Survey of British Commonwealth Affairs

By Nicholas Mansergh | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
INTERNATIONAL RESPONSIBILITIES A PERSPECTIVE VIEW

THE COMMONWEALTH AND THE UNNECESSARY WAR

THE countries of the British Commonwealth of Nations played a decisive part in the winning of the Second World War. But it is open to question whether they made as great a contribution to preventing it. Was there anything that individually or collectively they could have done and failed to do before September 1939 to avert its outbreak? If, indeed, one accepts a determinist interpretation of human history, believing that its course may not be deflected by human will, then this is a question that needs no answer other than that given in some haunting lines of The Dynasts:1

Ere systemed suns were globed and lit
The slaughters of the race were writ

And wasting wars, by land and sea
Fixed, like all else, immutably.

But at all times the conscience of mankind has rebelled against the acceptance of such fatalism as this. It is true that in history there have been wars predicted by contemporaries which have followed inexorably from identifiable and unmistakable causes. But they have been few and no one has suggested that the world war of 1939-45 is to be numbered with them. On the contrary, statesmen and historians are at one in their belief that by resolute action at some earlier date the war could have been localized or could have even been averted. When President Roosevelt told Mr. Churchill that he was asking publicly for suggestions about what the war should be called, Mr. Churchill replied at once, 'The Unnecessary War'. Never, he observes, was there 'a war more easy to stop'.2 The verdict of the historian, Professor Namier, is expressed in almost identical terms. At several junctures, he writes, the second German bid for world domination could have been stopped without excessive effort or sacrifice.3

The two world wars that took place in the first half of the twentieth century began in Eastern Europe. As the principal causes of their outbreak were European, so too, the chief responsibility rests firmly upon the peoples of Europe themselves. In 1939 it was, to quote Professor Namier once again, a failure of European statesmanship, of European morality that made possible the Nazi bid for domination.4 But predominant European responsibility is not

____________________
1
Thomas Hardy, The Dynasts ( London, Macmillan, complete edition 1910, reprinted 1931) p. 47.
2
Second World War, vol. 1, p. 8.
3
L. B. Namier, Diplomatic Prelude ( London, Macmillan, 1948) p. ix.
4
ibid.

-49-

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