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I re-fight World War Two and lose

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Paul Mason | 09:30 UK time, Thursday, 20 January 2011

There is a theory among some historians of the Second World War that, if only the Allies had declared war on Germany to defend Czechoslovakia in 1938, Nazism could have been defeated in a short European war.

After all, the Czech army was fully mobilised in 1938; three out of the nine panzer divisions that invaded the low countries in 1940 were to be equipped at the Skoda works in Pilsen; and revisionist historians now explain Germany's successful blitzkrieg operation before Dunkirk as the result of French blunders and defiant anarchistic gestures by German tank commanders, not genius.

So, over Christmas, I decided to test this out on the geekiest computer game known to man, Hearts of Iron III, in which you can play any nation (including if you so desire Panama) right the way through from 1936 to the outbreak of the Cold War, modelling not just fighting, not just production and research, but also diplomacy, intelligence and internal politics.

I elected to play as France and my strategy was to re-arm as quickly as possible, intervene on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, sign a defence pact not just with Poland but also the Czechs - and attack Germany through the Netherlands at the slightest provocation, probably sometime around 1938.

But it wouldn't let me.

My population's "neutrality" was too high and the popularity of my ruling party, the Radicals, too low. So my tanks had to rev their engines in Toulouse, failing to speed to the aid of Barcelona; then they had to mass impotently while Germany re-occupied the Rhineland, then sit through the Anschluss, Munich and the annexation of the whole of Czechoslovakia, suffering a further indignity on the outbreak of hostilities in early 1939 because the Belgians refused my request for transit rights.

At first I thought this was a pretty unforgiveable glitch. But digging into the rules, hacks and kluges of HoI3, and real life history, the game is frighteningly accurate.

Firing up the "Politics" interface I was at first amused to find my president, Albert Lebrun, classified as "barking buffoon", prime minister Albert Sarraut as a "happy amateur" and my intel boss as a "dismal enigma" - but not amused to find that I could not change any of this before the scheduled election in 1940. My finger itched over the military coup button, and I immediately resorted to installing a far-right French police chief to quell dissent and abolish strikes.

But it was not ultimately the politics that defeated my cunning plan: it was the French people - and for that matter the Brits and Americans - and their "neutrality". My neutrality score remained stubbornly high - and in that the game is superbly realistic.

For it is a fact, easy to forget amid numerous onscreen portrayals of the 1930s set in aristocratic drawing rooms, that the majority of the people in democratic countries, for the majority of the time, were opposed to war in the 1930s. As Martin Gilbert wrote:

"At bottom, the old appeasement was a mood of hope, Victorian in its optimism, Burkean in its belief that societies evolved from bad to good and that progress could only be for the better. The new appeasement was a mood of fear, Hobbesian in its insistence upon swallowing the bad in order to preserve some remnant of the good, pessimistic in its belief that Nazism was there to stay and, however horrible it might be, should be accepted as a way of life with which Britain ought to deal."

According to this view, the "Guilty Men" so expertly excoriated in Michael Foot's 1940 pamphlet may indeed have been buffoons, and lied and blundered their way through numerous decision points, but at the end of the day there was no popular clamour for war - even in fact, as the French then found out to their cost, once it started.

And I'm finding out why: it goes badly.

After several false starts I have mastered the diplomacy system and got from 1936 to 1939 without bothering to save the Spanish Republic, Austria or Czechoslovakia. I have built an expanded Allies side including Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway, and pushed the Swiss from neutrality to mobilisation.

The Allies have become so fearsome that, despite massing its troops on the Polish border, Germany has hesitated to make the first move but then Finland - whose politics screen I have neglected to check up on but turn out to be dodgy - has attacked Germany in March 1939 and provoked the war. Meanwhile a lot of my tanks are still being built, apparently by guys taking a lot of Gauloises breaks.

Denmark has been rolled up in a few days, the Dutch and Belgian armies are refusing to make any moves that co-ordinate with mine and I am now pushed back to the French border with - as General Weygand put it to Churchill in real life - "aucune" strategic reserve.

The Brits have had the decency to send an expeditionary force commanded by Lord Baird of Stonehaven: it consists of his Corps HQ and refuses to move from the not very useful position of Cherbourg. The Americans are having none of lend-lease and will not sell me so much as a jeep and the Soviet Union is wedded, as in reality, to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

It is me, in other words, who is the buffoon. The game is trying to tell me that if the Allies had adopted re-armament earlier, with all the military rhetoric and sentimental songs and propaganda films that would have gone with it, Russia may have cemented its alliance with Germany much earlier than in real life, and American neutrality - never fragile when it came to wars in Europe - may have been strengthened.

I draw several lessons from HoI3. First, as with all god-games, how merciless strategy is towards tactics, human beings and trivial situations. I've been is several slightly chaotic situations as a journalist and the lesson of this top-down, realtime history game is clear: you never know what's going on when it's going on.

The second is quite topical: if you want to take a democracy to war, unless your country is actually being attacked, you have to relentlessly shape the narrative. This holds true in other times and theatres than 1930s Europe.

Finally, the 1930s were a complex reality. I've studied the period a lot on and off over the years and I'm dissatisfied at the simplistic picture that's being created around it in recent TV dramas and movies, in which everybody is either fascist or anti-fascist, the war is always inevitable, and in which the focus is always the beleaguered aristocracy (King's Speech, Upstairs Downstairs) or the fascist-friendly elite (Coco Before Chanel). The drama of the time - from Odets' "Awake and Sing" to Coward's soap-like "This Happy Breed" - was always a lot more focused on real people and the real situation. Even a serial like Granada's "Family at War" (1970-72), written as it was by people who actually remembered the time, captured the complexities in a way we now seem unable to. And so in a way, and despite its ludicrous title, does Hearts of Iron.

Sartre's trilogy Roads to Freedom (also if I remember rightly turned into a drama series in the 70s) begins with a scene of a French professor wracked with guilt over his failure and inability to go to Spain and participate in the war there. As I click and drag my hapless French divisions légère (all too légère mate, as it turns out), I think I suddenly understand that whole time and atmosphere a lot better.

So I think - if we are now tweaking the school curriculum slightly back in the direction of battles and leaders - it might be worth giving a group of sixth formers a go at doing this as a project. It would certainly add the their understanding of the historical origins of "kettling".


  • Comment number 1.

    'Roads to Freedom' I remember it well (probably as a rerun). OK I checked on Wiki - Michael Bryant as Mathieu. Wiki also refers to it being complete and surviving - any chance of a DVD from the BBC? - Sartre highly unfashionable, so probably not.
    I would also add in as an influence in the 1930's, the small matter of the then very recent Great War which wiped out a generation. War memorials, brutal physical and mental injuries in every village in France, England and let's not forget Germany. You will recall Christine Lagarde in her New Year NN interview even referred obliquely to WW2 as a reason why the European project will 'enfin' hold together. War does cast a long shadow. Imagine the cultural oeuvre from 1945 even to the present day without WW2 based content - we still find it fascinating even now (e.g. I'm about to launch into HBO's Pacific, and the Danish film Flame & Citron). I will have to try HOI3 when I have some time (probably post retirement, some years hence). Liked the post.

  • Comment number 2.

    You may also wish to consider the role the size of the national debt played in stopping the urge towards rearmament by politicians and the public. Between WW1 and WW2 it never fell below 150% (see Ricardo, in those days of 'Old Corrutption', saw the national debt as the rule of the military and the rentier. T B Macauley, he who coined 'the fourth estate', said in 1855 that the national debt, which was high but coming down, was a symbol of "civilisation, liberty, order, and virtue". It seems that debt is in the eye of the beholder, whether it is the Anti-Waste League crushing Lloyd-George's land fit for heroes programme in 1920, or whether, like Edmund Burke, it was seen as an excellent reserve to be tapped into if a bellicose country was starting to get uppity - yes, you, France. Or, like me, you may think we are in a liquidity trap and should be borrowing from businesses who don't need their reserves and are parking them in the money markets because of a lack of demand, and then using that money to stimulate the economy. Eye of the beholder.

  • Comment number 3.


    Answer that, then apply the gain, and the world has options.

    Cleverness, we have brought forth 'an hundred fold'.


  • Comment number 4.

    Surely the games industry could turn its considerable interactive systems modelling expertise to produce a game for the credit crunch. It could be called "Armageddon (a bonus)". Sorry!

  • Comment number 5.

    I know a TV executive who goes home each night and spends a couple of hours ferrying tomatoes between Earth and Barnard's Star in order to raise enough money to buy a bigger, faster spaceship.

    I believe he is hoping to oneday be able to afford a Death Star and conquer the galaxy.

    Just play Call of Duty Hardcore Paul - you can shoot your own team in the back to motivate the others. That's what is missing from HoI3 but is what the Nazis had in spades in the 1930s - and the best Hugo Boss uniforms.

  • Comment number 6.

    Sometimes the shadows are not cast long enough for some memories - Sarkozy's Alsace gaffe being a case in point.

  • Comment number 7.

    We did lose finally banrupted us ....and ever since we have been a satellite of the USA and powerless hostages of her barmy political and economic theories.

    We would have lost the war anyway had Hitler not started murdering ordinary innocent Jewish people when his real target was global capitalism or what the Daily Mail called International Jewry.It was this that brought the USA into the war and eventually decided the matter.

    Ironically had we not entered the war.... but negotiated with Germany.... we could have formed together a successful superpower and kept our imperial sphere of influence out of the clutches of Wall Street and the CIA.

    Even more sad is the possibility that we might have kept the Jews alive by negotiting safe passage for them into Britain and the USA and other places where they would have been welcomed...or at least tolerated.

    Of course there`s a huge industry bent on rationalising Britain`s decision to go to war ...and the eventual creation of Israel in what is a increasingly hostile Middle East.

  • Comment number 8.

    "It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness" Marx

    So start with historical materialism - a scientific analysis of human existence.
    Different societies, different productive relations (hunter-gatherers, slavery, feudalism, capitalism) are historically determined.

    The breakdown of capitalism in the 1930's made two alternatives attractive - international socialism & national socialism.
    National socialism led to war & capital destruction, which with the rise of the oil economy gave capitalism another lease of life.

    Now that capitalism has once again run out of steam, the nationalist & race cards being played by politicans will likely lead to renewed war - US-China the most worrying.

    The only alternative to millions dead & world ecological destruction is international socialism, i.e. direct democractic control of the means of production.

  • Comment number 9.

    "Surely the games industry could turn its considerable interactive systems modelling expertise to produce a game for the credit crunch"

    Might I suggest the games industry takes a look at the model provided by The Landlords Game, later implemented as Monopoly. Its purpose was to demonstrate how (untaxed) landownership leads to winner takes all and produces the conditions for the boom/bust cycle.

  • Comment number 10.

    Meanwhile, back in the real World:

    "It feels like things are really simmering here, getting ready to boil over. The Irish Govt seems set to fall after a spate of resignations, US cities are on the brink and Vallejo has got the ball rolling, PIGS+ yields are blowing out, the Cajas are unravelling, local Euro central banks seem to be printing their own money, the UK HPC is gathering momentum, inflation is causing riots and political unrest, Brazil is overheating, China is losing it and turning to price controls, the Asia-Pacific real estate bubble is bursting and financials are missing earnings."

    I would it hate it for Paul if he was to become the economics journo who is playing video games the week that the great global financial meltdown occured.


  • Comment number 11.

    I notice on the BBC News website that the page about the Irish Government resigning and calling an election has a picture of a dodo on it.

  • Comment number 12.

    Hi Paul.
    This is a great article. How much did you enjoy playing the game?
    The 30's was a very difficult period to govern. The economic conditions had created possibilities that previously were not of concern. In North America citizens were in a mood for social revolution and communism or nazism were routes that governments here worried the citizens would take. The costs of the Great War were still felt in the homes and industries and the physically handicapped or deformed casualties visible. Quite a few elites of the period were comfortable with the methods the Nazis used to control or intimidate the population and thought of this political ideology as a bulwark against communism.


  • Comment number 13.


    Well reasoned Jim - but that might be your downfall. In keeping with my 'Needy Little Boy' thesis, Hitler probably wnated to vent his spite and the jews were handy. I have covered Daves vandalism of the NHS to relieve his fury at Blair's charmed existence. Did Little Boy Blair go to war in a similar vein?


    Little Boy Blair, Blow up a New Dawn
    The Shia are jubilant Sunni forlorn.
    But doesn't he see the whirlwind we'll reap?
    He's under a Bush and fast asleep.
    Will you wake him? No not I. For if I do he's sure to lie.

  • Comment number 14.


    New to me Carol - but then most things are!

  • Comment number 15.

    DODO? (#11)

    From here it looks like an Albatross!

  • Comment number 16.


    If it makes you feel any better if the guys on 'Horizon' are right 'The Nature of Reality' on Tuesday nights then there are an infinite number of Paul Masons in an infinite number of parallel universes many of which will have sucessfully completed said computer game no trouble at all.

    Personally i think the guy who came up with the parallel universes theory did it as a vindictive joke against pure physicists desperate for a mathematical 'get out' from the contra- rational outcomes of many aspects of quantum mechanics.

  • Comment number 17.

    'You looking at me'

    if someone wants to have a fight with you because they are blinded by their false beliefs there is nothing that will stop them. this is something everyone learns in the playground. no need for a computer game.

    playing in hindsight is different to real time. what were the warning signs? the manifesto of mien kampf that declared some races subhuman?

    so today what are the warning signs? The King's Torah that promotes discrimination? chinese militarism [building aircraft carriers, stealth fighters, which are offensive capabilities]? etc

  • Comment number 18.

    I rever read Michael Foot's pamphlet, but (20 years or so ago) I did read a book by Claud Cockburn* called The Devil's Decade. I must get hold of it again. Cockburn was of the opinion that the British Foreign Office, and Sir Samuel Hoare in particular, went beyond appeasement and actually encouraged Hitler and Mussolini, partly to use as a weapon against the Soviet Union.

    According to Wikipedia , in the aftermath of the failed Hoare-Laval pact, the ".. apparent sell-out of the Ethiopians led to Hoare's resignation as Foreign Secretary .... His successor was Anthony Eden. When Eden had his first audience with King George V, the King is said to have remarked "No more coals to Newcastle, no more Hoares to Paris."

    Cockburn also coined the term "The Cliveden Set" to describe what he saw as influential aristocratic Nazi/fascist sypmathisers. Their alleged activities formed part of the backdrop for Ishiguro's "Remains Of The Day".

    *In his later years, Cockburn was a much loved columnist in Private Eye; in his earlier years he was a member of the Communist Party and Daily Worker correspondent, as well as publishing his own magazine.,_1st_Viscount_Templewood

  • Comment number 19.

    17 Fair point about Mein Kampf JC but I did once read that Hitler wanted rid of the Jews to and island..was it Madagascar? I know he was convinced we wouldn`t enter the war and blamed Von Rib for misleading him about our views.

    All the Abramic religious texts seem to be supremacist in their wish to promote the faithful as higher beings. Religion is just a prehistoric form of fascist politics dressed up as faith ...and peppered with hypnotic contradictions...

    Will the meek inherit the Earth?Will we stop coveting and killing? Are you inclined to turn the other cheek or live in austere poverty?
    It`s counter-intutive mumbo-jumbo that keeps us all feeling guilty and bad about ourselves....and keen to please the clergy!

  • Comment number 20.

    @13 Barrie: "Little Boy Blair" very good! :-)

    @16 Jericoa The "Many Worlds" interpretation of QM was first proposed by a physicist, Hugh Everett III in 1957. I read (or rather, skimmed through) Everett's book back in 1977 as I was preparing a dissertation on "Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics". My view at the time was that, although the idea was quite attractive, it was unprovable (as mutually orthogonal universes would be non-interacting) and therefore not really part of the proper domain of science.

  • Comment number 21.


    And one can only assume that the rules reflect the peccadilloes of the founder. So if a 'sect' has non-violence at its heart, and the founder seems to have no interest in sex - either way - might it be that he (or she) is 'one in a million' (in brain wiring and endocrines) and the rules prescribed (or chiselled) will be IMPOSSIBLE TO FOLLOW by mainstream individuals?

    Oh calamity!

  • Comment number 22.

    @worcesterjim - You sound like you might enjoy "The Churchill Memorandum", a novel by Sean Gabb. It's available at

  • Comment number 23.

    21...You must be a singleton by nature if you have never noticed that any man in any sort of position of power and influence is a target for females seeking to trade sex for the chance to bathe in his reflected light Barrie.
    Bet Kirsty and Emily would be jostling for "pole position" once they knew you were Vice-Chairperson of the local Bee Keeping Association!

  • Comment number 24.

    22 Thanks for "levelling" with me HJL!

    Will risk death by frenetic tamboureening and look for it at Worcester public library!

  • Comment number 25.

    Mr Mason

    Thanks for this entertaining blog.

    Two pedantic points :

    Switzerland did mobilize in '39 at breakneck speed. Neutrality and Mobilization are not mutually exclusive ;

    Poland invaded part of Czechoslovakia (Teschen and surrounding districts straddling Moravia and Silesia )in late 1938. And you had wanted a 'pact' as 'France' with both of them ? Or were you being ironical ?

  • Comment number 26.

    If Ed Balls knows about Economics then why:

    1. Did he and his boss sell all our gold just before gold soared in price for the following 10 years?

    2. Did he and his boss not intervene and stop the biggest housing bubble in UK history?

    3. Did he and his boss not intervene and stop the biggest credit bubble in UK history?

    4. Did he and his boss appear so shocked by the fact our banks were technically insolvent? Why did they not enforce stronger banking regulation?

    Ed Balls knows about Economics? Yeah, if enough people say it some will believe it.

  • Comment number 27.

    Like I said, Paul - you need to get Guderian on a Bosman. Though I fear the truth is that even then, with that awful political leadership and generals who had never seen a shot fired in anger, your virtual French soldiers will die in their tens of thousands, just like the real ones did. They were no cheese-eating surrender monkeys!

  • Comment number 28.


    Anything to say about Tunisia?

    As different as Tunisia is to Britain, there's the big similarity of youth unemployment & corrupt ruling elite; not just the politicians & their expenses, the bankers & director-class in general with their bonuses whilst the rest of us, fortunate enough to have jobs, have our wages cut in real terms.

    The anger is here in Britain as well!

  • Comment number 29.

    26 tawse57....All fair comment...but for one crucial point
    ...New Labour was more Tory than the Tories and neither of them are anything more than puppets of Wall Street and Washington.

    We aren`t all daft enough to have forgotten all the Tory whinging about having their clothes stolen by "Labour".....and just ask yourself what the Tories would have done differently if they hadn`t been kicked out of office in 97?

    Let`s raise our game...the real story is that we live in a virtual one party state orchestrated by the Americans.....and have done since we went bankrupt during the Second World War.

    Now let`s stop shouting nonsense at each other and dry our eyes and blow our noses ....and look at the new global capitalist world as it really is the HERE and NOW....and plough as good a furrow as we can in OUR interests.....not the USA`s!

  • Comment number 30.

    HoI3 pretty much melts my tiny mind whenever I come to look at it. And I also often look at it with the same attitude as you Paul - must try and save Spain, save Czechoslovakia and win the Battle of France.

    The first two are probably impossible; the last is achievable. The Germans won the BoF because, essentially, they fluked it (although calling Heinz Guderian an anarchist is a little extreme). The original plan for Fall Gelb posited a traditional Clausewitzian Kesselschlacht battle in the French centre, with the attendant heavy casualties, to push them back to the Somme - then to finish them up in 1942. It was really more through desperation due to the un-winnable nature of their situation that caused the German massed breakthrough in the Ardennes. Desperation that found a release in the (un)happy accidents of von Manstein meeting Guderian, their joint plan, the chance that it managed to end up under Hitler's nose, and then the sheer fluke that he happened to shut up for more than five minutes and agree with what his generals were telling him. If they'd gone with Halder's original plan everything would have been very different.

    So: get better generals, improve French tactical doctrine and provide an elastic defence in depth. Better luck next time.

  • Comment number 31.

    But until we can fulfil H G Wells`ambition of travelling back through time ....why don`t we put our toy soldiers and copies of Biggles away and concentrate on MAKING history?

  • Comment number 32.

    #29 worcesterjim

    The thoroughly depressing aspect to life in the UK today is how poor all politicians are of all the main parties.

    They appear to be, IMPO, self-serving narcissists with little practical knowledge of the real World. I doubt whether there is a single politician in Parliament, of any politicial hue, who truly understands what has been going on, and continues to go on, with regard to the credit bubble, banking crisis and now QE.

    It has been said many times on here and elsewhere online - Animal Farm is what we now have.

  • Comment number 33.

    32...tawse57...I`m not that pessimistic...though open to being convinced!

    As a long time student of society I think the majority of people are really too busy and conformist and generally well-meaning to field an entire parliament full of narcisists...thogh Paxman`s book about the lives of MP`s does suggest that many of them are rather needy people who are swayed by the public school/gentlemen`s club ethos of the Commons.

    I would guess that plenty of MP`s could make a much better job of running Britain if the global capitalists and their media didn`t call the tune.

    Enoch Powell was a very able honest man but he was destroyed for resisting the capitalist`s desire to flood Britain with so many immigrants that we ended up like the USA and with no welfare state.

    Their favourite sort of MP`s would be Robert Maxwell and Blair and the like.But if the chance really presented itself my guess is that we have plenty of talent in Britain and even in the current "crop" of parliamentarians.....if only the Americans and their media will give us a break!

    But first we need to throw off the curse of Neo Liberalism....and that is now a task of global proportions!

  • Comment number 34.

    Tawse57 @ 32

    Your post reminds me of the unpublished preface to Animal Farm where Orwell wrote that for any elite to rule successfully they need an educated elite. The intelligentsia are the most brain-washed sector of society. To misquote Mark Twain: those that do not have an education they are uninformed, and those that do are misinformed.

    I also remember reading that Orwell took great offence to Claud Cockburn during the Spanish Civil War. He viewed him as a Soviet stooge not that it matters.

  • Comment number 35.

    @34 You are in danger of sounding like Glenn Beck (and I'm sure you're nothing like him! ;-D ) He is founding his own "university" because "history graduates only learn what their professors want to be taught."

    The most important courses I have ever done concerned the philosophy of science at KCL in the 70s, and History Of Mathematics at the OU in 2002. A good education gives you the skills to question and find out for yourself. Anything else is an initiation into a kind of priesthood, sacred or secular. Of course, on any particular course, some people seek to be students, whereas others become disciples.

    BTW you were right about the antipathy from Orwell towards Cockburn. Cockburn would not have argued much with Orwell's description. I am fortunate enough to have inherited Cockburn's "Crossing The Line" from my father. It is a very honest and witty account of his journey through and beyond the Communist Party. He wrote: "..people said to me, more or less accurately ' are a principle journalistic propagandist of the Communist Party. You are ... a high powered agent of Comintern.'

    He got rather frustrated with the humourless jargon of Comintern. One directive he refused to print in the 'Daily Worker' stated "the lower organs of the Party in Britain must still greater efforts to penetrate the backward parts of the proletariat"

  • Comment number 36.

    @35 Urgg ... Sorry! "the lower organs of the Party in Britain must make still greater efforts to penetrate the backward parts of the proletariat."

  • Comment number 37.

    36...I love you last we know where New Labour`s core mission originated!

  • Comment number 38.

    #31 worcesterjim

    '...and concentrate on MAKING history?'

    good point.

    Paul, instead of replaying WW2 HoI3 you should try the all new interactive WW3 (can it be stopped?), the scenario starts in 1970, play it how you will, if you fail then there is always WW3 (post armageddon) to look forward to (a bit like sim-city but with no cities)

    Immovable objects and unstoppable forces, somethings gotta give (and I can hear the stress fractures building)

  • Comment number 39.

    Current soundtrack is 'There Ain't No Stopping Us Now'

    There is a certain inevitability about things, 'Events dear boy', this one has been a long time coming but I fear it's time is near.

    But just in case it doesn't happen then 'carry on regardless'.
    (sue for peace, plan for war)

    You can learn a lot about (the preconceptions and prejudices of) games designers by playing the games they write.

    (I tend to do well in times of adversity, so I'm alright Jack, how will you fare?)

  • Comment number 40.


    How the Chinese Must See Us
    By Patrick J. Buchanan

    ‘We demand that the Chinese be more open and tolerant of opposition and dissent. But when they look at the gridlock of American democracy, the pettiness of our politics and the failure of our policies, while they are on the move at home and all over the world, why should they want to be more like us?’

  • Comment number 41.

    Whilst alternative history can be great fun as a learning tool I often wonder whether it is worth the time and effort. There are so many other more interesting things to do!

    The Second World War happened only when it could happen. I tend to see it through my paternal grandfather's eyes as whilst he participated in both the peace and the war he was able to remain sufficiently detached to be objective and was happy to talk about it. My father was a combatant who was unable to handle his PTSD so I knew nothing about his war until I was forty.

    My grandfather volunteered in 1914 but being a rail freight man was not called to the colours as they needed him to run the munition trains. But even when I was a child in the early Fifties I could see he was still mourning for those of his generation who died in that war. Whenever we went out and passed a war memorial he would stop, take off his hat and read some of the names. There is no way any of us alive today can comprehend the feeling of that generation who fought The War to End All Wars and the emotions of their parents and friends who had to sit home and read the telegrams of regret.

    Yet it was these two generations who ensured that the UK did not intervene in Spain, did not stand up for Czechoslovakia and did not oppose the reoccupation of the Saarland. We can witter on about appeasement as much as we like but we did not have to face the casualty lists of 1914-1918. You cannot understand appeasement without accepting this terrible reality.

    It is often said, quite rightly in my view, that those who have fought in a war don't want another. This is where Britain and France were in the Thirties. In those countries rearmament was entered into reluctantly as a consequence of Hitler's rantings. In the end they knew they would have to eventually call that lunatic's bluff but they had to let him feed out the rope until their reluctance finally ran out over the Polish corridor.

  • Comment number 42.

    The problem always has been that history and our current political and social beliefs are influenced and defined by the powerful to suit their particular purposes.

    Conventional education and the Hollywood revisionists conspire to create a European history that serves the American people`s wish for a world history that casts them in the role of heroic rescuer, saviour and purveyor of freedom and democracy and prosperity and the rule of law.

    Yet no amount of spielberging can quite obscure the truth that in 1900 European countries (collectively) ruled the entire world....admittedly by some pretty questionable means....yet by the year 2000 ...guess who was top dog? Now how did they do that?

  • Comment number 43.

    Some of you lot really need to go and buy yourself an xbox or a ps3 and get yourself into some mindless first person shooting up.

  • Comment number 44.

    #42 "Now how did they do that?"

    As I suspect that you know, the US lent money and armaments to the European countries to fight each other in WW1. The "done thing" at the time was to write off debts when assisting a partner nation (France had waived debts when supporting US Independence). The US did no such thing and insisted on reparations. This Modus Operandi just grew in breadth and depth, through Bretton Woods, IMF etc.

    Michael Hudson's "Super Imperialism" tells the real history of the 20th Century and how this power shift took place.

    Everything about our current economic and financial circumstances at the moment is precisely about this - Debts are being prevented from being written off as the Creditor assumes no responsibility for the quality of his investments, and therefore the Debtor must pay, no matter how crushing.

  • Comment number 45.

    44 Just so Hawkeye ....just (despite all the evidence around us) we continue to work,spend,borrow and consume under the illusion that what our elites used to enslave us and others will "deliver" us all a future based on global freedom,democracy,justice and prosperity.....a politicaland economic end to boom and bust!

    Now how were we fooled into that delusion?Or is it true...after all?

  • Comment number 46.

    I hope this doesn't spell the end of Idle Scrawl as it is one of the best blogs on the BBC...Its not looking good though.

  • Comment number 47.

    Any chance of us talking about the UK economy and how things are getting worse for tens of thousands of SMEs?

    Just asking?

  • Comment number 48.

    D'you reckon the Telegraph's AE-P reads this blog?

    Appeasement is the proper policy towards Confucian China

  • Comment number 49.

    @46 I looked at the link - depressing! As a long time student of political/management Newspeak, a couple of translations are in order.

    1) "...the BBC's Putting Quality First strategy... " This means reducing quality AND quantity.

    2)"...reduce competition with commercial websites..." means to cravenly kowtow to Rupert Murdoch in the vain hope that he'll call off his attack dogs.

    The second bit is the an insidious extension of the tacitly understood Thatcherite doctrine that if a public service gets in the way of someone making a private profit, then the private profit takes priority. Alternatively, the public service must be sold off, and the workers paid less, so that a friend of the government can make money out of it.

    PS As Linus van Pelt said in a letter to the Great Pumpkin: "if I sound bitter, it's because I am!"

  • Comment number 50.

    I have no problem with people writing letters to pumpkins - great or not so great.

    Where I have the problem is in taking out all your bitterness on pumpkins.

    Unless, of course, the Great Pumpkin had raised a huge army, over-thrown Mankind and turned us all into slaves and concubines of pumpkins.

    At which point I might side with King Edward and his horde of potato people.

  • Comment number 51.

    An interesting comment made on AE-P's excellent Telegraph piece (linked above)...


    Hedge funds and currency traders have taken A E-P's advice.

    Instead of getting their fingers badly burned again, as they did at the recent hugely oversubscribed Portuguese bond auction, traders are now appeasing the Chinese, big time.

    Money is flooding into the new Euro and out of the tired, old dollar.
    Now that China is Europe's best friend the markets are following the money.

    The FX Chief at HSBC is right, stories about the demise of the EU are "wildly exaggerated." The markets are keen to appease their new friend by doing a volte face on their attitude to the EU.

    The FT piece today is gobsmacking.
    China faces down the Euro shorts, says the FxPro guy.
    Now the markets are appeasing China.


  • Comment number 52.

    @50 Ha Ha!

    Of course, poor Linus' bitterness was really caused by the fact that his idealistic hopes had been dashed again. Rather like when Lucy pulls the football away from Charlie for the nth time.

    Anyone who has expected something good from our system of government must know how Charlie feels. Now in my mid 50s, I have reached the more cynical phase:

  • Comment number 53.

    @51 Where will Britain be in 50 years time? Perhaps "a small island off the west coast of China."

    Could it be any worse than being part of the 51st state? I had an email from a very depressed US citizen friend of mine recently, after I said, only half in jest, that his old friends would offer him political asylum if need be:

    "Thanks for the invite. Palin, Beck, NRA, and so many other crazies are making America a little too colorful, you may take see me sooner rather than later. It would be different if these lunatics were recognized for what they are, but the astounding thing is that so many Americans believe then whole heartedly. You can't argue effectively with a drunk or an idiot. Well reasoned arguments are ineffective against gut feelings. They believe and there is nothing rational you can do to shake their faith.....

  • Comment number 54.

    The underlying narrative of Pauls post could equally apply to the financial crisis (as witnessed in certain countries anyway, we seem to forget many nations are doing very well thank you very much).

    The general 'neutrality' or 'lack of stomach for a fight' at this early stage greatly increases the chances of being unable to avoid something worse later on.

    Whether you be French in 1938 or lower middle class in 2011 I guess some things never change.

    I am heartened at least that there does seem to be some interest / growing acceptance of the breaking up of the banks now along retail / investment lines. Why it takes a load of comitioes 18 months to come up with what is 'the bleedin obvious' even for an economic amateur like me is a tad irksome non the less.

    I liked the idea that savings could be deposited according to a ratio determined by the depositer e.g max 30% unprotected in investment banking min 70% protected in retail banking or something similar.

    It should not be the banks choice to gamble with our money....ever, but i am not against 'gambling per se' just gambling with my money without my explicit permisiion in advance.

    Anyway, looks like we, like the french and others in the late 1930 will lack the stomach to do the necesarry pre-emptive strike in order to prevent something worse later.

  • Comment number 55.


    Not good for the BBC workers losing their jobs but actually good for those businesses who were taking great financial risk online - often personal financial risk - whilst the BBC was using Public Money to compete against them.

    It is all very well some 6-figure salaried BBC Manager sitting in a plush office somewhere browsing the web for what is getting the surfers... and then saying "Let's do the same!"... whilst some poor sods have mortgaged their home to get their website online.

    "Why does the UK have no Microsoft or Google or Facebook?" is the cry we often hear from politicians. The BBC is one reason.

  • Comment number 56.

    Why don`t they just re-introduce the Glass Steagal Acts?

    Perhaps because the people who funded Clinton`s election campaign wanted to rip us off? Funny isn`t it ...there`s been no inquiry into how that came about?

    Perhaps the crooks are still in charge?

  • Comment number 57.

    56. At 5:47pm on 24 Jan 2011, worcesterjim

    There is no perhaps.

  • Comment number 58.

    @55 I couldn't disagree more. In many areas the BBC was there first, and public service rightly came first. All too often private sector involvement in a service means that the public has to pay more for less, whlist the profits are salted away in tax havens.

    The BBC has made a lot of money for Britain, selling its programmes around the world. (I saw yesterday that the Germans are finally negotiating to buy 'Allo Allo'! :-D )

    Many of the best innovations in computing have come through cooperative effort. The Linux operating system (which I have used for a decade, and exclusively for five years) is ubiquitous in commercial applications: servers, networks drives, and also in many Universities and other institutions which don't want to pay the Microsoft tax. Microsoft's success was based upon its fortuitous and almost accidental monopoly position, maintained by means which many in the business believe aimed to deny end users any meaningful choice.

    Ask a different question: why does the US have Fox? I would say almost certainly because it doesn't have the BBC. I know which country I prefer to live in!!!

  • Comment number 59.

    I bet no one who fronts the bbc on the tube doesn't get made redundant!

  • Comment number 60.

    Not sure if you are still out there Shireblogger but I recall we had a discussion about this on here last spring and decided that a contraction in the last quarter was actually very likely. This has of course come as a 'shock' to everyone else.

    Idle Scrawl contributers 1 - almost everybody else in finance 0 usual.

    This could be a bad year for the UK in particular considering the following factors:

    If interest rates dont get you inflation will, especially comodities, fuel in particular. I still think the real pre-cursor to the crash was the price of oil, those factors are building once more but I dont think the ensuing crisis will take the same form as last time.

    Housing market deflation tends to encourage people to hang onto their cash, houses are still way overpriced compared to incomes (which are flat / being eroded in real terms via inflation v very low pay rises or non at all). Therefore the market will stagnate / continue to show steady decline with very few first time buyers able to afford homes at current levels. If interest rates go up this could turn into a much more pronounced decline which could expose some banks (again).

    There is a bit of a stock market bubble, not sure how that one will pop though.

    Austerity measures will start to have a real impact in the second half of the year.

    If I were to hazard a guess I would say the above factors will converge to be manifested in some form of mini crisis around Q3.

    But nobody ever listens to us ......

  • Comment number 61.


    Yes, there is a vast confluence of factors conspiring against the UK economy at the moment. The fundamentals do not look good. Once upon a time we used to receive news of the Consumer Confidence Index. I wonder why these measures aren't publicised much these days?

    The Present Situation Index is bleak. The rising "Expectations" in 2009 turned out to be unfounded, and have since reversed. Whereas the Spending Index is actually going through another secular decline (although a slight blip upwards in Dec '10). The previous downward trend presaged the 2007/2008 crisis.

    Unofficial Stagflation has been self evident to most of us for over a year now:

    By Quarter 3 2011 it will no doubt become official.

  • Comment number 62.


    I wonder if "Hearts of Iron III" will let you play France (or Britain) by eliminating international bankers and restoring economic sovereignty?

    After all, France was dearly "on the hook" to Pax Americana during the 1930s (and ever since):

    "The period between World Wars I and II, like no other period in modern European economic history, saw the success of centrally planned economies in Germany and the Soviet Union, two major states. The United States as the dominant victor of World War II was determined to perpetuate its hegemony by suppressing national planning everywhere to prevent the emergence of economic nationalism and socialism. It promoted global market capitalism and neo-liberal free trade to keep all other economies subservient to the US economy. It is the economic basis of the Pax Americana. "

  • Comment number 63.

    #61 and 62

    Some great informative links there, particularly the last one.

    I guess the economic pre war 'miracle' of the Nazis is overlooked in history, obliterated by the moral issues and the war itself. I guess nobody is comfortable to draw any positive lessons from Germany from that entire episode in history what so ever, even if there are some things that could be learned from the 'Nazis' ( I feel very uncomfortable writing that by the way).

    For example I doubt many people even realise that Nazi stands for 'National Socialism' and a lot of the purely economic philosophies (one must completely seperate it from the hideous stuff they did)were actually incredibly successful in binding a nation together and being 'self sufficient' as they were forced to do post WW1.

    Self sufficiency for your basic needs is what we should be going hell for leather to achieve, once all nations have that in a sustainable way then we can trade the rest of the 'fun stuff'.

    Back to the theme of the underlying apathetic neutrality of most people now (and then) which seems to prevent us from re-writing history in our living room (in the case of PM's war game) or sensibly directing our own future.

    Perhaps, collectively, human nature is such that we only get off our backsides and complain or do something if we are either youthful and relatively unjaded (like students), brain washed (like religious fanatics) or nearly starving or freezing to death.

    How can we be so smart in some respects (technologically) and so unbelievably dumb in others.

    Not a particularly rosy outlook then!

  • Comment number 64.

    You keep telling us how realistic the game is, then you tell us that the Finns exploit their position in the grand alliance to attack Germany because their politics is... dodgy. Realistically? Stark raving lunatic Finnish politicians all out of kilter and off the wall is what it takes for this to happen, not "dodgy".
    I wonder what did they want from Germany? If true madmen came to power in the 1930s, ...realistically... they'd attack the Soviet Union.

  • Comment number 65.

    Does this game have any Klingons?

    I am pretty sure Klingons could have altered the balance of power of 1930s' Europe.

  • Comment number 66.

    "As I suspect that you know, the US lent money and armaments to the European countries to fight each other in WW1."

    A dear, very knowledgable, friend pointed out at a meeting on Saturday that in fact post WW2 the US tended towards giving grants rather than loans. Very sensibly, because the dollars given away could only be used to buy US goods which gave a huge boost to the US economy. Perhaps the UK should do a bit more giving.

  • Comment number 67.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 68.

    "The Allies have become so fearsome that, despite massing its troops on the Polish border, Germany has hesitated to make the first move but then Finland - whose politics screen I have neglected to check up on but turn out to be dodgy - has attacked Germany in March 1939 and provoked the war."

    What the...? Finland wouldn't have attacked any country, much less something like Germany. That's beyond absurd.

  • Comment number 69.

    I think Paul needs to put down his xbox controller and post a new blog on King's rubbing the nose of the British people in the dirt speech.

  • Comment number 70.

    @69 Whether King was "rubbing the nose of the British people in the dirt" is open to interpretation.

    In a way, the speech was rather political. Firstly, Merv blamed the banking crisis for the mess, rather than Osbo's line of blaming previous government spending. Secondly, his talk of "rebalancing the economy" and his emphasis on manufacturing were a clear message that the "success" of the City was at the expense of those who do useful things. Thirdly, his frank assessment of the impact of international commodity prices was an attack on the old monetarist orthodoxy that interest rates are the best weapon against inflation.

    Britain has an inflationary problem because we import too much to pay our way in the world. Wage increases across the board would make no difference at all to that situation. Redistribution of wealth, and an attack on tax avoidance and tax havens might help. If Mr Osborne (and his ilk) were taxed sufficiently so that he could not afford to take his family to Klosters, that would reduce our deficit somewhat, and we could better afford to rebuild our manufacturing base.

    Short of invading China, the workers cannot "seize the means of production" because too many of them are now abroad. We need to recreate sufficient means of production to satisfy our own needs. The children of stockbrokers might have to get their hands dirty!

  • Comment number 71.

    Here's a review of Paul's Newsnight piece yesterday:

    The more we see a divergence between what is actually happening to real peoples lives against what politicians and the media try to portray, the more trouble we are storing up.

  • Comment number 72.

    I didn't watch Newnsihgt last night because the promos all day were about that South African runner.

    I will watch Paul's piece on iplayer in a mo.

    I wish Newsnight will sort out how it publicises what is on each programme each night.

  • Comment number 73.

    An excellent item on the mess that the UK economy now is.

    This kind of item needs to be on the main BBC bulletin and given some airtime on News 24 instead of the semeingly constant rolling sport and weather.

    I am still waiting for a single policy from Osbourne and Cable to encourage businesses to invest. Not one yet - not one.

    They could cut IR35 tonight - just get rid of it which would, at a stroke, allow corporates to hire more Engineering and IT contractors without the IR35 worries that now affect them. It would also be getting rid of a much-hated and useless tax that Gordon Brown brought in.

    They could allow firms to write-off IT purchases in the first year instead of over 3 or 5 years. They could do this now today - just do it.

    That would allow corporates to buy in hardware and software and then usually hire people to install, work on and maintain those new IT purchases.

    Just two ideas off the top of my head. They could be done now. This minute - if your are reading this George Osbourne just go and do it.

  • Comment number 74.


    Nice link again, liked the tone of the contributor. It does go round to pauls piece, our own collective apathy will get us in the end, perhaps, collectively, we only have ourselves to blame. Too few people are prepared to stand up and be counted to make an issue of it.... until it is too late of course.

    Was it not ever so, no amount of computer simulations can alter that fundamental human trait it seems, we are condemned to learn by our mistakes (in this case we have made the same clanger twice i.e. investment / retail banking merging). We seem incapable of using our enlightened position to avoid them in the first place!

    Maybe we were better off in the times of hocus pocus and divine intervention in every aspect of our lives on an hourly basis.

    Perhaps we will get to find out soon....


    Maybe they do read this blog...but only in the context of 'knowing your enemy' :)

  • Comment number 75.

    Have financial journalists let the Public down?

    Wall Street: A blunder or a crime?

    'The media failed us on the most crucial story of our era. Our newspapers and TV sources contributed to an economic disaster so cynically engineered even billionaire investor Jim Chanos was prompted to ask, "So where are the perp walks? How long does it take before we see any investigations? It boggles the mind that $150 billion is vaporised… there haven't been any arrests, any indictments, nor any convictions at any major bank or at any of the government-owned financial institutions Fannie, Freddie and AIG."'

  • Comment number 76.


    Simply an excellent article attached to your link.


  • Comment number 77.

    Please put The Roads to Freedom back on if the tapes still exist


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