Poland: 65

September 1, 1939, Germany invades Poland.

September 3, Britain and France declare war. Churchill speaks in the House of Commons:

We must not underrate the gravity of the task which lies before us or the severity of the ordeal, to which we shall not be found unequal. We must expect many disappointments, and many unpleasant surprises …

This is not a question of fighting for Danzig or fighting for Poland. We are fighting to save the whole world from the pestilence of Nazi tyranny and in defense of all that is most sacred to man. This is no war of domination or imperial aggrandizement or material gain; no war to shut any country out of its sunlight and means of progress. It is a war, viewed in its inherent quality, to establish, on impregnable rocks, the rights of the individual, and it is a war to establish and revive the stature of man.

September 27, Warsaw falls.

The Germans immediately begin planning their assault on the West.

The seeds had long been planted and the harvest of appeasement was being gathered in.

4 thoughts on “Poland: 65”

  1. The blame for the appeasement is mostly laid at the door of Neville Chamberlain, but all he did was to implement the kind of policies his compatriots demanded, for Churchill was marginalized at the time, as some historians have shown lately.

    What is less well known is that the British basically fell victim to German post-WW1 (but pre-Nazi) propaganda, which exploited their bad conscience concerning the treaty Versailles.
    I’ll really have to write a post to give this particular issue proper treatment.

  2. Ralf, I’d like read it.

    Bottom line is that adequate preparation would have deterred Germany from going to war, or led to a better outcome when war came. We now know the German generals were ready to depose Hitler if the British and French were willing to go war over Czechoslovakia in 1938.

    Things could have gone a lot differently.

  3. Well, that and they were understandably desparate to avoid a replay of WWI.

    The Treaty of Versailles reminds me quite a bit of the “containment” regime that we used with Saddam Hussein. The problem with it, as everyone found out once and Iraq war supporters noticed again, is that the containers aren’t going to keep containing forever, especially if several of them have to work together to make it happen. As administrations change again and again in every member of the containing alliance, as the contained regime displays a continuing shortage of alarming behavior (thanks to the containment), and as people remember the horror of war but forget why it seemed like a good idea to begin with, the resolve of the containing powers will weaken over time, and eventually one or more of them will let up. And then the contained power, which is pissed off and seeking revenge but hasn’t been neutralized (and as any student of Machiavelli can tell you, one of the worst things you can do is piss off a powerful opponent and leave him powerful) will end up causing all sorts of trouble.

    Would it have been better for the allied powers to reject a settlement in 1918 and invade Germany? I don’t know… the cost would have been outrageously high, perhaps higher than in the 1940’s, given the intervening development in technology and methods to overcome dug-in defenses. But if you negotiate a peace that includes any sort of “containment” to keep the other side from restarting hostilities, you can be fairly certain that another administration will find itself facing hostilities against that very same opponent sometime down the road unless that opponent has the courtesy to collapse in the meantime. And that opponent would have to do something outrageously stupid like practice hard-core Communism for 70 years straight to collapse so conveniently.

  4. Arguably, the Versailles Treaty “fell between two stools”: it was punitive enough to Germany to cause resentment, but not enough to undermine German military potential.

    France (with Belgium) tried uphold the punitive elements; hence French occupation of the Ruhr, 1923.
    But lacked the strength and will to pursue this against international opposition.

    The result was to alienate France and the UK. Britain seeing France as damaging prospects for reconciliation with the Weimar Republic; France seeing Britain as relying on France to contain Germany if worst came to worst. And Belgium reverted to a policy of neutrality.

    In this situation the best military opportunity of all was missed: the re-militarization of the Rhineland in 1936.
    An immediate counterstroke, even with the limited offensive forces available to France and Britain, would almost certainly have been decisive, if it could have been mounted.
    But without an alliance and joint war plans, even if the political will had been there, the practical problems were huge.

    Thank God for President Truman and his policies after WW2.

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