With the upcoming mid-term elections looming on the horizon and the talk about it being the “most important election” of our lives it is good on occasion to reflect on some of the other moments in history that are not that long ago to have a proper perspective on our own day and times. Times are difficult now here and around the world. There are the obvious financial problems at home and abroad with few jobs and an economy that limps along at best. Then there are the conflicts with real bullets flying in Afghanistan and Iraq. There is the additional threats from Iran and North Korea. The atmosphere is tense and apprehension is in the air. Many think that times couldn’t be any worse. Yes, they can.
Only a couple of generations ago in the fall of 1939 the War had just started in Europe. What was even worse about it was that the Commies had joined with Hitler in the invasion of Poland which was the immediate cause of the War. The fact that Stalin did that is almost universally overlooked these days in the classrooms. Between them they carved up Poland entirely. England and France declared war on Germany due to the invasion but held back on the declaration against the Commies. They were concerned about the ability to fight both powers at the same time. A legitimate concern but the diplomatic airwaves were busy. The West wanted the Commies to renounce their association with Hitler and withdraw. To compound and confound matters even worse the Commies then invaded Finland that fall. Stalin had an appetite for conquest second to none. He intended to take the entire world at least Hitler had limits to his ambitions geographically at that time. The quick victory expected over the Finns was thwarted however by the stout and stalwart defense and fight offered by the Finns. The Soviets had expected a walkover and quick surrender but what they got was a bloody nose and for a few months a stalemate along the border. The Finns weren’t the Norwegians or the French. They wouldn’t be rolled over.
At home the Great Depression was still in full force. Yes, there had been some slight improvement due to gearing up for the expected war and the munitions industries here. But the new jobs were paltry compared to the need. Most people were dirt poor still in 1939. Ask your grandparents or great grandparents about that time. You don’t have to take my word for it. Our military was miniscule at that time. The Army only had a little over 100,000 men and the Navy was mostly using ships that had been built during WWI.
There was a very strong move by many to declare war on the Soviets in England and France. We cautioned to take care and use diplomacy even while the guns were firing and the people were dying. It was a futile foreign policy then just as any appeasement efforts are today. The Finns were completely innocent of any wrong doing. There had been a border dispute for generations with Russia but the Finns were going to invade Russia! That excuse was all the Soviets needed. That war was purely for conquest and the expansion of the communist system. The Soviets could envision the expansion of their communist doctrine right across the Nordic region once they had Finland. Sweden and Norway would be next up. Their only concern would be with the ally the Germans.
During the winter of ’39 and ’40 there were few options available to the British to attack and fight back against the Germans. This was during the period when the “Phony War” prevailed in the West. The Germans weren’t ready to attack yet and the French as always weren’t eager or stalwart enough for any fight. Churchill was the First Lord of the Admiralty during this time. He was not yet Prime Minister that did not occur until May of 1940. He pushed for some action against the Germans and the only place they could agree upon with the French was in Norway. But the rub was that the Soviets were now so close since their war and conquest of Finland was afoot.
The diplomatic heat went up. Even the liberals and Soviet sympathizers in Britain had a hard time justifying the actions of Stalin. Finland was calling on the West for help. Morality and decency were on the side of the Finns and everyone knew it. An invasion of Norway was planned to thwart this effort by the Soviets and to deny the ports and raw materials to the Germans. The troops were embarked and the demands on the Soviets were becoming more pronounced for a withdrawal in the winter of 1940. The Finns then had to surrender. The Soviet takeover was a fait accompli. Stalin allowed as how that was the end of his territorial ambitions. Those words were hollow and false but the West was eager to pretend they were sincere. The invasion went forward against only the Germans. The declaration of war against the Soviets was avoided but only by a knife’s edge. A few more days and the West very likely would have been at war with the Commies and Hitler at the same time.
Of course some 18 months later when Hitler invaded Russia we came to be allies with Stalin. He was a bad bedfellow. The worst we ever were tied to by far. If you think some of the leaders in Iraq or Afghanistan stink or are venal then they are angels in comparison to Stalin.
That was truly a dark time. The daily apprehension and fear of most people was real. There were no jobs, no money and the world was marching to war before their eyes. Except for Britain there were no decent guys around. Some even demonized Britain because of their colonial empire. But they played by the rules of the game and the rule of law, not the law of the gun. Our concerns and worries are legitimate and real at this time due to the direction of our current leadership but we’ve survived much worse. Use the ballot to avoid the bullets.
“In war, Resolution; in defeat, Defiance; in victory, magnanimity” W. Churchill www.olcranky.wordpress.com