One man saved us from the greatest war of all.
British News Reel 1938
The Second in a series of why the GOP should thank Ted Cruz for his fight against Obamacare Part 1 The Time Stream is here Part 3 the Raiders is here, Part 4 Memories is here and the final part In Summation: Conventional Wisdom is here.
One of the things you see in a free society that you don’t see elsewhere are contrary voices.
For most of history the contrary voice was a rare thing, In the age of kings and princes a contrary voice was the quickest way to death. So if people saw things that were patently wrong they were ignored and the best made of it as dramatized in this episode of the Adventures of Robin Hood.
Robin hood (in disguise): Tell me friend what’s all the festivity for?
Innkeeper: Haven’t you heard we are to be blessed with a new princess from France, Isabella of Angoulême.
Robin hood: Oh, is princess Adis dead?
Innkeeper: I didn’t say that
Robin hood: Well then how can Prince John be taking a new wife?
Innkeeper: Now lad you know it’s only sinful for the likes of us to take a new wife when the old one is about. It’s different for the prince. He has a special arrangement with heaven.
Robin hood: or the devil
Innkeeper: Well I don’t complain, it’s his own soul & I’ll do a brisk trade when it’s time to toast our new highness.
Additionally one got power and position from agreeing with authority. That’s why to be received at court meant so much. The favor of the king and those with the King’s ear could be the difference between a life of relative comfort and the abject poverty that the vast majority lived under.
Social developments changed this, the rise of the merchant class and end of serfdom meant it was possible to obtain wealth or at least comfort without the explicit approval of the government. The rise of the parliamentary system meant that this merchant class could preserve their power by the vote and a pol could obtain power by support of patrons both rich or numerous.
Over time the vote of the populace and the parties became more and more important until it became more dangerous to be contrary to the will or mood of the people then to the king or even the government. In fact you might make a good living being the one contrary voice as Ron Paul illustrated. Contrariwise an elected government can’t be contrary to the people and stay elected for long.
A government might seek a popular position to keep power, a contrarian might go against a widely popular position and build a niche but if you are a political insider a position contrary to both popular opinion and government opinion is a one way ticket to the wilderness.
Which brings us to a man named Churchill and a speech on October 5th 1938.
A week earlier England and France and most of the world breathed a huge sigh of relief. For six months a crisis had been building from German demands on Czechoslovakia and the threat of war was in the mind of every man. England & France had lost the flower of their manhood just twenty years before they were not anxious to see it repeated.
After intense negotiations Neville Chamberlain had come home with an agreement that was met with joy:
Consider not just the words but the opening image:
The cheers were at his landing but they were also in theater after theater as men who had experienced the trenches rejoiced that their son would not. To oppose such a deal, at the height of its popularity would be act of political suicide
Yet in the midst of this reality Winston Churchill stood up in the House of Commons, the people’s house and gave this speech:
I will, therefore, begin by saying the most unpopular and most unwelcome thing. I will begin by saying what everybody would like to ignore or forget but which must nevertheless be stated, namely, that we have sustained a total and unmitigated defeat, and that France has suffered even more than we have.
That alone is a provocative statement to a group of people in the midst of joy, but that was not the end of it. He noted that the position of the government was not even controversial :
We are asked to vote for this Motion which has been put upon the Paper, and it is certainly a Motion couched in very uncontroversial terms, as, indeed, is the Amendment moved from the Opposition side.
But still spoke against half measures:
After the seizure of Austria in March we faced this problem in our Debates. I ventured to appeal to the Government to go a little further than the Prime Minister went, and to give a pledge that in conjunction with France and other Powers they would guarantee the security of Czechoslovakia while the Sudeten-Deutsch question was being examined either by a League of Nations Commission or some other impartial body, and I still believe that if that course had been followed events would not have fallen into this disastrous state. I agree very much with my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) when he said on that occasion – “Do one thing or the other; either say you will disinterest yourself in the matter altogether or take the step of giving a guarantee which will have the greatest chance of securing protection for that country.”
He talked about the cost that those who trusted in false empty promises:
It is quite true that such a policy in order to succeed demanded that Britain should declare straight out and a long time beforehand that she would, with others, join to defend Czechoslovakia against an unprovoked aggression. His Majesty’s Government refused to give that guarantee when it would have saved the situation, yet in the end they gave it when it was too late, and now, for the future, they renew it when they have not the slightest power to make it good.
All is over. Silent, mournful, abandoned, broken, Czechoslovakia recedes into the darkness. She has suffered in every respect by her association with the Western democracies and with the League of Nations, of which she has always been an obedient servant.
Declared those supporting this move were betraying more than just the sacrificial lambs
Many people, no doubt, honestly believe that they are only giving away the interests of Czechoslovakia, whereas I fear we shall find that we have deeply compromised, and perhaps fatally endangered, the safety and even the independence of Great Britain and France.
And concluded saying whatever the feelings of the moment the true cost of this failure would be felt far beyond the present relief.
I do not grudge them the natural, spontaneous outburst of joy and relief when they learned that the hard ordeal would no longer be required of them at the moment; but they should know the truth. They should know that there has been gross neglect and deficiency in our defenses; they should know that we have sustained a defeat without a war, the consequences of which will travel far with us along our road; they should know that we have passed an awful milestone in our history, when the whole equilibrium of Europe has been deranged, and that the terrible words have for the time being been pronounced against the Western democracies:
“Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting.”
And do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.
No doubt for many weeks after this speech, critiques and columns would be written by many intelligent people explaining why Mr. Churchill was wrong. If the media of today had existed then, what would the talking heads have said?
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