Edited by Gavriel D. Rosenfeld


Edited by Gavriel D. Rosenfeld

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Nigel Farage's Counterfactual Conclusion to World War I

I’m not inclined to agree with Ukip leader Nigel Farage on many policy issues, but he may be correct in his recent speculative comments about the conclusion of World War I.

As The Guardian recently reported, Farage argued that “Britain and its allies should have continued the First World War for another six weeks in order to achieve an unconditional German surrender, even at the cost of another 100,000 casualties.”
“I believe we should have continued with the advance,” Farage said as he delivering the annual Tom Olsen Lecture at London’s St Bride’s Church on Monday night, hours before Armistice Day was due to be marked across Britain, parts of Europe and the Commonwealth.”
“We should have pursued the war for a further six weeks, and gone for an unconditional surrender. Yes, the last six weeks of the war cost us 100,000 casualties, and I’m prepared to accept that a further six weeks of war might have cost us another 100,000.”
The failure to do pursue this approach ended up being catastrophic, Farage argued.  Indeed, “the armistice was the biggest mistake of the entire 20th century.”  
To bolster this point, Farage argued counterfactually:
“Had we driven the German army completely out of France and Belgium [and] forced them into unconditional surrender, Herr Hitler would never have got his political army off the ground. He couldn’t have claimed Germany had been stabbed in the back by the politicians in Berlin, or that Germany had never been beaten in the field.”
“The Ukip leader said that the reason why Hitler had been able to get his party off the ground in Germany – drawing on “the myth of the stab in the back” at the treaty of Versailles – was because one of those marching through the streets in support of him in 1923 was Erich Ludendorff, a commander of the German army during the first world war.”
“He added: “It was Ludendorff who gave Hitler credibility. Yet none of this would happened if someone had made Ludendorff surrender unconditionally.”
“The Ukip leader said: “The consensus is that the treaty of Versailles was too punitive. It led directly to German hyperinflation, which in turn led to seven million unemployed, and which in turn led to National Socialism.
“But I don’t actually think Versailles was the mistake. I believe the real mistake, the anniversary of which we remember today, was the armistice.”

What should we make of this claim?

Farage is wrong that the Treaty of Versailles was not a mistake (its punitive character did, in fact, lead to a right-wing backlash against the Weimar government that signed the treaty).  But he is right that an unconditional surrender would have certainly prevented Germans from disbelieving the fact that their army had actually lost the war in the field (instead of being stabbed in the back by civilian traitors).

That said, it is entirely possible that the Allies would have followed up an unconditional surrender with an equally punitive peace treaty like Versailles – one that would have led to some kind of German backlash.  Farage’s claim may thus be overly optimistic.

It is interesting to contemplate whether the Germans would have pursued some kind of insurgency against Allied occupying forces.  After World War II, the country was so destroyed and the population so exhausted from six years of fighting that the Werewolf insurgency of 1945-47 was weak and ineffectual. 

After World War I, by contrast, Germany would have been much less destroyed (even if Entente forces had laid northern areas of the country waste on the way to Berlin).  Perhaps South Germans (whose territory might have been spared) would have risen up to expel the invaders with the aid of a rightwing revanchist movement. 

The scenario is a provocative one that is certainly worth mulling over.  Farage may not deserve credit for much else, but he certainly earns points in the area of provocative counterfactual proposals.  

No comments:

Post a Comment