The Eighteenth of June

A fine day for marking British-French relations, as the President of the French Republic visits London, to mark 80 years since Charles De Gaulle summoned all patriotic Frenchmen to resist the Germans.

De Gaulle was a most remarkable man, and reading of him, his actions, his personality and his certaine idée de la France, one can only admire him, in a way it is hard to do for any other Frenchman: he was the epitome of what France aspires to be.

It is another anniversary that came to mind more readily on the 18th of June: Waterloo. It was a climactic date indeed for British-French relations: renowned as the army’s greatest victory in a long history of crushing victories, the monstrous, breaking wave of the war that brought the calm withdrawal to peace.

It was stout-hearted men who won the victory, with the unbending line of musket, rifle and bayonet, the two sides commanded by the greatest generals of the age – Napoleon and Wellington, meeting for the first and only time on this field. Such a meeting could be nothing more than heroic, vast and calamitous.

All you young girls with sweethearts out yonder,
Go you gaily and buy the black gown –
Here’s ten thousand to one I would lay you
That he fell on the eighteenth of June.

The victory overwhelming and bloody.

After Waterloo, there was some skirmishing all the way to Paris and a few redoubts to be persuaded into surrender, but nothing great: twenty-three years of war were effectively over on the eighteenth of June. Not for another ninety-nine years were British arms engaged on the continent of Europe.

It ended the mad tumult of ideas and tyranny that the French Revolution set off, and enabled the birth of the new, greater British Empire with a civilising, liberating mission across the world. Now surely that is to be celebrated each year on this day?

Let us make a reparation to Africa

Handing the commentary over to William Wilberforce, in the words he urged on the House of Commons in 1789:

When we consider the vastness of the continent of Africa; when we reflect how all other countries have for some centuries past been advancing in happiness and civilization; when we think how in this same period all improvement in Africa has been defeated by her intercourse with Britain; when we reflect it is we ourselves that have degraded them to that wretched brutishness and barbarity which we now plead as the justification of our guilt; how the slave trade has enslaved their minds, blackened their character, and sunk them so low in the scale of animal beings that some think the apes are of a higher class, and fancy the orangutan has given them the go-by. What a mortification must we feel at having so long neglected to think of our guilt, or to attempt any reparation!

It seems, indeed, as if we had determined to forbear from all interference until the measure of our folly and wickedness was so full and complete, until the impolicy which eventually belongs to vice, was become so plain and glaring that not an individual in the country should refuse to join in the abolition; it seems as if we had waited until the persons most interested should be tired out with the folly and nefariousness of the trade, and should unite in petitioning against it.

The mischiefs we have done…

Let us then make such amends as we can for the mischiefs we have done to that unhappy continent.

Let us recollect what Europe itself was no longer ago than three or four centuries. What if I should be able to show this House that in a civilized part of Europe, in the time of our Henry VII, there were people who actually sold their own children? What if I should tell them that England itself was that country? What if I should point out to them that the very place where this inhuman traffic was carried on was the city of Bristol? Ireland at that time used to drive a considerable trade in slaves with these neighbouring barbarians; but a great plague having infested the country, the Irish were struck with a panic, suspected (I am sure very properly) that the plague was a punishment sent from Heaven, for the sin of the slave trade, and therefore abolished it.

All I ask, therefore, of the people of Bristol is, that they would become as civilized now as Irishmen were four hundred years ago. Let us put an end at once to this inhuman traffic. Let us stop this effusion of human blood. The true way to virtue is by withdrawing from temptation. Let us then withdraw from these wretched Africans those temptations to fraud, violence, cruelty, and injustice, which the slave trade furnishes.

Wherever the sun shines, let us go round the world with him, diffusing our beneficence; but let us not traffic, only that we may set kings against their subjects, subjects against their kings, sowing discord in every village, fear and terror in every family, setting millions of our fellow-creatures a hunting each other for slaves, creating fairs and markets for human flesh, through one whole continent of the world, and, under the name of policy, concealing from ourselves all the baseness and iniquity of such a traffic.

Hans-towns established on the coast of Africa…

Why may we not hope, ere long, to see Hans-towns established on the coast of Africa as they were on the Baltic? It is said the Africans are idle, but they are not too idle, at least, to catch one another. Seven hundred to one thousand tons of rice are annually bought of them. By the same rule, why should we not buy more? At Gambia one thousand of them are seen continually at work. Why should not some more thousands be set to work in the same manner? It is the slave trade that causes their idleness and every other mischief. We are told by one witness, “They sell one another as they can.” And while they can get brandy by catching one another, no wonder they are too idle for any regular work.

Total abolition…

I have one word more to add upon a most material point. But it is a point so self-evident that I shall be extremely short.

It will appear from everything which I have said, that it is not regulation, it is not mere palliatives, that can cure this enormous evil. Total abolition is the only possible cure for it.

The Jamaica report, indeed, admits much of the evil, but recommends it to us so to regulate the trade, that no persons should be kidnapped or made slaves contrary to the custom of Africa. But may they not be made slaves unjustly, and yet by no means contrary to the custom of Africa? I have shown they may; for all the customs of Africa are rendered savage and unjust through the influence of this trade; besides, how can we discriminate between the slaves justly and unjustly made? Can we know them by physiognomy? Or, if we could, does any man believe that the British captains can, by any regulation in this country, be prevailed upon to refuse all such slaves as have not been fairly, honestly, and uprightly enslaved? But granting even that they should do this, yet how would the rejected slaves be recompensed? They are brought, as we are told, from three or four thousand miles off, and exchanged like cattle from one hand to another, until they reach the coast.

We see then that it is the existence of the slave trade that is the spring of all this internal traffic, and that the remedy cannot be applied without abolition.

Again, as to the middle passage, the evil is radical there also; the merchant’s profit depends upon the number that can be crowded together, and upon the shortness of their allowance. Astringents, escarotics, and all the other arts of making them up for sale, are of the very essence of the trade; these arts will be concealed both from the purchaser and the legislature. They are necessary to the owner’s profit, and they will be practiced. Again, chains and arbitrary treatment must be used in transporting them; our seamen must be taught to play the tyrant, and that depravation of manners among them (which some very judicious persons have treated of as the very worst part of the business) cannot be hindered, while the trade itself continues.

As to the slave merchants, they have already told you that if two slaves to a ton are not permitted, the trade cannot continue; so that the objections are done away by themselves on this quarter; and in the West Indies, I have shown that the abolition is the only possible stimulus whereby a regard to population, and consequently to the happiness of the negroes, can be effectually excited in those islands.

I trust, therefore, I have shown that upon every ground the total abolition ought to take place.

I have urged many things which are not my own leading motives for proposing it, since I have wished to show every description of gentlemen, and particularly the West India planters, who deserve every attention, that the abolition is politic upon their own principles also.

A principle above everything…

Policy, however, sir, is not my principle, and I am not ashamed to say it. There is a principle above everything that is political; and when I reflect on the command which says, “Thou shalt do no murder,” believing the authority to be divine, how can I dare to set up any reasonings of my own against it? And, sir, when we think of eternity, and of the future consequences of all human conduct, what is there in this life that should make any man contradict the dictates of his conscience, the principles of justice, the laws of religion, and of God.

Sir, the nature and all the circumstances of this trade are now laid open to us; we can no longer plead ignorance, we cannot evade it, it is now an object placed before us, we cannot pass it. We may spurn it, we may kick it out of our way, but we cannot turn aside so as to avoid seeing it; for it is brought now so directly before our eyes that this House must decide, and must justify to all the world, and to their own consciences, the rectitude of the grounds and principles of their decision.

A society has been established for the abolition of this trade, in which dissenters, Quakers, churchmen, in which the most conscientious of all persuasions have all united, and made a common cause in this great question.

Let not Parliament be the only body that is insensible to the principles of national justice.

Let us make a reparation to Africa…

Let us make a reparation to Africa, so far as we can, by establishing a trade upon true commercial principles, and we shall soon find the rectitude of our conduct rewarded by the benefits of a regular and a growing commerce.

Books

How easy to lose the peace

The victory was an overwhelming victory of a scale unknown in modern times, or any age of man: the greatest land power of Europe was occupied across its whole breadth such that surrender was almost unnecessary as it had ceased to be, and not just there, but victory was achieved across the world. Even greater than these, it produced a peace which has lasted 75 years in which time war between great nations in Europe has become unthinkable.

However, the peace was lost. It often is.

The crowds cheered Churchill when Germany was defeated and they knew that it was his words and his determination to action behind them which had driven the nation to victory – he inspired, he uplifted, he gave purpose to the grimmest of struggles, and silently in the secretive corridors of power he did not relax but ensured the right people (not the ‘approved’ people) were in charge of the war effort. The victory was his (and Vera Lynn’s).

Then two and a half months later, the people turfed Churchill out of office and installed Clement Attlee.

Having defeated national socialism, the Britons installed their own socialism. Attlee’s socialist government wrecked the economy and dissolved the Empire we had just fought to preserve. He was out after 6 years, but the long-term damage was done.

The end of the war could have allowed Britain and the Empire to be stronger than ever. Instead Britain, shorn of empire, began a steep decline such that it came to be accepted as our inevitable destiny, and we could not longer understand how we had been so great. That pathological defeatism is still with us in spite of all the proof against it. America on the other had rose further, in confidence and strength.

For Poland and Czechoslovakia, in whose names we went to war in the first place, it was a very bitter victory.

There are many examples in history of great nations destroying themselves in victory. Maybe we forget them because they disappeared. Far in our classical past, Sparta’s military system made its neighbours enemies and destroyed its own strength. Alexander following on conquered the Persian Empire but so absorbed Persian ways to rule it that his courtiers despaired that they had placed all Greece under a Persian king after all, and then tore the empire apart on his death. Greeks, Romans, Gauls, Germanic tribes and empires all tumbled at the point of victory. In 1763, Britain at last dominated North America, but then in consolidating its conquests drove the colonists into successful rebellion. In our generation, those Arab and Afghan men who rebelled against oppressors – how sore they feel now as someone else seized their victory.

Attlee then threw away the rewards that could have come of Churchill’s victory. The main reward of victory for the world, namely destruction of the Nazi menace, was undiminished. There could have so much more though. America rose to undreamed-of prosperity, while Britain’s recovery was stunted at birth. After 1951, Churchill and his successors began to recover, but were shackled to a deathly consensus form of government that was not broken until 1979. Whitehall was also by then riddled with Communist agents, which caused America to take sole control of the nuclear and rocketry programmes which had started as joint ventures. America became a titan of the Space race, while impoverished Britain launched but a single satellite. How had the mighty fallen.

The Suez Crisis could have restored confidence, but its failure sapped the remaining confidence we might have had. In 1982, Argentina invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands, and Whitehall was ready to give in at once – had it not been for the First Sea Lord bursting uninvited into the Cabinet Room, they would have. The swift victory in the islands was a waking up, a start to reclaiming the older victory.

After 75 years of peace, we have grown soft, and you might say we won the peace just so we could relax and soften, but challenges do not cease. If we forget what is possible, there will be no resistance to the next bloody invader or dictator. Hitler wanted to destroy our power but we destroyed it for him, if not in the way he thought, thank goodness.

See also

VE-Day: rejoicing 75 years of victory and freedom

What more can be said on such a magnificent anniversary? No current topic is equal to it – victory over a monstrous power, preservation of our nation and many others. 75 years of freedom for half the continent – it was another 44 years before Eastern Europe was liberated.

In Berlin, left in ruins in 1945, they are celebrating the day for the first time, as a moment of liberation, but the eastern half of the city and the eastern lands of Germany went straight from one bloody tyranny to another.

It is impossible for the upcoming generation to understand the moment. There those who remember it, but most of us were born long afterwards. We have been brought up all our lives with all the easy assumptions of a free country and those Millennials, born after the Socialist tyrannies of the east were swept away, can have no imagination of anything but the way the world lives today. Talk of life in Nazi Germany, or the Communist East, washes over them because things cannot really have been like that, can they – the world doesn’t work like that does it? It did, and more so that can every be described.

The evil comes from the essence of man. It is not unusual across the world or history – it is our free, benevolent society which is unusual. It cannot be taken for granted.

Churchill warned, when we stood alone:

The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.

We were buoyed up by song, and while it cheered, there was no doubt about what the effort entailed, rewards to be won and the peril if failure should befall:

I’ll never forget the people I met
Braving those angry skies
I remember well as the shadows fell
The light of hope in their eyes
And though I’m far away
I still can hear them say
“Thumbs up!”
For when the dawn comes up

There’ll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover
Tomorrow, just you wait and see
There’ll be love and laughter
And peace ever after
Tomorrow, when the world is free

The world is free, and has been for 75 years, because of that intense effort and sacrifice of six, long years or blood, sweat, toil and tears. Today is really Churchill’s day, so his words can speak for themselves:

Yesterday morning at 2:41 a.m. at Headquarters, General Jodl, the representative of the German High Command, and Grand Admiral Doenitz, the designated head of the German State, signed the act of unconditional surrender of all German land, sea, and air forces in Europe to the Allied Expeditionary Force, and simultaneously to the Soviet High Command.

General Bedell Smith, Chief of Staff of the United States Army, and General Francois Sevez signed the document on behalf of the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, and General Susloparov signed on behalf of the Russian High Command.

Today this agreement will be ratified and confirmed at Berlin, where Air Chief Marshal Tedder, Deputy Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, and General de Lattre de Tassigny will sign on behalf of General Eisenhower. General Zhukov will sign on behalf of the Soviet High Command. The German representatives will be Field-Marshal Keitel, Chief of the High Command, and the Commanders-in-Chief of the German Army, Navy, and Air Forces.

Hostilities will end officially at one minute after midnight to-night (Tuesday, May 8), but in the interests of saving lives the “Cease fire” began yesterday to be sounded all along the front, and our dear Channel Islands are also to be freed today.

The Germans are still in places resisting the Russian troops, but should they continue to do so after midnight they will, of course, deprive themselves of the protection of the laws of war, and will be attacked from all quarters by the Allied troops. It is not surprising that on such long fronts and in the existing disorder of the enemy the commands of the German High Command should not in every case be obeyed immediately. This does not, in our opinion, with the best military advice at our disposal, constitute any reason for withholding from the nation the facts communicated to us by General Eisenhower of the unconditional surrender already signed at Rheims, nor should it prevent us from celebrating today and tomorrow (Wednesday) as Victory in Europe days.

Today, perhaps, we shall think mostly of ourselves. Tomorrow we shall pay a particular tribute to our heroic Russian comrades, whose prowess in the field has been one of the grand contributions to the general victory.

The German war is therefore at an end. After years of intense preparation, Germany hurled herself on Poland at the beginning of September, 1939; and, in pursuance of our guarantee to Poland and in agreement with the French Republic, Great Britain, the British Empire and Commonwealth of Nations, declared war upon this foul aggression. After gallant France had been struck down we, from this Island and from our united Empire, maintained the struggle single-handed for a whole year until we were joined by the military might of Soviet Russia, and later by the overwhelming power and resources of the United States of America.

Finally almost the whole world was combined against the evil-doers, who are now prostrate before us. Our gratitude to all our splendid allies goes forth from all our hearts in this island and throughout the British Empire.

We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing; but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead. Japan, with all her treachery and greed, remains unsubdued. The injury she has inflicted upon Great Britain, the United States, and other countries, and her detestable cruelties, call for justice and retribution. We must now devote all our strength and resources to the completion of our task, both at home and abroad. Advance, Britannia! Long live the cause of freedom! God save the King!

See also

Books

Mill, Calvin and Hobbes

John Calvin, and Calvinism, have drawn many interpretations, few recognisable to the Great Reformer himself. Our vision is shaped by the sight of dour ministers of the Kirk pronouncing thundering condemnations from the pulpit, and those schismatic free churches which shake the dust of their feet when they leave divide from the Church of Scotland and its over such matters as scandalously allowing music in worship. The word “Calvinist” is associated with joylessness and Christianity stripped to bare essentials.

However in theological terms Calvinism is just one of the branches of the Reformation, sitting beside Lutheranism. The Thirty-Nine Articles which define the doctrine of the Church of England, with its robed priests and mitred bishops, is Calvinist.

John Stuart Mill in On Liberty wrote of his idea of it:

It is so, on the Calvinistic theory. According to that, the one great offence of man is self-will. All the good of which humanity is capable is comprised in obedience. You have no choice; thus you must do, and no otherwise: “whatever is not a duty, is a sin.” Human nature being radically corrupt, there is no redemption for any one until human nature is killed within him. To one holding this theory of life, crushing out any of the human faculties, capacities, and susceptibilities, is no evil: man needs no capacity, but that of surrendering himself to the will of God: and if he uses any of his faculties for any other purpose but to do that supposed will more effectually, he is better without them. This is the theory of Calvinism; and it is held, in a mitigated form, by many who do not consider themselves Calvinists; the mitigation consisting in giving a less ascetic interpretation to the alleged will of God; asserting it to be his will that mankind should gratify some of their inclinations; of course not in the manner they themselves prefer, but in the way of obedience, that is, in a way prescribed to them by authority; and, therefore, by the necessary condition of the case, the same for all.

….

It may be better to be a John Knox than an Alcibiades, but it is better to be a Pericles than either; nor would a Pericles, if we had one in these days, be without anything good which belonged to John Knox.

He got it wrong – he hits the mark on how many ministers treated morals, but that is not Calvinism, properly defined. The idea Mill identifies is “whatever is not duty is sin”, and duty is in the eyes of the minister. There is no such doctrine in the Scriptures. I have not read in intense detail Calvin’s own Institutes of the Christian Religion, but though it frequently mentions duty, and it certainly emphasises the total depravity of mankind (with which Thomas Hobbes would not dissent), I can see no suggestion that he believed that a Christian must follow a script – he contradicts it.

The problem, the prescriptive idea, comes from after Calvin- from a distortion brought by fanatics so convinced of the reform that they wanted to take it further, like riding to the destination and then riding fast beyond it and away from it.

Hobbes lived through the Puritan revolution. He observed:

these took upon them not only a Divine right, but also a Divine inspiration. And having been connived at, and countenanced sometimes in their frequent preaching, they introduced many strange and many pernicious doctrines, out-doing the Reformation, as they pretended, both of Luther and Calvin; receding from the former divinity or church philosophy (for religion is another thing), as much as Luther and Calvin had receded from the pope; and distracted their auditors into a great number of sects, as Brownists, Anabaptists, Independents, Fifth-monarchy-men, Quakers, and divers others, all commonly called by the name of fanatics

See also

Books