When did the Second World War Begin?

British school children are taught the Second World War began on 3rd September, 1939. Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister, declared war on Germany after they invaded Poland.1 Britain began a European war not the world war. The Second World War was a series of regional wars which coalesced into a single conflict. British school children have been misled. The answer isn’t 3rd September, 1939.

USSR

The USSR was an enemy of Nazi Germany. Communists were victims of the Nazis filling concentration camps for brutal ‘re-education’. Nonetheless Realpolitik2 trumped ideological hatred. In a political coup, the Molotov-Ribbentrop treaty was signed on 23rd August, 1939. Germany attacked Poland a week later and this attack was quickly followed by the USSR.

Britain declared war on Germany but not3 the USSR. Poland was quickly conquered. As it was mopped up, political certainties were destroyed. Hitler’s treaty with the USSR meant he’d secured his eastern frontier making an attack on western Europe probable. The Germans and USSR regained territory lost at Versailles, 1919. The European war began in earnest.

Japan

The Japanese began their conquest of China after the Marco Polo Bridge incident.4 This event continued for three days, 7-9th July, 1937. It was an Asian war until the USA converted it into a geopolitical event. The USA,

“…..supported China through a series of increasing boycotts against Japan, culminating with cutting off steel and petrol exports into Japan by June 1941.”5

American boycotts crippled Japan’s economy and they retaliated with an audacious attack on the American fleet at Pearl Harbour.6 The Japanese interpreted sanctions as an existential provocation. Destroying Pearl Harbour was a declaration of war but the Japanese underestimated American military capacity and the USA underestimated Japan. Both miscalculations clouded decision-making. The Japanese-USA war began on 7th December, 1941 as a regional war in the Pacific rim.

Germany

Hitler began the European war with territorial gains between 1936-9 made without warfare. War began when he misread Neville Chamberlain,7 who’d bizarrely guaranteed support for Poland. British support was illusionary and the eight-month Phoney War began.8 In Spring 1940, German forces swept through western Europe. The failure of the Blitz and Operation Sea Lion9 left the German conquest incomplete.

The scale and decisiveness of German victories stunned western Europe. German gains could have been consolidated as they were in France with Petain’s Vichy regime. Instead, Hitler’s Lebensraum policy was implemented with Operation Barbarossa.10 He tore up the Molotov-Ribbentrop treaty and committed Germany to an unwinnable two-front war.

If Chamberlain’s support for Poland was quixotic, Hitler’s actions after Pearl Harbour were insane. On the 11th December, 194111 Hitler declared war on the USA to ‘support’ Japan, which, of course, he couldn’t do. It’s unlikely Roosevelt could have persuaded Congress to fight simultaneous wars. The USA was dragged into the war and Hitler unwittingly unleashed the world’s greatest war machine. America developed an unprecedented world-class two-ocean fleet alongside armies in Asia and Europe.

Conclusion

The Second World War broke out on the 11th December, 1941. Hitler brought together the warring countries of Europe, Asia and America by declaring war on the USA. Three regional wars coalesced into a world war.

Notes

1 Radio Address by Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister, September 3, 1939 | Odeboyz’s Blog (oedeboyz.com) For the full text

2 “…a system of politics or principles based on practical rather than moral or ideological considerations.”

3 Why Didn’t Britain & France Declare War On The Soviet Union In 1939? | HistoryExtra

4 Second Sino-Japanese War – Wikipedia and The Marco Polo Bridge Incident (thoughtco.com)

5 Second Sino-Japanese War – Wikipedia

6 Pearl Harbor: Attack, Casualties & Facts – HISTORY

7 Hitler regarded Chamberlain as a ‘worm’ and this clouded his judgement.

8 Phoney War – Wikipedia

9 Hitler’s Invasion Plan: Operation Sea Lion, 1940 | Odeboyz’s Blog (oedeboyz.com)

10 The Strategic Context of Operation Barbarossa: June 22nd 1941 | Odeboyz’s Blog (oedeboyz.com)

11 German declaration of war against the United States – Wikipedia For the full text this is really quite interesting see Hitler’s declaration of war on the USA, 11th December 1941 | Odeboyz’s Blog (oedeboyz.com)

Posted in History, Politics, War | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Living in China

Me:  I asked my Chinese friend what it’s like living in China

Him: I can’t complain

Posted in Humour, Politics, quips | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Keith Richards at his wisest

Keith Richards was given a turtle for his birthday.

Richards: “How old will it get”.

His friend: “About 300 years”.

Richards: “Now you see why I’m against pets. You get attached to them and then they die.”

Posted in Humour, quips, wildlife | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Film Review: Bullet Train (Brad Pitt) (2022)

If you work very hard it’s possible to find out what’s happening but it probably isn’t worth the effort. This gore-fest has a body count going into three figures. Being set in Japan there are more than the usual gun battles. Bullet Train also has swords, knives and various imaginative ways of dispatching those needing to be dispatched.

The title Bullet Train tells you where the action takes place. Sleek, hyper-efficient and very, very fast trains make an unlikely setting for mayhem but somehow it works. Like all action films they’re wildly implausible but sit back and enjoy.

Unusually for a gore-fest it’s very amusing. Brad Pitt is on top, top form. Wry humour and, astonishing references to West Ham United! This is coupled with lots of Thomas the Tank Engine as a source of wisdom. And there’s an assassin with a broad authentic East Ender accent. This is an eclectic film. Although set in Japan it’s American-English with occasional Japanese characters.

If you hate gratuitous extreme violence avoid it – go and see the Railway Children. I was taken aback that its certificate was a 15. This hints at a disturbing acceptance of violence.

Posted in Film, Humour, Review | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

This is real initiative

Posted in Humour | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The cost-of-living crisis in Mayfair

A new Mayfair joint has opened with the proud announcement that its menu will include a dish costing £3000. Apparently, it involves a bucket load of caviar with a brooding sense of inadequacy on the side. I’m not naming the place, or the chef or the PR company responsible for promoting it, because that’s exactly what they want. All three should be utterly ashamed of themselves. And if they’re not, no worries because I’m ashamed of them.”

Jay Rayner The Observer magazine 7th August 2022 p28

Posted in Economics, Review | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Godfather’s Diplomatic Advice

Posted in Film, quips, War | Tagged | Leave a comment

Book Reviews: Russian Themed Thrillers

When Martin Cruz Smith’s Gorky Park (1981), was published it was an instant hit. The subsequent series had everything. A Russian version of a maverick Detective Inspector who was brilliant and opposed by the forces of institutional corruption. And they were exotic. Writing what appeared to be authoritative novels about the USSR clinched the deal. Since then, other writers have dived in. There are now many successful Russian thriller novels.

Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44 (2008) is a brilliant novel which is searing and intense. I can’t recommend it enough. His subsequent novels are less impressive.

G D Absom Black Wolf (2019)1 is the second of two novels (I haven’t read the first one) and it is stunning in its detail. The blurb claims that he has *good* relations with the police in St Petersburg but there’s nothing in his biography which suggests he speaks Russian. So that might be a marketing ploy.

Jason Matthews Red Sparrow (2013) is a terrific book about the recruitment of a young women in to the KGB. The authentic feel to the sections on her *training* I found especially chilling.

These novels are all western takes on Russia and probably rely on our prejudices to make them *work* but as good reads they’re outstanding. These few books are just the tip of the iceberg and a jog trot through Wikipedia and Amazon will give you more examples.

Note

1 This is my full review from 2020 Book Review: G D Abson ~ Black Wolf (2019) | Odeboyz’s Blog (oedeboyz.com)

Posted in Literature, Review | Tagged | Leave a comment

A Spike Milligan quip

The best cure for sea sickness is to sit under a tree.

Posted in Humour, quips | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Execution of Charles the First: 30th January, 1649

The axe was raised, it struck and Charles was beheaded. Charles died after being found guilty of a crime, which didn’t exist until Oliver Cromwell and his followers created it. They then appointed themselves as judge and jury adding a further layer of controversy. Was Charles executed or murdered?

The Problem

Between 1641 and 1648 Britain was ravaged by civil wars. On many occasions Charles demonstrated a lack of trustworthiness. Cromwell became convinced that meaningful negotiations, to end the civil wars, were impossible This created a problem. Ending the civil wars, with Charles alive, meant he’d remain as a focal point of dissension. Alternatively, assassinating him would create a martyr.

The Solution

Charles was recognised as king by everyone in 1649. This compounded Cromwell’s problem. Worse, it was accepted that Charles was king because he was chosen by God. Killing him would have been interpreted as martyrdom. Cromwell was an adroit politician who manouvred his way past this difficulty by saying God had withdrawn his favour from Charles. How else, went Cromwell’s argument, could Charles have been defeated? Cromwell didn’t put king Charles on trial. He put Charles Stuart on trial but this sophistry wasn’t accepted by many observers.

“The peculiar nature of the trial reflects not simply the fact that a King was on trial but that both the King and his judges took their stand on what are still crucial principles – the King on his right to trial by a properly constituted court acting on the basis of established law, and his accusers on the need to call to account a King they had described as a tyrant who shed the blood of his people.”1 (my emphasis)

Charles refused to recognise the court, “…[or] the charges against him or the authority of the court to lay these charges, the Commissioners took the decision to deny the king the right to speak to the court until he answered the charges.”2

The trial was a statement that Charles should be executed but most MPs refused to be judges. They didn’t believe a king could be tried and executed. “….even among those MPs considered loyal to Cromwell, there was no clear support to try Charles.”3

Cromwell’s desire to execute Charles meant he took enormous political risks. His own MPs didn’t support him and most of the population rejected his position. Royalists denied the legitimacy of the trial proclaiming, “The King is dead, Long live the King,” marking the succession of Charles the second.4

Cromwell’s political adroitness couldn’t conceal the unique nature of the trial and execution of Charles. Just how could he be executed for a crime that didn’t exist when it was ‘committed’?5 The intransigence of Charles prolonged the civil war beyond 1645 when he was decisively defeated at Naseby.6 Post 1645 the civil wars changed and he could, plausibly, be described as a ‘Man of Blood’. Every death after 1645 was ‘unnecessary’ to be laid at his door.

Cromwell was a deeply religious man who saw the ‘hand of God’ in every event. The defeat of Charles and his utter untrustworthiness led to Cromwell believing that he’d forfeited his anointment as king. Charles was unworthy of kingship and therefore wasn’t really a king in Cromwell’s assessment. He was a ‘Man of Blood’ deserving to die. Cromwell’s political calculation was this was demonstrable and the people would agree with him.

Conclusion

The execution of Charles horrified European monarchs but within a few years their feelings shifted to Realpolitik.7 Regardless of their fears, Cromwell was a fact of life and had to be accommodated. British foreign policy thrived under Cromwell. Meanwhile Charles II became an embarrassment and was shuffled from one location to another relying on largesse from his royal ‘cousins’. The execution of Charles was a legal novelty. However, within the swirls of religion and politics Cromwell showed incredible courage by not assassinating Charles and putting him on trial. Charles wasn‘t murdered, he was executed after a novel but legitimate trial.

Notes

1 The trial of Charles I – UK Parliament For a discussion of this see Why didn’t Oliver Cromwell Order the Assassination of Charles the First? | Odeboyz’s Blog (oedeboyz.com)

2 The Trial of Charles I – The National Archives blog

3 The Trial and Execution of Charles I – History Learning Site

4 Charles II always dated his accession to the throne from 1649 after his fathers’ death not 1660 when the monarchy was restored.

5 The Allies faced an identical problem in 1945 when Nazi Germany was defeated. The Nazis had committed horrific crimes but no-one had ever seen genocide before. Indeed, the concept ‘genocide’ didn’t exist prior to 1945 but the Nazi leadership were put on trial and executed. See Adolf Eichmann, Train Drivers and Crimes Against Humanity: Auschwitz 1944 | Odeboyz’s Blog (oedeboyz.com)

6 Battle of Naseby – Wikipedia

7 Realpolitik – Wikipedia

Posted in History, Politics, Religion, War | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment