Wednesday, 18 February 2015
The price of glory. What Britain lost from winning World War Two.
That excellent television series, The World at War, has resurfaced as we approach the 75th anniversary of the conflict's end. I have just been watching the last episode, in which the American historian, Stephen Ambrose, muses on the idea that Germany benefited from losing the war much more than the UK did from winning it.
'What did Britain get out of the war?' he asks. 'Not very much. She lost a very great deal. I suppose if you want to look at it positively, she got a moral claim against the world as the nation that stood alone against Hitler for a year, and had provided the moral leadership against the Nazis at a time when everyone else was prepared to cave in to the Nazis.'
While Britain stood alone against Hitler, US President Roosevelt announced that although America would not fight, it would be 'the arsenal of democracy', providing Britain with the weapons it needed.
But it was at a price. Britain, virtually bankrupted by the war effort and with many areas of its cities in ruins, was left at the end with debts of over £1 billion to the US, which were not paid off until 2006. By then the British Empire and Britain's status as a world power had gone - stripped away by the crippling cost of standing alone against Hitler.
Moral claims do not put any pounds in the bank.