by Emmett R Smith
(MR Emmett R Smith, who appears sometimes in Bodwyn Wook, and his english friend, Antony, a man in his eighties who remembers the war, have been exchanging letters about the history and meaning of thiose times; the following particular lines may be of interest especially to those who wonder about the story of Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin — BW)
…Baldwin, like all politicians, had his good and bad sides. He was an emollient too-complacent character. His two most important achievements were ending the 1926 General strike peacefully, and getting rid of Edward VIII and his ‘Wally’ [in 1936 — BW] without a major upheaval.
In retrospect, both of those seem small beer against his failure to recognise the gravity of the Nazi threat, and to begin rearming Britain quickly enough. He is unfairly blamed for his silence on this score during a 1930s by-election, which earned him the nickname of ‘Sealed Lips’. During the war he was deeply unpopular. Beaverbrook’s spiteful action in removing poor old Baldwin’s ornamental iron front gates for munitions scrap earned cheap public applause.
When I was an undergraduate at Cambridge just after the war, Baldwin was Chancellor of the University and I remember seeing him stumping around the Senate House Yard – he was very lame – in a degree procession. I’ve never seen anyone else looking so old, ill and glum, and I felt sorry for him even though I disliked his record.
15 May 2007
BALDWIN Did out-do certain Republicans and Democrats down through the decades, in placing party and polls ahead of policy and rearmament, alas. And I think the record on this makes him a bit more culpable than you aver.
But, Beaverbrook obviously was no gentleman and a certain English short word starting with the letter C comes to mind.
That’s the thing about Churchill, so many of his friends were from a raffish grade-C world!
But, I seem to perceive that in May of 1940 the mid-middleclass nevertheless undertook to put that all aside and drew their second wind in a rather direct — glad! — way from the Churchill premiership, and that Dunkirk actually consolidated the loyalty of the nation around the renewed confidence of (post-modern phrase) “middle Britain.” It was the shopkeepers and smallholders who led the way in the initial 250,000-or-so Home Guard sign-ups, I think.
But, I think also that popular opinion (as opposed to upper-middleclass press-lords’ “public opinion”) in the slums was altogether more volatile and a touchy business. A good thing indeed, that Buckingham Palace was hit during the Blitz!
I reckon that as in fact I am a lifelong Churchill-admirer (based on what my father and mother told me), you will be surprised when I write this, now:
That in 1940 had I been living then and in London, I really do perceive that I should have disliked Churchill — and that, probably, rather intensely.
I don’t know how to account for this. It would be I suppose a fact of individual temperament. On this thorny point of personality and psychology, for what it is worth — it is curious to have come up now, so soon after your letter! — I did dream of Stanley Baldwin the other night.
He was on the radio and went on and on:
ALL about England it was, hard to write out from after-memory:
The sense of it all was about this “fleeting land of England, this place we see and see every day, only then we wake to see no more this place, when we rise up ourselves with the smoky Sun to drift away, all like fog and smoke and time — we run away with the ebbing tide and green stuff in our toes….”
An access of poesis by that dear Vicar, indeed!
AS To Churchill in history, I think now that the Hungarian-American bourgeois and historian-emeritus, John Lukacs, does the best job by Churchill by a long shot. This is in his three books about 1939-40, and in his memoir of Churchill’s funeral. That was in 1965….
England today is in the toilet, I’m afraid.
And, America in hers too, if anything even less “constitutionally”so — or, even more unconstitutionally!
In view of the colossal moral and consequent historical failure of an entire spoiled generation, it is difficult to remember that history is above all about what people are “really like” — and that in 1940 old Churchill himself played fast and loose with habeas corpus (as indeed did Lincoln in the 1860s).
War of course is the opportunity par excellance for the high-handedness of men. Perhaps this is why men above all not sure of their manliness, and the vague males especially in my 1946-64 generation who were nowhere near Viet Nam, crave it so much.
The real point not being therefore the sleazy prancing at the ironmaster’s gate of the goatish and detestable, very competent, Minister For Aircraft Production.
No, rather it is that constitutions are like steel itself, and if you bend them often enough in the end they will break. A good and calm and sensible, down-to-earth, population, that is the alloy of good governance over the longterm, no matter how foul the froth on top of the smelter bull-kettle.
BUT, What happens when “the people” no longer are better than their governors?
IN Trying to understand something at least of all of this I am fascinated by the story of Mass Observation-reporting in England in World war II — I think that the most I’ve ever read of it in one account is in Angus Calder’s The People‘s War. I expect I could do to learn more about it. Now, of course, it’s very different as this increasingly un-American “elite,” here, doesn’t seem to “have to” pay any attention (they don’t think!) to the common ruck — and yet all these internet spewings and blogging one thinks must be a fertile resource for statisticans!
BALDWIN Did exceed the much of a political generation in expediency. As to Churchill’s post-World War II projected summit-expeditions, there is an odd movement past one another in opposite directions on that point, as between “Eisenhowser” (as we call him here, in south-central Minnesota & Greater Iowa in my maternal Lakese dialect) and old Churchill.
At first, Churchill was the disappointed reactionary who sulked and watched his American “girlfriend” go waltzing away with the Georgian banditto, until the former was cut down by a brainstorm on 12 April. At the same time in 1945 the grinning Kansan Eisenhower practically did everything short of handing over outright truckloads of US Army nurses to satisfy the additional unmet romance-needs of the Red Army. Whereas, by 1952, the North American continentalist, Dulles, had Ike firmly in the “He-Man Pinko-Haters Club,” while Churchill now was pondering Soviet digestive difficulties in central Europe — and, meditating summits with whomever would survive Stalin.
Lukacs says Churchill didn’t “win” the war, but he kept Hitler from winning his –and, maybe, as well he gave us an additional, final, fifty or sixty civilized years as, precisely, Westerners!
Lukacs is of Jewish background. But he is also a Hungarian bourgeois and, alas (this seeps out of his writing), talks loathingly of Gypsies and — Iranians! Alas, I write, as in so many other ways I respect his historianship and follow his heuristic lead, at least for now.
In any case, writing for myself, it is my greatest regret that I was not a young man in England in 1940 — my dad, his brother and cousins, they had all of that. It seems, now, that 1940 will always and always and forever and ever be the greatest year of all, of all the years of the Old Atlantic West. There and then we stood up against our own Evil. There we stood in the dire light of Sun and Moon and Stars. We — or rather our fathers, not us! — stood in that hurricane of blood and fear. There for all the World to see and marvel stood the West. And stood then — this is our very-American craving today! — maybe even briefly for all the World to love.
(WHAT May have made the gloomy fact tolerable to Churchill, that England [‘Britain’] had finished the war bankrupt & with her Royal Navy reduced to “Task Force 77” of the USN Pacific Fleet, may have been his saving impressions, formed from the beginning of their first face-to-face meetings at Potsdam, of Harry Truman. Truman was called every name in the book; and, in many respects, his assent to the ‘cold’ war yielded dark fruit, most-notably this contemporary & ridiculous, over-duplication, of security-services, here, in America to-day. And, of course, he took large part in the perhaps-inevitable ‘imperialisation’ of the american Presidency. But, in person, he was also a “dandy little complete sonofabitch” [a compliment in the american Middle-west!], an obvious fighter; and, one suspects, Churchill took comfort in knowing viscerally that this post-war America, represented by Truman, would not leave the poisoned-pup Europeans all alone, to delve & foment more of their “old shit!” On the other hand, to-day, aren’t the completely and categorically, unworthy & by-God-damned, professional & credentialled, whorish, baby-boom baby-bombers of this debased & depraved 1946-64 mis-generation, aren’t they just? acting just like a load of — you guessed it! — Tojo-Japs? I mean with this “globalization ‘Neo-Con’ crypto-imperialist prosperity-sphere” and swindle of theirs — BW)
[Emmett R Smith all rights reserved 16 May 2007]