The Guardian

The Guardian April 25, 2001


Culture and Life

by Rob Gowland

Menzies the appeaser

The media has been in a lather over the "revelation" that former Prime 
Minister Robert Menzies was an appeaser who thought Britain should make 
peace with Germany.

Eight days after war [World War II] was declared, Menzies wrote to another 
former Prime Minister, Stanley Bruce who at the time occupied the post of 
High Commissioner to Britain.

Menzies told Bruce that Britain should negotiate with Hitler after the fall 
of Poland. He expected that it would lead to "a resettlement of the whole 
map of Europe with joint and several guarantees all round".

The local media have been at pains to put a positive spin on the 
embarrassing document. The "Australian Financial Review" sought to portray 
the letter as evidence of "Menzies' extraordinary naivete and 
misunderstanding of Hitler's murderous aims".

The "Sydney Morning Herald" came up with the lame excuse that "appeasement 
was not as unfashionable a word before the war as it later became" and 
offered this equally lame explanation for appeasement: "Many people who 
remembered the carnage of WW1 wanted to avoid a repeat."

In reality, the policy of appeasement  acceding to the demands of the 
fascist dictators rather than resisting them  was a conscious policy to 
"encourage" fascist aggression.

Far from wanting to "avoid the carnage" of another war, imperialist 
governments fostered and armed fascist regimes for the express purpose of 
stopping Communism. It was the public that reviled the carnage of WW1, not 
the governments of imperialism.

The appeasers helped Germany rearm; helped Hitler, Mussolini and Franco to 
destroy Republican Spain; refused to lift a finger to stop Japan's conquest 
of China. All part of their grand plan to have the Axis powers attack and 
destroy the hated Bolshevik stronghold, the Soviet Union.

The European powers refused to join in any serious consideration of 
collective security (as proposed time and again by Soviet Foreign Minister 
Litvinov)  which alone could have safeguarded peace in Europe.

Instead, the ruling class of Britain, France and the USA rejoiced in every 
new development in Nazi Germany that enhanced the likelihood of war.

And Robert Menzies, a leading light of the United Australia Party (UAP)  
forerunner of the Liberal Party  and Attorney General in the Bruce 
Government, shared the same class admiration for the Nazis. He returned 
from a visit to Germany in the mid-'30s full of praise for Hitler and what 
he had supposedly done for Germany.

Later, he went out of his way to please the German ambassador in his 
efforts to "get" the visiting anti-fascist Czech writer Egon Kisch.

His partiality for fascist regimes was not limited to Germany, either. His 
notorious nickname of Pig Iron Bob stemmed from his shameful use of 
legislation to force waterside workers to load pig iron for shipment to 
Japan at a time when Japan had actually invaded China.

The pig iron was wanted by the Japanese imperialists for the making of 
shells and other weapons, to be used against the Chinese people.

The Wharfies could also see that if China fell, Australia could be on the 
receiving end of those shells, but Menzies was apparently confident that 
Japan would fulfil the promise of the Anti-Comintern Pact which it signed 
with Germany and Italy, and attack the USSR.

In early 1939, the Japanese Government publicly thanked Menzies for his 
help in keeping them supplied with pig iron for their war effort. If Japan 
did go to war with Australia, their good friend Menzies would be in no 
danger.

Menzies is also irrevocably associated with the plan to appease Japan by 
giving her the northern part of Australia, down as far as Brisbane (the 
notorious "Brisbane Line" plan, subsequently vehemently denied by Menzies' 
supporters). On April 22, 1940, Labor MHR Mahoney told the House (referring 
to Menzies): "At heart he is a Nazi.

"When I walked along one of Canberra's streets with him some time ago he 
said: 'I have a great admiration for the Nazi organisation of Germany.

"'There is a case for Germany against Czechoslovakia. [This comment 
suggests the conversation was at the time of Munich  RG.] We must not 
destroy Hitlerism or talk about shooting Hitler...'."

The War was only eight days old when Menzies wrote to Bruce, and it was not 
yet clear to people that the governments of Britain and France had no 
intention of actually trying to stop Hitler from conquering Poland.

The Anglo-French declaration of war against Germany was intended to placate 
public opinion at home and to pressure Germany not to get too carried away 
with this Non-Aggression Pact she had just signed with the USSR. Hitler was 
being reminded not to forget who his real friends were and to continue 
marching east.

In the Bruce letter Menzies shows his grasp of the basics of Anglo-French 
foreign policy as well as his lack of concern for the people of Poland. 
"Nobody really cares a damn about Poland", he tells Bruce.

But Menzies' main concern is to have Bruce persuade the British Government 
that it would be a mistake to wage war on Germany.

He supplies Australia's High Commissioner with arguments Bruce can use, 
including that "Germany's defensive position is incredibly strong", that 
such a war would cost "in the long run, millions of British and French 
lives", and that "the economic force which will be our ultimate weapon will 
tend to affect us almost as severely as it does Germany".

Bruce subsequently replied indicating that he had "constantly urged" 
Menzies' views upon the British Government.

A few months later, still anticipating a Hitler victory in the great 
crusade against the Bolsheviks, Menzies banned the Communist Party of 
Australia. A year after that, when Nazi Germany finally invaded the Soviet 
Union, Menzies announced that "Russia won't last six weeks".

Fortunately for us all, he was wrong  again.

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