Saturday 26 November 2022

India’s Constitution is not static, but a living document (The Sunday Guardian)


Given an overall framework that ensures the Rule of Law, the greater individual and personal freedom is under the law and administrative practice, the faster the economy will grow.

The country has to be grateful that the Supreme Court of India has not gone in the backward looking direction of the US Supreme Court. The latter threw out Roe v Wade, the landmark judgment that fifty years ago ensured a woman’s right to choose. Instead, the Court, while dealing a death blow to Roe v Wade, transferred authority to the states of the US. Should such centripetal thinking operate in more such monumental verdicts of the US Supreme Court, the consequences for societal stability in the US could be dire. The Roberts Court has placed emphasis on the US Constitution as it was effectuated in 1789, ignoring the fact that the country then was very different from what it now is. It is this apparently irresistible tendency of the US Supreme Court to look backwards while moving ahead that has brought public faith in that institution to a historic low. In contrast, overall the Supreme Court of India has looked ahead to the future, along the way doing away with more than a few colonial era laws that placed severe limits on individual freedoms. Before August 15, 1947, India was a British colony, its people subject not to the protection of a Constitution but to regulations designed by the colonial authorities that reduced to insignificance the rights of a citizen vis-à-vis those of the state. In 1950, the Constitution of India came into effect. In his wisdom, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru declined to fashion new Criminal and Civil Procedure Codes so as to make the transition from enslavement to freedom complete. As ab consequence, there is a mismatch between the Constitution of India, designed as it is for a free people, and several of the laws and administrative practices of India, which remain for long much the same as what they were under British rule. Only with the coming to power by Narendra Modi in 2014 was such a dichotomy sought to be resolved through the elimination of colonial era laws that had been retained in free India. More than 40% of such laws have been repealed or modified since 2014, and more are slated for the same fate. Arbitrary and unchecked use of executive power is the path towards a totalitarian state, and given the universality and freedoms inherent in the ancient Indian theology of Sanatan Dharma, such a path would be entirely opposed to not just the interests of the people of India but to their culture as well. Given an overall framework that ensures the Rule of Law and the prevention of violence and other societally destructive actions, the greater individual and personal freedom is under the law and administrative practice, the faster the economy will grow.Unfortunately, just as was the case with the British, the giving of freedom to a citizen of India was in effect regarded as unwise by successive governments. An example is the English language, the spread of which has assisted in enabling India and its people to excel in the knowledge economy. A language should not be imposed or outlawed by fiat, but by popular will. Despite his knowledge of the English language and attachment to aspects of English culture, Nehru made it almost impossible for the children of an economically weak citizen of India to study in English, a policy that muffled the growth potential that was (and remains) present in the Indian people. Government schools banished English, thereby giving a monopoly of that language to the middle and upper classes to the exclusion of the poor. Under Modi, this has changed. In UP for example, the teaching of English is being encouraged, because Chief Minister Adityanath understands the value of that language in ensuring that the young in UP get better equipped to move on to successful careers not just across India but across the world.The majority within the US Supreme Court is anchored to the 17th century rather than to present-day effects of such a literal interpretation of Constitutional provisions. The Court has opened the floodgates even to mass killing automatic guns that any police force should be wary of using. As a consequence, being in the US is to exist in an environment where the next minute may see a shooter try and snuff out lives. The US Supreme Court has even tossed out such commonsensical laws as that passed by the New York legislature mandating the evaluation and registration of citizens who carry a concealed gun. How those justices of the US Supreme Court with their flawed verdicts that have caused such a perilous situation in their country can sleep restfully at night remains a mystery. Just as the Constitution of India or the US is not a marble statuette but a living document, it is the duty of the Roberts Court to ensure a safe environment for citizens, rather than making it legally permissible even for misfits and psychos to stock up on enough weapons and rounds of ammunition as could kill hundreds of people during a single rampage. The Second Amendment to the US Constitution granting the right to bear arms was passed during a time of peril, when external forces as well as internal desperadoes were threatening the lives of citizens in an environment where the available police force was rudimentary. The First Amendment to the US Constitution granted freedom of speech, but where was that freedom when Twitter under its previous owners banished even a sitting President of the US from its platform? Where was that freedom in the vicious way in which significant chunks of the public health bureaucracy in the world’s most powerful country decried those who dared to suggest in 2020 that Covid-19 was the consequence of the leak in Wuhan of a lab experiment? Given the self-censorship evident in the narrative within NATO media of the Ukraine-Russia conflict, freedom of speech appears to apply only to those who hold a politically correct view (about Saint Zelenskyy and Satan Putin for example ) and not to those having a contrarian view. As a consequence of the way in which dissent has been stifled in western countries about the origins of Covid-19 or the manner in which NATO is prosecuting the Ukraine war, not just western countries but the entire world is enduring growing tensions in society and weaknesses in the economy. There are countries where the state decrees what the citizen may lawfully do, and outlaws the rest. There are countries where the state describes in some detail what actions are legally forbidden, but are generally permissive about the rest. No prizes for guessing which set of countries will do better in the 21st century.

Saturday 19 November 2022

Global interests perish at the altar of Ukraine (The Sunday Guardian)


The only remaining hope for Zelenskyy is that NATO will enter the war in a full scope manner rather than indirectly through assisting Ukraine even at great cost to the interests of its own members.

It is all somewhat confusing. Duda, Biden, Sunak, Scholz and other unwavering backers of the Zelenskyy Doctrine (of no ceasefire unless Putin surrenders) agree that the missile fragments that killed a couple of Polish farmers were Ukrainian. However, they add, it was all Russia’s fault. Presumably it was Vladimir Putin whose agents in Ukraine arranged for an anti-aircraft missile to land in Polish territory. We must assume that the votaries of Russian surrender that are in control of governments across both sides of the Atlantic are not prone to talking untruths. As for Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the leader of Ukraine, whatever he says gets accepted as fact by the governments to his west. It is only with the approach of winter and the signs of incipient economic depression across Europe that there has been a change in this mistaking of the word of Zelenskyy as divine writ. Technically, the President of Ukraine is correct when he says the crashed missile was Russian, for it was made in that country. But to extrapolate from that the assumption that any Russian-built missile that gets launched by Ukrainian forces should be assumed to be launched by Russia may not be a prudent surmise to make. While technically Biden et al agree that the missile was launched by Ukraine, they reiterate that it was Russia’s fault. At present, the only remaining hope for Zelenskyy is that NATO will enter the war in a fullscope manner rather than indirectly through assisting Ukraine even at great cost to the interests of its own members. It may be said that never before have so many sacrificed their interests (most of them unwillingly) for so few. More than three billion people across the world are in much worse shape than they would have been if the 31 million Ukraine-speaking population of the country had accepted reality and given up on recovering 20% of its territory. Instead, Ukraine began a process of losing even more land in the expectation of NATO-assisted recovery of all land that it had prior to the intervention by Russia in 2014. The intervention began after the paradigm shift that the government of the country underwent in 2014, when the new President, Petro Poroshenko, reduced the 19 million Russian-speaking Ukrainians to second-class status. Given the prospect of a winter sans power and running water, there is logic behind President Zelenskyy’s transparent efforts to ensnare NATO troops into directly intervening in the phase of the conflict that began on 24 February. Despite the politically fatal attraction that making sacrifices for Zelenskyy and his colleagues increasingly have for Biden, Scholz and other Atlanticist leaders, public opinion within NATO has begun turning hostile to the involvement of NATO as a co-belligerent in the war against Russia that is being fought on the territory of Ukraine.
Who was responsible for punching holes in the two Nordstrom pipelines? If Biden, Sunak, Macron and Scholz are aware of the actual culprit, sooner or later, the identity of the perpetrators will get outed despite their silence, smudging the reputation of these leaders for transparency and straightforwardness. What the world deserves are not just repetitive denials of culpability but the facts that have been uncovered in the investigation into the sabotage of a crucial infrastructure project. Just as it expects the Ukrainian government to list the identities of the many whom they claim were killed by Russian forces in Bucha, a revelation that has yet to be made. Why Biden, Sunak and Scholz are not seeking the release of the names of the Bucha killings has given rise to suspicions that the dead were Russian-speaking. If so, the question needs to be asked as to what was Russia’s motive in apparently killing people that were sympathetic to it? If the Russians did kill them, what explains them leaving a Bucha that was shown as strewn with dead bodies? If the boastful claims of the Ukrainian leadership that its forces are steadily squeezing Russian forces out of territory that had been earlier captured by them are true, the risk of Vladimir Putin using some of the more deadly weapons in his arsenal multiplies rather than chances of his accepting surrender. He is unlikely to follow the carefree path that President Biden took when he surrendered to the Taliban in Afghanistan in August 2021. That self-inflicted defeat was the start of Biden’s fall from grace where US voters were concerned. The Democrats are fortunate that the Republican Supreme Court as well as Donald Trump prevented the unpopularity of the White House from dragging Democratic tallies down. Their Senate win means that India may soon get a US ambassador after two years of waiting. An incoming envoy may try and end a situation where citizens of India wait 900 days for a US visa, in contrast to citizens of the PRC, who get such visas in a jiffy. As for the EU, the wait for a visa for Indians is reported to be 500 days, but less than 50 hours for a Chinese national. The constant chants of the US and the EU of “Viva Democracy” are clearly different from making available visas for citizens of democracies. The whole world is the loser as a consequence of both sides not heeding Narendra Modi’s warning that “this is not the era of war”. The effects of winter sans Russian energy to Europe may at last bring to fruition Modi’s wish.

Saturday 12 November 2022

DMK must rethink its opposition to EWS quota (The Sunday Guardian)


It would be less than an incentive for domestic and international companies to invest in Tamil Nadu if those governing the state give the impression of being trapped in a time warp.

Finance Minister Thiagarajan of Tamil Nadu has received admiring attention from much of the media for his reported depth of knowledge and immense reserves of competence. If such be true, he would certainly be an asset not just to his party the DMK but to Tamil Nadu as well. The state would emerge as a model for other states, should the economic situation in a state that has always done relatively well in several economic parameters improve speedily and vastly. The future will tell. However, judging by his remarks on the recent move to have a 10% quota for the Economically Weaker Sections of the communities that have historically been excluded, it would appear that the TN Finance Minister believes that even during the past thousand-odd years, the so-designated “forward castes” of India have discriminated against the others within the Hindu community. This is indeed a discovery that needs to be applauded in textbooks of Indian history, that during Mughal and British colonial rule, the “forward castes” were so empowered that they wreaked havoc on the others. Till now, the perception was that Hindus in general (including the so-called “forward castes”) were subordinated to first the Mughals and later the British. Let it be added that the present writer has no quarrel with reservation quotas for the SC, ST and Backward groups. There must indeed have been discrimination in the past, even if more than a thousand years ago. As a consequence of such reservations, more and more from the population segments that were given the benefits of reservation improved their lot. Indeed, in Andhra Pradesh, the Kamma community is known for its entrepreneurs and the wealth of many within that group, far more than the Brahmins of the state are, and they are at least the equals in material advancement of the more “forward” Reddy community. In Kerala, it is the Ezhava community that is at parity with the Christian community in the matter of success in business, not the “forward” Nairs. In Maharashtra, not the Brahmins but the Marathas dominate the field of state policy, while in UP and Bihar, the Yadav community has emerged as probably the most influential, as witness the progress to the top of leaders such as Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad Yadav in their time. So what is Minister Thiagarajan upset about? All that he needs to do is to take a stroll around his ministerial bungalow, and he will come across several homes of those from so-called “forward” communities living in poverty. Surely hunger and want are felt equally by individuals who are classified as either “forward” or “backward”, or “most backward”? Or do “forwards” have some quality within themselves that they feel the impact of neither hunger nor the horrors of hardship? Now that the Supreme Court has given its imprimatur to the policy of providing a quota on the basis of economic need, including to sections of the population till now outside the matrix of reservations in state jobs, it is doubtful that the Tamil Nadu state government will succeed in getting the move overturned. All that will happen will be to accumulate the dismay of those who fail to understand the reasoning behind the implicit assumption that poverty is felt differently by individual segments of society.
DMK supremo Stalin became Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu in the third decade of the 21st century. Surely it is time for him to join hands with other regional leaders who have refused to join in moves against a policy that has been overdue for 75 years. If he were to look around, he may notice that Tejashwi Yadav is not a copy of his father, nor is Akhilesh of Mulayam Singh or Aaditya of Uddhav Thackeray, just as the former CM of Maharashtra is not an exact copy of his father Balasaheb, who incidentally had a sense of wry humour that made him a pleasure to meet. Generation after generation has moved on from the 20th to the 21st century. It would be less than an incentive for domestic and international companies to invest in Tamil Nadu if those governing the state give the impression of being trapped in a time warp, unable to come to terms with a society that is very different from what it was a thousand years ago, or even a thousand weeks ago. Since the 1990s, this writer has talked of the “Mercedes Caste”. Whatever the family of an individual owning such a car might have been in the past, most fathers-in-law would welcome such a son-in-law into their homes. Among the many signs of hope for the future of India is the rising and welcome incidence of inter-caste marriages. Those who oppose such a marriage, and in some cases even resort to murder to prevent it, are indistinguishable from animals of the jungle, for they cannot understand that every human being has the right to equality, not only in law but in the treatment given to her or him by the rest of society. Surely the very well-regarded Tamil Nadu Finance Minister Thiagarajan is free of such Jurassic Park traits as refusing to acknowledge that the poor need to be helped to change their circumstances, no matter what classification has been applied to them. In the Karunanidhi clan, there are modern individuals with creative minds, such as the patriarch’s daughter, Kanimozhi. It may be time for those in the DMK who have adapted to the 21st century to show that today’s DMK is as changed as today’s India is.

U.S. midterm elections give Biden a chance to course correct in Eurasia (The Sunday Guardian)


The G20 Summit may show whether President Biden has finally read the memo that this is the era of Cold War 2.0, and that the lead adversary is no longer Moscow but Beijing.

BENGALURU: The results of the 2022 midterm elections in the United States came as a surprise to at least three of the four heads of the great powers of the 21st century. The response of Prime Minister Modi is not known, but Presidents Biden, Putin and Xi had expected a Democratic meltdown, given the toxic consequences of the war in Ukraine that NSA Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken ensured that Biden hyperactively led. Xi and Putin must have been disappointed by the close result, for to both Moscow and Beijing, a much weakened Executive and an even more sharply feuding Legislature in the US would have been welcome. Instead, despite the unpopularity of President Biden, the Democrats have surprised themselves by putting up a good showing, making the US President ecstatic and putting within reach the enactment of the $2 trillion Biden Social Justice Plan. The Republican leadership expected to gain a record number of seats in the US Congress as a result of the inflation and supply dislocations caused by the very war in Ukraine that they were vocally backing, including by voting with the Democrats on the huge amounts of money regularly expended on the war by the White House. Unfortunately for the GoP, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had ensured through then President Trump the transformation of large swathes of the US judiciary into crusaders for what may be termed Theological Republicanism. Clearly, McConnell had not factored in the distaste felt by several independent voters, especially young women, at a Supreme Court that appears to be basing many of its judgments less on settled laws and democratic logic than on theological and ideological justifications. In particular, the US Supreme Court’s open sesame to the proliferation of mass killing automatic weapons in the hands of citizens, added to its shock overturning of Roe v Wade took away not just public safety but freedoms that for half a century had been taken for granted by US citizens. The evident ideological and theological bias of the six Republican-leaning Justices in the US Supreme Court helped the Democratic Party to avoid a predicted Republican sweep during the November 2022 midterms.
Apart from the Supreme Court, the other factor that boosted vote tallies of Democratic Party candidates was Donald J. Trump. Several independent voters swallowed their distaste for Biden’s unwillingness to minister to voter priorities in his obsession with Russia and Ukraine, and voted Democratic out of fear that a Republican midterm sweep in 2022 would make another Trump bid for the US Presidency in 2024 inevitable. Even if Trump were to lose that contest, which he would unless Joe Biden were his opponent, his consistent refusal to accept any result other than a victory for himself would continue to poison politics and society in the US even from 2024 onwards, to the delight of Xi and Putin. The strands of Trumpian logic, including denying that losing in a fair election was normal in a democracy, brought down Republican candidates such as Mehmet Oz and Karri Lake, who would have won but for their extravagantly advertised embrace of Trump and his views. In contrast, a future superstar, who has yet to be acknowledged as such in US media, J.D. Vance, in effect, only had a handshake with Trump rather than a full embrace, which was why he was elected as a US Senator from Ohio. Tellingly, Vance thanked more than 30 individuals by name in his victory speech, but left out Trump. He was clearly aware that from the 2022 midterms onwards, Trump’s stock was going to be in decline even amongst the Republican faithful, and so the incoming first term Senator did not want his popularity to get dragged down by adherence to Trump in the manner that several other legislators in his party are experiencing. The combination of public dread of a rerun of Trump’s tantrums, together with a Supreme Court that in some of its judgments do not go by the legal logic that is the foundation of democracy, but the belief systems of particular religious theologies mixed with political ideologies, hurt the Republican candidates. The 6:3 majority in the Roberts Court has exhibited a method of deciding cases that had not been anticipated by those who wrote the US Constitution in 1787.

As had been predicted much earlier in these columns, the November 2022 US midterms have shown that Donald Trump would be the ideal Republican candidate for a Democratic opponent to defeat, provided that such a candidate not be Joe Biden. Although known to be well-intentioned and straightforward, Biden’s hyperactivity in leading NATO’s proxy war on the Russian Federation in the battlegrounds of Ukraine has crippled the 46th President of the US in the way that the Vietnam War made the continuation in office of Lyndon Baines Johnson beyond the close of his Presidential term in 1969 impossible. So blinded have key Europeanist advisers of the White House been in their fixation on kneecapping “Putin’s Russia” that they neglected to take account of the collateral damage that the US and its allies would suffer, especially in economic terms, because of the Biden-led sanctions that were imposed on Russia that accelerated in wave after wave since the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces on 24 February 2022. The harm to citizens in the US, EU and the UK (not to mention the rest of the world) that has been caused by worldwide shortages and price rise (including within key NATO member states) in the aftermath of each round of western sanctions on Russia has yet to deter the frenzied effort by that alliance to “teach Putin a lesson”, but it has made a growing number of US-UK-EU voters turn away from those NATO leaders who are responsible for such policies, including Biden and Scholz. In the 1960s, President Johnson was persuaded to expand US involvement in the Vietnam War by Kennedy-era holdovers such as NSA McGeorge Bundy and Defence Secretary Robert Strange McNamara. After Biden’s victory over Trump in 2020, the still thriving Cold War 1.0 (USSR-US) enthusiasts, who had come of age in matters of policy under President Clinton, individuals such as Jake Sullivan and Antony Blinken, convinced President Biden that the very future of western civilisation was at stake in the Ukraine conflict. In the 1960s, Bundy and McNamara had similarly convinced President Johnson that the future of non-communist Asia was at stake in the paddy fields of Vietnam. Despite scuttling the political fortunes of their boss President Johnson, both Bundy and McNamara went on to lucrative careers in prosperous institutions, as no doubt Blinken and Sullivan will after Joe Biden becomes wholly unelectable by the initial months of 2023 as a consequence of the fallout of the intensity of the tactics the US President has signed on to in the Ukraine conflict. The US taxpayer largesse showered on that country stands in contrast to the absence of any armaments given away gratis by the US to India, the Philippines, Vietnam or Taiwan, despite Xi Jinping’s repeated efforts at encroaching on their sovereignty in land, sea and air. Given the contrast between the assistance given free of cost to the Ukrainian military and the pell-mell withdrawal during June-August 2021 of all US support to the Afghan National Army that had been till then been battling the Taliban at great cost in lives, the reliability of the US as a partner in defence and security matters has come to be doubted within the GCC, South Asia, East Asia and ASEAN.

In the gifting of abundant supplies, President Biden’s open heartedness to Ukraine stands in contrast to his relative inattention to countries where human suffering is much worse, such as Somalia or Ethiopia. This has been noted in countries that are not part of what is referred to as the “civilised world” aka “international community” in media outlets of member-states of NATO. For the Cold War 1.0 policymakers within NATO the need is for continuing the war until their hopes are realised of Russia under Putin entering a meltdown. Unfortunately for them, the Ukraine war has resulted in domestic constituencies tiring of the pain to themselves of the rising volume of aftershocks of the war and sanctions, even though President Biden appears focused on expanding US involvement even in 2023, exactly as President Johnson was fixated on increased US involvement in Vietnam in the 1960s. Seeing that candidates embracing Trumpian logic such as Karri Lake could overcome moderate Republican alternatives to get nominated as candidates in the midterms, although many subsequently lost to the Democrats, ex-President Trump’s hopes for the Republican nomination in the 2024 US Presidential elections remain alive. While there remains a chance that Trump may still get his party’s nomination in 2024 and go on to lose to a rival so long as he or she is not Joe Biden, discontent within the Democratic Party base at the Biden White House is likely to ensure that President Biden gets defeated in the 2024 Democratic primaries, should he make the mistake of seeking a second term in the White House. Should Vice-President Kamala Harris detach herself from the White House in a way that Hubert Humphrey was unable to do in 1968, she may yet emerge as the Democratic nominee, but that seems unlikely. In the case of the Republicans, should Trump understand that he would lose in 2024 just as he lost in 2020, he could back son Donald for a Senate seat in 2024 rather than seek a rerun himself. A balanced 2024 Republican ticket that showcases moderation and ethnic diversity may result in a Red Wave in 2024 that has been absent in 2022. In its effort at flipping seats, the Republican Party backing Independent Tulsi Gabbard for the US Senate from Hawaii may be the best way of flipping a Democratic seat in that scenic state. The economic storm intensifying as a consequence of Biden’s expensive and risky prosecution of the Ukraine war, plus the effect on much of Europe of facing winter cold without Russian energy will show that Gabbard was right in warning about the costs to ordinary US citizens of the Ukraine war. Unfortunately for the regional powers focused on ensuring that the Indo-Pacific remain free and open to all, Biden is led by Cold War 1.0 enthusiasts in an administration that seems ignorant of the fact that the US and the rest of the world have decades ago slipped into the era of Cold War 2.0 (between the PRC and the US principally). In Cold War 2.0, Russia is only a secondary threat, in the way then US ally China was to its foe the USSR during most of Cold War 1.0 between the USSR and the US.

Facts speak louder than statements, and if reports emanating from Washington are to be believed, despite the number of applicants from the PRC for a US visa being higher than the number of Indian citizens applying, it takes less than nine days for a citizen of the PRC to get a US visa and 900 days for a citizen of India. What the charm of Xi Jinping is that enables him to so influence the White House in a favourable direction remains unclear, but what is obvious is the growing doubt in the world’s most consequential continent about the sincerity of the protestations of President Biden that he has as much concern for Asia as he so evidently has for Europe minus Russia. Friends of India such as Representative Raja Krishnamurthy and Senator Marco Rubio are still present in the US Congress, but the White House will need to do much more to not just improve its standing among US citizens but in that other huge democracy. And despite several accommodative signals of the Biden administration to Beijing, this is not the People’s Republic of China but the Republic of India.

The G20 Summit may show whether President Biden has finally got the memo that this is the era of Cold War 2.0, and that the lead adversary is no longer Moscow but Beijing. 2023 will show whether Biden can get passed his societally transformative agenda, thereby replicating the feat of Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1960s. The year will show whether Biden shows in action rather than merely in honeyed expressions that the White House understands that India, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam are much in the front line of US security interests as France, Germany and the UK were in the Cold War 1.0 era. Despite Biden, aided by the shadow of the US Supreme Court and Trump, the Democrats have managed to avoid a midterm collapse. As a consequence, the US President has the opportunity to course correct policies and actions concerning Eurasia. Whether Biden has the will to do so will become clear before the winter retreats in early 2023.

U.S. midterm elections give Biden a chance to course correct in Eurasia

Saturday 5 November 2022

Appeasement of dictators results in tragedy, not farce (The Sunday Guardian)


The capitulation of Daladier and Chamberlain to all of Hitler’s maximalist negotiating positions made Hitler certain that neither Britain nor France would take up arms against Germany.

There are two contrary views about why Britain’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain sought to placate Adolf Hitler rather than attack Nazi Germany at a time when it was militarily weak. The first view is that Chamberlain believed that Hitler had limited ambitions, and made decisions on war and peace based not on mystic faith but sound reasoning. As a consequence, he took the Attila the Hun of the 20th century at his word when Hitler said that getting the Sudetenland was the last conquest that was on his agenda. There were multiple indications, including not just in Hitler’s many speeches but in Mein Kampf, that much more was sought by the despot, but these were considered simply the promises of a politician, intended in the manner of empty pots and pans to make a loud noise, and quickly be forgotten. In such a telling, Chamberlain was a man of peace, who sought to avoid another continental war after the 1914-18 carnage, and in any case, was able to gain a bit of time for England to rearm through the sacrifice of Czechoslovakia for Britain. A movie was made about that period that showed Chamberlain to be clear eyed about Hitler, but dismissive of domestic public support for a Franco-British first strike on Germany. That an individual he loathed, Winston Churchill, had been advocating such a strike for years made Chamberlain all the more anxious to avoid such a portentous move. The other view of Chamberlain is the more common, which is that he misread Hitler, and failed to understand that the appetite of a street bully is whetted by concessions, not satiated. A book, “Travellers in the Third Reich”, written by Julia Boyd, compiles a series of views about Nazi Germany from the inside, from the years just before Hitler was appointed the Reichskanzler in 1933 to the final period marking the end of himself and the regime that he led until his death by suicide in 1945. It is clear from the anecdotes given in the book that Hitler had from the start planned for a great war, even installing iron brackets atop buses in the 1930s so as to affix machine guns on them once the war that he had planned from the start of his political career began.
As part of the training for wartime conditions of the German population, many of whom had blind faith in Hitler despite his hysterical gestures and hate-filled invective. Hitler used to hold mock drills in German cities that even mimicked the sound of bombs and artillery blasts, as well as total blackouts. All this from four years before the war began in 1939 with the invasion of Poland, a country where the leadership to the end of peacetime regarded Germany as a potential ally against the country they loathed, the Soviet Union. Of course, such a stance gave Chamberlain another excuse to ignore the persistent pleading of Soviet Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov (who had a British wife) for France, Britain and the USSR to form a pact designed to attack and defeat Germany and destroy the Nazi regime together with its Fuehrer. In August 1939, Chamberlain and his French counterpart Eduard Daladier finally agreed to send a delegation to Moscow to “study and examine the possibility” of a Soviet-French-British pact designed to protect smaller European states against Germany. The delegation was given no plenary powers, and was headed by Sir Reginald Aylmer Ranfurly Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax, whose most significant distinction was his longish name, which had been gifted to him by adoring parents. The Anglo-French mission set off for Moscow not by air but by ship, as Sir Reginald was a navy man. The Royal Navy vessel in which the delegation made its slow progress to the USSR included an Indian cook who was known throughout the service for the delicious curries that he produced for appreciative naval officers. Curry on the way back must have served as some solace, for when the delegation reached Moscow, Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov pointed out that the members had no powers to take any decisions, merely to talk, and that anyway, German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop had arrived a short while ago by air. Hours before, Ribbentrop had signed the Nazi-Soviet pact with Molotov in the presence of CPSU General Secretary J.V. Stalin. According to some anecdotes of the tragi-comedy that was the Drax delegation, both British and French members of the Franco-British delegation to the Soviet Union were visibly relieved at news of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. For this meant that neither France nor Britain would have to ally with the odious Soviet Union and its brutal dictator Stalin. In their view, Nazi Germany was not odious, nor was its dictator Hitler brutal. In a happy mood, they took sail back to France and Britain, and may have been seaborne enjoying the delights of onboard meat curry lunches when the German Wehrmacht invaded Poland on 1 September 1939.
The capitulation of Daladier and Chamberlain to all of Hitler’s maximalist negotiating positions made Hitler certain that neither Britain nor France would take up arms against Germany, were Hitler to next annex Poland after throwing a few scraps Stalin’s way, as he had intended from the start. Julia Boyd’s book shows the shock of those few who understood the mind of Hitler, knew that he would keep wanting more with each concession, with each perceived show of Allied lack of resolve. Other recollections show the surprise and joy among the Nazi faithful at the unexpected news that Chamberlain and Daladier abandoned Czechoslovakia to the Nazis in August 1939 much the way President Biden abandoned Afghanistan in August 2021. Will a present-day dictator draw from Biden’s surrender to the Taliban the conclusion that there would be little or no substantive blowback from the US (and therefore its Atlanticist allies) to a PRC invasion of Taiwan? Or another PLA attempt at grabbing Ladakh and Arunachal from India? Marx was wrong. A tragedy in history need not repeat itself only as farce, but could return as yet another tragedy. If only the White House had received that memo in time.