Spirit Quest

Spirit Quest

What if . . ? Churchill had not replaced Chamberlain

By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Perspective

01 March 2014 — In my imagination I see them, a long line of horse-drawn wagons stretching beyond the hills across the prairie much like their predecessors many years ago. But these are not ordinary settlers but second time refugees. Only months earlier they had escaped from the Nazi take-over of their native Sudetenland (the German speaking part of Czechoslovakia), now they are once more on the run, hoping to make it to the US border before the vanguard of Hitler’s forces reaches them.

Unlike other settlers these are not farmers, most of them are labour union officials, leaders of the Red Guard, a paramilitary organization set up to protect the Social Democrats against the Henlein thugs (Nazis under the influence of Der Fuehrer next door prior to the Munich Agreement of 1938). It would be at least two weeks before the wagon train of my imagination reached the US border. Crossing would be no problem unlike today. It was after all the world’s longest undefended border. Later there might be some objections to their presence, they were after all socialists, not communists, a distinction the Americans have always found hard to define.

Hitler hated them both with a passion as they had stood against his incursion. Several thousand managed to get away to Britain while other got caught behind the lines and ended up in concentration camps of Dachau , Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen, Bobibor, and Teresienstadt (Terezin). A goodly percentage of them were Jews, albeit non-practicing, who were in even more danger. Many British rallied to rescue them but now they too were helpless.

This scenario came to me as I read the book Dominion by C J Sansom, a British writer historian, who published a “what if?” historical essay — what if in May of 1940 Britain had surrendered to Hitler? Would the German forces have quickly rushed across the Atlantic to seize the “bread basket” and “lebensraum” for Volk and Fuehrer, and would they have remembered their Sudeten foes? The Sudetens certainly were not going to take any chances.

In this story “the Canadian born Lord Beaverbrook is the pro-German prime minister replacing Chamberlain, ready to condone the continuing erosion of civil liberties and the spectacle of Britain’s Jews being rounded up and deported. (In fact Beaverbrook became a member of Churchill’s wartime cabinet.) In his essay Sanson writes that "A huge painting of Hitler now hangs in the entrance hall of the hallowed National Portrait Gallery. Meanwhile an ageing Churchill is in the shadows, the leader of an underground resistance group.”

The action goes back to that day in 1940 when the discredited prime minister Neville Chamberlain steps down. Lord Halifax, Chamberlain’s right hand man and a Brit who was a Nazi admirer was in line to succeed him but failed. Sansom writes that “I was always struck how close it came to Churchill not getting the premiership.” He had many enemies both among his own party, the Conservatives and of course the opposition parties, Liberals and Labour. There were lots of fascist sympathizers in the UK such as Enoch Powell and King Edward VIII (known as the Duke of Windsor after his scandalous abdication in 1936).

Canada as well had its pro Nazis. Prime Minister Mackenzie King had called Hitler an “honourable man” only months before the war broke out. Many Canadian farms were settled by Germans in the thirties. I recall a bruhaha that broke out on the platform of the Saskatoon CN station when our train stopped there. Members of the German Bund, a rabidly pro Hitler group arrived to confront us. Only the departure whistle of the train prevented a riot. Canadian National Colonization obviously had little knowledge of what our political persuasion was when they appointed Boscher and Kastendick as settlement supervisors. When war broke out they and many others were interned in camps. I cringed when I read Sansom’s fictional scenario.

Democracy is a frail plant indeed, like a chain, it is only as strong as its weakest link. The government's proposed overhaul of the Elections Act includes elements that constitute an affront to democracy, according to Canada's Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand.

In an interview airing Saturday on CBC Radio's The House, Mayrand said, "My reading of the act is that I can no longer speak about democracy in this country. I'm not aware of any electoral bodies around the world who cannot talk about democracy," Mayrand told host Evan Solomon.

Others, David MacDonald, former minister of communication in the Joe Clarke cabinet, denied that Canada could any longer be called a democracy but had become an oligarchy.

Ed Finn,editor of The Monitor, the official organ of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives writes (Feb. 14 2014) “Its not only the Harper government that is servile to the big corporations and billionaires. To varying degrees, all governments are. Canadian provinces may occasionally defy their corporate overlords on some social issues, but basically they all see their primary role keeping Big Business happy. That means keeping business taxes low, keeping regulations weak, keeping social program spending down, keeping pollution control measures minimal and keeping unions on a tight legislative leash.”

Lately charitable organizations have been threatened with costly audits should they be found critical of government. The command from on high is “do good deeds and keep your mouth shut about the forces that cause the problems.”

As for Canadians in general, in an article in The Walrus Timothy Taylor writes that “Most of us say that we favour higher taxes, but in the privacy of the voting booth we will all do the same thing we did the last time: vote for the government we think will cost us the least.”

Sansom writes, “ If the squeeze had been put on us long enough and hard enough by a German government that dominated Europe, I think that Britain would have caved in, as it does in the book.” Fortunately a man of iron will came to the leadership calling Brits “to fight on the beaches,” demanding “blood sweat and tears,” all of which they offered in loads during those years when the German Luftwaffe reduced Manchester and Birmingham, Coventry and London to rubble, when the war’s end was anything but a foregone conclusion. Hitler was occupying Europe from Norway’s Nordkappe to the Sahara, from the English Channel to the Pripet Marshes just short of Moscow.

Our Sudeten settlers did not have to migrate a second time but many of the men left the farms to join the Canadian forces to fight their arch enemy. Others like my father worked a 60 hour week to produce the guns and planes that eventually turned the tide.

“What if?” is not an idle question. A year from now Canada will be involved in a hard battle for political supremacy in the House of Commons. What if Harper’s Conservatives gain another majority by fair or foul means and the Canadian government is given the green light to continue with even more speed to privatize, to infringe on our human rights and allow the corporations to lay waste to our land as is happening in Northern Alberta. None of it is beyond the realm of the possible.

What if? I cringe!

SQ 12/ 02/ 2014
Other writing may be found at MYQUEST