The Daily Telegraph letters page on Ukraine – a Dog’s Breakfast

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.

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8 Comments on The Daily Telegraph letters page on Ukraine – a Dog’s Breakfast

  1. Fascinating. An article in the Salsibury Review that actually implictly blames Poland for starting the Second World War. Such knots you twist yourself into when you try and defend and justify Putin’s unjustifiable murderous aggression.

  2. I thought it was only me who recommended an early negotiated peace after a week or so of plucky resistance. Well done Henry…you got something right at last.

    • There is no point in negotiating with Putin, when Putin has repeatedly broken agreements. Any agreement, any settlement would be meaningless. There are no grounds for a ‘reasonable settlement’. Putin needs to be defeated. Otherwise the very long track record of military aggression will continue.

  3. When the Soviet Union disintegrated (thanks to Ronald Reagan, with some help from Margaret Thatcher), there was an opportunity to end the Cold War for ever, but the opportunity was missed. NATO could have been expanded and improved to include all the civilised countries of Western and Eastern Europe, but instead Russia was snubbed, excluded and threatened. Therefore Putin’s rise to power is as unsurprising as Hitler’s after the botched Treaty of Versailles. (NB I’m not suggesting that Zelensky’s rise to power is any less odious.)

    So now we have a war in Europe which will cripple both the winners and the losers, while anti-European powers look forward to sharing the spoils.

    Kissinger is nasty, but at least he’s sane. The British and American attitude to Russia in recent years has been utterly doo-lally. We need a new Kissinger.

    • ‘When the Soviet Union disintegrated (thanks to Ronald Reagan, with some help from Margaret Thatcher’
      That is not accurate: the first brick in the Soviet wall was removed by His Holiness Pope John Paul II.

      • I’d distinguish between the Soviet Union itself and the extended Soviet empire. John Paul II directly contributed to ending the latter, but only indirectly to ending the former.

    • Blaming the West for Putin is ridiculous. Blaming the West for Russia’s problems abnd failures is ridiculous. Looking to appease Putin’s aggression is ridiculous.

  4. This makes a welcome change from the dubious Established Version of history, and a sensible warning about huff-&-puff precisely because of ongoing bloodshed and destruction a thousand miles from Buckingham Palace Road.

    First of all, a reaction to the situation in Ukraine in 2022 cannot be based on events, however presented, to the situation in Poland in 1939. THE SITUATION NOW DEPENDS ON ALL THE FACTS OF THE CASE eight decades later, especially the actual ethnicities, geopolitics, and weapons available now and in the near future. They are utterly different in almost every respect, except the coincidence of a corridor linking an important nation to a sea outlet. Secondly, the principle of standing up to aggression is not a bad one, but how to do so with the best outcome: mere knee-jerk emotion about “evil” is not a wise guide to military or political policy, especially if morally selective or sensationally media-driven. Finally, the chief “lesson” from 1939-40 was the certain futility of a bogus rescue of Poland and the knife-edge risk to Britain itself from lack of defence preparations, followed by a world war that destroyed Churchill’s empire and Moscicki’s Poland, with much of Europe and Asia under threat from a murderous communism.