The Magazine

Hands Across the Sea

America, Britain, and the defense of freedom.

Mar 19, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 26 • By EDWARD SHORT
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Churchill, being Churchill, was rather more upbeat about this colossal snafu: "Singapore has fallen. All the Malay Peninsula has been overrun. . . . This is one of those moments when the British race and nation can show their quality and their genius. This is one of those moments when it can draw from the heart of misfortune the vital impulses of victory. Here is the moment to display that calm and poise combined with grim determination which not long ago brought us out of the very jaws of death. . . . So far we have not failed. We shall not fail now. Let us move forward steadfastly together into the storm and through the storm."

Roberts shows how the Munich conference tested the English-speaking people's commitment to freedom. Proponents of Munich often argue that Neville Chamberlain was right to let Hitler dismember Czechoslovakia in 1938 because it gave Britain time to rearm. But opponents argue that defending Czechoslovakia was the right thing to do, and might well have averted World War II by preempting the Wehrmacht.

Following Chamberlain's return from an earlier meeting with Hitler at Berchtesgaden, the Lord Chancellor Lord Maugham (Somerset's brother) argued that "according to the principles of Canning and Disraeli, Great Britain should never intervene unless her own interests are directly affected." But Duff Cooper, first lord of the Admiralty, disagreed: Britain's main interest in foreign affairs, he declared, had always been preventing "any one power from gaining undue predominance in Europe." Neither Canning nor Disraeli would have disputed that. Resisting Nazi Germany--"probably the most formidable power that had ever dominated Europe"--was therefore a direct British interest.

Of course, Chamberlain, and most of those who would later scapegoat him, thought otherwise. But Duff Cooper held his ground. Speaking of the interview he had with Chamberlain when he tendered his resignation after Munich, he recalled: "I found it a relief to be in complete agreement with him for once. I think he was as glad to be rid of me as I was determined to go." The lesson of Munich could not have been clearer: "Sweet reasonableness is no match for the mailed fist."

Roberts observes that the themes debated by Maugham and Duff Cooper on September 17, 1938, "have reverberated through the history of the English-speaking peoples . . . right up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. They can be separated into the distinct yet overlapping foreign policy strands of isolationism, prestige, the thin-edge-of-wedge, the domino theory and the importance of coalition." The one strand he omits to mention is preemption.

Most Americans are grateful to Tony Blair for his stalwart support for the war on terror in the wake of 9/11. Yet at this moment, in Britain, Blair is loathed--more, perhaps, than any premier since Sir Robert Peel, another statesman vilified for opposing his party's consensus. This leads to another of Roberts's main points: that the English-speaking peoples, "like the Romans, . . . would at times be ruthless, at times self-indulgent," but they "would sometimes find that the greatest danger to their continued imperium came not from their declared enemies without, but rather from vociferous critics within their own society."

Roberts is particularly effective on those vociferous Marxists who still exert a pernicious influence on British education, "teaching Western culture in terms of a series of crimes against humanity." These are the same people who have convinced the British electorate that the Islamic terrorist attacks perpetrated against the West in the last quarter-century have been the result not of Islamic extremism but of Western imperialism. The barbarous relativism of multiculturalism only reinforces this state of affairs. Blair acknowledged as much in a September 2006 speech in which he said, "We will not win the battle against global extremism unless we win it at the level of values as much as force. We can only win by showing that our values are stronger, better and more just than the alternative."

Andrew Roberts demonstrates these values in action. Ronald Reagan, he writes, "framed the issue of anti-communism in stark, black-and-white terms, entirely eschewing the nuanced chiaro scuro of détente." Why? Anthony Lewis, a New York Times columnist of the day, was convinced that Reagan was determined to instigate a nuclear standoff with the Soviets. But Roberts offers a different explanation. Reagan, he explains, "possessed something that those who scoffed at him did not: an instinctive belief in America's capability to win the Cold War, because of the desire of those trapped behind the Iron Curtain to live in liberty."