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Historical Background to the Second World War


William Joyce, 1906–1946

4,575 words

German translation here [2]

Editor’s Note:

The following is the first chapter, “Historical Background,” of William Joyce’s Twilight Over England. Joyce was born in New York City. Then he went to Ireland and England, where he became a member of Sir Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists. (His face was horribly scarred in a street battle with Jewish thugs.)

Shortly before Britain started the Second World War, Joyce and his wife fled to Germany, where he became a naturalized citizen in 1940. In his writings and popular English-language radio broadcasts under the name Lord Haw Haw, Joyce sought to explain Germany’s view of the war and the dangers faced by European civilization.

After the war, the British executed William Joyce for his views, charging him with treason even though they had no legal jurisdiction to do so, for Joyce had never been a British citizen. In short, William Joyce died so that you might read these words.

HOW much can be learnt from history has long been a matter of speculation.

Much depends on the capacity of the pupil. There is probably no branch of learning, except economics, in which conjecture plays so large a part. Almost any set of facts can be selected, in a partial fashion, to prove any theory, however, absurd. In this chapter, no attempt will be made at philosophical generalization. Our only purpose is to show how England’s historical development contributed to the fateful and fatal action which her Government took on September 3rd, 1939 [Britain’s declaration of war against Germany].

There is a certain dramatic irony in Mr. Chamberlain’s choice of the date. For September 3rd was the date of Oliver Cromwell’s birth and also of his death. And how much the England of today owes to Cromwell is appreciated by very few. That crude, tough, ugly, self-righteous figure still has its admirers. Even scholars so discerning and so essentially honest as Thomas Carlyle have paid tribute to it. And most of the English Liberals, who eschew dictatorship, have worshipped at the shrine of this military autocrat because he was the first Englishman to achieve a complete metaphysical unity between Bible, cash, and sword. The reader must not think that we are intent on arguing the virtues of Charles I, the good father and the faithful husband. On the contrary, if this prosaically pious person had known how to keep his word, if he had not regarded himself as the Almighty’s Ambassador to England, it is quite possible that the name of Oliver Cromwell would have remained shrouded in the mediocrity from which it emerged. Fate decreed otherwise.

In 1642 there broke out the English Civil War, destined to involve the whole of the British Isles in strife. On the one side was Charles representing unlimited monarchy, the Church of England, and, in some small measure, a feudal concept of society; on the other side was a very odd combination indeed. It was essentially a party welded together out of the merchant and Puritan factions which already in the days of Queen Elizabeth had shown signs of truculence.

The Tudor despotism had been established in 1485 because trade would have been impossible without firm government and also because the whole country was sick of perennial brawling amongst the remnants of the old aristocracy. No sooner, however, had this autocracy, this dictatorship, brought prosperity to the English people than a movement started to depose it. Nothing in the world could be more natural than that the merchant princes, fattened with the spoils of the New World, should object to paying taxes—and heavy taxes at that—to the throne from which their success had been derived. So early in English history did there appear the sinister tendency to regard money and power as synonymous. Now this new plutocracy was enthusiastically supported by the Puritans. These earnest, if fanatical, extremists had undoubted grievances. They were certainly forbidden to practice their religion. They were, in many cases, persecuted with the intolerance of the age, just as were the Roman Catholics. These Puritans, however, had drunk all too deeply of Jewish philosophy. They were not content to read the Old Testament. They must needs identify themselves with the figures in it. They called themselves by such names as “Hew-Agag-In-Pieces-Before-The-Lord.” Ben Jonson was hardly exaggerating when he called his Puritans Tribulation Wholesome and Zeal-in-the-Land. Certainly the materialism of the Jews, as exposed in the Old Testament, had bitten deeply into their souls: for with all their psalms and all their hymns, they soon began to make money hand over fist. By some rather obscure process, they gradually insinuated themselves into the merchant classes, perhaps because their religion allowed them no vice except that of loving money. If their entry into the plutocracy is not easy to explain, there is no difficulty in explaining why so many merchants became Puritans. The reason was that it sounded much more dignified to protest against the Crown in defense of religious liberty than in attempted evasion of taxes.

Thus, under the pretext of fighting for pure Protestantism, many wealthy personages waged a great battle for political supremacy.

The Cavaliers had some idea of the truth: but they were very far from trusting their Royal Leader. The fate of Strafford had shown just how much personal loyalty was to be expected from Charles. The King’s cause was supported by at least half the population of England: but a trustworthy leadership was lacking, and Parliament had the money of the City of London. The Royalists had no more than what they could raise on their estates and their family plate. It was truly a war between Mammon and the Legions of the Lost. Mammon won. Cromwell emerged as the military dictator of the revolution. Not only did he execute the King, but he gave the Parliamentary babblers short shrift as well. If the war had been fought in defense of Parliamentary liberty, the leader of the Parliamentary forces showed no hesitation in having literally kicked out of Parliament any members who disagreed with him. One freak assembly after another was set up by this remarkable man in a pathetically ineffectual attempt to prove that he believed in popular representation: but his real intentions were never revealed until he placed the whole country under the administration of ten Major-Generals, who were mainly concerned with preventing people from eating mince pies at Christmas or playing games on Sunday.

One memorable positive act must be written down to Oliver’s account. He readmitted the Jews to England, whence they had been banished many centuries before by that eminently wise monarch, Edward I. It is more than probable that the Jewish moneylenders had helped the City of London to gain its victory over the Crown: and it is interesting to note that after the migration of the Jewish gentry into England, Amsterdam began to lose its importance as a centre of finance. And within 20 years, England went to war with Holland three times. These are facts: and the reader must be left to draw from them whatever conclusion he pleases. Holland was, of course, dependent on foreign trade and not on internal sources of wealth: and her decline as a first rate money market dates from the accession to power of Oliver Cromwell. It is not suggested that these Jewish peddlers of usury brought prosperity to England: but their arrival was the signal for the adoption of that philosophy of commerce which has endured in England even to the present time. The financial organization of the City began to develop upon certain lines which led to the establishment, in 1694, of the Bank of England as a private money-lending agency to the Government.

Cromwell died in 1658. He had singularly failed to create any constructive system of government. He bequeathed his powers to his humbly incompetent son, Richard, who took the advice of the Army Leaders and retired rapidly into private life.

Within a year, England was in the grip of anarchy. Generals were marching and countermarching, there was no security of property, and once again the wail of the merchants arose: “Give us a Government that will restore law and order and enable us to make money.” In fact, the very class, even many of the same people, who had born arms against their Sovereign Liege, King Charles I, people who had declared monarchy to be an evil thing and an invention of the devil, now began to clamor for a new King.

Sure enough, a King came. The debonair Charles Stuart, who had learnt every secret of sponging and trickery at the French Court, gladly accepted the Throne, firmly resolved never again to set out on his travels. This curious character, by that consummate diplomacy of which he was a master, secured for himself a stronger personal position than any monarch had held in England since the Tudors: indeed, for the last four years of his life, he ruled without a Parliament. Nevertheless, the principle of absolute monarchy had been dealt a fatal blow: and Charles’s power did not survive him. Everything in the character of his successor, James II, was admirably calculated to destroy it.

Meanwhile, however, a revolutionary change had occurred in English politics.

The Party System had come into being. In 1679, the words “Whig” and “Tory” became known in every English household. A great struggle was taking place: and the issue was, nominally at least, whether the Catholic Duke of York should succeed to the Throne. The Tories, or Court party, represented the remnants of the Cavaliers. They stood by monarchy, the Divine Right of Kings, the Church of England, and, to a large extent, the agricultural interest. They were, in the main, either aristocrats or men who believed in a landed aristocracy as the basis of social organization. The Whigs maintained the supremacy of Parliament, the necessity of Protestantism—the more extreme the better and the interests of City finance as opposed to those of agricultural industry. They were the successors of the Roundheads, but they had drawn into their ranks a number of people who had no positive convictions but were disgusted with the conduct and character of the Stuarts. From these indeterminate elements there later sprang such men as Chatham and Burke, to whom no unworthy motives can rightly be attributed. On the other hand, the general tenor of Whig policy was gross materialism, just as that of Toryism was mystical incompetence and a purely negative attitude to the progress which the dynamics of civilization demanded.

Thus for centuries, England was doomed to be divided, the financial descendants of the Roundheads always making use of the heroic but impractical descendants of the Cavaliers.

It is a very great mistake to believe that the Conservative Party of today represents the old Tory philosophy. The fact is that after 1745, Whiggery swallowed all that was left of real Toryism: and henceforth, apart from a few forlorn exceptions—always fighting a hopeless rearguard action, the people of England settled down to enjoy or suffer different forms of Whig politics. Thus did the materialism of finance lay hold on England. It would be tedious to enumerate the various attempts which were made at a resurrection of the Tory Party. Let us agree that it died on the day when the bleak moor of Culloden was strewn with the bodies of those who had thought it possible to restore the Stuart dynasty.

In the meanwhile, the constitution of England had undergone a far-reaching revolution. When, in 1689, William by the Grace of God Prince of Orange landed in England and his father-in-law took to craven flight, a new volume of English history was opened. William was the man whom the Whigs needed: and many of the Tories accepted him because anything was better than James II. William was a heroic, if somber, figure. A great fighter, he had the habit of losing battles and winning wars. But his interests were far removed from England. The single object of his life was to save Holland from the scorching splendor of Le Roi Soleil. Solely in order to acquire greater resources for his struggle against the French aggressors did he undertake the responsibility of pretending to govern England. And a man who would pretend to govern was exactly what the City of London wanted. The facade of ancient tradition had to be erected before the crooked structure of international finance that the architects of usury were building for themselves. William never to his dying day saw into the reality of English politics. The Whigs who had brought him to England treated him as a sort of guest on sufferance; and he was at a loss to understand the interminable intrigues of John Churchill, better known as the Duke of Marlborough, one of Winston Churchill’s more presentable ancestors. In his reign, two important developments occurred. First, Parliament, consisting of the remnants of the old aristocracy and, in much greater numbers, the pioneers of the new plutocracy, became supreme. There was nothing democratic in its nature. The vast majority of the people had no votes: but the stage was set for the final struggle between town and country, cash and breeding, corruption and authority.

The second event of importance in William’s reign was the founding of the Bank of England. This institution had as its function the provision of money for the Government at a substantial rate of interest. It was prepared to lend from generation unto generation and collect its interest accordingly. The cumulative process has produced mathematically amazing results: for the Bank of England was the main factor in the establishment of the National Debt. In 1705, Dean Swift threw up his hands in horror and exclaimed: “What! A National Debt of five million pounds. Why, the High Allies will be the ruin of us!” The Dean’s propensities for bad language would have had full scope, if he could have visualized the National Debt of thousands of millions of pounds which stares England in the face today. If only statesmen had been compelled to study the laws of Compound Interest, the fate of the whole human race might have been very different. Even a knowledge of simple interest would have helped in this case. But the gentlemen of the eighteenth century eschewed mathematics which had no application to the card tables. Certain persons who were not gentlemen profited by their simplicity. Of course, Robert Walpole, the founder of Cabinet Government and first Prime Minister of England knew very well what he was doing. His motto “Let sleeping dogs lie” testifies to the fact that he was concerned with more immediate things and was making no attempt to legislate for those who came after him.

George I, Elector of Hanover, King of England, spoke no English. After trying to conduct business with his Ministers in Latin, he gave up in despair and settled down to what amenities he could find in a land where he never felt at home. He harmed nobody and served the purpose of tradition and the Protestant Succession.

Henceforth the King was destined to be a figure-head. Now he could do no wrong, because he could do nothing. George III did try to become the autocrat of the American Colonies. England lost all North America but Canada: and thereafter the monarchs refrained from any considerable intervention in politics. Perhaps, by way of exception, we ought to note the headstrong opposition of George III to Pitt’s design of giving the Irish Roman Catholics that religious liberty which, if it had been granted in time, might have changed the course of Ireland’s history.

Now with the recession of the monarchy into the realms of the obscure, where it pathetically lingers today, party politics began to play a predominant role in English life. Whilst the Whigs ruled England throughout almost the whole of the eighteenth century, they had to contend with opposition: and this opposition was often based on the grounds of ambition rather than policy. I doubt if anybody can really say what Bolingbroke wanted: but he certainly hated the Whigs. Long after the old Tories had been buried, a new Tory party sprang up in 1770 under Lord North, this time in support of the House of Hanover. It did not get very far: but it served to provide the prerequisite of Party Politics, namely that there should be more than one party. The more parties, the more opportunities for individuals. Politics came to be regarded as a lucrative profession, thanks to the system of patronage, whereby gentlemen who knew somebody in authority could secure command of a Regiment in the West Indies for colleagues upon whose wives they had definite if not honorable designs.

As the eighteenth century gradually unfolded itself, two serious conditions began to develop. The first was the decline not merely of the aristocracy but, little by little, of all values that could not be correlated with pounds, shillings, and pence.

Strange it is that a century so prolific in poetry, conversation, belles-lettres, and every form of culture should serve but to herald the drab, remorseless, materialistic industrialism that was already looming impatiently in the offing. Yet, in the long tale of history, it has ever been so. The brilliant Augustan period of Roman literature, in which men of creative intellect scaled heights of achievement hitherto unprecedented in the history of Western Europe, was but the blazing afternoon before the twilight of Constantine and the utter darkness of the centuries that followed him.

The second sinister development was the beginning of that agricultural decline which was destined to continue for nearly two centuries and ultimately leave England in the position of declaring a food blockade on Germany without having any resources of her own.

Charles II, between his bouts of extracting money from Louis XIV and lavishing his undoubted charm on ladies who were only too willing to be overwhelmed by it, devoted a certain amount of earnest attention to physics. None of his entourage could discover why. Neither can the present writer.

Nevertheless, the impetus which he gave to the study of mathematics and natural philosophy had its results. Men like Newton began to formulate laws of science which were to transform the face of the earth. The full fruits of the Renaissance were now ripe for gathering: and the mechanical age was ready to begin.

Sadly enough, however, the new interest in machinery, the new desire to produce goods mechanically, the general gravitation to the towns and away from the country began to produce disastrous effects upon agriculture. Nobody has expressed this change more poignantly than Goldsmith in the Deserted Village. He writes:

Ill fares the land to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates and men decay.
Princes and lords may flourish or may fade,
A breath can make them, as a breath has made:
But a bold peasantry, their country’s pride,
When once destroyed, can never be supplied.
A time there was, ere England’s griefs began,
When every rood of ground maintained its man;
For him light labor spread her wholesome store,
Just gave what life required, but gave no more,
His best companions, innocence and health,
And his best riches, ignorance of wealth.
But times are altered: trade’s unfeeling train
Usurp the land and dispossess the swain.

Perhaps Goldsmith is a little inclined to over-emphasize the virtues of poverty: but he wrote with feeling about facts which he knew. In a short work of this kind, it would be impossible to trace all the ramifications and results of the Industrial Revolution: and, in any case this is a subject which will receive some attention in the next chapter. As a work of reference, I can only recommend G. M. Trevelyan’s able treatise on British History in the Nineteenth Century.

This work, though partial and written from a hopelessly Liberal point of view, gives a very fair picture of the social changes at which I am trying to hint.

In brief, the great migration from the countryside to the towns began. The age of mechanized man was approaching. The new plutocracy and those of the old Whigs who were naturally perverse began their final and terrible offensive against the old country gentlemen. It was all the more terrible because the old “county families” were not just uprooted and annihilated. They were subjected to numerous mercantile blood transfusions until they had to undergo the final humiliation of accepting Jewish sons-in-law to save the ground to which they pathetically clung.

This chapter is not especially concerned with economics: and we shall therefore defer for a very short time our review of the results which the Industrial Revolution brought to the lives of the ordinary people in England. The political fact of greatest importance is that the two parties locked in life and death struggle were compelled to call in new allies. The party system had rapidly degenerated into that shameless bargaining for votes which, in one form or another, is the inalienable characteristic of democracy. In the later eighteenth century, elections were greeted with great joy by the country. For they meant the lavish distribution by the candidates of beer, bacon, and money. Election Agents calmly wrote down in their books: “To the vote of Mr. Ebenezer Smith £30, (thirty pounds).” Constituencies were most artfully constructed in such a manner as to allow vested interests full play.

At the time of the Great Reform Act of 1832, one M. P. confessed that his borough was an uninhabited house, another said that his was an old mound, and a third smilingly declared that his had been under a pond for the last twenty years. All the same, this system was preferable to that about to be inaugurated. For the Reform Act of 1832 was simply and solely designed to give the lesser merchants the vote, with the result that the nexus between politics and cash became closer than ever before. Some 35 years later, the Jew Disraeli decided to bring in the hitherto voteless artisans to counterbalance the petty merchants. His reward was to be hurled out of office by the people whom he had enfranchised. Even in those days, Jews were not liked by the working people of England.

To summarize, however, it may be said that from 1832 onwards, the whole art of English politics consisted of making promises without any intention of keeping them.

And after the enfranchisement of the working classes, this evil principle gained added force.

The Liberal Party, formed out of the scum and dregs of all that was left in the worst elements of the Whig menagerie, posed as the friend of the people, with what justification we shall see in the next chapter. A new thing, called the Conservative Party, rose in the nineteenth century, representing the pitifully faint effort of the landlords and the more patriotic people to suggest that the state had claims no less than those of the individual. This forlorn band of idealists wandered along through the drab decades of the nineteenth century, till Benjamin Disraeli found it and quite cleverly led it into the outer courts of the Palace of High Finance. There it waited until, at the turn of the century, the recreant Liberal, Joe Chamberlain, bought it lock, stock and barrel, leaders, members, and hangers-on. From that time onwards, the Conservative Party was only a more respectable, a more delicate, in fact, a nicer medium for the expression of acquisitive commercialism. Thus, Mr. Churchill in the early days of his ill-starred career, was able, with a clear conscience, to ask his experienced friends whether he should give, or sell, his services to the Liberal or the Conservative Party. It mattered little which. If a man were a Methodist and a foreign importer, he would naturally be a Liberal. If a fellow were a soldier, and a member of the Church of England, he would probably be a Conservative. Both would pay their respects to dividends from foreign investments, and both would probably shudder at the thought of being stopped by a self-contained Empire. On the whole, the Conservatives were a little cleaner, a little less greedy, than the Liberals. But they existed only as a sort of foil to the Liberal Policy. Whether in office or not, the poor Conservatives were the perpetual opposition. The ruthless financiers of the City of London did not wish it to appear that there was only one party in the state. Their aims and activities had to be masked: but, in the end, the Conservatives gained such a following amongst the people that their annexation became necessary. Joe Chamberlain having performed this feat, the Liberal Party atrophied and died out, until its only living representatives are a few old gentlemen for whom there was no room in the Conservative fold. Its disappearance was made all the easier because, at the turn of the century, there had emerged a new and quite impertinent party called the Labour Party. These upstarts actually demanded that the workers should have direct representation in Parliament instead of being represented by their employers.

Nobody could say what these unreasonable people would ask next: and therefore it was just as well that the Liberal Party should be under sentence of death. Of course, the leaders of this new movement were mostly common fellows, and a little flattery mixed with bribery in the best of taste would doubtless go a long way. But they actually used such outlandish words as “Socialism”, they spoke about the rights of the proletariat, and some of them even used the awful term “revolution.” Clearly it would not do to have two parties as well as this new menace: and accordingly, for some years, although the Liberal Party lingered on, it gradually decayed: and those who would formerly have entered it in search of a fortune, joined the wretched Socialists instead. Not a few succeeded in realizing their personal ambitions.

The essential fact to notice, however, is that from 1832 until the present day, the major technique of British democracy has consistently embodied one principle: “The more you promise the people, the more you may expect to get their votes”. A premium was placed on the making of attractive promises: and the skilful politician was he who could break them and still retain his reputation for honesty. Perhaps there has never been such a master of this ignoble art as Stanley Baldwin.

All the time, the vast masses of the people were living in needless poverty: and the main strategic purpose of the ruling classes was to keep them in contented subjection, the Conservatives by preaching sacrifice and the Liberals, in their day, by distributing pourboires instead of wages. When the Socialists made their appearance, the paramount necessity was to convert their leaders into honorary members of the ruling classes as quickly as possible; the presence in their ranks of a certain number of young men of “good family” provided both the opportunity and the illusion.

With this general background in view, we can now pass on to a more immediate examination of the economic system which had been gradually developing in England since the beginning of the industrial revolution. We can begin to interpret modern history in the light of the more remote. If England had lost so much in the period which we have reviewed, she had gained an Empire. But how she proposed to use it, will not be clear until her economic philosophy [3] has been examined.