Peter Hitchens is in fine form today. He begins his piece by listing all the things wrong with Britain, including the fact that “Our language is invaded by foreign words and expressions.” (of course this never happened before 1939, says the man who is named after someone from the Middle East). In our doughty columnist’s mind, Britain is a third-rate power which has an immense amount wrong with it. Therefore, Mr. Hitchens asks, would Britain have been better off not entering the Second World War? Would we still be the greatest imperial power in the world?
Most self-respecting historians would be able to answer this in three words: we don’t know. Counter-factual history is largely pointless. You might be able to make broad assertions on what might have happened immediately after something, but that is about it. For example, Napoleon was heading towards Brussels before Wellington stopped him at Waterloo. We can say that it was likely that a French victory at Waterloo would have probably been followed by an attack on Brussels. Beyond that though, we have no idea. We don’t know what Napoleon himself would have done, nor the other European powers. It is therefore useless to speculate on something like that, let alone how the world would have changed decades on if a key event was altered (i.e. Britain not entering WWII). Mr. Hitchens however is undaunted by this:
“Imagine we had been hard realists instead of sentimental romantics. If we had found a way, as we so very nearly did, to divide Hitler and Mussolini, so avoiding a threat to our Mediterranean sea-routes and bases. Imagine that we had chosen splendid isolation instead of active intervention over the quarrels of Eastern and Central Europe. It is not as if we saved the Czechs or the Poles from their various enemies by getting involved. And if we were really trying to save the borders of the Versailles Treaty, we made a pretty poor job of it.”
What then follows is a series of assertions not based on anything save what Mr. Hitchens would like to have happened. There are a few demonstrable factual errors (Congress had rejected dominion status by 1930 thanks to Nehru’s arguments, the EU was a pre-war project conceived of in the 1920s and 1930s, while mass migration has been going on for thousands of years), but since most of it is made up, it cannot be countered (though why Mr. Hitchens discounts Japanese expansion I cannot fathom). Suffice to say Britain would still be the best, still have an empire, and no bad people would have emerged. Not sure what would have become of those Nazis though.
|Post to del.icio.us|
Filed in: History