Jump to content


Spartacus

Student Question: Democracy versus Dictatorship?


  • Please log in to reply
7 replies to this topic

#1 Andy Walker

Andy Walker

    Administrator

  • Admin
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 2,989 posts

Posted 29 October 2004 - 05:22 PM

A student from my College asks:

How could Britain claim to be fighting a war of democracy versus dictatorship when they had such a big empire?

#2 John Simkin

John Simkin

    Super Member

  • admin
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 16,104 posts

Posted 30 October 2004 - 04:16 PM

The Second World War had nothing to do with fighting for democracy. If that had been the case, Britain would have sent troops to Spain to help the Republican government against Franco, Hitler and Mussolini in the 1930s. In fact, the British government gave its support to anti-democratic forces in Spain.

As the question implies, the British government had resisted calls for democracy in countries under its control. For example, some politicians in India thought the best way of obtaining democracy was by supporting Germany against Britain. It is true that the Labour Party was committed to introducing democracy in the Empire. However, they were not to get control until 1945 (they then carried out their promises in countries like India).

The same is also true of the United States. They had never encouraged democracy in countries they controlled in Latin America. In fact, they actively discouraged it. It has also to be remembered that the United States was not really a democracy until the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. One of the common complaints made by black soldiers after the Second World War was that they had been fighting for rights that they did not enjoy in their own country (they said the same thing after the First World War).

#3 Nico Zijlstra

Nico Zijlstra

    Advanced Member

  • JFK
  • PipPipPip
  • 317 posts
  • Location:Heerlen (NL)

Posted 31 October 2004 - 07:01 PM

The Second World War had nothing to do with fighting for democracy. If that had been the case, Britain would have sent troops to Spain to help the Republican government against Franco, Hitler and Mussolini in the 1930s. In fact, the British government gave its support to anti-democratic forces in Spain.

As the question implies, the British government had resisted calls for democracy in countries under its control. For example, some politicians in India thought the best way of obtaining democracy was by supporting Germany against Britain. It is true that the Labour Party was committed to introducing democracy in the Empire. However, they were not to get control until 1945 (they then carried out their promises in countries like India).

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Fear for communism was far greater than the fear of Hitler: 'Better Hitler than Stalin'!

John's example of Indian politicians favouring Hitler perhaps can be studied by searching for 'Subhash Chandra Bose' in the Internet. The figure of Bose, however, is strongly disputed.

#4 John Geraghty

John Geraghty

    Super Member

  • JFK
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 1,177 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Dublin, Ireland

Posted 31 October 2004 - 11:14 PM

John raises the point of india believing that perhaps supporting Germany would perhaps get them independence, this was also the case for Ireland in the First World War, in fact the famous Easter Rising of 1916 was carried out with German rifles and there was also a boat on its way from Germany with more equipment.

Britain's empire was more economically based rather than ideologicaly and so it is easier to rationalise their actions, for the most part the British Empire was not tyrannous unless provoked.

#5 alf wilkinson

alf wilkinson

    Experienced Member

  • Members
  • PipPipPip
  • 57 posts

Posted 01 November 2004 - 11:46 AM

The ultimate irony of World War Two is that Britain became, during the war, almost more totalitarian than Germany. People, male and female, were conscripted, much more so than in Nazi Germany, and the Government much more effectively mobilised society to fight a total war. So was it a war of democracy against dictatorship?

It was a war about power. Hitler wanted an empire of his own - land-based, and in Europe, sure, or did he really want to conquer the world?

It was a war about economic wealth.

Despite the claims to the contrary, it was a war that all powers were eager to fight., even the USA despite its neutrality. For the first two years of the war the USA was fighting the Nazis by proxy - getting Britain to do it for her.

#6 Guest_Andrew Moore_*

Guest_Andrew Moore_*
  • Guests

Posted 01 November 2004 - 11:07 PM

Did Britain (or any official spokesperson) make such a claim? It seems to come from Buffy Saint Marie's Universal Soldier - "He's fighting for democracy..."

Democracy is, by definition, any system that devolves power to the people - but this cannot mean that all of the people decide everything by some kind of vote.

Over time, we have developed all sorts of models whereby a popular vote establishes a group of decision makers, whom we trust (in a formal sense, whatever our feelings about them) to make and enforce the rules.

I'm not sure where Alf's information comes from. By the end of the war, the German army was conscripting very young men. A far greater proportion of the German male population fought (and died) than was the case in Britain.

The British armed services were never politicised as the German forces were. There is no British equivalent of the rallies - the kind of thing we see depicted in Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph des Willens. We had special services for combat, and many people involved in intelligence work and cryptography, but we had no equivalents of the Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei - that means that they actually called themselves the Secret State Police; evidently they weren't very secret, but they had no shame about the name), nor of the SS - to join which required the soldier to be a Nazi in the sense of joining the party. In the UK servicemen were required to be loyal to the state in the person of the monarch; in Germany they used "Heil Hitler" as a standard greeting and goodbye. We have become so used to seeing this on films and TV that we may no longer find it shocking - imagine using the name of our Prime Minister in this way, and you will get some sense of how very odd it is, and how deeply the German people had come to love or revere their leader.

In Britain we were reminded that careless talk costs lives. But it did not cost lives in the same way that it did in Germany. The record of the judicial process that preceded the executions of the Weisse Rose group in München, for instance, has no equivalent in Britain.

I know many people, including my late father (who served in North Africa, Italy and France) who have experience of the war as it affected people in the UK - I can think of no measure, objective or subjective, by which one could sustain the belief that Britain came close to the Third Reich (even that name is a giveaway) in having a totalitarian ideology or system of government.

Not all Indians favoured Hitler. The Sikh regiments from the subcontinent were among the most loyal and courageous in the army - as the many awards for gallantry show. That story, familiar to any boy who read comics like the Victor, seems to have been lost somehow. See, for example, www.mod.uk/aboutus/history/kohima60/kohima5.htm - which tells a story of British, Indian and Nepalese (Ghurka) brothers-in-arms at the critical battle of Kohima in 1944. There is no way that you would find anything remotely like this in Hitler's racially purified armies.

#7 Klaus Popa

Klaus Popa

    Member

  • Members
  • PipPip
  • 13 posts
  • Location:Bestwig in Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany

Posted 02 November 2004 - 05:57 AM

Leaving aside war propaganda of the Allies and of the Axis-powers it was in the first instance a war of breaking the status of an imperial power of Britain, then, starting with the invasion of Russia in 1941 a declared war of annihilating the Russian/Bolshevik ?Untermensch? (inferior race) and increasingly the effort to wipe out Jewish peole in Europe. For Britain as an imperial power it was the aim of keeping its status as a colonial power and maintaining the status quo established after the First World War. For Britain it was less an ideological and in no way a ?war of the races?, which it was for Hitler?s Germany ? the anti-Soviet struggle was officially termed as a war of ideologies ? which was in fact the collision of two totalitarian, antidemocratic, tyrannical systems.

#8 Raymond Blair

Raymond Blair

    Experienced Member

  • Members
  • PipPipPip
  • 132 posts
  • Location:Nashville, USA

Posted 12 November 2004 - 11:49 PM

I guess I am in the minority in saying that the United States and Great Britain fought for democracy in World War II. I think these countries declared so in the Atlantic Charter and did followed up this agreement by carrying it through fairly effectively.

That is my argument for saying that Great Britain fought in the name of democracy.

I think that an historical understanding of democracy also comes into play in answering the question. Democracy has evolved to mean a broader swath of a population over time. First white male property holders, then more white males, then issues of religion, race, and gender came into play in an expanding concept of democracy. This has been an evolutionary issue.

Great Britain took the lead in ending the slave trade and slavery in the 18th and 19th century. Then she reengaged in a tremedndous expansion of her empire for pragmatic and moral reasons. David Livingstone and Rudyard Kipling helped publicize and legitimize the spread of imperialism. The Victorian Age was infused with racism (of the type that Hitler used to put in his concept of the Master Race) and Social Darwinism. From that cultural perspective Rudyard Kipling wrote the poem "White Man's Burden" to presuade the United States that it had a moral duty to take the Philippines as a colony. It was a point argued that Western Civilization was superior and it was only fair that the culturally "wealthy" civilizations take under the "less developed" cultures and take them from savagery to civilization. That this was a more liberal way of looking at the world is hard to understand from our Modernist/multi-cultural/diversity is a sign of strength perspective today. Many British felt that the goal for the empire was to prepare its colonies for self-rule. So the moral argument tended to be that these less developed peoples, like children, were not yet ready for self-rule.

By the 1940s as modernism had swept out Victorianism the belief in moral superiority had to seem like it was being horribly mocked by the likes of Hitler. There was a debate within the British political system over how to deal with the issue of home rule as the Indian nationalist movement had usurped the moral high ground under the leadership of Nehru, Jinnah, and Gandhi. Using the techniques of nationalism and civil disobedience taken from western intellectuals and merged with Indian philosophy into a form called satyagraha the British seemed to look like the savage bullies of Amritsar and the Keystone cops of the Salt March.

I think the irony of this question in my mind is that the naitonalist hero of World War II who saw the right side of the policy of appeasement and gave a strong voice of naitonal defiance to rally the people around the idea of risking the safety of the nation by keeping a defiant stance against Germany in the face of an invasion, who saw a vision of the postwar world that set the political and economic tone of the twentieth century.

Chruchill was an old empire person who had a very difficult time seeing the light in terms of acknowledging an end to empires. It should be noted that in the immediate generation after WWII Britain did shed her empire in South Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, or at least most of it.




0 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users