When Fitzroy MacLean parachuted into Yugoslavia in 1943, little was known of Tito and the Partisans. Rumours suggested Tito was a woman, or a committee. MacLean found a communist.
During a subsequent meeting with Churchill, which he reported in his book Eastern Approaches (I can't find my copy so can't give the page reference), MacLean pointed out that supporting Tito, though militarily advantageous in the fight against the Germans, meant that Yugoslavia was being condemned to communist rule. Churchill asked him whether he was planning to live in Yugoslavia after the war. MacLean replied that he was not. Churchill said he wasn't either, and that concluded the conversation.
Not only were they both willing to take their enemy's enemy as their friend, they were prepared to condemn a whole country to what both regarded as tyranny, if that furthered their own national interest. From a modern British perspective, it's possible at least to understand their reasoning, whether or not we agree with it. They were defending liberal democracy against fascism. It's much harder to understand it when we are the bad guys, the enemy, in the fight against whom others are prepared to make alliances with evils. In fact, it's very difficult to accept we might have been, or even might still be, the bad guys in conflicts.
During World War Two, also in 1943, there was a famine in Bengal. There hadn't been a bad harvest, the famine was a man-made thing caused by both speculative and panic buying - the latter raised prices and made the former attractive - and by a sluggish colonial administration, British, that continued to export food as the famine worsened. Some three million people died, about half the death toll of the Holocaust. During the second half of the nineteenth century, between 30 and 40 million Indians died during famines. There have been no famines in India since independence in 1947.
These experiences of famine and of the absence of famine were of central importance to the work of Indian economist Amartya Sen, who suggests that democracies with free presses do not experience famines. Although his message is a complicated one, and places importance on the idea of "positive" liberty, liberal and free market types, like me, like to quote Sen from time to time. Tim Worstall quoted him a month or two ago, here, for example. If Sen is right, though, the blame for these famines in India lies in the fact that there was a colonial administration. It lies with the British.
About twenty years ago, I had some contact with one of Bose's sons, on and off, for a year or so. He was very proud of his lineage, in fact the reverse of his business cards mentioned it. He saw no reason at all why a white Englishman should not compliment him on it. Neither could I. Bose was not a fascist any more than Fitzroy MacLean was a communist. I think Bose made the wrong choice. I think he should have opposed the Nazis then opposed British rule, by peaceful means - not least because they were more likely to succeed, as events in India showed. I think the same about the IRA.
What's more, Britain was not, in the late 1930s, going round the world fighting fascism. We didn't help the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War and we tried very hard to maintain "peace in our time" and NOT fight the Nazis. We were a lot less principled than we'd now like to think.
So on to the blog spat. Mr E wrote about the:
... mock outrage on the left over Dan Hannan's warm words for Enoch Powell - despite the fact that Hannan made no reference to Powell's views on immigrationOliver Kamm thought differently:
Powell's broader political outlook was consistently ridiculous and he is remembered for one thing above all. He inflamed debate and debased the political culture by his incendiary and carefully judged comments on race. In Powell's words in 1968, under the Race Relations Bill (later the Race Relations Act) "the immigrant communities can organise to consolidate their members, to agitate and campaign against their fellow citizens, and to overawe and dominate the rest with the legal weapons which the ignorant and the ill-informed have provided".The important point about Kamm's criticism is that it was not restricted to the subject of race. Setting that aside and accepting that Hannan does not agree with Powell's stance on the subject, Powell is still a ridiculous figure to hold up as an intellectual hero. But given that Powell has become symbolic for ethnic minorities in Britain, using his name is probably unwise, for a politician, and whatever point one might be trying to make could probably be made in another way.
This wasn't aberrant in his philosophy. Powell was a pig-headed, anti-American, anti-European, xenophobic, crank conspiracy theorist. It was no accident (the dreary Marxisant formulation is apt here) that his wider writings were so preposterous: witness his forays into biblical criticism and his belief that the works attributed to Shakespeare were in reality written by the 17th Earl of Oxford. These were the recreational outlets for a mentality that found political expression in paranoid malevolence.
Hannan says he simply praised Powell
... for his prescience in understanding the threat that European integration posed to national democracy.If that was the case, no more certain way could be found for the point about European integration to be entirely smothered and lost in an avalanche of criticism, than by citing Enoch's wise words on the subject.
So Hannan was apparently making what I'd regard as a reasonable point in a way almost calculated to be self-defeating. There are, of course, less charitable interpretations available. "Enoch was OK" is often code for "there are too many darkies". Hannan doesn't, so far as I can see, feel this is the case. So it was doubly stupid for him both to lose his argument in a welter of irrelevant criticism, and to sow a seed of (I believe unfounded) suspicion that he might be a closet racist.
Powell was a crank who, in my view knowingly, stirred racial discord. Bose was an Indian nationalist who was willing to ally with extraordinarily evil powers in the furtherance of what he saw as his own national interest. Powell was a British nationalist who was willing to ally with an extraordinarily evil power - I'm not aware he criticised our wartime alliance with Stalin. Both were willing to fight with courage for their country. The balance of awfulness favours Bose here.
Me E called it the other way:
I myself view neither Powell, Castro nor Bose as political heroes. But if we're really going to go down the route of choosing our leaders based on their views about divisive hate figures from the past, I'm afraid it's not much of a horse race. Give me the one who supports the democrat over the ones who support the dictators every time.That's fair enough - though I'm not sure which democrats were available for an alliance with Bose. In the course of his argument, though, Mr E also criticised Sunny Hundall:
... one can't help noticing the lack of such outrage when Southall MP Virendra Sharma praised the pro-independence Indian leader, Subhas Chandra Bose. Indeed, Sunny leapt to his defence...Hundall's response was:
Erm yeah. One was a high-ranking British politician who warned that black and white people mixing would lead to race war. The other was a lowly freedom fighter trying to get rid of the British Raj from India who had ruled his country for centuries and killed millions of people in the process. Obviously both are roughly in the same situation. By the same measure Churchill is a dictator who should never be spoken off highly forever.Tim Worstall weighed in:
Bose fought for an[d] with the fascists. Indeed, if Powell had had his request granted to join the Chindits he would have fought directly against Bose and his fascist allies.Oh, there's nothing like a good blog spat.
By continuing Sunny’s logic we should all therefore be supporting the BNP for they are indeed fighting with, not against, fascism. Or something.
I hate to say it, though, but in this one I agree with Sunny. If we'd been fighting the Soviets in 1939, we'd have allied with fascists too.