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Friday, 27 October 2017

A mountain tea party in Bavaria

Nazi Germany’s march towards autarky and the abandonment of any semblance of market economy became plain to the world as the rift between Hjalmar Schacht, former central banker now Minister of Economics, and a regime uninterested in conservative economic management leaked into public consciousness. The trigger for the dispute were the synthetic oil and fabrics production programmes driven on by Herman Goering as Commissioner of the Four Year Plan. These were not paying propositions but designed to replace imports that would be prevented in wartime. The rumours of Schacht’s resignation were only a couple of weeks premature.

The visit to Germany by the Duke and Duchess of Windsor culminated in tea with the F├╝hrer himself at Berchtesgaden. Hitler was favourably impressed with the Duchess and rather thought she would have made a good Queen unlike almost the entire British establishment. Predictably enough this meeting unleashed extensive criticism which was still well under way when the next part of his programme to relaunch his status as a public figure began to attract hostility. On the same feeble pretext of investigating labour conditions he had deployed to explain the tour of Germany, he was to go to the US. Any shred of credibility this explanation might have had was destroyed by the fact that the organization of the tour was put in the hands of Charles Bedaux, who made his fortune from a brutal time-and-motion system that marked him as a committed ally of capital and enemy of labour. The Duke was forced to publicize Bedaux’s involvement to fend of claims that the visit had been professionally organized as. In fact a commercial PR firm had been taken on to manage press coverage of what was supposedly a private visit. The whole exercise was becoming a catastrophe, doing far more damage to the Duke’s reputation than any imaginable benefit.

The fall of Shaghai’s industrial suburb of Chapei provided an ugly lesson in the reality of the Japanese offensive in China. Within easy distance of Shanghai’s still extensive Western population, Chinese civilians were slaughtered en masse. Terrified refugees were stopped from entering the extra-territorial western “concessions.”

Friday, 20 October 2017

A forgotten stock market crash and the dawn of Islamism

Helped in part by President Roosevelt’s “New Deal” the US economy and its stock market had rebounded strongly from the 1929 crash and the ensuing Great Depression and by early 1937 on many measures had returned to pre-Crash levels.  From the summer, though, a sharp correction had set in with demand was softening and unemployment headed back towards 19% from a low of 14%. With hindsight this all looks like a mere cyclical effect (none of the structural weaknesses which destroyed the financial system in the early 1930s had returned), but the attendant slump in share prices brought back evil memories. Even today economists squabble about the precise causes. After reaching a peak at around 190 in February the Dow Jones Index had been falling steadily and on Tuesday 19th October share prices suffered sharp falls in very heavy volume triggered by a report of falling steel production. The market ticker was running 22 minutes behind events at one point; in reality simply a register of the level of activity but widely seen as emblematic of panic. Democrat politicians began to mutter of a Wall Street conspiracy designed to discredit President Roosevelt. The Dow Jones Index fell by half from its peak and the economy did not recover properly until the Second World War.

The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, a Sunni cleric and the most important Arab leader in Palestine had not been arrested by the British authorities in their initial crack-down on violent protest but when an arrest warrant was issued he fled northwards to French controlled Syria and Lebanon. It was the beginning of a long life of wandering and implacable hostility towards Britain (and friendship with her enemies notably Adolf Hitler) and implacable hatred of the Jewish population in Palestine.

An argument broke out over the scale of Italian involvement in the Spanish Civil War. The Italian government claimed that only 50,000 “volunteers” (in reality military units) were present whilst the Republican government claimed 110,000. The truth was probably around 70,000 but irrespective of the actual level was the fact that this kind of military presence made a nonsense of the policy of “non intervention” to which Britain and France formally subscribed. Every now and again Rome would claim that it would withdraw or reduce the commitment without the slightest intention of doing so. This cavalier dishonesty was one of the main reasons why the British Foreign Secretary Antony Eden lost any confidence in Mussolini he might ever have had. This helped open the rift with his Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who had a touching faith in the willingness of Fascist dictators to behave honourably or rationally, which was to culminate in his resignation.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Two scores for Nazi diplomacy

Amphibious landings by Japanese troops on the Yangtse turned one flank of the defending Chinese armies defending the line of the Beijing-Hankow railway and a pincer movement turned the other. The Chinese broke completely and some 200,000 soldier fled. Many were drowned trying to escape by river-junk.

The latest German diplomatic move showed a degree of finesse not normally associated with the Nazi regime and it was all the more devastating for this. The Belgian government was given a formal declaration of Germany’s respect for the inviolability of its frontiers and a promise of support if Belgium were invaded. It set the seal on the Belgium’s drift away from France with whom it had formally abrogated its 1920 alliance the year before.  It fed Belgian fantasies of remaining neutral in a war and removed any hope that Belgium would somehow help extend the Maginot Line to the north either in terms of physical fortification or mobile forces. Of course, when the day came in May 1940 Germany cheerfully ignored its commitments, but they had served their purpose.

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor arrived in Germany for the start of a “private” visit supposedly intended to inform the Duke about the conditions of working men in Nazi Germany. This avowed goal was intended to capitalise on the Duke’s well-founded reputation for sympathy with working people in Britain. This did not succeed and the true purpose of the visit – to relaunch the Duke’s career as a public figure – less than a year after his abdication was painfully obvious. All the labour angle earned him was the dubious pleasure of having Robert Ley, head of the Reich Labour Front, as his formal host. Ley was a drunkard given to personally chauffeuring his guests around in a powerful limousine at insane speeds.

Friday, 6 October 2017

New eras of public health in Britain and judicial clemency in the USSR

Italian dictator Benito Mussolini concluded his state visit to Germany on a high note. He was treated to an immense review of the Wehrmacht manifestly designed to impress him with Germany’s military might. The whole event was conducted with great cordiality and accompanied by expressions of friendship. No firm agreements were signed during the visit but few doubted that it market the de facto alliance between the two countries.

The murder of a British official and his police guard on the steps of the Anglican church in Nazareth prompted a sharp swing to repressive tactics against the Arabs by the British authorities in Palestine. The Higher Arab Committee and other national Arab bodies were declared illegal and a number of their members were arrested and deported. The Mufti of Jerusalem who was probably the single most influential Arab leader was not arrested but he was removed from his position as chairman of the Moslem Supreme Council.

The British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain launched his long-cherished campaign to improve the national health to coincide with the official inauguration of National Advisory Council for Physical Training and Recreation with a speech (broadcast on the BBC) at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the presence of no less than three former ministers of health and other sundry worthies.The campaign was dear to Chamberlain's heart and he lavished immense efforts on it but, curiously, he is little remembered for it.

The Soviet penal code was given a degree of added flexibility by introducing a 25 year prison sentence. Before that there had been nothing between a ten year sentence and death by firing squad. Originally the regime had prided itself on doing away with the Tsarist practice of lengthy imprisonment but, apparently, judges were perplexed by the excessive leniency of a ten year sentence for the wave of economic crime and subversion which had so recently come to light. It was even suggested that Stalin had become concerned at the number of death penalties being handed down.