Thursday, December 03, 2015

France and the Coming of the Second World War - Anthony Adamthwaite

Reading France and the Coming of the Second World War wound up being mostly an exercise in getting myself riled. It just gets frustrating watching the politicians and generals make all these moves that look so incredibly stupid.

You have France, concerned about its safety from Germany, and worried that it isn't strong enough to fend them off alone. OK, fine, so they want allies. Seems reasonable. And they get allies. They form alliances with at least three countries to the east of Germany: Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Rumania. Granted, they can't get any of those three to agree to help each other out, but it's something, especially against a Germany that was just starting to rebuild its military after Hitler decided to hell with the Versailles restrictions.

Then France decides they have to have Britain in the fold. But Britain sure as hell isn't going to war for any of those Eastern European nations, so they lean on the French to abandon the Czechs, and the French do it. They're so determined to have an ally, that they hang an ally they already had out to dry. Except they can't even be straightforward about it. No, they have to tell the Czechs if they don't give into Hitler's demands, then they will have instigated the conflict, and then France isn't bound by their alliance. That way, it isn't their fault they do nothing, and they can fool themselves into thinking they've maintained their prestige with other countries. Of course, that lasts for about five minutes before they realize everyone else sees right through them, sees they were never really willing to honor their commitments, and now those other allies know where they stand, too. So France still hurts their standing, emboldens Hitler and doesn't improve their situation in the slightest, because they're still dicking around getting ready to fight.

And then they have the temerity to accuse the Poles of being duplicitous for trying to negotiate with Germany! What the hell do they call what they did to the Czechs?!

For the record, Adamthwaite's writing is much more measured and fair then I'm being. He's much nicer to Bonnet than the Foreign Minister deserves. I can understand not wanting to go to war, not wanting all those deaths. But if your Prime Minister gives you a message to deliver to a foreign dignitary, and it's meant to be firm, you can't start soft-pedaling it with talk of how really don't want to do this or that. And Bonnet does that stuff constantly, which only serves to undercut France's position and make them look like more of a pushover. The book is also dry to the point of being soporific, and it was written in the early '70s, so there's probably quite a bit more information that's been declassified since then that might shed light on things.

'The reaction of French leaders to the news of the German-Soviet pact was to blame the Poles and the Russians. The Poles, complained Daladier, had been guilty of 'criminal folly'. The Russians had 'hoodwinked' and 'deceived' French diplomats. Yet the howls of betrayal and rage were hardly justified. British and French diplomacy since the Anschluss had made a German-Soviet alliance almost a foregone conclusion. As early as October 1938 Coulondre had written to Bonnet: 'in these conditions, what other course remains for her (USSR) but to return to the policy of entente with Germany that she abandoned in 1931?'


SallyP said...

I've always wondered why France put so much faith in the Maginot Line, which turned out to be useless. I didn't know they were busy hanging the Poles and the Czechs out to dry as well.

CalvinPitt said...

At this point, I can see the outline of what the French were thinking with the Line, I just think they screwed up the execution of their plan. They felt WWI showed that all the advances in firepower gave the defense the advantage, and since they were outnumbered by the Germans, they needed to play defense first (also to buy themselves time to get their reserve, which are the bulk of their army, into action). Then I think they planned to try and sweep through Belgium to get at the Germans, except at a certain point the Belgians decided they didn't want all that fighting in their borders, and tried to go neutral, hoping everyone would ignore them. Either that or the line was going to force the Germans to go through Belgium and the French would face them there, rather than in their own country. And they were banking on the Germans not being able to move significant amounts of troops through the Ardennes quickly, which was a bad mistake.

It was probably not the best plan, but if they'd done it better, it might have worked. Maybe?