We are better than this

This is not Weimar Germany, and the ugly scenes on the streets of our cities need not be the precursor to the overthrow of state and society which happened there. In 1920s Germany, the new republic was a patched-together job which served for the moment, but many imagined its replacement by one system or other – a return of the old order or one of the rival brands of socialism. That is when the street battles began.

Last week, Konstantin Kisin in a Twitter thread (not a fixed article, which is disappointing) set out a likely course of events following the communist attacks on monuments that week.  It was grim reading but at once began to be proven accurate: the backlash by skinhead groups, the differential coverage by the media (“27 police hurt in largely peaceful protest” v “27 police inured by far-right violence”), reaction, counter-reaction and so it goes on, as long as the sun is shining and there are no jobs to go to.

It all begins to look familiar from the history books of a hundred years ago, which shows that humanity has not changed, nor has humanity changed since the Palaeolithic clans battled over rule of the tribe and their own visions of the future.

The seduction practised by the rival political gangs of 1920s Germany was a simple one:  so to dominate newspaper and radio coverage that change to one version of socialism or the other seemed inevitable. It was no longer a law-and-order issue, even for a nation so keen on order; it was the feeling of inevitability.  The Weimar state was a system in which few believed, and disorder indicated that its end was close, so it was just a question of choosing a side.  The Nazis played it well as the team to join if you opposed the Communists who wanted to destroy everything: it must have been easy to turn a blind eye to the foul stuff they preached just to dispose of the Communists, or to think they could never do the unthinkable. It gained the earlier Nazis a following of admirers at home and abroad, who dropped away very quickly when they learned something of the truth, but by then it was too late.

The street-fighting was between two brands of socialists – the international socialists and the national socialists. Their dual monopoly, the desire to end the violence however it could be done and the feeling of inevitability sapping away at the soul worked its way and placed one set of murderous socialists on top, though it could as easily have been the other.

There may have been genuine grievances to be exploited skilfully by each side, but the activists are there to exploit, not support, like the abuser who claims to like kittens in order to get his feet under the table. Honestly intended marches expressing despair about the treatment of individuals because of their race were exploited the same way. We must not confuse the slogan with the motive though – those who tore the statue down have not wish to heal racial division but to expand and exploit it.

It is, as Hobbes described, part of “a generall inclination of all mankind, a perpetuall and restlesse desire of Power after power, that ceaseth onely in Death“.

A history book is not a good guide to every future. This is not Weimar Germany with its air of unreality and the temporary: we are in Britain and the House of Commons, when it meets, contains a stonking majority of the ‘party of law and order’. Now it needs to make itself felt.

The necrosis of political society comes in the deceit that one must choose sides, from a choice of just two, when both are evil. In truth, there is a third side, namely common freedom under the law.

A memorandum was issued last week by Oliver Dowden. Secretary of State for Culture, Media and for some reason Sport, which was a masterclass in government not politics. It did not take a side on the issue of statues and plaques but recited the law: private property, listed structures, planning permission, due process etc. In short, ask for statues to be removed if you wish, but there are necessary procedures and owners may not agree, and if you do not get your wish, to keep or to topple, you accept that and may not take the law into your own hands.

In the circumstances, the Dowden memorandum is the perfect stand to take, as it asserts simply the rule of law, which is the side we should all be on. A political response might have been one like that issued by Emmanuel Macron in France that his republic “will not erase any name from its history. It will forget none of its artworks, it won’t take down statues” – yes, a good, laudable stance and one I could stand behind, a retort to the destroyers – but the fundamental issue is not the likenesses in bronze but the rule of law, which is equally capable of removing a statue as of protecting one, but all according to due process.

Unless there is enforceable law, then the only rule is the force of the strongest gang on the street. Then you do have to choose sides, or form your own.

In the meantime, until it starts to rain and cools the ardour of the fighting youths, there are two sets of indistinguishable thugs facing off in the streets, but we choose neither: we choose law and order.

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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.

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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!

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To Aetius thrice Consul, the groans of the Britons

Gildas, in the 6th century, tells us that a generation after Britain had left the Roman Empire, a plea was sent to Rome to return and rescue the Britons from incoming hordes:

“To Aetius thrice Consul, hear the groans of the Britons

The barbarians drive us to the sea, the sea drives us to the barbarians; between these two means of death, we are either killed or drowned.”

The Romans, however, could not assist them, and in the meantime the discomfited people, wandering in the woods, began to feel the effects of a severe famine, which compelled many of them without delay to yield themselves up to their cruel persecutors, to obtain subsistence.

Flavius Aetius was the senior general commanding in Gaul and Hispania, and the effective ruler of much of the Western Empire. Britannia had left the Empire long since and been abandoned. He did not respond.

Who wrote the letter he does not say. This was in about 450 AD, forty years after the legions had been expelled from Britannia. Aetius had other things on his mind at the time, such as suppressing numerous invasions and rebellions, and the little matter of confronting Atilla the Hun as he invaded Gaul with the largest invasion force in Roman history. The Britons only ever thought of their own position. How little things change.

What was this island, cut off from the Empire? It had been conquered as a public relations exercise by Claudius and while towns and roads and coloniae were built, much of Britannia remained a wild frontier for the three and half centuries of occupation. It was the one province of the West which never spoke Latin but kept its own language. It was the one province of the Roman Empire from which no native ever rose to become a leading general or magistrate. When the legions withdrew and the last Roman magistrates were expelled, the Celtic Iron Age seems to have resumed as if nothing had happened in the meantime.

It was a fertile land and one defended only by the soldiers of a distant Empire, and increasingly not even by Romans but auxiliaries, and when even these withdrew then there came other Britons, untamed Britons, and from across the sea came tribes of untamed Germany

Was this letter to Aetius written by a king or a faction? Gildas is unclear, but the wording he gives is in the style of an oration recounted by Tacitus, which is to say made up for effect. (Not that I would knock a Tacitus oration: Solitudinem fecerunt, pacem appelunt – brilliant) Nevertheless, whatever its words and from whomever it came, the letter was written, as a plea for Rome to ride to the rescue.

Perhaps it was the ultimate Remoaner moment. Are we to expect a faction of die-hard pro-Europeans to write, forty years hence, a similar letter to a leader of the European Empire, and what will they find?

The letter Gildas describes, the Groans of the Britons, was addressed to the closest commander of an empire dying as it stood. No answer came, but there was none in truth who could answer, for those who wrote the letter were appealing to the dream that was Rome, and no more than a dream. The Empire they called to was already dead.

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South Sudan praying for peace

South Sudan was at birth as a free state in 2011, lapped in the hope of the world. It has become a horrible proof of Hobbes, for without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called Warre. However Peace may be coming, from the remarkable work of the Anglican Church and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Many new countries claim that their independence was a delivery from ‘slavery’, but in the case of South Sudan that is literally true. Northern Sudan is an Arab region on the Nile, but the south is Sub-Saharan Africa, and Arab slavers even into the twenty-first century raided and burnt its villages to carry off their human booty. How many women and children were labouring as slaves in Khartoum, their husbands and fathers having been slaughtered, we may never know. There are some in bondage in the north still. The South was not governed by Khartoum but tyrannised, until finally a peace treaty could give the south its desired independence to create a government for those abused people where their had been none before, not really since British rule.

When 98.83% of the population voted for independence, that seemed to show national unity and there was reason to hope that the new country would be united in endeavour. One voice though three hundred and sixty years before had warned that would not be so:

Nor is it enough for the security, which men desire should last all the time of their life, that they be governed, and directed by one judgement, for a limited time; as in one Battell, or one Warre. For though they obtain a Victory by their unanimous endeavour against a forraign enemy; yet afterwards, when either they have no common enemy, or he that by one part is held for an enemy, is by another part held for a friend, they must needs by the difference of their interests dissolve, and fall again into a Warre amongst themselves.

We have seen what happened. It was a new state, and there was all to play for, and just one nudge might overthrow one regime and allow another warlord or tribe to take over. It just took a slight, an allegation of unfair treatment by one tribe against another.

if any one, or more of them, pretend a breach of the Covenant made by the Soveraigne at his Institution; and others, or one other of his Subjects, or himselfe alone, pretend there was no such breach, there is in this case, no Judge to decide the controversie: it returns therefore to the Sword again; and every man recovereth the right of Protecting himselfe by his own strength, contrary to the designe they had in the Institution

Common sense, you would think, or fear, would keep national unity, because the country had only achieved independence after decades of bloodshed and it could yet be a fragile independence. Who could know whether the north, Sudan, would look on a power vacuum as an opportunity to move south again and snuff out this resented breakaway state. In fact they have not, perhaps realising that they have no interest there, restricting themselves to holding undecided patches of territory, but it could so easily have been different.

Instead of unity, the country fell into warring factions each after its prize and barely controlled even within their factions.

What price loyalty to an entity which has no history or ancestral call on any one? The Obligation of Subjects to the Soveraign is understood to last as long, and no longer, than the power lasteth, by which he is able to protect them. For the right men have by Nature to protect themselves, when none else can protect them, can by no Covenant be relinquished. The Soveraignty is the Soule of the Common-wealth; which once departed from the Body, the members doe no more receive their motion from it.

The end of Obedience is Protection; which, wheresoever a man seeth it, either in his own, or in anothers sword, Nature applyeth his obedience to it, and his endeavour to maintaine it. And though Soveraignty, in the intention of them that make it, be immortall; yet is it in its own nature, not only subject to violent death, by forreign war; but also through the ignorance, and passions of men, it hath in it, from the very institution, many seeds of a naturall mortality, by Intestine Discord.

And yet there may be hope born of the reality of what has been seen here. In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.

There is still a memory of peace, of what it can bring. The greatest peacemakers are in the Church. There are more worshiping Anglicans in South Sudan than in the Church of England, and they worship the Prince of Peace. The Archbishop of Canterbury himself went to South Sudan and joined the hands of enemies.

You might not have read of Justin Welby’s heroic efforts to end the war, putting himself into one of the more brutal killing grounds of the Earth, but why would you – the media will report a pre-set narrative and this does not fit that narrative. He as there though, and guns ceased. We have for now seen the beginnings of peace. We have yet to see if at last the swords have been beaten into ploughshares and the spears into pruning hooks, but we now know who will make that peace if it can be: the Christian congregations of South Sudan.

There must be no complacency though but reconciliation and an understanding of the common nature of the undertaking of the commonwealth: the nature of War, consisteth not in actuall fighting; but in the known disposition thereto, during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary. All other time is PEACE.

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