Adrian Lee: 80 years ago Germany declared war in the United States – a decision that really changed the course of history.

18 Dec

Adrian Lee is a Solicitor-Advocate in London, specialising in criminal defence, and was twice a Conservative Parliamentary Candidate.

Shortly before 3pm Thursday, 11th December 1941, four days after the Pearl Harbour attack, Adolf Hitler entered the Kroll Opera House in Berlin and, to a hysterical ovation, strode towards the stage. The Kroll had originally been home to the State Opera Company, but since the Reichstag fire in 1933 it had paid host to Germany’s 855 Deputies and was the seat of a powerless mock parliament that met infrequently and was populated by sycophantic Nazi Nabobs. They attended that day because their Leader had summonsed them to make an announcement. His speech lasted 88 minutes and culminated in a declaration that changed the course of history.

Hitler began by looking back at the course of the war in both Russia and North Africa and portrayed Germany’s fight as one for the whole of European civilisation. He then shifted gear:

“And now permit me to define my attitude to that other world, which has its representative in that man, who, while our soldiers are fighting in the snow and ice, very tactfully likes to make his chats from the fireside…”.

He was referring to the American President and proceeded to lay out the differences between himself and his opponent:

“When Roosevelt finally stepped on the political stage with all the advantages of his class, I was unknown and fought for the resurrection of my people. When Roosevelt took his place as the head of the USA, he was the candidate of a capitalist Party which made use of him: when I became Chancellor of the German Reich, I was Fuhrer of the popular movement that I had created.”

The speech reached its crescendo with Hitler accusing Roosevelt of being “guilty of a series of the worst crimes against international law”, which amounted to little more than seizing German ships in the American Atlantic exclusion zone.

Finally, the dictator got to the point:

“Germany and Italy have been finally compelled, in view of this, and in loyalty to the Tri-Partite Pact, to carry on the struggle against the U.S.A. and England jointly and side by side with Japan…”.

To joyful cheers, Hitler concluded by announcing the newly signed Three Power Agreement, which undertook that neither partner would make a separate peace with the USA. or Britain.

Hitler could not have picked a more inopportune moment to drag America into the European war, with Auchinleck putting Rommel’s forces under intense pressure in North Africa and the Soviet counter-offensive throwing the Wehrmacht into chaotic retreat. Today, the decision appears illogical, inexplicable, and possible proof of Hitler’s subliminal wish to martyr himself.

Contrary to received wisdom, Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbour did not guarantee American entry into the European war. Indeed, Roosevelt’s speech to Congress on 8th, December was conspicuously silent on the matter of Germany. The President knew that many of the politicians in his audience wanted to focus exclusively on the Pacific conflict.

The America First Committee, committed to keeping the USA neutral in Europe, was formed on 4th September 1940 at Yale University and grew to 800,000 members and 450 separate chapters. It enjoyed cross-party support and had the active participation of two future Presidents: Gerald Ford and John F. Kennedy.

The day after the Japanese attack, America First’s Chairman, Robert E. Wood sent a circular to all chapter chairmen stating:

“The facts and arguments against intervention in Europe remain the same as they were before the Japanese issue arose.”

Germany unilaterally started a war against an enemy that they physically could not reach, but whose forces could strike Germany from Great Britain. The declaration of war also succeeded in making invasion of Britain (soon to be garrisoned by 1.5 million Americans) go from virtually impossible to literally impossible. In addition, Hitler had joined Japan’s war against America with no Japanese guarantee that they would join his war against the USSR. Stalin later remarked that Hitler, by his own deeds, had found himself fighting the greatest land power (Russia), the greatest sea power (Britain) and the greatest industrial power (America).

Even within Nazi Party ranks, there were those who thought that the declaration was suicidal. Fritz Todt, Armaments Minister, bluntly told Hitler in February 1942 that it would not be possible for the German economy to match American production and advised suing for peace. Todt died the following day in a mysterious plane crash.

The Fuhrer, who prided himself on his tactical genius, had no plan to defeat America. In his papers, the Japanese Ambassador to Berlin, Hiroshi Oshima, recorded a conversation that he had with Hitler on 3rd January 1942. Oshima noted: “He professed to have no knowledge of how to defeat the US.” Similarly, on 15th January 1942, Hitler flippantly remarked to a separate delegation:

“Should this war turn out to be winnable at all, it will only be won by America.”

So, why did he do it?

Firstly, Germany, through its Tokyo Embassy and Foreign Minister Ribbentrop, had spent the past year attempting to persuade Japan to strike south and occupy the Far Eastern British and Dutch colonies. Germany hoped to gain from such a move, both in terms of access to rubber supplies and by tying down British forces in the defence of their Empire. Japan was hesitant and feared facing the might of the U.S.A. alone. Germany assured Japan that they would come to their assistance if America attacked them, but this was not good enough for Japan and she continued negotiations with the USA to resolve trade sanctions imposed over the conflict in China. However, Hitler went much further on 4th April 1941 and personally guaranteed to Yosuke Matsuoka, Japan’s Foreign Minister, that Germany would intervene immediately if any conflict developed between Japan and America.

Secondly, Hitler was convinced that he was at war with the United States in all but name already. America had moved far from their Neutrality Act position of 1939. Roosevelt had started helping the British with “Cash and Carry”, then he moved to “Lend-Lease”, signed the Atlantic Charter with Churchill, occupied Iceland and expanded the American Atlantic exclusion zone. More recently, Roosevelt had permitted the US navy to escort convoys into British ports and had extended Lend-Lease to the Soviets. Why wait until America declared war on Germany, when you could take your opponent by surprise?

Thirdly, economic reports compiled by the German Embassy in Washington showed that America would take about three years to fully mobilise. Germany believed that America would suffer from a combination of a termination of Far East rubber supplies and their lack of foresight in developing synthetic alternatives in the inter-war years. History records that this was a fatal miscalculation and America was able to catch-up in record time.

Despite these explanations, there still remain unanswered questions. On 4th September 1941, the isolationist Chicago Tribune, seeking to embarrass Roosevelt, published details of a leaked government report entitled the “Victory Program”. The US Government did not deny its authenticity. The report’s authors calculated that should America find itself at war, it could muster an expeditionary force of five million personnel by the summer of 1943. Significantly, in the case of a war on two fronts, America would pursue a “Germany first” strategy and put the bulk of its resources into the European theatre.

The Victory Program received wide coverage in the German press and even Goebbels expressed deep fears in his diary. Hitler had been forewarned, but he still decided to gamble that America would concentrate primarily on the Pacific.

David Alton: The horror of this day, Good Friday, is a horror for our times

2 Apr

Lord Alton of Liverpool is a Crossbench Peer.

Without the certainties of Easter, there would be little cause to describe this day, this Friday, as “Good.” The origins and etymology of the word have been lost in the mists of time, but scholars suggest that its meaning is rooted in the use of good as a representation of holy or pious. In old English it was called “Long Friday” and in the East is sometimes known more graphically as Black Friday.

Whether you believe, or not, the story of this Friday was the story of a bad day for justice: an unjust trial, the violent use of torture, the degrading of human dignity. Mel Gibson left no doubt about the full horror of crucifixion in “The Passion of the Christ”. The harrowing detail is disturbing but undoubtedly accurate. The Romans perfected the art of the slow death and inflicted excruciating pain – intensified by scourging designed to lacerate and expose a man’s wounds.

The crucifixion of an innocent man is an old story, yes, but one that still stirs vast numbers of people. It’s a story with contemporary resonance.

More than two billion people world-wide today identify as Christian and, even in the UK, almost two thirds of the country (33.2 million people) describe themselves as Christian. With 84 per cent of the global population identifying with a religious group – and as the demographics of belief are  weighted in favour of the young  – the world has been getting more religious, not less.

For the non-believer, the religious beliefs of their acquaintances can seem incomprehensible and  threatening. But it cuts both ways.

How we accommodate one another, how we negotiate each other’s beliefs – or lack of them – and how we learn to live alongside each other, with genuine respect for difference, is a defining question for our times. It’s also one our forebears had to address..

In 1948, in the aftermath of the Holocaust, and the abject failure to counter a murderous ideology rooted in the hatred of difference, world leaders promulgated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the Convention on the Crime of Genocide. As international institutions have fallen into disrepair, the declarations and treaties – and the duties and obligations which flow from them – need urgent renewal and recalibration.

The UDHR was the civilised world’s response to the infamies of the twentieth century—from the Armenian genocide to the depredations of Stalin’s gulags and Hitler’s concentration camps; it emerged from warped ideologies that elevated nation and race. The Declaration’s stated objective was to realise, “a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations”.

The four great murderers of the 20th century—Mao, Stalin, Hitler, and Pol Pot—were united by their hatred of religious faith. It was the bloodiest century in human history with the loss of 100 million lives. And now, in the twenty-first century, often in the name of a religion, millions more have died or been forced to flee their homelands.

Article 18 of the UDHR asserts the right to believe, not to believe,  or to change your belief. It’s a good place to start on a day like this. A defence of the article ought to unite believers and non-believers alike  – and might provide a common platform from which to call out those who violate so many of the other 30 Articles in the UDHR.

In 2019, having read The Times leader writer’s description of our muted response to such anti-Christian persecution as the actions of “spectators at the carnage”, Jeremy Hunt took the well-judged step of commissioning an independent review of the evidence.

The Truro Report concluded that “the level and the nature” of  the persecution of hundreds of millions of Christians was in some regions “arguably coming close to meeting the international definition of genocide.”

Turn a blind eye, pretend you didn’t know, and the persecution leads to atrocity crimes; turn a blind eye, and it becomes open season on believers of all faiths; turn a blind eye, and every one of the other 30 Articles in the UDHR will be breached too.

That we still avert our gaze and have much more to do can be seen in these snapshots from the past few days.

Last weekend, on Palm Sunday, radicals acting, not for the first time, in the name of religion, laid bombs in a church – this time in Makassar in eastern Indonesia, injuring twenty people.

This week, the most important in the Christian calendar, is a favourite target of jihadists. Recall the Easter Day bombings in Sri Lanka in 2019, and the Easter murders of church goers in Lahore’s Gulsha-i-Iqbal Park, picnicking after their Service.

But for many the agonies of Good Friday are a daily occurrence.

Think of Northern Nigeria where Leah Sharibu, a young schoolgirl, remains in the hands of Boko Haram, having been abducted, raped, forcibly converted, and married. Since last Easter, more than 3,000 Christians have been killed in Nigeria – a country which last year received an average of £800,000 in UK aid every single day.

In Pakistan, another Commonwealth country, Maria Shahbaz is just one of around 1,000 Christian and Hindu girls, aged between 12 and 25, who are abducted annually – with impunity. Ten years ago, Shahbaz Bhatti, the Christian Minister for Minorities, was assassinated. No one has been brought to justice. During the same period, Pakistan has been in receipt of £3 billion of UK aid, little of which reaches beleaguered minorities.

In Burma, the illegal military junta is stoking the fires of religious nationalism, targeting ethno-religious minorities such as Christian Kachin and Karen, and Muslim Rohingyas.  The appointment of my friend, Dr Sasa, an ethnic Chin, and a Christian, as the international envoy of Burma’s elected Parliamentarians.

Think, too, of the personal Calvaries of China’s religious minorities: the genocide against Uyghur Muslims; the incarceration of Christians in Hong Kong;  Tibet’s suffering Buddhists;  murdered Falun Gong practitioners ; bulldozed churches and arrested pastors – such as Pastor Wang Yi of Early Rain Church, now serving nine years in prison.

In neighbouring North Korea, another atheistic regime has created  what a UN report describes as “a State without parallel” .  A North Korean escapee from one of the concentration camps was a witness at a hearing I chaired in Westminster. She told us: “They tortured the Christians the most”.

These stories can be replicated in many other jurisdictions, from Sudan to Iran, Eritrea to Iraq – where genocide was the fate of Christians, Yazidis and other minorities.

The man who coined the word “genocide” was the Jewish Polish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin, and his work led to the Genocide Convention. He  argued that “international co-operation” was needed, “to liberate mankind from such an odious scourge”.

As a Treaty signatory we are committed to prevent, protect, and punish. But as Parliament has made clear in recent weeks these promises have been honoured mainly in their breach. William Hague was right to say there is a significant “gap between the commitments States have made and the reality of their actions.”

Both the Genocide Convention and Article 18 of the UDHR  are secular documents.  They could still offer the best hope to the religious and non religious alike. Along with better focused and prioritised practical help, through UK aid programmes, we really could turn the tables.

On a day when we remember an unjust trial, the violent use of torture, the degrading of human dignity, and judicial murder, we  might ask whether we march to such a very different tune, too often acquiescing in the shedding of innocent blood?

Good Friday was a bad day for humanity – but even the most monstrous crimes don’t have to be the final word. Beyond the Cross is an empty tomb, giving reassurance, meaning and perspective to our seemingly endless ability to inflict wounds and suffering on one another.

Greed can have good consequences, generosity bad ones. What counts isn’t the motive. It’s the result.

24 Mar

At the risk of invoking Godwin’s law, we will risk the following.  Hitler believed his persecution of the Jewish people was right – morally justified.  That he believed he was doing good does nothing to make the Holocaust less evil.  Ditto Stalin and the Kulaks, Mao and the Rightists.

Now imagine a vaccine producer – to take a topical example – who is driven entirely by greed.  His motive does nothing to lessen his product’s effectiveness.  It doesn’t lop even a single life off the list of those saved.

By the way, it’s unlikely that he would be driven entirely by anything.  Most of us aren’t.  We’re powered by a mass of motives, the mix of which we can’t identify: greed, altruism, fear, compassion, anger, lust, shame, love – and perhaps, above all, by the elemental urge to “keep going”, as the sergeant yells at the shell-shocked First World War soldier in Ted Hughes’ radio play The Wound.

To be clear: greed isn’t good in itself, but its by-products can be.  Generosity, by contrast, is good in itself, but it’s by-products may not be.  What good comes of generously giving the addict money for the fix that will kill him?

Whatever you may say about Boris Johnson, he never fails to give us all something new to talk about – in this case, his half-remark about those vaccine firms yesterday, quickly made and just as quickly withdrawn.  As he sometimes does, he was offending the spirit of the age.

Which crowns virtue signalling as the ultimate virtue.  What matters isn’t what you do, but what you say – the signal you send.  It shows that you have the right motive, and everything else follows.  Except, as we’ve seen, that it doesn’t.

If you want societies that seek to impose virtue by force, leave the rest of us to muddled old Britain, and try Jim Jones’ Jonestown, with its murders and mass suicides, or Mao, Stalin, Hitler – and so on.  Compared to the lot of them, a greedy capitalist is a study of morality.

Sunder Katwala: Gandhi does not quite fit the bill of recognising ethnic minority Britons on our currency

4 Aug

Sunder Katwala is the Director of British Future.

There is a certain irony in Mahatma Gandhi being the dominant face of India’s currency. There was talk from the moment of independence of Gandhi replacing the image of the king on the money of the new Republic, though it took some decades for that plan to come to fruition.

A special commemorative 100 rupee note was produced as part of the centenary celebrations of Gandhi’s birth in 1969, but it was only during this era of India’s post-liberalisation boom after 1996 that the austere home-spun Mahatma became routinely the image and watermark of modern India’s new high-security banknotes. It is still only Gandhi who appears on Indian banknotes, reflecting both his role as the spiritual father of the nation, and the lack of consensus whenever additional figures have been proposed.

Now Gandhi may be set to achieve an unusual double, following reports that the Royal Mint proposes to feature him on British currency too. Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is supporting a call to recognise ethnic minority contributions in those celebrated on our currency.

Sunak wrote to the Royal Mint that “Black, Asian and other ethnic minority communities have made a profound contribution to the shared history of the United Kingdom. For generations, ethnic minority groups have fought and died for this country we have built together; taught our children, nursed the sick, cared for the elderly; and through their enterprising spirit have started some of our most exciting and dynamic businesses, creating jobs and driving growth”, in requesting that they bring forward proposals to reflect this on coinage.

The Chancellor’s intervention was a response to the “We Built Britain Too” campaign, coordinated by former Conservative candidate Zehra Zaidi and Windrush campaigner Patrick Vernon, of which I am a supporter. The campaign had hoped to persuade the Bank of England to feature the first ethnic minority Briton on a banknote.

Despite broad cross-partisan political support across right, left and centre, the Bank of England took a perfunctory and dismissive response to the campaign. The Bank’s remit includes “recognising the diversity of British society” in its choices, but it has considered this primarily through the lens of balancing artists and writers with engineers and scientists.

It seems entirely possible that we will have reached the post-cash society before Britain’s ethnic diversity enters onto the Bank of England’s radar. The support of the Chancellor and the Royal Mint will make a crucial difference to this happening on coins first.

It is not quite the case that no ethnic minority face has ever featured on British coinage. For example, the first black British army officer Walter Tull featured on a special £5 coin, part of a limited edition first world war centenary set in sterling silver and 22 carat gold, for the First World War Centenary.

But no ethnic minority Briton has featured on legal tender, or on the notes or coins that any of us might spend at the shops. The campaign is not proposing any specific individual – wanting to see a process of public engagement and debate – but suggestions including Noor Inayat Khan, Mary Seacole and black abolitionists such as Olaudah Equiano and Ignatius Sancho, the first black British voter in the 1774 general election, have been suggested.

Gandhi does not quite fit the bill for the campaign’s aim of recognising ethnic minority Britons. Though he did not live almost of his eight decades of life as among the king’s subjects, though the central mission of his life was that this should cease to be the case. He saw India become independent, and the trauma of Partition, but was assassinated by a fanatical Hindu supporter of the far right RSS within six months.

To the British public, Gandhi is a famous name, one of the great figures who shaped the 20th century and of very few names that would mean at least something to most people. Standing alongside Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher as British leaders are a handful of international figures: Hitler and Stalin as the villains of the last century, while Gandhi and Nelson Mandela are cast as its secular saints. No other figure from the end of Empire – including Nehru in India, or any other figure from Ireland, Asia or Africa – has any similar level of public recognition.

So Gandhi’s iconic image is claimed for many causes. An image of integrity, to contrast with the politicians of our time; an image of simplicity and sustainability, perhaps now to be seized by environmentalists; an image of activism, “to be the change you want to be in the world” used for myriad causes.

A simplistic deification of Gandhi risks losing the complexity of the man and his times. He was a pacifist, who helped Britain to recruit Indians in the First World War as a strategy to earn Dominion status, and whose philosophy could drive the British from India but lacked answers to address the menace of Hitler and the Holocaust in WWII.

His arguments with Nehru over India’s post-Independence path illustrates how part of Gandhi’s appeal as an icon in the West can reflect a problematic romanticisation of Indian poverty. Gandhi was a crusader against caste and for India’s untouchables, and developed his strategies in campaigning for Indian rights in South Africa, but held dismissive prejudices against the black Africans, as his leading biographer Ramachandra Guha has set out. “Gandhi’s blanking of Africans is the black hole at the heart of his saintly mythology”, as Patrick French wrote in his review of Guha’s Gandhi before India.

So Gandhi too has been challenged by anti-racist campaigners. We should recognise that there are no flawless heroes. The school curriculum should interrogate every controversy, so that we understand them, warts and all. Yet we can not set standards for the recognition of past achievements that not even Churchill or Gladstone, Gandhi or Mandela can attain, or we would surely have no statues at all.

That Gandhi’s statue now stands in Parliament Square – joining the statesmen of previous ages, along with the suffragette campaigner Millicent Fawcett – is modern Britain’s way of acknowledging the justice of Gandhi’s and India’s cause. It places his campaign against British rule as part of the story of British democracy, whose traditions and arguments were used by Indian Nationalists to tell the British that it was time to go.

The statue was welcomed across the British party spectrum, though it was David Cameron and Sajid Javid who unveiled it. The proposal to feature Gandhi on coinage may also be considered an important gesture of Global Britain’s commitments to the Commonwealth – and the warmth of its bilateral relationship with a rising India today – but this is a different, parallel proposition to the case to recognise British ethnic minority contributions.

This timely change would be one simple response to the growing appetite to deepen the public understanding of the history of race in Britain, and how that has shaped the country that we are today. Most people don’t want that to turn into a culture war over the history of our country. If the focus is almost entirely on who might be removed, we risk neglecting to ask contributions we want to recognise better.

This constructive campaign to reflect significant ethnic minority contributions to British history on national symbols, like coins, symbolises how our generation can contribute to broadening Britain’s national story in an inclusive way. Zaidi says her hope is that “it helps build cohesion, inspires young people and unites us as a nation that we all have an equal stake and contribution in society.

Having as open as possible a process of public debate about the potential candidates would maximise the educational value of this positive, symbolic change.