As I write this paragraph the General Election is still almost four weeks away, and yet it seems already to have stolen the show. There is nothing else to read in the newspapers of any significance. My problem is that the General Election itself is of singularly little significance. No one in his senses imagines that the result will make the slightest difference. We have lived in the shadow of two great problems for the last ten years and more. One is unemployment; the other is inflation. To my mind, inflation is the more catastrophic of the two because it saps the very foundations of civilisation. Maybe I think this because I am too old and too lucky to be affected by unemployment. At any rate, there are the two great problems and neither of our two parties has the slightest idea what to do about them. Does anyone suppose that if the Conservatives win the election they will do any better than they have done for the last few years? Does anyone suppose that if Labour wins the election they will improve on their previous record when in office? They tell me that there is some sort of jumped-up third party, but I don’t think we need bother about that. Third parties rarely succeed. I can only think of the Labour Party between the wars and it has run out of steam now.
Vol. 5 No. 13 · 21 July 1983
From A.J. Ryder
SIR: A.J.P. Taylor’s remarks about the Second World War in his Diary (LRB, 16 June) seem to me to call for comment. No war, he writes, has been fought for such noble motives. Few wars, one might add, ended in such an ignominious peace. Few people would doubt that the Second World War was necessary and justified, though, in words used by Brian Bond in the same issue, it was ‘uniquely barbarous’. What troubles many people is Mr Taylor’s breathtaking complacency about the postwar settlement in Eastern and Central Europe. Eight nations and nearly a hundred million people lost the right of self-determination for which the war was ostensibly fought, and which they had been promised, sacrificed to Roosevelt’s fantasies and the real or supposed needs of Soviet security. Call the result inevitable if you like: it was hardly good.
After the war, Taylor writes, he opposed the Cold War, and has gone on doing so ever since. Well, yes, but what was (and is) the alternative? Should the West have abandoned West Berlin and South Korea? Would such surrenders have brought peace? Surely the events of the last forty years have shown that the Cold War, though far from good, was as necessary and justified as the Second World War out of which it grew. To adopt a Little Englander stance to this challenge (while supporting an interventionist policy in 1939) is an example of the irresponsibility to which Taylor is unhappily prone.