August 31, 2004


The unspecial relationship: Britain's Entrapment by the French: The Triple Anniversary of 2004 (Professor Christie Davies, Bruges Group)

2004 is a year of three sad anniversaries in the unhappy relationship between Britain and France. Ninety years ago in August 1914 Britain was dragged into a war between France and Germany for which France was largely to blame. It was that French war that fatally undermined British power and thus Britain's ability and willingness to withstand the Nazi and Soviet threats that were the very consequence of the war that France began. [...]

"Why ", some readers may ask "are you telling us all these unpleasant truths about the wretched French?" Even those who do not doubt the facts may feel that to deploy these arguments in a modern context will only exacerbate our already difficult and adversary relationship with them. Why then does their argument not apply to the Germans? German political leaders are rightly annoyed at the way history is taught in British schools, what has been termed the Hitlerisation of British history teaching. In Britain German history is taught badly and tendentiously to seventeen year olds who have no knowledge of the German language by concentrating on the twelve quite atypical disaster years of National Socialism, 1933-1945. I have taught such students after they had entered the university where I have been appalled at their lack of analytical skills and their inability to think their way outside the interpretations that they had been fed. Those who designed the school syllabuses should be ashamed of themselves; they went for cheap popularity not true learning and have unfairly villainised an entire people by concentrating on a tiny segment of its history. It verges on Vansittartism. The idea that is put in their heads is one that in its extreme version was propounded by Sir Robert Vansittart in his pamphlet Black Record. German history becomes a tale of almost continuous brutal aggression from Arminius' (Hermann) ambush of Varus' legions in the Teutoburgerwald through to the Teutonic knights and the Prussian army, to blood and iron under Bismarck, to the Schlieffen plan, to the shooting of francs-tireurs and Edith Cavelle in Belgium, to the " unfair" waging of war by U-boats and Zeppelins. Everything that doesn't fit is left out and the aggressive episodes in the history of Germany's neighbours are not mentioned, particularly those that have involved repeated invasions and devastation of Germany. In this way all German history has evolved inevitably towards the Third Reich. In a world where everyone else was becoming benign and democratic, Germany was an "exception" and somehow this is the fault of certain inherent aspects of the German character that constitutes the very essence of the German people. If it were said about anyone else it would be immediately denounced as racist nonsense but it is still open season on the Hun. Vansittartism is alive and well.

National Socialism should be studied as sociology not as history. It is part of a wider set of vicious phenomena that are not limited to Germany - a continent wide anti-Semitism that was to be found from Paris to Odessa, the rise of stratification by militant parties which later became Continental Europe's deadly export to China, Cambodia and Iraq, the worship of force and collectivism as an antidote to Anglo-American "materialism". None of these things are peculiar to Germany. That they triumphed together in a singularly horrible form under National Socialism is due to defeat , reparations, the rise of Communism and the failure of the American economy in 1929 rather than anything specifically German. It could not have happened in Britain because we are not part of that Continental world but it could easily have happened in France if that country had been defeated early on in World War I, crushed with reparations and forced to cede core French-speaking areas of France to Germany along with Morrocco and bits of central Africa. There would soon have arisen a National Socialist French workers party with a screaming anti-semitic fanatic to lead it. All the elements to build a Nazi party in France had long been present.

In particular, we should not forget the anti-Semitism of the condemners of Dreyfus, Action Française and the Croix de Feu (the party Mitterand's first joined) which found in its final expression in the rounding up of Jews for deportation by the Milice. During the second world war, after the French defeat, Marshal Pétain, the legitimate ruler of France, placed in his high office by a free vote of the French parliament and an overwhelming majority of those votes would sit and glumly contemplate the ruin of France. After much thought he would say "C'est les Juifs" to a former President of the Senate from Martinique who would reply "Oui c'est les Juifs". At the end of the war when Charles Maurras the anti-Semitic leader of Action Française was expelled from the Academie Française he commented " Dreyfus has won". Fanatical anti-Semitism was not a German monopoly. [...]

The moral of the story is that neither in 1904 nor in 1914 should we have shown or have any sympathy with France's fear of being dominated by Germany , nor should we have any in 2004. A Europe dominated by Hitler would have been horrendous but a Kaiserly Europe would have been better than a war in which over a million British and Imperial troops were killed. What would it have mattered if the Germans had come to dominate the Balkans and run Baghdad for the Turks? As countries like Germany grow in wealth and power they have to be accommodated much as Britain chose to cultivate the growing United States after the Civil War and settle grievances on American terms. For Britain to ally itself with a nation on the way out like France was inane. It was also undemocratic. The conversations and implicit agreements between the British and French General Staffs after the Entente Cordiale were kept secret from the British people because of their traditional distrust and dislike of the French. Edward VII's direct discussions with the French were unconstitutional and his Francophilia was probably based on nothing more than his gratitude to a nation that had invented devices to raise and lower that corpulent king or his two female partners during innovative forms of sexual congress on a specially designed chair. How much better it would have been for the world if Edward VII had been gay! He could have taken his holidays with Krupp in Capri and established a rapport with Wilhelm through the camarilla led by Prince Philip zu Eulenberg, a shrewd, far-sighted and restraining influence on his Kaiser . Better Gomorrah than Armentières.

In recent decades we have gone on making the same mistake. It is taken for granted that the French still have a legitimate interest in reining Germany in, in tying Germany ever tighter in a European Union lest it become too powerful. Many in France opposed and were fearful of German reunification precisely because it recreated a populous and powerful nation in the heart of Europe that will once again overshadow France. Yet why should a democratic and peaceful Germany not dominate Europe and not impose its commercial and agricultural interests on France. It should be Britain's policy to encourage such a development, much as we should have done in 1904-14. It would be better for Britain than the present unnatural Franco-German alliance in which the French, once again struggling to maintain the delusion of their own importance, exercise an influence out of all proportion to their real power. If Germany were to gain her rightful position at the heart of Europe, the French would soon discover the necessity for treating the Americans with a suitable degree of deference or even fawning. It is time for Britain slowly to disentangle itself from Europe and leave the French to their fate and the Germans to their inheritance.

Except that the Germans can't even run their own country never mind dominate the continent. Britain though would be well rid of both the French and the Germans.

N.B.--Was anyone else hoping and anticipating that Rudy Giuliani would declare war on Germany last night?

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 31, 2004 3:10 PM

France first. Then Germany if they don't improve.

Posted by: AWW at August 31, 2004 4:01 PM

I wish I could remember his name; I read some time back a political commentary from the mid-19th century, in which the writer rejoiced that dominance of Europe was passing from the 'strutting, militaristic French' to the 'agrarian and philosophical Germans'.

He eagerly anticipated an age of peace.

Posted by: mike earl at August 31, 2004 4:28 PM

The holocaust could have happened in France? Could have?

Posted by: David Cohen at August 31, 2004 5:19 PM

"What would it have mattered if the Germans had come to dominate the Balkans and run Baghdad for the Turks?"

Well, Liebchen, that shows how much you know about how Britain saw it's national security interests in the late 19th century. Maybe they should have also have understood the Anglo-German naval race was just a little Teutonic tease to help them meet new friends.

"That they triumphed together in a singularly horrible form under National Socialism is due to defeat , reparations, the rise of Communism and the failure of the American economy in 1929 rather than anything specifically German."

Darn right. What's a poor little misunderstood country to do when the world gangs up on it like that? Why, it's enough to drive an innocent, cultured people to conquer Europe and commit genocide.

Britain was actually closer to Germany (Prussia) until the late 19th century when Bismarck (actually his incompetent successors)decided to turn European diplomacy into a Wagnerian opera. I enjoy roasting the French as much as the next guy, but "Germany--the Missed Opportunity" is too pornographic for me.

Posted by: Peter B at August 31, 2004 6:23 PM


Quite. They were wrong about their need to keep one power from dominating the continent. It would have been disastrous for Germany (or France or Russia), not Britain.

Posted by: oj at August 31, 2004 6:40 PM


I can see the argument for splendid isolation from Europe, but Germany was challenging directly in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and on the high seas. Britain could no more acquiese in that than the U.S. could let Japan take the Phillipines on the basis that you would be just fine without them.

Posted by: Peter B at August 31, 2004 6:49 PM


Don't say that. OJ thinks we should have let the Japanese have the Phillipines.

Posted by: Brandon at August 31, 2004 7:12 PM

Err, sorry, I meant Canada and New Hampshire.

Posted by: Peter B at August 31, 2004 7:14 PM

Why would it have mattered?

Posted by: oj at August 31, 2004 7:37 PM

Mixture of Hockey and jujitsu? Hockey players banging each other in the forehead with Hockey sticks..

You're right it wouldn't have mattered.

Posted by: h-man at August 31, 2004 7:56 PM

Because national interest and national security aren't defined solely as protecting against invasion. Britain had no army, was succeptible to blockades and couldn't risk a naval rival. Its financial and capital markets were dependant on its trading strength (which meant the navy), political stabilty and impregnability. Psychologically it was all bound up with India and the need to defend the empire. It stood for constitutionalism and liberty in the face of the three European autocracies, and there were still plenty alive who remembered the dangerous political instability of the early 19th century. Plus there were many who hated her and would have loved to slap her down. A lot of British power and prestige was psychological and was dependant on projection. Shrugging off changes in the relative strengths would just have invited more trouble.

I can't believe I'm arguing this to you, of all people.

Posted by: Peter B at August 31, 2004 8:01 PM

Yes, they needed a navy. The continent was a waste of their time, men, money and ultimately their will to be a great nation.

Posted by: oj at August 31, 2004 8:15 PM

Well, we were trying to dump the Philippines, which were indefensible given left pacifism and right defeatism in the US at the time.

Nevertheless, this guy is exactly who Vansittart fingered, correctly, as the curse of Europe and of Britain. There are some people who don't feel fulfilled until a hobnail boot is treading on their backsides.

The British policy against 1) a dominant continental power and 2) a naval power with the ability to interfere with her trade had been in force for more than 2 centuries. Edward VII was irrelevant, as Britain would have followed the same policy against Germany if he had been homosexual.

What was relevant was Caprivi's declaration to the British that Germany needed Holland, not for the sake of Holland, but for her colonies.

And Britain did not go to war for France but for Belgium. So did we. The first of the 14 Points, though I bet not one American in 10,000 knows it.

The benignity of Germany is well illustrated by the remark of the foreign minister when the Belgian ambassador came to demand his passports.

(RecallingTuchman's account from memory): "Tut, tut. this is all most unfortunate, but when it's over who can say what the verdict of history will be?"

And the ambassador replied, "Whatever history says, it will not say that Belgium invaded Germany."

There is also the little factual matter of reparations. Germany never paid any. We paid them.

So the burden of reparations cannot help explain Hitllerism.

In the process of preparing a review of Malkin's book, I spent last night reading Sir Herbert Richmond's 'Strategy of Sea Power,' which has the clearest explanation of why Britain fought Germany I have ever seen.

Few people understand sea power, but the British did.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at August 31, 2004 8:27 PM

Then why don't they have any?

Posted by: oj at August 31, 2004 8:46 PM

This article has got to be wicked satire or automatic writing channeled through either Lords Halifax or Haw-Haw.

What are the chances of his next tour de force being Sic Semper Tyrannus: Why European Resistance to American World Hegemony must Include Pre-emptive Conversion to Islam?

Posted by: Barry Meislin at August 31, 2004 9:21 PM

An entertaining but ultimately depraved read by a product of a British "public" school who is still traumatized by the Battle of Hastings.

Germany's reasonable demands would have been accommodated, but she wanted far too much. Take a look at the terms of the "treaty" of Brest-Litovsk. A curative exercise if you ever feel yourself becoming weepy over Versailles and reparations.

By the way, has this web site ever reviewed The German Empire: A Short History by Michael Strmer?

Posted by: Eugene S. at August 31, 2004 10:20 PM



The argument here though jibes with Niall Ferguson's in The Pity of War, which we did:

Posted by: oj at August 31, 2004 11:52 PM

Thank you.

Outside of his Web presence, I know nothing of Orrin Judd. But the oj of 2004 seems hardly related to the oj of May 2001, when the Ferguson review was written.

Oddly enough, shortly after 9/11 I stumbled across the Bros. Judd website for the first time. The photo of the pickup truck with REVENGE written in big letters across its windshield is one of two things that I vividly remember.

The other, a suggestion that if the West and the Islamic world were destined to clash anyway, we should "duke it out" now, before the Islamic world got nukes.

Posted by: Eugene S. at September 1, 2004 1:55 AM

The author of the piece wanted to be provocative, I suppose. That's fine by me, if your main point is valid, which it's not. The other Peter (B.) is right, the mindless militarism of Wilhelm II and his cabinet - all quite unworthy successors of Bismarck - had to be checked both at sea and on land, even if that meant an alliance with France.

The mistake the British made didn't happen in 1904 or 1914, but in 1919 when they agreed with the excessive French demands in Versailles. Once Germany was deprived of its colonies and its fleet, the British should have sided with them against the French.

Posted by: Peter at September 1, 2004 3:34 AM

Since we mostly agree that Prof. Davies let off imperial Germany too easy, let me just add that you can never bash France too much.

"This delusion of an enfeebled France that it somehow had a historic right to dominate Europe, if not by force then by chicanery, is still the source of many of our more recent problems" hits it right on the nail.

Prof. Christie is quite a character. (Bio reads like something the New Yorker would publish in the "There'll Always Be an England" Dept.)

I hadn't known of the Bruges Group before; a very timely find!

Posted by: Eugene S. at September 1, 2004 5:11 AM


Yes, "if". That's still our hole card but the speed and eagerness with which Islam is reforming suggests it won't be necessary. If radicals were to take over Pakistan though we and India would have to nuke them, ditto Israel and us if Iran became threatening.

It's not a war we can lose. All we're determining is how many of them die during our winning.

Posted by: oj at September 1, 2004 8:26 AM

"The holocaust could have happened in France? _Could_ have?"

Right on David.

Apparently some people have forgotten how Petain and Laval's Milice were more German than the Germans in their persecution of Jews and other groups singled out for slaughter. The enthusiasm with which they approached the work, IIRC, was actually surprising to some of the SS officers assigned to oversee the process.

Others may forget. We shouldn't.

Posted by: cornetofhorse at September 1, 2004 10:11 AM

It was a Christian continent. Practically nobody didn't think it would have been better with a few less Jews in it.

If you'll read Richmond, Orrin, you'll discover why Britain now has a sea power roughly equivalent to its needs.

Part of his argument was that Germany's navy, being in excess of its needs for protection of her coasts or of her trade, could only be seen as a threat to Britain.

Bismarck, that clever fellow, saw it the same way. He detested the idea of German oversea colonies.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 1, 2004 2:37 PM

Any navy is more than it needs--they're a second-rate nation thanks to wasting their nation on the meaningless continent.

Posted by: oj at September 1, 2004 2:51 PM

Not true, but you've demonstrated more than once that you don't understand sea power.

It's an example of a concept so simple that it can be summed up in a short paragraph, so everybody assumes that he then understands how it works without any further effort.

Like natural selection or the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Britain had no choice, and proved inadequately powerful enough. This disproves the professor's point.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 1, 2004 10:37 PM


Yes, it's just like those canards.

Posted by: oj at September 1, 2004 11:47 PM

Well, let's compare the political behavior of France and Germany after defeat:

France: pays reparations in full, in gold and in advance, does not produce French Hitler. Prospers.

Germany: pays no reparations, votes for Hitler on the grounds that it was horribly damaged by reparations. Economy tanks.

France: persecutes a Jew

Germany: murders 6 million Jews and boils them down for soap.

French literature: most famous author stoutly denounces persecution of the Jew, doubles stature

Germany: most famous author writes equisite story about langourous homosexual pedophile

French bureaucracy: midlevel functionnaire exposes persecution of French Jew, launches self into most distinguished government career of his generation

German bureaucracy: Huh?

French bishops: united to persecute Jew

German bishops: 1 out of 300 speaks out against persecution of Jews. Advantage Germany, I guess

One of the more attractive features of the right since 2001 has been its failure to fall for moral equivalency arguments.

Most of the time

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 2, 2004 1:46 PM


The French produced Petain, collaborated with Hitler, shipped him their Jews as fast as they could track them down, fought us in North Africa, etc., etc., etc. They weren't as bad as the Nazis but who, other than the Soviets, was?

Posted by: oj at September 2, 2004 3:10 PM

Well, Orrin, you won't find me defending any European Christians from charges of murderous antisemitism.

But there were some French on our side. No Germans.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 3, 2004 2:53 PM

Sure there were--you're just blinded by a Vansattartism not much different than anti-Semitism. Everybody hates somebody.

Posted by: oj at September 3, 2004 3:33 PM

Thanks for circulating my article, though you did leave bits out. Now that I seem to have a fan club and an anti-fan club in the US who at least agree that I write well, may I draw their attention to my new American book
The Strange Death of Moral Britain
published in 2004 in New Brunswick NJ by Transaction publishers
It is guaranteed to annoy everybody. By the way I am not English nor a product of a British ' public' school

Posted by: Christie Davies at September 11, 2004 3:24 PM