of history ever written".

It was during his Wilderness Years of the 1930s that Churchill had conceived the idea of a book that would, in his words, "lay stress upon the common heritage of the peoples of Great Britain and the United States of America as a means of enhancing their friendship". Publication was delayed, first by the Second World War, then by his war memoirs and later by his peacetime premiership.

Superb though Churchill's volumes are, they stop with the dawn of the 20th century, just as by far the most interesting part of the English-speaking peoples' story was about to begin. Churchill's tale ended with the British Empire and American Republic enjoying peaceful world-primacy, yet they were just about to be subjected to four great assaults: from Prussian militarism, fascist aggression, Soviet Communism and presently from totalitarian Islamic terrorism. In the fourth and latest of these assaults, victory is clearly nowhere yet in sight.

In the course of researching my coda to the Churchillian epic, A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900, I visited the papers of 200 individuals in 30 archives across three continents. While there, I was repeatedly struck by how often common themes from the four great struggles emerged, almost unbidden. We have been here before.

Just as on 9/11, the English-speaking peoples have regularly been worsted in the opening stages of a conflict, often through surprise attack. As Paul Wolfowitz put it at a commencement ceremony in June 2001: "Surprise happens so often that it's surprising that we're surprised by it." The sinking of the USS Maine; the Boer invasion of Cape Colony; the Kaiser's swing through neutral Belgium; the Nazi-Soviet Pact; North Korea's invasion of its southern neighbour; Nasser's nationalisation of the Suez Canal; the attack on the USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin, which triggered the Vietnam War; the attack on the Falklands; Saddam's invasion of Kuwait. Almost all were sudden, unexpected, not predicted by the intelligence services, and left the English-speaking peoples at a disadvantage in the first moment of the struggle.

The next common factor was how badly the English-speaking peoples were faring even up to three or four years into the first three great assaults on their primacy. The most dangerous moment of the First World War – at least after Paris had been saved by the battle of the Marne in 1914 – came as late as March 1918, when Hindenburg and Ludendorff flung everything into their massive Spring Offensive. By early September 1942 – only weeks before Stalingrad and El Alamein – Hitler seemed to be winning the war both in Russia and the Middle East, while, had it not been for the battle of Midway, the Japanese might well have rolled up the entire Pacific theatre. Three years into the Cold War, 1948 saw Jan Masaryk's suicide during a Communist coup in Czechoslovakia, Mao's victory in China, and the Berlin Blockade.

Simply because a victorious exit strategy is not immediately evident in Iraq or Afghanistan today does not invalidate either conflict, as so many defeatists and Left-liberal political commentators argue so vociferously. Tony Blair's leadership in the war against al-Qa'eda, the Ba'athists and the Taliban has been nothing short of Churchillian. Far from being George W. Bush's poodle, Blair was advocating the overthrow of Saddam in his Chicago speech of April 1999, 21 months BEFORE Bush came to power.

The comradeship of the English-speaking peoples during the first three assaults was inspirational. On August 1, 1914 – i.e. three days before war broke out — the New Zealand parliament voted unanimously to raise an expeditionary force to fight its King-Emperor's war 8,000 miles away, even though Germany posed no conceivable strategic threat.

In Canada, the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry Regiment was raised from volunteers in eight days flat. The Canadian statesman Sir Wilfrid Laurier told the Ottawa parliament that it was his country's "duty at once to let the friends and foes of Great Britain know that there is in Canada but one mind and one heart". Australia promised a contingent of 20,000 men before war was declared, and promptly raised double that in a month. The noble Australian National War Memorial in Canberra, where the names of more than 100,000 Australians are recorded who fell in its wars since federation in 1900 – from a country of only four millions in 1914 – is the only building ever to have moved me to tears.

Nor was this solidarity merely a question of racial unity: the 15,204 men of the British West Indies Regiment fought in Palestine, Egypt, Mesopotamia, East Africa, India, France, Italy and Belgium, and won 19 Military Crosses, 11 MCs and bar, 37 Military Medals and 49 Mentions in Dispatches.

In the next war, it was a myth that Britain "stood alone" in 1940; after Dunkirk, the only two fully armed infantry divisions standing between London and a German land invasion were Canadian. Although America was under no direct threat from the Nazis, it far-sightedly chose to pursue the seemingly counter-intuitive policy of "Germany First", even though it had actually been attacked in Hawaii. The massive American contribution – mobilising 14.9 million men (which was more than Germany's 12.9 million and double that of Japan) and spending $350 billion, which was equal to Britain and Russia combined – has sometimes been ignored during the bigoted frenzy of vicious anti-Americanism spearheaded by the BBC and Left-liberal newspapers.

Bush's foreign policy is denounced as neo-conservatism because of its reliance on pre-emption. Yet was George Canning a neo-con when he destroyed the Danish fleet to prevent it falling into Napoleon's hands in 1807? Was Churchill a neo-con for having bombarded the Dardanelles outer forts in November 1914, before Britain declared war on the Ottoman Empire? Or in June 1940, when he ordered the sinking of the French fleet at Oran?

The right of self-protection from Napoleon, Hitler and movements such as al-Qa'eda and its Taliban protectors is, as Enoch Powell pointed out during the Falklands crisis, "inherent in us", since it existed "long before the United Nations was ever thought of".

By far the most justifiable war in recent history is the one we are presently fighting in Afghanistan against the Taliban, the government that hosted and protected al-Qa'eda when it killed nearly 3,000 innocent people – including 67 Britons – on 9/11. Today, that war is principally being fought by 15,000 Americans, 4,500 Britons, 2,200 Canadians, 550 Australians and special forces contingents from New Zealand. Germany has confined its troops to the quiet north, France to guard duty on the Khyber Pass.

Once again, therefore, the English-speaking peoples find themselves in the forefront of protecting civilisation.

I just wish we'd fight the barbarians at our domestic gates. Why are we trying to save civilization elsewhere when our own is under siege? Gangsta rap twits and their millions of weird, sopbrained peers crowd our streets and seep about our malls. With their lesser cousins the goths they're more menacing than Al Qaeda. Britain is overrun with goons and belching, drunken grunts and frumps; it too can hardly be called first world anymore. The fight's at home! This is where we should make our stand. Even Churchill would have recognized that.