Tuesday, 20 December 2011

History Books of the Year for 2011

For those of your struggling to find the last few Christmas gifts - here is a short list of my favourite History Books of 2011...

Anna Reid - Leningrad: Tragedy of a City under Siege, 1941-44.

Max Hastings - All Hell Let Loose: The World at War 1939-1945

Ian Kershaw - The End: Hitler's Germany, 1944-1945

Rodric Braithwaite - Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan, 1979-89

Robert Gerwarth - Hitler's Hangman: The Life of Heydrich

Norman Davies - Vanished Kingdoms

All good - all very much worth reading, and giving..

Happy Christmas

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

"Very Well - Semi-detached"

Big news of this week has been the European summit and PM David Cameron's use of a veto to scupper a proposed treaty aiming for greater fiscal union to save the Euro. All sides on this are posturing and playing politics - Milliband is especially shameless - yet, it strikes me that we should perhaps all save our breath for the moment. We will only know if the plans are successful - in that they save the Euro - in six months, or a year. So all we have at the moment, it seems to me, is political knockabout.

Yet, there are important practical and ideological aspects to what has been done here. The practical aspect is to ease the economic crisis in the Eurozone - solve the sovereign debt problems of the Greeks and others - and breathe life back into the Euro. This is all well and good - and a goal in which Britian can heartily collaborate - not least because 50% of British exports go to the EU. So, an economically healthy EU is good for Britain.

But, it is the ideological aspect that causes Britain its problems. This ideological aspect is the idea of an ever-closer union, encompassing not only a free trade area (which Britain originally signed up to), but monetary and now fiscal union - and by implication an ever-closer de-facto political union, under German hegemony. This is something to which Britain cannot - and should not - ever agree.

Taking the long view - historically speaking - Britain's political position regarding Europe has always mirrored her geographical position - semi-detached. A position summarised by Churchill when he said "We are with Europe, but not of it. We are linked but not compromised. We are interested and associated but not absorbed."

Broadly, Britain's historical position regarding Europe can be summed up in geo-political terms, as one of preserving balance. Britain's interests and ambitions were well-served by simply seeking to preserve a balance of powers on the European continent, not allowing any one power to achieve a dominant position, whilst preserving opportunities for trade. As soon as any one power becomes too dominant - Napoleon and Hitler are the best examples - then Britain acts to restore balance. Aside from this over-riding concern, however, Britain has traditionally stood apart from European squabbles, seeing her natural constituency beyond Europe's shores - in the colonies, the Empire, the Commonwealth or the Anglophone sphere...

This is why last week's summit veto was so important - for it marked the point at which the pragmatic business of economic union gave way to the more ideological one of political union. It may well be that the French and Germans did not want Britain in the club - mindful perhaps of Britain's more pragmatic instincts - and so deliberately forced Cameron into using his veto. It may be that Cameron did not negotiate as deftly as he might have done. Whatever the case, however, the moves that Europe signalled last week are not most certainly not in Britain's national interest.

Only time will tell is the economic aspect of the plan - that of saving the Euro - will succeed. Germany's unwillingness to allow devaluation rather handicaps the chances of recovery and has contributed to the mess that is now to be solved. Yet that recovery is important to Britain.

The political aspect meanwhile, whilst most certainly of profound significance, is not in Britain's interests. Mr Cameron did the right thing by remaining outside it.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Nazi Silly Season

It seems a sort of Hitler-silly-season has descended upon us in recent weeks.

Last week, we had the rather frivolous story of Hitler’s bedsheets coming up for auction.
All well and good, you might say, – and after all the bedlinen was duly monogrammed and festooned with swastikas, so is still of (at least passing) historical interest – but did the story really warrant the coverage that it received? I think not.

Then, last weekend, I was dismayed to read another nonsense story about Hitler in the newspapers, this time attempting to breathe life into the hoary old tale of his having visited the UK in the years before the First World War. We have long had the myth of his having visited Liverpool – which was put out after the war by his half-brother and sister-in-law (who did live in Liverpool), in a cynical attempt to flog an otherwise uninteresting memoir. But now, http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/3961409/Hitlers-visit-to-London.html the story has sadly been resurrected, apparently on the back of a BBC TV documentary, and further gloss is being added to the mythology. It is claimed that the future Führer visited London, went to see Tower Bridge and even “enjoyed a pint” down the local pub.

Now, as far as I know, there never was any proof that Hitler ever visited Liverpool (beyond the cynical, desperate reminiscences of his estranged former half-sister-in-law), yet now it seems he not only visited Liverpool, but also London, and he even went about to see the sights. Perhaps he even did some watercolours? I’d love to see the proof of all these fevered imaginings, but I would bet my next royalty cheque that there isn’t any.

All this Hitler-themed poppycock comes hard on the heels of another attempted resurrection, this time of perhaps the greatest myth of all in the Hitler canon – the suggestion that he escaped Berlin and lived out his days in Argentina. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2050137/Did-Hitler-Eva-Braun-flee-Berlin-die-old-age-Argentina.html (believe it or not, the Daily Mail is actually the most respectable ‘source’ for this report – apart from that it is wackos all the way down)
The reason that this crazy story resurfaced is that it has recently appeared in a book, which astonishingly manages to incorporate almost every Third Reich mystery and conspiracy theory into one bizarre and none-too-believable tale.

Of course, this sort of codswallop is all over the internet. But then, the “World Weird Web” is chock-full of Holocaust deniers, Flat-Earthers and those that refuse to believe that Osama Bin Laden was behind 9-11. Just because they all subscribe to a nonsense theory – doesn’t make it true. And, as before, there is not a shred of credible proof to back up such fanciful imaginings. Trust me, I have had the misfortune to read it…

So, all you hacks, part-time hobby historians and conspiracy theorists, let’s give Hitler a rest for a while, shall we? Serious study of the Third Reich and its Führer is all well and good – but crud such as this is in danger not only of giving us all a bad name, but also of leading an already credulous public even further up the garden path.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Fuhrerbau in Munich

Been a while - busy busy...

Anyway - just back from the inaugural "Historical Trips" tour - all a tremendous success.

Just a quick post here to mention one of the sites that we visited - a rather impromptu visit in fact, as it was not in the original itinerary - the Fuehrerbau in Munich.

Completed in 1937 from plans drawn up by Hitler's first 'court architect' Paul Ludwig Troost (who died in 1934), the building served as Hitler's office when he was in Munich and was the location for the famed Munich Conference of September 1938, where Czechoslovakia was dismembered and the principle of collective security died a death...

Interestingly, the building also stood cheek-by-jowl with one of the 'Honour Temples' in which the Nazi 'martyrs' of 1923 were laid to rest. Naturally, that building - as the very centrepiece of Nazi martyrology was demolished, and only its concrete foundations remain. But the neighbouring Fuehrerbau was permitted to remain after the war, primarily as it served the occupying US Army as a administrative building. It now is home to the Munich School of Music.

Thanks to such vicissitudes, the interior of the building is largely untouched. And it is a spectacular example of totalitarian architecture, not only with its coffered, neo-classical ceiling (right), but also its extensive use of Hitler's favourite red marble (left).

I did half-heartedly try to find Hitler's office - which was supposedly on the southern end of the building on the first floor. However, all I found there were the students' toilets... Who said the Germans didn't have a sense of humour?

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Of Fascists and Islamofascists

In November 1923, Adolf Hitler tried to bring down the German state. In his famous 'Beer Hall Putsch', he and his followers marched through Munich in a re-run of Mussolini's 'March on Rome' of the previous year, which had brought the latter to power in Italy.

Hitler, however, failed. Faced down by the massed ranks of the Bavarian police, he and his men were mown down in a narrow Munich street. 16 of their number were killed and Hitler himself escaped with a dislocated shoulder. He was later arrested and charged with high treason.

He stood trial in February of the following year. Amidst a blaze of publicity, Hitler exploited the opportunity to promote his ideas from the dock. The authorities were lenient; sympathetic to Hitler's motives, if not his methods. Though found guilty, he was sentenced to 5 years 'fortress confinement' - a gentler form of imprisonment with no hard labour and comfortable cells. Moreover, of this 5 years, Hitler served less than 9 months, being pardoned and released in later December 1924.

This leniency towards the right was commonplace in Germany at this time. Anton Arco-Valley, for instance, had murdered the Bavarian premier Kurt Eisner in Munich in broad daylight in 1919, yet was praised by the prosecutor at his trial, who stated that: "If the whole of German youth were imbued with such a glowing enthusiasm, we could face the future with confidence." Arco-Valley was initially condemned to death, before the judge reduced the sentence to 5 years, which again was served in 'fortress confinement'.

Another example was the Munich chief-of-police Ernst Pohner, who protected right-wing criminals and covered up right-wing crimes in the early 1920s. When asked if there were extremist death squads operating in and around the city, he famously relplied "Yes, but too few of them."

Germany's toleration of its extreme right in the 1920s may have been political grandstanding, but it would nonetheless have profound consequences. Within less than a decade of his trial, Hitler would be appointed Chancellor of Germany; The Third Reich, World War Two and the Holocaust followed.

Today - rather than fascists - we are assailed by a new enemy within - Islamofascists - who are just as bigoted, just as misguided, and just as contemptuous of our laws and traditions as Hitler and his cohorts were. Like the Nazis, theirs is a totalitarian ideology which will brook no compromise, views tolerance as weakness, and fetishises martyrdom.

But how do we respond to this challenge? Do we learn the lessons of history? Do we stand up for what we believe in? Face the threat robustly, confident in ourselves? Steadfast in defence of our traditions?

Sadly no. As the preposterously lenient sentence in the trial of Emdadur Choudhury demonstrates - this is a battle that the west seems to be hell-bent on losing. Having hamstrung ourselves with so much empty talk of 'rights', 'respect' and 'tolerance', we are clearly unable even to identify the threat posed to our civilisation, much less engage it.

After his failed putsch, Hitler vowed to use democratic means to destroy German democracy - to undermine it from within, using freedom of speech, pluralism and tolerance to weaken and finally destroy those same noble concepts. Our modern foes are utilising the same tactics, exploiting human rights, freedom of speech and tolerance, in an attempt to destroy our system and our way of life from within... The question is: How should we respond?

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Third Reich Tour "Controversy"

There has been alot of talk in the ether-world this week about the Third Reich tour "The Face of Evil: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" - see http://www.historicaltrips.com/ - that I am launching with two colleagues in the summer.

It all kicked off with a fairly ludicrous and irresponsible piece in the Sunday Times last weekend, which suggested that the tour was a "Hitler Holiday" and a "perverse pilgrimage". Other commentators have picked up on their lead this week, to describe the tour as "tawdry" and "indelicate".

By way of a response:

Don't believe everything you read online or in the papers: Both the Sunday Times and the Mail on Sunday ran items on this last weekend - yet surprisingly it was the Mail that did so with restraint and maturity, reporting it as a travel story, rather than a 'news controversy' angle that the Sunday Times adopted, falling back on all the hoary old stereotypes and customary hyperbolic nonsense.

Most of the other footage that has done the rounds of the internet this week has (sadly) fed off the Sunday Times' 'controversy' angle, in many cases getting increasingly wrong and increasingly ludicrous as it went. One online report stated that we promised to take our guests to "the lakeside villa" (so far, so good) "where Hitler planned the construction of Sachsenhausen concentration camp". If, as I suspect, they are referring to Wannsee - then this was where the Holocaust was planned, and Hitler was not actually at the meeting - indeed, so far as I know, never set foot in the place.

It is hard to imagine a more spectacular case of chinese whispers - or history more egregiously mangled by ill-informed, lazy journalists. So, if you want to read the truth of the trip - go to our website - http://www.historicaltrips.com/