80th Anniversary of Nazi/Soviet Non-Aggression Pact Marked

The French news website Contrepoints has reposted a 2014 article by British journalist and politician Daniel Hannan (“The biggest success of the left: to forget the German-Soviet pact”). The article was written on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the signing of the non-aggression pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union and is reprinted to mark the 80th anniversary this week. This pact made possible the Nazi attack on Poland about a week later. But as noted in the article, most people have forgotten that it also made possible a few weeks later still for the Soviets to occupy the rest of Poland as well as the Baltic States and parts of other neighboring countries.

That forgetfulness stems from the 1941 decision of Hitler to break the pact by attacking the Soviet Union, making the Soviets and the British (joined later in the year by the Americans) into allies. As noted in the article, Evelyn Waugh writing in the late 1950s was not one of those who forgot:

The German-Soviet pact lasted 22 months, a third of the duration of the conflict. We remember with pride that we were alone with Hitler. But in reality, the isolation of our fathers, and the heroism at such a height, was even greater than that. I see no more courageous moment in the conflict than when we also prepared, after declaring war on Hitler, to open a new front against Stalin. The British commandos were about to be deployed to defend Finland, while the Cabinet was considering various plans to cut off the oil supplies of the USSR in the Caucasus.

In the course of events, these plans were overwhelmed by history. There remains an unsurpassed moment of pure and bloody bravery, magnificently captured by the reaction of Evelyn Waugh’s fictional hero, Guy Crouchback: “The enemy at last was plain in view, huge and hateful, all disguise cast off. It was the Modern Age in arms.”  (Men at War, Penguin, 1976, p. 12)

In his Diaries for 22 August 1939 Waugh wrote  “Russia and Germany have agreed to neutrality pact so there seems no reason why war should be delayed.”

Much of the story in Contrepoints is devoted to how leftists managed to forget about the alliance by the two major dictatorships after it fell apart. Again, Waugh was not one of those, as indicated by Guy Crouchback’s reaction in the novel:

So why have we repressed, if not denied, these events in a corner of our mind? In his trilogy Sword of Honor, Evelyn Waugh explains often in half-words [half-heartedly?] how Soviet sympathizers in the West used the alliance with the USSR to rehabilitate their beliefs (explique souvent à demi-mots comment des sympathisants soviétiques en Occident utilisèrent l’alliance avec l’URSS pour réhabiliter ses doctrines).

Guy’s reaction to the end of the non-aggression pact was stated in Officers and Gentlemen after his recovery from the evacuation of Crete in an open fishing boat (not quoted in the article):

Now that hallucination [of what had appeared to be a period of “light and reason”] was dissolved like the whales and turtles on his voyage from Crete, and he was back after less than two years’ pilgrimage in a Holy Land of illusion in the old ambiguous world where […] his country was led blundering into dishonour. (Officers and Gentlemen, Penguin. 1977, p. 240)

The translation is by Google with a few edits and could use a little help in explaining what is meant by “demi-mots” in the second quoted passage. Hannan speaks French fluently, according to his Wikipedia entry, and apparently wrote this article in that language as no English version is cited.

This entry was posted in Anniversaries, Men at Arms, Newspapers, Officers and Gentlemen, Sword of Honour, World War II and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.