CSI comment: EU Peace Prize falsifies history
Date of publication: 15/10/2012
Will NATO get the prize next year?
How the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU in 2012 falsifies history
The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union has generated much hilarity across Europe. No doubt the Norwegian Academy felt that a little light relief was what is needed in these difficult times. Certainly the sight of one prominent component of the European political class awarding a big prize to another prominent component was worthy of the high humour of the Soviet period, punctuated as it was by messages of fraternity and support sent between different parts of the same apparatus. For the most absurd aspect was that the award to the EU was announced by none other than the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe.
Thorbjorn Jagland was seen the world over reading out the name of the lucky winner in a small room in Oslo crammed full of journalists. This Labour party politician and former Norwegian prime minister has been Chairman of the Nobel Prize Committee since 2009 - a committee which is in any case appointed by the Norwegian parliament (Storting) of which Jagland had been the chairman (or speaker) until he became a member of the Nobel committee. He has also been Secretary-General of the Council of Europe since the day he left the Storting.
The Council of Europe was founded in 1949 but it is widely accepted that the impetus for its creation came from Winston Churchill's speech at Zurich on 19 September 1946. In that speech, which is full of the grandiloquent rhetoric for which Churchill is famous, and which is a panegyric to the idea of European unity and reconciliation in the sense intended by those original pan-Europeans Count Coudenhoue-Kalergi and Aristide Briand, both of whom Churchill invoked in his speech, the former British Prime Minister called for a new "Council of Europe" to be formed specifically on reconciliation between France and Germany. He said,
"I am going to say something that will astonish you. The first step in the recreation of the European Family must be a partnership between France and Germany"
"In all this urgent work, France and Germany must take the lead together."
He concluded, "Let Europe arise!" The creation of the Council of Europe, which did take place along the lines Churchill envisaged, was therefore clearly a manifestation of that Franco-German reconciliation on which Jagland laid such stress in his paeon of praise to the EU. In other words, Jagland's current job should remind everyone that that reconciliation preceded the creation of the EEC by 11 years. Instead, he has obscured the fact. The fact that he is Norwegian only underlines the disconnect between the EU and peace: Norway has never joined the EU but has not fought any wars with its neighbours either.
By common consent, the other landmark in Franco-German reconciliation was the Elysée Treaty of 22 January 1963 and Adenauer's visit to Reims in July 1962 which had laid the ground work for it. It is true that this treaty mentions the "European communities" but it is within the context of inter-governmental cooperation between France and Germany: the two states, which were even then putting together the exact form of the EEC (the Common Agricultural Policy came into force in 1962) resolved to consult with one another on EEC and many other matters.
It is therefore historically false to say that the European Union created or consolidated peace in Europe. Peace in Europe has existed since 1945, the EEC since 1957. Franco-German reconciliation has existed since at least 1949 (the date of the creation of the Council of Europe) and especially since 1963. The European Union (and the EEC which preceded it) is at best a side-show in the history of Franco-German reconciliation and European peace. The award of the Nobel Prize merely reflects the ideological predilection of the Nobel committee, which has been constant ever since the prize was created, for left-liberal internationalism and preferably supranationalism. It does not reflect historical truth. For that matter, the existence of the Peace Prize, first awarded in 1901, like the evolution of the modern laws of war since the First Hague Peace Conference in 1899, has gone hand in hand with the worst wars in the history of humanity. But that is another issue.
There is a further sense in which the propaganda about the EU and peace is a falsification of history. When Marshal Pétain called for an armistice on 17 June 1940, he was reviled by De Gaulle and his supporters for failing to understand that this war was more than just a re-run of the Franco-Prussian war and the First World War. Pétain failed to understand what De Gaulle immediately saw, which is that this was a world war of a quite different dimension. In the appeal of 18 June 1940 and on the posters distributed around Paris and London, De Gaulle insisted, "Rien n'est perdu car cette guerre est une guerre mondiale."
Why did De Gaulle say this? Pétain thought that the Germany merely wanted to take revenge for the defeat of 1918. Hitler's generals doubtless thought the same thing. At least one event, however, enabled perceptive spirits like those of De Gaulle and Churchill to understand that this was different. This was the order to stop the attacks against the British Expeditionary Force which had retreated to Dunkirk. Hitler's Haltbefehl of 24 May 1940 enabled the British to send a huge flotilla across the channel and the British army to retreat intact.
As the French historian François Delpla never tires of pointing out, Hitler's generals were enraged by this order which they could not understand. The British managed to turn it retroactively into one of those great "victories in defeat" some nations cultivate as part of their national memory and naturally no one ever credits Hitler for the fact that the British army was able to escape. Yet there is no doubt that the Germans could have finished the British off there and then if they had not been prevented from doing so.
Why did Hitler do this? He had given the answer himself in August 1939 when he said,
"Everything I do is directed against Russia. If the West is too stupid and blind to grasp this, then I will be forced to come to an agreement with the Russians, to beat the West, and then after its defeat to turn myself with all my forces gathered together against the Soviet Union. I need the Ukraine so that we are not starved out as in the last war."
In May and June 1940, therefore, Hitler believed that he could still negotiate England's exit from the war - the very thing he was to achieve from France on 17 June. He wanted a free hand in the East. He hoped that his conciliatory attitude towards Britain would strengthen the position of the Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax, within the British cabinet. Halifax, who has been the architect of the policy of appeasement, was supported by many people to become Prime Minister after Chamberlain. By contrast, Churchill, who became Prime Minister on 10 May 1940, was in a fragile position as he was regarded as a loose canon and a warmonger. Halifax remainedForeign Secretary until Churchill sent him to Washington in January 1941 and thus he was able, throughout the summer of 1941, to continue to negotiate secretly with Hitler, behind Churchill's back, via a Swedish intermediary and through Count Ciano and Mussolini and Rome. At the beginning of the war, Britain's steadfastness was not a foregone conclusion and Hitler wanted to do everything to facilitate his real goal which was to attack the Soviet Union. Indeed, it was the inveterate gambler's last throw of the dice that sent Rudolf Hess to fly solo to the Duke of Hamilton in May 1941, just weeks before the launch of Operation Barbarossa - that operation which was to start what can only be described as the most atrocious war in the entire history of humanity. Hitler tried one last time to break the alliance between East and West and to avoid a war on two fronts. He failed and consequently lost the war.
The Second World War was therefore not the third round in a war which had started in 1870. It was a war of a qualitatively and quantitatively different kind, and where the primary axis of hostility was between Germany and Russia not between Germany and France. In comparison with the war in the East, where over 20 million Soviet citizens perished, the war in the West was a tea party.
Peace in Europe therefore did not come about when France and Germany reconciled; it came about when Hitler failed to defeat the USSR, as he had hoped he would do very swiftly, and when instead the alliance of the USSR, the USA, France and the United Kingdom vanquished Nazi Germany and then occupied and divided it. Pétain was too old to foresee all this in 1940; what a shame the European political class has perpetuated his error retrospectively through such a tawdry piece of propaganda.