Declaring War in WW2: National Styles March 23, 2014Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback
The characters of countries are reflected in their cuisines, their clothes, and their soap operas, so why not in their declarations of war? Thought it might be fun to see whether this notion stands up and so this morning ran through every WW2 declaration of war that I could find from 1 September 1939 through to the day of infamy. There is a lot to be said for national character in declarations: compare Italy to New Zealand, say below. Let’s start though with Hitler shouting at his supporters about Polish aggression. For an Anglo-Saxon there is something rather pathetic about hysterical political assemblies, but listen to the mob in the background. There is no question that the chanters have steel, at least compared with Mussolini and his opera singer wannabees below.
Next comes France. You might expect the French declaration to be all LA FRANCE, LA PATRIE, the kind of thing that De Gaulle would have come out with. But actually Daladier puts in the single most dignified declaration of all the speakers here: possibly because he had such an honest and well-attested revulsion for war?
Chamberlain for Britain is interesting. Those quiet measured tones are effective and very British but, in the end, Chamberlain makes the mistake of using the declaration to excuse his past actions. His actions had been sincere, at times even credible, but there are probably more important things to worry about than your reputation as you plunge your country into war.
Britain being Britain there is also the King’s speech, which forms the climax of a film of the same name: we give here the genuine recording and the film clip.
Following Britain in came the Dominions: Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. The most moving of the declarations by far is that of the loyalist dominion, New Zealand, which sadly is not available on youtube. I’ve put an external link, it is well worth listening to, just thirty seconds and beautiful in the gently lilting English of Michael Joseph Savage on his death bed. Fast forward a mere twenty five years and Britain would betray the Dominions in signing the Treaty of Rome: at least Savage didn’t live to see that.
Menzies for Australia is business-like but lacks, shall we say, the Kiwis’ enthusiasm. He states that Britain is at war and that, therefore, Australia is at war. Canada’s and South Africa’s announcement are missing from the internet! A disgrace! At least there is no working link, I can find. This is something I’d love to correct, if you can send either in drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com
We now push on to 10 June 1940 (skipping past the Winter War with apologies) and Mussolini is finally ready (kind of) for what he believed would be a six week battle. (Mussolini waited till the allies were on the rope before declaring his intentions. Then, saying that Italy would need 10,000 war dead to have a seat at the peace negotiations he entered the conflict.) More a realist than Hitler, Mussolini knew that he was taking a gamble. Even if the British and French were breaking down in Northern France, what would the British do in the Mediterranean? In all his historionics about ‘the moment of decision’ and ‘the moment of destiny’ there is a sense of that gamble: though of course the enthusiasts below don’t appreciate this. Mussolini called the odds well: but he had the most incompetent army of any western power and he had the great misfortune that Great Britain struggled on. Within six months the Italian Empire would be ripped to shreds and within a year the families of the men and women in the piazza would be malnourished.
Next comes Stalin (who would spend most of the next days drunk). He looks rather pale here. This may, of course, be because his incompetence in the lead up to the German invasion beggars belief. Alternatively it may be because he just realizes that he has sentenced 28 million Russians to death. But then he was pretty good at killing millions of Russians without any outside help….
We wind down with the Japanese declaration of war…
Sorry couldn’t resist that. And then Roosevelt’s quietly contained fury, second only to Daladier in terms of dignity.
And here’s Hitler’s all in against the US. He’s snivelling now, complaining against the injustice of it all, poor dear. A bullet to the brain is three and a half years away.
PS weird montage behind this video, seem to be some English shots in the background!
24 March 2014: First, huge thanks to James for pointing out an error with my second Hitler video, now deleted, which was actually Goebbels! Second, Tacitus from Detritus writes: Didn’t General Franco once make a comment about Spain’s peculiar role in WWII? As I recall he said that regards the Western Allies he was Neutral. Regards the war on the Eastern Front he was an ally of the Axis. And regards the Pacific War he was an ally of America and Britain! An underappreciated bit of master diplomacy, and perhaps as a result he had the longest run of the Facist strongmen. Third, Paul R writes: I don’t know if there was any recording of an actual declaration of war by Canada. The closest thing to it seems to be this item in the CBC archives [but the audio recoding doesn’t work for me (Beach)]. This was the first time Canada declared war. It was granted that power with the Statute of Westminster (1931). Before that, Canada was automatically at war whenever the UK was. I heard that Ottawa had to wire the British authorities to clarify the Parliamentary procedure for issuing a declaration of war, but I haven’t been able to confirm that rumor. MCJ writes: I also drew a blank looking for South Africa’s declaration of war. Even searching in Afrikaans brings up nothing. There must have been some kind of diplomatic note (which is the actual, legal declaration of war, btw), but I wonder if there ever was a public media announcement. There would have been no need; the government of Barry Hertzog fell over this exact issue when he was deposed by his deputy Jan Smuts. It was a massively traumatic event in SA history; the legality of Smuts’ actions remains a topic for conspiracy theorists to this day, and it almost certainly opened the way for the National Party victory in 1948, with 45 years of apartheid to follow. But in any case, the reason for Smuts’ actions would have been all over the papers. SA politicians have never been big on communicating directly with the electorate (still aren’t), so the need for such a speech may not have been seen as great. This is the best I could find for you. Sorry. Thanks to Tacitus, MCJ, Paul, MCJ and particularly James!