Thoughts about D-day (6)


The post-1945 combination of East European states under Russian hegemony was called an Empire by the West.  If it was an Empire, it was essentially unlike the Western Empires.  It came into being in the first instance as a consequence of effective Russian defence against German invasion.  Russia had to fight its way through to Berlin in order to end the War, and so it found itself in possession of all the countries east of Germany.

The experience of the Anti-Fascist War had generated in each of those countries a layer of people predisposed towards the Soviet system.  The capitalist classes of those countries had on the whole collaborated with the Fascist occupation.  Fascism was depicted by the Western war propaganda as the enemy of civilisation in general.  In these circumstances it was possible for Moscow to construct a line of states from the Baltic to the Adriatic based on its own socio-political system.

In none of these states was there Military Government—with the very doubtful exception of Poland a generation later.  Those Eastern regimes were constructed largely by the application of Anti-Fascist measures.

(In the Western zones of Germany, a functional State was quickly restored by the neglect of Anti-Fascist measures.  "De=Nazification" was merely cosmetic, and Anti-Fascism was suspect.  Communism—the force which had broken Nazi power—was suppressed, and Communists were effectively excluded from political and civil life.)

The Western democratic states were Empires of a different kind:  Britain, France, Belgium, Holland.  They all held overseas possessions, gained by military conquest and governed imperially by the home democracies.  There was   no common Belgian-Congolese political stratum by which both Belgium and the Congo were ruled, and Belgian rule in the Congo did not seek to reproduce the Belgian mode of political and economic life there.  Nor was there a French-Algerian governing stratum, or a Dutch-Indonesian.  And, although Britain had been ruling India for centuries, India had no say in 1939 about whether it should go to war or not.  The decision was taken in Whitehall, and Indian political leaders with sophisticated English education and Fabian delusions were suddenly confronted with the fact that they counted for nothing.

But the war propaganda, with which the entire world had been deluged, had changed the mind-set of natives everywhere, even though the rulers who churned out that propaganda had apparently been unaffected by it.  Therefore there was a spate of democratic wars—wars by democracies—in defence of Empires in the years after 1945.  Dirty wars.  Wars in which it was not supposed that such things as innocent civilians existed.


The French war on the Algerians began straight away in 1945.  

The French wartime Resistance against the German Occupation was in power.  It had punished French collaborators.  Collaborators were people who, after the elected French Government had declared war on Germany and lost it, accepted the settlement made by the Vichy Government as legitimate.

The Vichy Government was established by an overwhelming vote of the democratically elected French Parliament in 1940, to cope with the situation resulting from the loss of the War declared on Germany.  It governed the part of France not occupied by Germany.  The German occupation was in the shape of an L along the North and West of France.  It was to be temporary occupation pending a settlement with Britain.  Since Britain refused to settle, preferring to extend the War by Naval action in the hope of gaining a substantial ally, the German occupation of France continued throughout the War.  The Vichy Government of the unoccupied part was democratically established but was not recognised by Britain as legitimate.  In the 20th century democracy was only one of a number of possible grounds of legitimacy for Britain.

In the Summer of 1940 the joint declaration of war on Germany by Britain and France had absolute priority over other considerations in British policy.  The British view was that France was legally and morally obliged to continue fighting the war, even though its Armies had been defeated and the British Army had gone home.  On that view, the Vichy development was a kind of treason.  Britain therefore made war on Vichy France.

The United States, however, was impervious to British war propaganda.  It was making a handsome profit from Britain's continuing war effort, selling it arms and lending it the money to buy them, but it did not see that as any reason for refusing to recognise the legitimacy of the Vichy regime in France.  It continued to have diplomatic relations with Vichy after entering the War against Germany.  And, even after it landed forces in North Africa and came into conflict with Vichy, its preferred option was to try for a deal with Vichy, rather than engage in all-out war with it.  US foreign policy was not then the blindly destructive force that it became in the hands of G.W. Bush and Obama.


Churchill made the grand declaration in 1940 that, if a German Army followed the British in its retreat from Dunkirk, and defeated the British Army at home, the British people would fight it in the ditches etc.

It later came to light that he had ordered the development of an underground army led by a Communist (Tom Wintringham) which, in the event of a German occupation, would carry on the fight by irregular methods—terrorist methods in present-day parlance.  The local leaders of this terrorist force were under orders to start by murdering the leaders of the community in their area—Council leaders, Chief Constables etc.  The realistic assumption behind this order was that the stratum of leaders of civil life throughout the country would collaborate with the military victor.  This assumption is not compatible with the statement about fighting in the ditches.

About 30 years later it became known that the British espionage operation—a crucial apparatus of the English State since the time of Elizabeth and the Cecils—had broken the most secret German codes.  This fact was a tightly preserved State secret until it was revealed by one of its major operatives.

The implication is that Churchill had a pretty good idea, when making his famous speech, that the occasion for fighting in the ditches would never arise.  Hitler was trying for a settlement, not making serious preparations for invasion.  He was strongly Anglophile and he saw the British Empire as a necessary part of world civilisation.

One is entitled to the opinion that, if the prospect of fighting in the ditches ever seemed likely to come about, Britain would have made a settlement—and also that it would have been Churchill himself who made it.  If he was unwilling he would have been replaced.

The last thing Britain is, is suicidal.

But Britain required of France that it should fight in the ditches after losing the War.  By failing to do that, it made itself a treacherous enemy, fit only to be made war upon.

In France the mythical honour of the nation was saved from its actual conduct by the desertion of General De Gaulle, who left his command, escaped to England, where he raised a French Army in exile.  In the circumstances the British could not repudiate him, but they considered him a nuisance.  When the Americans entered the War, they were hostile to him.  They hoped to sideline him by reaching an agreement with Vichy.  But De Gaulle survived to return to France after D Day  and weave the myth in which France has lived uneasily ever since.

There was substantial continuity in actual history between Vichy France and the France of the Third Republic established in 1945, but in written history there was total rupture.  Between the two there lay a watershed of capricious popular bloodletting, superficially reminiscent of 1793 and conducive to myth-making.

Internal French Resistance to the Occupation and to the Vichy regime was slight until the invasion of Russia brought the Communists into it.  At the end of the War, the Resistance (internal and external, Gaullist and Communist) came to power, but the State was in substance the State preserved by the Vichy regime.