September 3rd – A Quiet Sunday Morning

(This is a post from long ago in the NCOBrief archives, which I have pulled out and reworked several times on this particular anniversary, but still relevant, especially with the Syrian situation hanging over us like a nightmare come to daylight.)

A Sunday September morning, on one of those mild and gorgeous fall days, when the leaves are just starting to turn, but the last of the summer flowers still linger, and the days are warm, yet everyone grabs hold of those last few golden days, knowing how short they are of duration under the coming Doom of winter.

And there is another Doom besides the changing of the seasons on this morning, a Doom that has been building inescapable by treaty obligation for the last two days, clear to the politically savvy for the last two weeks— since the two old political opposites-and-enemies inexplicably signed an alliance— deferred by a humiliating stand-down and betrayal of the trusting two years since, a doom apparent to the far-sighted for nearly a decade. The armies are marching, the jackals bidden to follow after the conqueror, a country betrayed and dismembered, the crack cavalry troops of an army rated as superior to the American Army as it existed then charging against tanks, their ancient and historic cities reduced to rubble – and by obligation and treaty, the Allies are brought to face a brutal reality. That after two decades of peace, after four years of war that countenanced the slaughter of a significant portion of a generation, that left small towns across Europe and Great Britain decimated and plastered with sad memorials carved with endless lists of names, acres of crosses and desolation, sacrifice and grief, for which no one could afterwards give a really good reason, a decade of pledging Never Again – war is come upon them, however much they would wish and hope and pray otherwise. Reservists had been called to active duty, children had been evacuated en mass from the crowded city center, and Neville Chamberlain, who had been given a choice between war and dishonor, chosen dishonor and now had to go before the nation on radio and announce the coming of war:

“I am speaking to you from the Cabinet Room at 10 Downing Street. This morning the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German Government an official note stating that unless we heard from them by eleven o’clock, that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us. I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and consequently this county is at war with Germany. You can imagine what a bitter blow it is to me that all my long struggle to win peace has failed. Yet I cannot believe that there is anything more or anything different that I could have done and that would have been more successful…. We and France are to-day, in fullfillment of our obligations, going to the aid of Poland, so bravely resisting this wicked and unprovoked attack on her people. We have a clear conscience, we have done all that any country could do to establish peace. The situation in which no word given by Germany’s ruler could be trusted and no people or country could feel safe has become intolerable. Now we have resolved to finish it, I know you will all play your part with calmness and courage…
When I have finished speaking certain detailed announcements will be made on behalf of the Government. Give these ‘your closest attention. The Government have made plans under’ which It will be possible’ to carry on the work of the nation in the days of stress and strain which may be ahead of us. These plans need your help; you may be taking your part in the fighting Services or as a volunteer in one of the branches of civil defense. If so, you will report for duty in accordance with the instructions you have received. You may be engaged in work essential to the prosecution of war, or for the maintenance of the life of the people in factories in transport in public utility concerns, or in the supply of other necessaries of life. If so it is of vital importance that you should carry on with your job.
Now may God bless you all, and may he defend the right. For it is evil things that we shall be fighting, against brute force, bad faith, injustice, oppression and persecution, and against them I am certain that Right will prevail.”

The filmmaker John Boorman in the movie Hope and Glory noted the queer occurrence of all the lawnmowers in the suburb suddenly falling silent, everyone listening to the sad speech of a man who has seen his worst fears realized followed by the sound of air raid sirens. It was a false alarm, that morning, but within a year the alarms would sound for real. The docklands would be reduced to rubble, historic churches would fall, the city would burn, but in the aftermath, defiantly humorous signs would appear “More Open Than Usual” and “I Have No Pane, Dear Mother Now.” It would be entirely possible for men who had served in the Western Front to see grim and tragic duty again as firemen and wardens in the streets where they lived in this new war. By the time the Blitz became a reality, most everyone had gotten more or less accustomed to the idea. My Grandpa Jim, though, would take the bombing of London as a personal insult, and be restrained from going downtown and assaulting the German Consulate in Los Angeles, while his son and namesake collected newspaper clippings about the war, and aviation for his scrapbook. I do not think the news of war that came to them on another Sunday morning nearly two years later came entirely as a surprise, only the direction form which it came— east, and not west.

In any case, the news would have come, late on a Sunday morning, after the early service. I like to think this is a hymn that might have been sung in the last few quiet hours before the storm— as it was at the service I attended the day that the ground offensive began in the first Gulf War.

God of Grace and God of Glory, on your people pour Your Power;
Crown your ancient church’s story, Bring it’s bud to glorious flower.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, For the facing of this hour
For the facing of this hour.

Lo, the hosts of evil round us, Scorn the Christ, assail his ways!
From the fears that long have bound us, Free our hearts to faith and praise.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the facing of these days,
For the facing of these days!

Cure your children’s warring madness, Bend our pride to your control;
Shame our wanton, selfish gladness, Rich in things and poor in soul.
Grant is wisdom, grant us courage, Lest we miss Your kingdom’s goal
Lest we miss Your kingdom’s goal.

Set our feet on lofty places, Gird our lives that they may be,
Armored with all Christ-like graces, In the fight to set men free.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, That we fail not man nor Thee,
That we fail not man nor Thee

Save us from weak resignation, To the evils we deplore;
Let the gift of Your salvation, Be our glory evermore.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, Serving You whom we adore,
Serving you whom we adore.

Tune: Cwm Rhondda
Words: Harry Emerson Fosdick, 1930

29 thoughts on “September 3rd – A Quiet Sunday Morning”

  1. I do wish people would stop saying that Chamberlain acted dishonourably. Exactly, what could he do in 1938 with Britain nowhere near ready for war, with the other Dominions refusing to back him, and Czechoslovakia rather a long way away? France was not ready even in 1940 and Britain was in better shape in 1939 but still having a hard time. The interval gained by Munich made the RAF capable of fighting back (and even bombing Germany, which was the first effort). Churchill had a certain vested interest in presenting his version of the history, as he said he would, and so did the Labour Party in 1945 when they fought the election on the “Guilty Men” platform, forgetting to mention that they and the unions had done their best to prevent the country’s rearmament that was happening under Baldwin and even more so under Chamberlain.

    One cannot help wondering why it is assumed that, as a last resort, the British and the French had to fight for Sudetenland but not Czechoslovakia, who had the third largest and the best equipped army in Europe at the time.

  2. Winston Churchill on Neville Chamberlain:

    It fell to Neville Chamberlain in one of the supreme crises of the world to be contradicted by events, to be disappointed in his hopes, and to be deceived and cheated by a wicked man. But what were these hopes in which he was disappointed? What were these wishes in which he was frustrated? What was that faith that was abused? They were surely among the most noble and benevolent instincts of the human heart-the love of peace, the toil for peace, the strife for peace, the pursuit of peace, even at great peril, and certainly to the utter disdain of popularity or clamour. Whatever else history may or may not say about these terrible, tremendous years, we can be sure that Neville Chamberlain acted with perfect sincerity according to his lights and strove to the utmost of his capacity and authority, which were powerful, to save the world from the awful, devastating struggle in which we are now engaged. This alone will stand him in good stead as far as what is called the verdict of history is concerned.

    We have the benefit of hindsight. We look back and see “MUNICH” as a symbol of the futility of appeasement. Chamberlain looked back and saw “JULY 1914” as the symbol of the failure of rational statesmen to meet, negotiate, behave sanely, to find common ground of good will and even simple self-interest, and prevent a catastrophic war that would ruin them all. Chamberlain did not have the benefit of knowing what “Munich” would come to mean. He was playing the cards he was holding, and playing a game he understood. He had other symbols to guide him: “THE SOMME” and “PASSCHENDAELE.” He wanted to prevent them from happening again. He failed because, as Churchill notes, he was “cheated by a wicked man.” Chamberlain deserves no less from us than his political adversary Churchill was willing to grant him.

  3. Agreed about hindsight. We look back on 1938 as Chamberlain looked back on 1914. He did not foresee as inevitable the subsequent events which we now take for granted. Rather, he saw a chance to avert another bloodbath. He was a decent man who did the best he could for his country under bad circumstances.

  4. “forgetting to mention that they and the unions had done their best to prevent the country’s rearmament that was happening under Baldwin and even more so under Chamberlain.” Aye, and many of them kept opposing British efforts until – surprise, surprise – Hitler turned on Stalin.

  5. “Exactly, what could he do in 1938 with Britain nowhere near ready for war, with the other Dominions refusing to back him, and Czechoslovakia rather a long way away?”

    He could have left the Czechs alone. They might have been able to defeat the Germans one on one at the time. Once the Sudetenland was amputated, the Czech defenses were gone. Maybe the Sudeten Germans might have proved a fifth column but the Czechs could not have done worse. They had a powerful army and a defense industry second to none in Europe.

  6. Granted that Chamberlain was a good and decent man, bested by a very bad one – and the Munich agreement did buy two years of time for Britain to re-arm … but it came at a price. As a good and decent man, I can’t help thinking that in his heart of hearts, he must have been ashamed that the price of that time was paid by the Czechs.
    I’ve listened to a recording of Chamberlain’s radio address and he sounds so terribly sad, resigned and beaten down. It doesn’t surprise me in the least that he lived only about a year longer.
    At least he had the best interests of his country at heart. Can’t say the same with any assurance about our current occupant of the White House

  7. He could have left the Czechs alone. They might have been able to defeat the Germans one on one at the time. Once the Sudetenland was amputated, the Czech defenses were gone. Maybe the Sudeten Germans might have proved a fifth column but the Czechs could not have done worse. They had a powerful army and a defense industry second to none in Europe

    Exactly!!!!Even if the Germans had defeated them, they would have paid dearly and might have been deterred from attacking Poland later. Then again, it would have allowed the National Socialist regime more time to build up the Kreigsmarine which would have made Germany a much bigger threat to the UK when the war started anyway, probably in 1943 at the latest.

  8. You all need to read Adam Tooze book:

    “The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy.”

    Tooze makes clear that Germany was doomed from the start in WW2 since they simply couldn’t produce enough war materials to win the war. Even with the addition of France, the Netherlands, Austria, Czech and Belguim they couldn’t compete. They were the world’s fifth largest economy taking on economy’s #1-thru-#4.

    A German chance to “win” WW2 would have been a quick kill in Russia. The Germans were literally incapable of getting one.

    The Germans had a classic case of an autarkic national economy with Keynsian economic overheat, due to their Government spending programs. The Nazi state powered it’s war economy on foreign loot. The “economic clock” nearly ran out on the Nazi Germans a number of times.

    1) The take over of the Rheinland gave Hitler the political and institutional support in Germany to take over Austria.

    2) The body and foreign exchange finances of Austria made the Czech take over, with Chamberlin’s abe assistance, possible.

    3) The Czech take over’s body and foreign exchange finances made the conquests of Poland and France possible.

    It was all plainly visible at the time.

    Churchill was cast into the political wilderness for saying the politically incorrect, but as transparent as the emperor’s new suit reality. Nanely that Germany was rearming for war and would not be appeased short of a German boot on the collective English throat.

    The German war economy going from one percent GDP in 1933 to 30% GDP in 1939, while cutting of non-war related imports, was also plainly visible even to bad intelligence agencies.

    France could have fired a rifle single shot and the German Army would have bugged out of the Rheinland take over.

    The will for even a minor show of force among the Western elites was missing. That is why in the end they lost so much.

    The Germans had to take Czechoslovakia in 1938 in just the same way that the Japan had to fight in Dec 1941 due to the American oil embargo. Both states were ill-liquid — bankrupt — without war.

    It was only the loot from Czechoslovakia that powered the German economy through the war with France. Point in fact, a large fraction of the tanks the Germans used to conquer both Poland and France were Czech built vehicles designated PzKpfw 35(t) and Pz 38T tanks by the Germans.

    The 1938 failure of will in the West by British PM Chamberlin is what destroyed the British empire more than anything else.

    The Germans would have beaten the Western allies air forces all hollow in a 1938 fight — they had the ME-109 in numbers and the British had not deployed the Spitfire — then both their German Army and air force would have run out of fuel, and the German economy would have collapsed, as the fighting lasted more than a few weeks.

    The Germans in 1938 were almost completely out of foreign currency reserves to buy fuel from the Rumanians.

    Tooze asserts that this was the main reason the Germans went in to Russia – the fact that Hitler had no other option but to do it now or never. And don’t forget Hitler’s ideology.

    On p. 666 we have part of a summary by Tooze on one of the reasons why Hitler widened the war in 1941:

    “The astonishing defeat of France in the early summer of 1940 had promised to change everything. But in fact the Wehrmacht’s spectacular victory did not solve Hitler’s fundamental stratgic dilemma. The German navy and air force were too weak to force Britain to the negotiating table. The competitive logic of the arms race continued to apply in 1940 and 1941. Rather than surrender to Hitler’s will, Britain proved willing to go to the point of national bankruptcy before being rescued by lend-lease. And thanks to its comparatively abundant foreign reserves and American assistance it could mobilize a far larger percentage of foreign resources than Germany at this critical point in the war. In Berlin, by contrast, once the euphoria of victory had worn off, a considerable disillusionment set in over the economic viability of Germany’s new Grossraum. Conquering most of Western Europe added a drastic shortage of oil, nagging difficulties in coal supply and a serious shortage of animal feed to Germany’s already severe deficiencies. The populations of Western Europe were a vital asset, as was their industrial capacity, but, given the constraints imposed by the British blockade, it was far from clear that these resources could be effectively mobilized. Unless Germany could secure access to the grain surpluses and oil of the Soviet Union, and organize a sustained increase in coal production, continental Europe was threatened with a prolonged decline in output, producitivity and living standards. Added to which, Roosevelt had launched his own spectacular rearmament program within days of Germany’s breakthrough at Sedan. The strategic pressure on Hitler to pre-empt decisive American intervention in the war can only really be appreciated if we do full justice to the scale of the Anglo-American effore from as early as the summer of 1940. In this respect, the truly vast discrepancy between Anglo-American aircraft procurement and Germany’s relatively insignificant outsourcing to France and the Netherlands is very telling. it was an imbalance that was not lost on Goering and the German Air Ministry.”

    Add to above the fact that the German General Staff’s “strategic planning” for the war in Russia was escapist fantasy.

    The whole reason the Germans broke off the “Battle of Britain” in 1940 was they could not continue it and have the fuel reserves for Operation Barbarossa in 1941. The Germans literally did not have the fuel in 1941-43 to both run a large scale offensive air campaign in the West and run the Panzer army’s on the Eastern front at the same time.

    The Germans lacked the resources, particularly in terms of fuel, to win the war in Russia in a single campaign. They had to plan a two year campaign as a minimum and fully mobilize the German economy to do it.

    Hitler would have none of that.

    The German economy did not begin mobilizing for WW2, in terms of shutting down the civilian economy and rationalizing German military procurement for total raw numbers rather than fit and finish for fewer weapons, until 1942 due to internal German politics. Hitler did not feel he could call on Germans to sacrifice enough to maintain his power. And German economic growth at home from 1938-1942 was fueled by loot from conquered nations.

    If you are really interested in the economic history of WW2, also check out these books. They are on my WW2 listmania book list:

    The Economics of World War II : Six Great Powers in International Comparison (Studies in Macroeconomic History) by Mark Harrison

    “A comparison of the military economies of the UK, USA, USSR, Germany, Japan and Italy. German reliance on autarky & loot and American lend lease integrating the Allied economies were surprises.”

    The Soviet Economy and the Red Army, 1930-1945 by Walter S. Dunn

    “A pricey but worthwhile book on the Soviet military economy & production. It helps to explain the effect of lend lease on the Soviet war effort and supply system.”

    A War To Be Won: Fighting the Second World War by Williamson Murray

    “Murray and Millett’s tour de force on WW2 draws on their earlier MILITARY EFFECTIVENESS books to paint a picture of the war from the level of economics & grand strategy through military operations.”

    Brute Force: Allied Strategy and Tactics in the Second World War by John Ellis

    “John Ellis’ masterful book on Allied economic and military production superiority and their often hamfisted use of it. Out of print but available via Amazon’s book service.”

  9. I wonder if anyone has ever written a counterfactual historical novel in which the Czechs refuse to accept the Munich agreement and decide to fight the Germans on their own. Might be interesting…

  10. David – I had read somewhere at the time (1938) the Czech army was every match to the German army and could have defeated them.

    Good points about hindsight but IMO Chamberlain made the classic mistake the left is prone to making – assuming your adversary wants the same things you do.

  11. “Chamberlain made the classic mistake the left is prone to making … .”

    Chamberlain was in no way a man of “the left.” You are making a hash of the historical record if you try to lump Chamberlain in with any one on “the left” in current politics.

    Chamberlain was popular for trying to avert a war. Read the Chips Channon diaries to get a feel for this period. Churchill was considered to be a dangerous loose cannon, who was reckless about risking war. People literally wept with relief when Chamberlain flew back from Munich with a peace agreement.

    Churchill by some intuition managed to understand Hitler better than some of his contemporaries. Churchill also managed to disregard the problem a war with Germany inevitably presented: national bankruptcy and the end of the Empire. Churchill decided that Hitler was so bad it was worth any risk or any cost to fight him. It took the voters of England their MPs a lot longer to reach this conclusion, which was not obviously correct to most people.

    The British public did not change its mind until Hitler overran the rest of Czechoslovakia, months after he had taken the Sudetenland. At that point, their patience was exhausted, and Chamberlain made the ultimatum on behalf of Poland.

    The Czechs had good weapons, but not in large quantity, and their overall warmaking capacity was dwarfed by Germany’s. Without the French alliance, which the French repudiated, they knew they had no chance of winning any war against Germany.

  12. David Foster, I once wrote a counter-factual essay about what might have happened if the Czechoslovak army had fought in 1938. Not a novel, though.

  13. Joe,

    If Hitler had won at Kusrk, then what? Stalin and the Red Army were not going away.

    Nor was American lend lease to arm the Red Army. Hells bells, American tank production in 1944 was _lower_ than 1943 because the US Army finished its 90-division mobilization. It could have been easily 50% higher than 1943 numbers to arm the Soviets, if need be.

    The Western Allies and the American air forces in particular were going to get a crushing level of air superiority based upon killing the German oil supplies from the air in 1944. A dead Russian Army at Kursk in 1943 would not stop that. Nor would a Soviet collapse have done it, as the Germans lacked the trained pilots or pilot replacement system to keep up the war of attrition the USAAF was capable of generating.

    Something like Operation Bagration would have happened on the Eastern Front eventually, with a different more easterly starting point in 1945, simply from a German lack of fuel.

    And even if the Germans kept a useful level of oil production from a massive 1943 Russian collapse and subsiquent loss of the Caucuas oil fields, America would have the B-29 and the A-bomb.

    Which could operate just as well from Persia as from England or Italy.

  14. Lex:

    Churchill was, among other things, a generous man, and never more so than when he was winning (“In victory–magnanimity.”) A selection from Churchill’s speeches from ’36 to ’39, instead of at Chamberlain’s passing, would show quite a different aspect.

  15. Kirk, I am well aware of Churchill’s speeches in that period.

    Churchill also was out of office with very little support for his position during those years in “the wilderness.” The British public and the House of Commons were strongly behind Chamberlain. Very few people understood Hitler to be the menace he turned out to be. And they weren’t stupid not to. Most of the time, dictators are venal and often risk averse. Hitler was unusual, a high risk player, and truly evil. Churchill figured that out before almost anyone.

    Churchill does not say Chamberlain was right, he says Chamberlain’s motives were good. He also says (later in the speech) that by struggling to keep the peace, Chamberlain made it clear to the world that Britain was forced into war. Further, as he also says in the speech, Churchill saw Chamberlain once the war began as a cabinet colleague, and he was how Chamberlain, once war began, was committed to victory. So, time and events changed perceptions, as they should.

    BTW, do click on the link and read the whole speech. It is brilliant and moving.

  16. Lex,

    I’ll agree in part, disagree in part. Churchill was definitely way ahead of almost everyone, hence the “wilderness”. But by the time of Munich, people in positions of authority were seeing what they wanted to see.

  17. “But by the time of Munich, people in positions of authority were seeing what they wanted to see.”

    Not sure what this means. The idea of appeasement, which was not yet a dirty word, was agreeing to the demands of others that were not worth going to war for. The idea was that sensible people would prefer to avoid war and would find a way to make a deal. Chamberlain thought Hitler would prefer to get what he said he wanted and not go to war. In 1914, the leadership of the various countries failed to try to make any deal, and went to war instead. Chamberlain wanted to avoid that. As it turned out, Hitler was not interested in a deal. He wanted a war, and his demands were unlimited. Europe had not seen anyone like that since Napoleon. Notably, Chamberlain said that for the second time a British Prime Minister had secured the peace, referencing the Berlin conference of 1884-85, in which the European countries reached agreements on their various territorial demands, especially in the African colonies, and avoided war. But Hitler was not Bismarck. Maybe everyone should have seen that, but most did not. And Chamberlain was treated as a hero by the British public for seemingly securing the peace.

  18. I’m reading “The Campaigns of Napoleon,” by Chandler. The Hitler-Napoleon comparison has already been made early. Hitler was more politician than soldier and lived on his intuition until it was no longer successful. Napoleon, to my mind, could have had an armistice before the Russian invasion and survived. Hitler was far less stable in power. I’m early in the book but that is my impression at this stage.

  19. My counterfactual essay about 1938 and the Czechs fighting for Sudetenland is rather long. It was published in a collection of counterfactuals, called President Gore And Other Things That Never Happened. I might put it up on the Conservative History blog and link from CBz. My general conclusion is that the Czechs, who were in an excellent position to fight the Germans, could have prevented World War II and might have precipitated the fall of Hitler, whose position was not yet completely unassailable.

  20. “Chamberlain, feh. You could hold his head in the toilet, he’d still give you half of Europe…..”

    A myth and in injustice.

  21. I think – in Chamberlain’s time, the British were so sick of war that they looked for any glimmer of hope for peace.

    One has to understand what Britain lost in WW1 – a large percentage of the male generation. Whole villages were affected.

    I think it was here that I learned that the euphemism for being killed was “going west” – to the trenches of Europe.

    Maybe Churchill was the only realist. But look how the left here viewed the Soviet Union for nearly 50 years. Or the “peace movement”.

    I can remember in the 70s talking with (then) middle age Germans about this era and one told me of Hitler – “The more he had the more he wanted”.

    Hindsight is of course 20-20 but it is surprising to me that only a few in Britain could see this.

    Or wanted to see it.

    My good friends, this is the second time in our history that there has come back from Germany to Downing Street peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. And now I recommend you to go home and sleep quietly in your beds.

    On Czechoslovakia, maybe they weren’t the match of the Nazi army in 1938. But the huge Skoda Works then made armaments for the Nazis.

  22. ““Chamberlain, feh. You could hold his head in the toilet, he’d still give you half of Europe…..”

    A myth and in injustice.”

    Absolutely. Complete travesty. Also, half of Europe was given to Stalin by Churchill and Roosevelt.

  23. >>Also, half of Europe was given to Stalin by Churchill and Roosevelt.

    The Red Army and the Imperial Japanese had a great deal more to do with that than Roosevelt & Churchill drawing lines on maps in a green curtained room with Stalin.

    We could not save East Europe or Manchuria from Red Army occupation because of the Japanese.



  24. “I wonder if anyone has ever written a counterfactual historical novel in which the Czechs refuse to accept the Munich agreement and decide to fight the Germans on their own. Might be interesting…”

    Harry Turtledove has written a multi-volume AH series with this Point of Departure — The War That Came Early

  25. I quite agree Trent. We had a crushing superiority in production and Germany would have collapsed anyway even had they won at Kursk. It’s just that Stalin probably have not survived and his successors would probably have arranged a truce. The Red Army would have been a shell of itself and probably would have been unable to occupy much of Eastern Europe after the war because we would have probably defeated Germany before they got to the Polish border. When the 8th AF finally got their target priorities right and started attacking the German oil supplies and synfuel refineries they would have literally run out of gas.

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