I take ‘Letters’ in the Daily Telegraph seriously. This is not because I have high regard for the writers. The regulars include Private Eye‘s Sir Herbert Gussett, and Lieutenant-Colonel (retired). Retirement has not dimmed their martial impulses, and they are all for Standing Up To Putin. They are also mustard for increased defence spending, which will curb Putin’s ambitions and possibly lead to post-retirement employment for them of sorts. Somebody has to do the TV map-reading and battle-diagrams. No, the value of the letters pages lies elsewhere. They are a complete statement of what the Establishment believes, or wants the public to believe they believe. Every day the editorial staff paints from their palette a harmonious picture of the official view.
When Henry Kissinger said in Davos that Zelensky should be prepared to cede Ukrainian land for a negotiated peace, the Letters at once exploded.
Kissinger was ‘senile’ according to one writer. Next day he was ‘naive’. These views were given glossier treatment by Robert Tombs (25 March). He dismissed the idea of realpolitik and introduced the dreaded MUNICH, a word guaranteed to stifle thought at birth. The acid test of realism is whether it works. Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler in 1938 is the worst example in modern history of realism that did not work.’ This is history for The History Boys. Munich actually worked rather well within its limits. Chamberlain bought time, which is what his military advisers urged upon him. Sir Hugh Dowding needed time to bring on his Spitfires.
Hitler was infuriated, believing that Chamberlain had tricked him out of the war he wanted in 1938. And then Chamberlain blew it with his ridiculous guarantee to Poland in March 1939. When Hitler attacked, Britain could do nothing to help Poland – except to declare war ourselves, at the wrong moment. Yet in the popular/media consciousness Munich is derided, and nobody speaks of the Polish guarantee. We are now seeing something similar today. The Poles have revived their 1939 belligerence, and are urging Britain to send in more weaponry. Liz Truss, the Prime Minister’s henchperson, takes an absolutist line indistinguishable from Zelensky’s. This comes at a moment when Russia has got over the worst of its early miscalculations and is on track to control Donbas (with Odessa in the wings). It is entitled to punish what it can of US/UK weaponry enroute to the front. The dangers of British policy are manifest.