Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Pyrrhic Victory

I have never understood why the British went to war against Hitler to protect a bad regime in Poland, but were quite happy to go into and alliance with Stalin. Hitler was removed, but Stalin gained hegemony over the whole of Eastern Europe, while Britain lost its empire and was relegated to being a second-rate state. A pyrrhic victory.

I found the answer to this puzzle in Richard Overy’s book, The Morbid Age: Britain Between the Wars. He explains how British thinkers had become very pessimistic. They believed that civilisation was collapsing throughout the world. Hitler was the agent of barbarism, so the destruction of Hitler would save civilisation.

This pessimism was tinged by arrogance. The same people believed that Britain was the bastion of civilisation. The world crisis was Britain’s crisis, and only Britain could set the world to rights. They believed that the British people had responsibility for restoring civilisation.

Going to war against Hitler was a suicidal attempt by an arrogant nation to save the entire world.

The result of the war was different from what they expected. Hitler lost. Stalin won. Civilisation stumbled on.

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