Dirty Hands: Past, Present and Future

Nick McAvelly sends the following guest-essay on the magnitude of the moral corruption that infected the Western democracies during the Second World War.

General Heinz Guderian and Lieutenant Colonel Gustav-Adolf Riebel together with Brigadier Semyon Krivoshein, Commander of the Soviet 29th Tank Brigade, in Brest-Litovsk, September 1939 (© IWM – HU 85900)

Dirty Hands: Past, Present and Future
by Nick McAvelly

The Soviet Union invaded Poland on 17th September 1939. The invasion was carried out in collusion with Nazi Germany, and the subsequent Soviet occupation of eastern Poland was in accordance with a secret protocol of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, which had been signed by Molotov and Ribbentrop on 23rd August 1939.[1] As a consequence of the Nazi invasion of Poland, Great Britain declared war on the German nation on 3d September 1939, but no such declaration followed the Soviet invasion of Poland 14 days later.

The Nazi-Soviet pact brought practical advantages to Nazi Germany, not the least of which was that the Soviets agreed to provide the Nazis with huge amounts of materiel, which allowed Hitler to bypass the British naval blockade of Germany.[2] The British were made aware of what the Soviet invasion meant for Poland by Sir William Seeds, the British ambassador to the Soviet Union at the time. Seeds recognised that the Soviets intended to ‘purge’ the newly occupied territory of any ‘non-Soviet population or classes’ and make it indistinguishable from the rest of the Soviet Union.[3] As we now know, that is what happened. Between September 1939 and June 1941, over a hundred thousand Poles were apprehended by the Soviet invaders. Many were fed into the gulag system.[4] Josef Stalin, the leader of the communist totalitarian political project, was well on his way to creating what Sir Max Hastings called ‘the greatest edifice of repression, mass murder and human suffering the world has ever seen.’[5]

None of this prevented the British or the Americans from allying themselves with ‘Uncle Joe’ following the launch of Operation Barbarossa on 22nd June 1941.[6] Josef Stalin, the so-called ‘man of steel’ who on 18th April 1941 had approached the German ambassador Friedrich Werner von der Schulenburg and the German military attaché Colonel Hans Krebs at Moscow station and made declarations of national friendship to both men,[7] wrote directly to Winston Churchill asking him for help on 18th July 1941. In this ‘personal message’, which was hand-delivered to Winston Churchill by the Soviet ambassador Ivan Maisky,[8] Stalin now referred to ‘Hitlerite Germany’ as ‘our common enemy’ and asked that Great Britain open a second front in order to relieve the military pressure currently being exerted upon the Soviet Union.[9]

Churchill said of Stalin’s initial request for a second front, ‘this theme was to recur throughout our subsequent relations with monotonous disregard, except in the Far North, for physical facts.’[10] America was still officially a non-belligerent in July 1941, and there was no possibility of a second front on the European mainland at that time. However, the Americans and British did begin to send materiel to the Soviets. So it was that the first of the ‘Arctic Convoys’ sailed from Reykjavik in Iceland on 21st August 1941, arriving in Archangel in Russia ten days later.[11]

In December 1941, Anthony Eden, the British Foreign Secretary, travelled to Moscow to meet with Josef Stalin. The first meeting took place on 16th December, and according to the telegram Eden sent to the Foreign Office at 4.15am on 17th December: ‘M. Stalin handed me draft projects of two treaties, one to cover military assistance irrespective of war and [the] other political collaboration now and after the war.’ That was not all, however. Eden noted that: ‘M. Stalin then suggested we should also sign a secret protocol which would embody our joint views for a settlement of post-war frontiers.’[12]

In a further telegram to the Foreign Office, dated 18th December 1941, Eden elaborated: ‘I was summoned to meet Stalin at midnight and we had a discussion lasting three hours. At the outset Stalin said that he had examined the texts but what interested him was the question of the frontiers of the U.S.S.R. after the war. He would agree that the Polish frontier might be left an open question but he wanted our immediate agreement of his territorial claims in Finland Baltic States and Roumania.’[13]

Churchill recorded his reaction to Stalin’s proposals in the third volume of his history of the war: ‘As soon as I read the telegrams I reacted violently against the absorption of the Baltic States.’[14] In a telegram to Clement Attlee dated 20th December 1941, Churchill wrote: ‘Stalin’s demands about Finland, Baltic States and Roumania are directly contrary to the first, second and third articles of the Atlantic Charter, to which Stalin has subscribed. There can be no question whatever of our making such an agreement, secret or public, direct or implied, without prior agreement with the U.S.’[15]

By the spring of 1942, Churchill had changed his mind. In a telegram to Roosevelt dated 7th March 1942, Churchill wrote: ‘The increasing gravity of the war has led me to feel that the principles of the Atlantic Charter ought not to be construed so as to deny Russia the frontiers she occupied when Germany attacked her. This was the basis on which Russia acceded to the Charter, and I expect that a severe process of liquidating hostile elements in the Baltic States, etc., was employed by the Russians when they took these regions at the beginning of the war. I hope therefore that you will be able to give us a free hand to sign the treaty which Stalin desires as soon as possible.’[16]

The Soviets had indeed employed a severe process of liquidating elements they considered to be hostile in the territories they had occupied at the beginning of the war, in accordance with the secret protocol of the Nazi-Soviet pact. In March 1940, Lavrenty Beria, head of the NKVD, proposed that thousands of Polish officers who had been captured by the Soviets, as well as thousands of people labelled by Beria as ‘members of counter-revolutionary spy and sabotage organisations’, should be executed. Stalin and Molotov both signed off on this terrible proposal, and in April 1940, one of the most heinous war crimes in history was committed by the Soviet Union.[17]

The NKVD interrogated prisoners of war being held in Soviet camps at Starobelsk, Ostashkov and Kozelsk in order to establish their intellectual and moral standing. Any individuals who did not believe in the Soviets’ Weltanschauung were sentenced to a violent death.[18] At Starobelsk and Ostashkov, the POWs were murdered using the same technique. A prisoner’s name would be checked off a list, then he would be taken into a room where two NKVD agents grabbed him by the arms. The murderer would approach from behind and, using a German pistol, shoot a bullet into the base of the prisoner’s neck. One of the NKVD’s most prolific killers, Vasily Blokhin, is said to have worn a leather apron, leather gauntlets and leather cap as he went about his work. Josef Stalin awarded Blokhin the Order of the Red Banner on 27th April 1940 for his ‘skill and organisation in the effective carrying out of special tasks.’[19]

The POWs held at the camp in Kozelsk were murdered after being taken to the forest at Katyn, rather than being shot first then taken to the burial site on the back of a lorry.[20] Approximately seven thousand people held in other camps were also executed by the NKVD at this time. In total, more than twenty-one thousand human beings were sacrificed in the name of the Soviet totalitarian system.[21]

Rows of exhumed bodies of Polish officers beside the mass graves at Katyn, 1943 (© IWM – HU 106212)

So these were our allies during WW2. The Soviets were in league with Nazi Germany in September 1939, they provided the Nazis with materiel that allowed the Nazis to get around a British naval blockade, they invaded Poland on 17th September 1939, they forcibly deported thousands of people to the wastelands of eastern Russia, and they committed the appalling crime known today as the Katyn forest massacre.

The British ambassador to the Polish government in exile in London, Sir Owen O’Malley, sent a report to Anthony Eden on 24th May 1943, in which the consequences of the British alliance with the Soviet Union were laid bare.[22] In his opening paragraph, O’Malley informs Eden that the report ‘gives grounds for misgivings about the character and policy of the present rulers of Russia.’[23]

O’Malley goes on to argue for that, by asserting that letters had been received by relatives of the Polish POWs up until March 1940, but not one had been received since.[24] Secondly, Polish officials had repeatedly requested information from the Soviets as to the whereabouts of the Polish officers in question. O’Malley states: ‘To none of all these enquiries extending over a period of two and a half years was a single positive answer of any kind ever returned.’[25] In the third place, the grave sites had been visited by Polish doctors and representatives of the Polish Red Cross, and many of the bodies had been identified.[26] In the fourth place, O’Malley argues that the Germans were far more likely to have kept the missing Polish officers as POWs, in which case someone would have heard from them between 1940 and 1943.[27] Finally, O’Malley draws Eden’s attention to the conflicting and quite unbelievable set of lies (as we now know them to be) that had issued forth from the Kremlin on the subject.[28] O’Malley reaches the inevitable conclusion: ‘The cumulative effect of this evidence is, as I said earlier, to throw serious doubt on Russian disclaimers of responsibility for a massacre.’[29]

O’Malley goes on to describe ‘the character and policy of the present rulers of Russia’ in memorable terms: ‘Lenin would have broken apart the heads of ten thousand Polish officers with the insouciance of a monkey cracking walnuts. Did corpses pitching into a common grave with the precision of machines coming off a production-belt similarly satisfy a nature habituated to manipulate blood and lives with uncompassionate detachment?’[30] O’Malley provides his own answer to that question later his report: ‘I think most of us are more than half convinced that a large number of Polish officers were indeed murdered by the Russian authorities, and that it is indeed their bodies (as well, maybe, as other bodies) which have now been unearthed.’[31] As we now know, O’Malley was correct.

O’Malley was surely correct in his final analysis of the situation too. In paragraph 20 of his report, O’Malley argues that members of the British government were ‘constrained by the urgent need for cordial relations with the Soviet Government’ and so ‘we have been obliged to appear to distort the normal and healthy operation of our intellectual and moral judgments; we have been obliged to give undue prominence to the tactlessness or impulsiveness of [the] Poles, to restrain the Poles from putting their case before the public, to discourage any attempt by the public and the press to probe the ugly story to the bottom.’[32]

In his report, O’Malley leaves room for the possibility that members of the British Government would understand at a personal level that helping the Soviets to cover up a mass murder was morally wrong. This does not redeem any of those politicians, for in reaching that understanding, they would have to acknowledge that they were deceiving the British people in order to prosecute a war. British politicians had declared war on Germany in September 1939 in order to protect Poland, which they were unable to do, and which they did not do. In 1943, in the midst of what had developed into what is now known as World War 2, British politicians helped to cover up the murder of thousands of Poles, the very people they were supposed to have gone to war for in the first place, in order to protect the Soviet Union, who were doing the heavy lifting when it came to fighting the Wehrmacht. And World War 2 was supposed to be ‘the good war’? The evidence does not support that assertion.

At the conclusion of The World at War, ITV’s acclaimed documentary on World War 2, the American historian Stephen Ambrose makes the following statement: ‘The British had as many problems, if not more, in recovering from victory as the Germans did in recovering from defeat. The British … what did Britain get out of the war? Not very much … not very much. She lost a great deal. I suppose, if you want to look at it positively, she got a moral claim on the world, as the nation that had stood against Hitler alone for a year and had provided the moral leadership against the Nazis at a time when everyone else was willing to cave in to the Nazis.’[33]

It is important for all British citizens to recognise that the politicians who were elected to represent us not only aligned our nation with the Soviet Union during the war, they (to use O’Malley’s language) distorted the normal operation of their intellectual and moral judgements in order to make that alliance with the Soviet Union work. One is inevitably reminded of Machiavelli’s position in The Prince: ‘A man who wishes to profess goodness at all times will come to ruin among so many who are not good. Therefore, it is necessary for a prince who wishes to maintain himself to learn how not to be good, and to use this knowledge or not to use it according to necessity.’[34] Machiavelli explains what he means: ‘And so it is necessary that he should have a mind ready to turn itself according to the way the winds of Fortune and the changing circumstances command him. And, as I said above, he should not depart from the good if it is possible to do so, but he should know how to enter into evil when forced by necessity.’[35] The changing circumstances during the war with Nazi Germany may have meant that British politicians entered into an alliance with the Soviet Union out of necessity, and the moral compromises involved in that alliance may be comprehensible if one adopts a Machiavellian view of political life, but the truth about the war should no longer be sacrificed to myth. As British citizens, we have a duty to the men and women who lost their lives to know, and to remember, what really happened during the war.

Some people may very well have believed that British politicians had some kind of superior moral standing as a result of Britain’s having fought against Nazi Germany during the war. However, the information that is needed to examine that proposition is now available to the British public, and we can see that it is simply not true. And there is absolutely no reason to think that politicians today are any better in that regard.

In his report to Anthony Eden, O’Malley concludes that: ‘It may be that the answer lies, for the moment, only in something to be done inside our own heart and minds where we ourselves are masters. Here at any rate we can make a compensatory contribution — a reaffirmation of our allegiance to truth and justice and compassion.’[36] There is nothing wrong with that, but in a properly functioning democratic society, it is surely the role of the people to keep the politicians we elect on the straight and narrow.

We therefore have a duty to ensure that truth, justice and compassion remain at the centre of our own lives, as the politicians we elect go about the business of running our country. And we have a duty to speak out when we see politicians make moral compromises in our name, even when they claim to be making such compromises in order to achieve a greater good. If the British state visits harm upon its own citizens in order to prevent dissenting voices from being heard, then it is possible that our country will begin to travel down an evil road, and there will be no means of altering course. So we must learn from history, and we must speak out whenever we see politicians act in ways that run counter to our own sense of truth, justice and compassion. The alternative is to risk an uncontrollable descent into a different kind of reality, where knowledge of what happened in places like Katyn will be seen not as reminders of what some human beings are capable of, but as milestones we passed long ago on the road to hell on earth.



1.   Gilbert, M. The Second World War: A Complete History, Phoenix, p. 9.
2.   Moorhouse, R. The Devil’s Alliance: Hitler’s Pact with Stalin 1939-1941, The Bodley Head, Kindle location 714. Prior, R. When Britain Saved The West: The Story of 1940, Yale University Press, pp. 9-10.
3.   Seeds, W. (Quoted.) Rees, L. World War II: Behind Closed Doors, Random House, Kindle location 632.
4.   Rees, L. ibid., Kindle location 728. Moorhouse, R. op. cit., Kindle location 1187.
5.   Hastings, M. Armageddon, Pan Books, Kindle location 2255.
6.   Gilbert, M. op. cit., p. 198.
7.   Nagorski, A. The Greatest Battle, Andrew Nagorski, Kindle location 653.
8.   Maisky, I. The Maisky Diaries: Red Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s 1932-1943, Yale University Press, pp. 372-373.
9.   Churchill, W. The Second World War Volume 3: The Grand Alliance, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, pp. 309-310.
10.   ibid. p. 310.
11.   Dimbleby, J. The Battle of the Atlantic, Viking, p. 181.
12.   National Archives, FO 371/29655 Telegram No. 13 HECTIC
13.   National Archives, FO 371/29655 Telegram No. 22 HECTIC
14.   Churchill, W. op. cit., p. 493.
15.   Churchill, W. op. cit., p. 493.
16.   National Archives, FO 954/25A/52
17.   Rees, L. World War 2: Behind Closed Doors, Random House, Kindle location 908. Excerpts: Beria letter to Stalin on Katyn, BBC News, 28 April 2010. (Accessed 5th May 2016.)
18.   Rees, L. ibid., Kindle locations 929, 937. Moorhouse, R. op. cit., Kindle location 1195.
19.   Rees, L. ibid., Kindle locations 983, 990, 996. Vasili Blokhin, history’s most prolific executioner, Rare Historical Photos. (Accessed 7th May 2016.)
20.   Rees, L. ibid., Kindle location 999.
21.   Moorhouse, R. op. cit., Kindle location 1223.
22.   Rees, op. cit., Kindle location 3166.
23.   O’Malley, O. Report to Anthony Eden 24th May 1943 [online]. Franklin D. Roosevelt: Papers as President, The President’s Secretary’s File (PSF), 1933-1945. Box 37, Great Britain, Winston Churchill, 1942-1943, document psfa0499.pdf, pp. 61-68, paragraph 1. Available at: www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/archives/collections/franklin/?p=collections/findingaid&id=502&q=&rootcontentid=140122 [Accessed 8th May 2016]
24.   ibid., paragraph 8.
25.   ibid., paragraph 9.
26.   ibid., paragraph 10.
27.   ibid., paragraph 11.
28.   ibid., paragraph 12.
29.   ibid., paragraph 13.
30.   ibid., paragraph 17.
31.   ibid., paragraph 19.
32.   ibid., paragraph 20.
33.   Ambrose, S. The World at War: Reckoning, 38m 26s [online] Available at: youtu.be/U4x69cIeLX4 [Accessed 9th May 2016]
34.   Machiavelli, N. The Prince, Oxford World’s Classics, Kindle location 1550.
35.   ibid., Kindle location 1677.
36.   O’Malley, O. op. cit., paragraph 24.

42 thoughts on “Dirty Hands: Past, Present and Future

  1. Ugly, but marvelously told. War is hell. There is nothing else to say about it. My parents were victims of WWII but they were lucky to come to America. My father had to go to Norway because America did not allow TB victims in at that time. Fortunately, Dad recovered and we were all reunited — after five years.

    When do people learn that war is not a solution? Never? Possibly never. People keep hitting the same nail on the head, expecting different results. It never works.

    • I’m glad you liked it, if that is the right word. It’s a difficult subject to research. The more you find out, the deeper into the archives you go, the worse everything gets.

      So where were your family from, if you don’t mind me asking?

  2. It is possible I did not fully understand all this. I will read it again though. Thank you, Baron.

  3. I cannot understand why Britain and America allied with the USSR during the war. (I think I know why: infiltration by Soviet agents). What if the USSR was left on its own? I don’t think the outcome would have been much different. The Soviet Union would have pushed back the invading Germans even without Allied help. It might have taken longer, but it would have been inevitable. Germany was not capable of taking and keeping power in Russia. In the end, not surprisingly, the Germans were pushed out. And after the double-cross, Stalin was in no mood to stop at the German border. The leaders of America and Britain unnecessarily allied with Stalin, and compromised their moral integrity, knowing the evils the Soviet Union was committing. I think it also sent a message to Stalin that the Allied leaders did not have a firm moral compass and could be made to make further compromises, and could be taken advantage of by a ruthless and cunning leader like himself.

    • Without material help, particularly from the USA, Soviet forces would almost certainly have been defeated.

      You might check the Wiki entry on the enormous amount of help that was actually provided to Stalin’s forces in WWII. Thousands of American made military transport vehicles capable of using the appalling road system in the USSR were vital to the Red Army war effort as they enabled the swift transfer and concentration of forces from sectors that had become inactive to more active sectors. In addition, a wide range of US combat vehicles and planes were provided to the Red Army.

      The post war gratitude for this massive effort, as demonstrated by Stalin, was to send many thousands of allied POWs who were liberated by the Red Army to die in Soviet slave labour camps.

      • Note that the video film of the time, especially of Russian troops in action, is careful only to show Russian made equipment, that the bulk of the logistics were shipped in from the West was kept very quiet.

      • I do not believe Germany could have ruled over Russia even if they had defeated the Soviet army. The Soviet Union was too large, too far away, and German occupiers were foreigners. It would be like America’s invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of the government there. The obstacles for German rule were too great. Hitler with his megalomania and exaggerated confidence was unrealistic.

        And from the Allies’ viewpoint, it should not have been a bad thing for the Germans to have defeated the Russians. Maybe the Germans would have executed Stalin and his colleagues. I believe that would have been a good thing both for the Russian people and for the West. Out of fear of German defeat of the Soviets, the decisions by the Allied leaders to provide assistance to the Russians seem to me to have been short-sighted and mistaken.

        In hindsight, we see that the effect of German conquest on any individual country had no lasting effect, as it relates to residual political influence. The countries France, Belgium, Poland, Hungary, etc., have not had any residual influence of NAZI rule after the Germans were defeated. Nazism was universally condemned and rejected. I cannot say the same for communism because it was not allowed to be defeated.

        • Hindsight is 20-20. The allies saw themselves in a life-or-death struggle with the Axis powers. Britain was hanging on by a thread during the Battle of Britain.

          We can look back from a safe perspective and make speculative judgments. But, the people involved in an actual war…a mistake could be fatal.

          Most of us probably support the decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan. The decision not to risk war with Russia over the captured American troops…it may or may not have been a result of similar considerations. I’m not saying I like that decision…but, it always has to be viewed with perspective.

          Personally, I think the Allies insistence on unconditional surrender, rather than a negotiated surrender with the removal of Hitler, cost us dearly. But, I could make a case for the other side also.

          • I agree with your views. War requires desperate measures. Your enemy’s enemy becomes your friend, for a time.
            Although Japan got nuked, it came away with a post war sweetheart deal where numerous war criminals escaped justice. Why was that?

        • The evil Nazi is a ubiquitous caricature in tons of American films. Films about evil Soviets are as rare as a Barbara Streisand vote for Richard Nixon. Offhand, I can think of only two films about the Gulag, which killed millions more than the Germans.

          One of the greatest semantic coups in history after WWII, if not before, was to successfully label National Socialism as “right wing.” This mendacious location of a totalitarian phenomenon on the right (where free markets, rule of law, sanctity of contract, individual liberty, love for one’s own people and nation, respect for our ancestors and tradition, limited government, and freedom of speech and conscience are the rule) has caused great confusion in political discourse and served to undermine all that is the best in Western thought.

          It also was a brilliant way of deflecting attention from the subversive and treasonous activities of American leftists, which continue to this day. So strong is the imperative to conceal the true extent of leftist betrayal that Diana West was disgracefully attacked when her excellent effort to shine a bright light into this dark corner was published.

          It also serves to discredit nationalism – to which multiculturalism, diversity, “nationofimmigrants,” and “propositional nation” are the antidotes. The execrable European Union is premised on its eradication due to the known fact that an Icelander, Pole, or Dutchman, once infected with this bacillus, will embark upon a quest for world domination

    • I wholeheartedly agree with every point you’ve made. Without Lend Lease the Soviets would not have prevailed as quickly as they did; it may have taken 10 years. It may have even reached the scenario envisaged in Robert Harris’ “Fatherland” with the Soviet regime pushed back behind the Urals. Or more likely behind the Archangel-Astrakhan line, which was the strategic goal of Operation Barbarossa anyway – the Germans didn’t care about what happened east of that line. The vastness of the Soviet Union simple precluded Germany from conquering and holding onto the whole of it.

      One of the grand stupidities of the Nazis, one recognized by Field Marshal Ewald von Kleist, Albert Speer and many others, was the brutal mistreatment of the Ukrainians and other minorities, as well as the failure to utilize anti-Soviet Red Army captives such as General Vlasov and anti-Soviet Russian civilians, who would have been natural allies against Stalin. The paradox of Nazi racialist doctrine “Slavic sub-humans, etc” is that it helped them lose the war. A cosmic joke, hugely expensive in blood and treasure.

        • Thank you Julius.

          I see the same thing happening again. It’s like history repeating itself. I think someone once said that we never learn from history; we only repeat it. Nowadays, instead of Nazism and communism, it is radical Islam and moderate Islam. The whole lot of them, as far as I can gather, can be grouped together as fascists. They differ in our sight in so far as the perceived degree of imminent threat they pose to us. The Nazis were deemed more immediately dangerous and we backed their rival, the communists. Today, we perceive the radical Mohammedans as more immediately dangerous to us than the less radical ones. Note that I said today. That’s because our time horizon, I mean our leaders’, is near-time or more immediate. It appears to have been the same thinking that preoccupied the western powers during WWII. (As my recent observation, compared to how long wars are lasting these days, four years of WWII was not that long after all. Our Iraq debacle lasted eight years and is still costing us trillions.)

          Today, that thinking has made us back the Taliban against the Russians, Iraq against Iran, the Libyan rebels against Gaddafi, the Syrian rebels against Assad, the Syrian rebels against the Islamic State. I probably could add more examples if I were to give it more thought. The point is that when fascists are fighting each other, we should not try to determine which one is more immediately dangerous, for in the end, they all are. We have to refrain from taking sides. Restrain the impulse! Let them torment themselves. We took a side in WWII and we had to deal with the consequences for decades at great expense.

          • ‘Prego’, William.

            The expense angle is interesting. The cost of Lend Lease aid to the Soviet Union was 11.3 billion dollars then, the equivalent of $550 billion now. The amount spent on Iraq and Afghanistan is in the trillions in each case. Trillions of dollars spent on Afghanistan?! To what end?

  4. It appears that we (USA, NATO, the West in general) have given up the Mideast and North Africa to Islam, whilst cooperating in the extermination of the remnants of Christianity and ANY other religion.
    Who signed over WHAT to WHOM?
    What dirty deals were done with MASSIVE Libyan and Iraqi stockpiles of weapons and ammunition (AND yes there were LOTS of WMDs.)?
    Who profits?
    Who paid?
    This is not to mention the ongoing MONSTEROUS invasion of Western Europe–how does that come about?
    Who?what FINANCES it all?
    Who agreed to THAT?
    …………….and who got PAID?

    Lastly, who is getting stuck with the bill?

    • To answer your last question first (but surely, you already know the answer?) : _We_ get stuck with the bill.

      As to all your other questions, I’d highly recommend a read through of Prof. Antony Sutton’s various works concerning the role of Wall Street in financing the Russian Revolution, in financing Hitler, and keeping the Soviet Union from imploding in the post-WW2 years (not to mention throughout the ‘Thirties).

      Really eye-opening stuff, by a serious scholar, who has been rendered a ‘non-person’ by the academic powers-that-be. Sutton was a Brit, and a Fellow at the Hoover Institute (Stanford University.) He wrote a condensed version of his 3-volume 1,500 page study, and entitled the short version “National Suicide: Military Aid to the Soviet Union.” Not sure if that’s still in print.

      He also gave testimony before some Congressional committee or another, but, like so much else, that’s long been stuffed down the memory-hole.

      So what else is new? (Answer: only the history you don’t know. Other answer: follow the money.)

      • Another intriguing book title…I chose another of his books because it had more reviews:

        Wall Street and the Rise of Hitler

        Eventually one runs afoul of the academic consensus if they publish what Dr. Sutton did. From his wiki:

        In 1973, Sutton published a popularized, condensed version of the sections of the forthcoming third volume relevant to military technology called National Suicide: Military Aid to the Soviet Union after which he was forced out of the Hoover Institution.[1] His conclusion from his research on the issue was that the conflicts of the Cold War were “not fought to restrain communism” since the United States, through financing the Soviet Union “directly or indirectly armed both sides in at least Korea and Vietnam” but the wars were organised in order “to generate multibillion-dollar armaments contracts.”


  5. cf. the movie “katyn” by andrzej wajda (2007). prepare to be stunned and horrified and edified.

    • I’ve had that one on my tablet a couple of times, but I get so upset at the thought of it that I haven’t been able to watch it. I really must, though.

      Another great movie is the Sophie Scholl film, which is nothing short of a life-changing event.

  6. I came across a obscure book called “Icebreaker” a few years ago that presented evidence that Stalin was preparing to invade Germany in 1942 and Hitler just beat him to the punch. If you’re interested in the period I’d definitely recommend it.


      That one looks intriguing. A commenter with a Russian name says:

      It is safe to assume that if you have not read Viktor Suvorov’s Icebreaker (or, at least, are not familiar with his ideas), you don’t understand the last 85 years of the world history.

      Viktor Suvorov was trained as a military intelligence officer at the time when soviet military intelligence was the best in the world (probably still is). In the late seventies Suvorov defected to England, where he wrote several books about soviet army and intelligence. By all accounts (friends and enemies alike), Viktor Suvorov possesses encyclopedic knowledge about military theory and history, particularly the history of World War II. His knowledge and analytical ability are astounding.

      Published first in the eighties, Icebreaker was the first in Suvorov’s series of historical books. By the year 2000, it was translated into 27 languages and published more than 100 times. Icebreaker is a book about communist preparation and execution (however poorly, but not for the lack of trying) of the biggest crime in the history of mankind, World War II. Because of that, in addition to its historical value of showing communist conspiracy as a true cause of WWII, Icebreaker is probably the best, most convincing anti-communist book ever written. Suvorov neither uncovers any secrets, nor does he simply catalogue the crimes. He analyzes communists’ own words and innumerable well-known facts to show communism as the darkest, most evil episode in the human history.

      About 38 reviews, many by Russians. 77% of readers give it 5 stars. The ones who pan it really lay it on thick, which always makes one think they have an agenda.

      He had several other books subsequent to this, also well-received.

      The wiki on this author says he defected to the UK and was able to get his family out,too.


      • Suvorov is so maligned and marginalized that, applying Arthur Schopenhauer’s dictum about the three stages of truth, he is almost certainly correct.

        The depth and detail with which Suvorov establishes unequivocally that Stalin was poised in an offensive position on June 22 1941 is just too compelling to admit any other conclusion.

        When military historians like Glanz dismiss Suvorov they are protecting the ouevre of their careers and their reputations. Ring any bells? Diana West contra Ronald Radosh?

        Curiously, Glanz’s rebuttal of Suvorov’s thesis is amazingly weak. He doesn’t dispute any of the hard facts put forward by Suvorov, but simply opines that the condition of the Red Army in June-July 1941 wasn’t up to an offensive operation. The condition of the Red Army as analysed after the fact. The parlous condition of the Red Army in 1939, when it was far worse than the middle of 1941, didn’t stop Stalin from invading Finland or Poland.

      • The companion piece to Suvorov’s “Icebreaker” thesis on the origins of the European war is found in “Operation Snow” relating to the how the US was dragged into the Pacific War by Soviet espionage. Using Soviet spy, Harry Dexter White who was Under Secretary of the US Treasury, the Soviet Union manipulated the diplomatic tensions between the US and Japan to ensure that Japan attacked southwards and eastwards, ie, the US instead of the Soviet Union in late 1941.

  7. We knew the USSR and Germany were allies on September 1, 1939. They had joined together about two weeks earlier at Brest. The UK had also recently made a binding pact with Poland to defend them in case of war and in which–the wiki suggests–this was the case if Poland was attacked by _anybody_, not just Germany.

    So, it seems that Britain was obligated to declare war on both Germany and the USSR in September of 1939 to defend Poland. Yet it did not.

    And, if you research this a little you will find that historians really do not know why this did not happen. Britain only declared war on Germany.

    Perhaps it was because Churchill was prescient and knew that this axis arrangement could not last long. Or it could have been that Britain simply did not–or could not–want to risk precious resources on another opponent at that time. Or maybe the extent of the Russian attack on Poland’s eastern border was not believed. And, of course, the news of the massacres was much later and not believed for a long time.

    • “Meantime, some of the British population were bemused that their country had not been obliged to declare war on the Soviet Union. If the British treaty to protect Poland from aggression had resulted in war with the Germans, why hadn’t it also resulted in war with the Soviet Union? It was on this point that the British government found itself in a somewhat delicate position because the Nazi– Soviet pact was not the only treaty that had a secret protocol – the 1939 Anglo– Polish treaty had one as well. Whilst the section of that treaty that had been made public spoke of Britain’s obligation to defend Poland from ‘aggression’ in general terms, there was another, private section that specifically limited that obligation to aggression from Germany. In order to explain the British inaction in the face of Soviet aggression , the Earl of Perth, a senior figure in the British Ministry of Information, wrote on 5 October to the Permanent Under Secretary at the Foreign Office, Sir Alexander Cadogan, urging ‘that the time has now come to make known the existence of the secret protocol between Poland and ourselves.'”

      Laurence Rees, World War Two: Behind Closed Doors, Kindle location 647

  8. I believe this essay was written to highlight the treachery of elected politicians, exhibit A – the Brexit campaign against sovereign Britain.

  9. I think this article is a good complement for Diana West’s book “American Betrayal”. West documented some pretty horrific actions on the part of the American leadership. Among other things, they purposely buried first-hand witness accounts of the Katyn graves by US soldiers who were German prisoners; stopped a successful and ongoing advance into German territory through Italy; allowed millions of Eastern European civilians to be slaughtered by the Russians; and ignored hundreds or thousands of US soldiers who continued to be held by our supposed Russian allies.

    West very reasonably attributes these baffling, and seemingly-traitorous acts to the proven fact that before and during WWII, Washington was thoroughly penetrated by Communist agents under the control of Russia.

    But, of course, no one asserts that Churchill was in the least sympathetic to Communism, and yet he participated in the cover-ups and the shameless ignoring of Russian atrocities.

    Here is another hypothesis: perhaps the Americans, penetrated by Russian agents indeed, nevertheless made the decisions they did for the reasons stated in this article: they wanted Russia to do the ‘heavy lifting” of the war.

    The Russian casualties in WWII were 8,800,000 killed. American casualties were 416,800 killed. Perhaps the American leadership made a devil’s choice: cover up the Katyn massacre, abandon the successful allied push through Italy, give the Russian army first priority for supplies and equipment over the battle fleets of the US Navy, give in to Stalin’s demand to hand over Eastern European civilians fleeing the Russians, and most egregious, consciously abandon forever US soldiers interned by the Russian army. In return, the US casualties were 400,000 rather than upwards of 4,000,000.

    Nick McAvelly (Machiavelli?) makes the point that winning a war does not make you more moral, and that when politicians are allowed to suppress free speech to cover up exposure of even necessary but ruthless decisions, the country loses the self-correction mechanism it needs to work its way back to being a somewhat representative government somewhat valuing the freedom and liberties of its citizens.

    • Why do you say that Russian casualties were 8,800,000? The exact number of casualties in the USSR is impossible to calculate, but the approximate number was around 25,000,000.

      I would also be careful with the word ‘Russian’. The USSR was not quite the same as Russia. In some ways, it was the antithesis of pre-revolutionary Russia and it was extremely multiethnic. Stalin himself was an ethnic Georgian. The founder of the KGB – Felix Dzerzhinsky – was an ethnic Pole. Sverdlov, the head of the first Soviet Government, was a Jew. The whole Soviet elite was a paragon of ethnic diversity. By calling it ‘Russian’ you seem to ascribe all crimes of Stalinism to Russians which is historically inaccurate, especially as Russian nationalists in 1917 were hostile to the Communist revolution and many fought against communists during the subsequent Civil War.

      • Anton,

        I got my figures on Russian casualties KILLED from sources such as

        Unfortunately, the term “casualties” confounds killed and wounded. I used the number killed.

        I don’t dispute your assertions on the many nationalities included in the Soviet empire. I also made no statement whatsoever on Russian, versus Soviet subject, nationalities concerning responsibility for Russian atrocities. My point was that the US had its own list of atrocities, and such actions may be (probably are) not avoidable in war. The really immoral action of a national leader would be to lose a war, and subject his peoples to captivity by a hostile power.

        I would go so far as to say, a leader should not take his country to war unless he is willing to be a war criminal. This would exclude candy-cane leaders such as George W Bush, who wanted a quick in-and-out for Iraq and Afghanistan, without bothering to consider the real consequences of his actions.

        • I see you have read your Machiavelli & are familiar with what is known in the literature as ‘the dirty hands problem’.

          • Hi Nick,

            It was a great article, and you yourself made a realistic assessment of the necessity of dirty actions.

            I like to think about things logically. We have what we call “rules of war”. Now, if a President were about to lose a war, with the consequence of actually having the US occupied by a hostile foreign power, would it be more humane or more moral to avoid slaughter of civilians and permit the defeat?

            A real leader cannot permit rules of war to enable the defeat of his country, where defeat means the actual destruction of his country, such as the Norman invasion of England.

            This is why the purposeless goading of Russia by taking the surrounding countries into NATO, is so dangerous. Making provocations on the Russian border is existentially threatening to Russia, and Russia will not hesitate to defend its existence.

  10. The proposition that Britain entered into the war to protect Poland is unbelievable. After all, if they did, why did they not declare war on Russia?

    • If Britain entered the war to protect Poland, then why did Neville Chamberlain not do something to help Poland between September 1939 and May 1940, during the ‘phoney war’?

      You may want to lookinto how British bombers were used during that period. Apart from a few raids on German ports, dropping leaflets on Germany was as far as Chamberlain was willing to go. Halifax argued that as the Germans were ‘natural readers,’ the leaflets would be effective.

      Source: Prior, R. When Britain Saved The West: The Story of 1940, Yale University Press, p. 7.

      Note that Chamberlain and Halifax were both aware of what the Nazis were doing in western Poland. The documents available in the archives show this to be true. For instance, in the conclusions of a War Cabinet meeting on 16th November 1939, we have a record of Halifax informing everyone present that Sikorski had told him that the Germans were treating the Poles in occupied Poland ‘with great harshness’, by carrying out forced deportations, shooting people etc. So Chamberlain and Halifax both knew fine well what was going on.

      Source: Conclusions of War Cabinet meeting, 16th November 1939, available at the National Archives: CAB 65/2/19

      • I think one reason would be that the British military was still in build-up mode, after two decades of atrophy. Example: What Spitfire and Hurricane fighters they had were still equipped with fixed-pitch two-blade wooden props in 1939, whereas the German fighters already had three-blade variable pitch props, giving them a huge advantage over the British planes.

  11. “Dirty Hands: Past, Present and Future” hits an inconvenient nail on the head. It demonstrates how actions in the past effect the present and the future. The Katyn Forest Massacre plays a crucial role in this narrative. Western leadership was undoubtedly aware that the Soviets were responsible for this atrocity. Most reasonable people would find it understandable that they publicly accepted the Soviet claims that the Germans were responsible during the height of the World War. However, what is the reason for the continued opposition to the truth well into the Cold War? This coverup was maintained long after it was necessary. Opposition to true accounts of Katyn lasted well into the 70s and was not put to rest until the Soviets admitted their role in the massacre in 2010.
    While low level Nazi camp guards were being pursued well into the 21st century, high level Soviet officials responsible for similar crimes were still receiving their pensions. Pyotr Soprunenko and Vladimir Tokaryev, participants in the Katyn massacre, were still receiving pensions in their 80s.
    Revealing these facts leads to some uncomfortable conclusions. McAvelly points out, “The more you find out, the deeper into the archives you go, the worse everything gets.” This explains why Antony Sutton, Diana West and anyone dealing with the subject are rendered “non-persons.” They reveal that it was not just the Soviet agents who had infiltrated the West but the Western leadership that was cozy with the Soviets. The were complicit in Soviet crimes and in fact committed crimes of a similar magnitude.
    How extensive was their cooperation with the Soviets? What crimes were they complicit in? What crimes were they responsible for? This requires a simple test. Would you prefer to be an average Frenchman in Nazi occupied France or a German in French occupied Germany? Would you prefer to be an average Czech in Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia or a German in liberated Czechoslovakia? Would you prefer to be a German soldier surrendering to U.S. forces or a G.I. surrendering to the Wehrmacht? If you answer that you would prefer to be the German in these situations you know nothing about this period. All this information can be found in The Morgenthau Plan: Soviet Influence on American Postwar Policy.
    Providing evidence of these conditions leaves one open to charges of being pro-Nazi. The charge seems plausible because pro-Nazis use these arguments. However, there are those who are simply interested in the truth, no matter how unflattering it is. It also reveals the character of those “progressive” politicians who collaborated with the Soviets. Their descendants are leading the West today. Like their predecessors who placed Soviet interests before those of the West, these modern leaders are placing Islamic interests ahead of Western ones.

  12. Nick: thank you so much for this article/essay. I have lived only 11 years in communist Poland before the system has changed, in recent years I have done a lot of research on geopolitics. A state or federation needs two aspects: doctrine and funds, to be able to realise it. Until 1989 possessing of any books on real history (not: Soviets were saviours) was illegal. In time when I was growing up I have learned about Ribbentrop- Molotov pact, Katyn and the allied yielding to Stalin. I have also recently learned about 500 years, long standing part of British doctrine of undermining Polish sovereignity. For example they subsidised Prussians with cheap and easy loans, an assisted militarily Prussians and part of Ukraine against Kingdom of Poland. Britain is called by some historians “fourth partitioner of Poland”, other three publically known participants of late XVIII century partitions being Prussia, Russia and Austria. I agree with you: the more you dig the more ugly facts you discover. Me personally after spending here in UK thank 10 years and learning more and more about UK/US throwing Poland under the bus of Germany-Russia I have less and less will to continue living in UK and paying taxes here (that obviously on top of watching persecution of whistle blowers like Tommy R). Libertarian, well functioning Poland, with good trading routes to and from China is not something Commonwealth-connected masons and their friends in banks ever want to allow, heck they have even supported national uprisings in XIX century partioned polish territories to make sure infrastructure on land trading routes to the east is smashed. Stuff republican democracy, it has bred all the -isms, that are ailing The West, self-governance is way better (well, even monarchy is better).

  13. An essay of most excellent quality. Thank you Mr McAvelly and GoV.

    Using the statements of Owen O’Malley – British Ambassador to the Polish Government in Exile – as the fulcrum of his argument shows great elan. The brutal realpolitik involved in supporting the lies of the Soviet Union over Katyn, and as a corollary trashing the Polish Government in Exile, is perhaps the most shameful episode in what McAvelly, using O’Malley’s words, characterizes with deft succinctness:

    ” …constrained by the urgent need for cordial relations with the Soviet Government [and so] we have been obliged to appear to distort the normal and healthy operation of our intellectual and moral judgments.”

    It is fair to say that the preceding governed the entirety of the alliance between the Anglo-Americans with the monstrous Soviet Union.

    As a student* of World War Two historiography for over half a century, the realization that WW2 was an unnecessary war – term coined by Churchill (of all people!) and adopted by Pat Buchanan as the title of his superb book – has been a slow train coming, but it arrived a little before the turn of the century.

    On any reasonable reading it was the belligerent personality of Churchill (under the influence of very heavy daily alcohol consumption throughout the 30’s and the entire war, commencing his drinking, or “topping up” in the parlance used for alcoholics, every morning without exception), very much a lover of war from Afghanistan to the Boer War and onwards, that dragged Britain into WW2 over wiser heads like that of Neville Chamberlain, Lord Halifax (imagine how things might have been if the latter had wanted the prime ministership) and his adroit, indeed masterful, manipulation of Roosevelt into becoming the “Arsenal of Democracy” and then a fully involved ally to help Britain.

    On the latter, McAvelly has referenced the recent, eye-opening, book by Jonathan Dimbleby “The Battle of the Atlantic” in his essay. Dimbleby’s book sets out, in eye-watering detail quoting correspondence, just how Churchill managed to inveigle Roosevelt into progressively committing the US into deeper and deeper involvement in WW2. If the focus of the book wasn’t on the war in the Atlantic Ocean, Dimbleby would be denounced as a “revisionist”. There are many things that stand out in Dimbleby’s book:

    1) The provision of Lend Lease aid to the, monumentally ungrateful, Soviet Union not only cost the Anglo-American allies dearly in lost merchant seamen’s lives, naval and merchant shipping, munitions and armaments (and raw materials and foodstuffs) which could have been used/consumed elsewhere, eg feeding Britain’s population better, it took precious military resources away from Anglo-American military operations such as “Torch”, the invasion of North Africa;

    2) The Royal Air Force, stupidly, heavily skewed the deployment of its resources to an ineffective and morally reprehensible “area bombing” campaign of German cities which was formally intended to “de-house the German working population” but with the equal, and undeclared, purpose of terrorizing the German civilian population. Meanwhile the Admiralty begged, without success, for the RAF to provide aerial protection of the “Atlantic lifeline”. Dimbleby sets out convincingly that, as late as March 1943, this misallocation of resources almost cost the Allies the war as Allied shipping was being sunk faster than it could be built and the restriction of the supply of oil and foodstuffs to Britain almost approached the point of starving Britain into submission.

    The only glaring fact that Mr McAvelly omits from the telling is that three times Churchill stood up in Parliament and affirmed that it was the Germans who were responsible for the Katyn massacre, and not the Soviets, when he well knew this was untrue. Roosevelt banished the US rapporteur who kept insisting it was the Soviet Union’s doing to American Samoa and gagged him under martial law.

    *Before the Internet era, a lad had to go the local library every Saturday for weekly reading material and there was a compelling plethora of it on WW2, plus there was the Pan-Ballantyne (and other) published series on WW2 campaigns, eg “Raid on Schweinfurt” for fascinated 9 year olds.

    • I vividly remember studying the Battle of the Atlantic at BRNC Dartmouth in 1972, I remember also reading the book ‘Walker RN’ (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Walker-R-N-Story-Captain-Frederick/dp/0856176796) about the secret task force that was very successful chasing subs in the Atlantic.

      The Civilian lecturer at BRNC described Walker’s task force’ success as a ‘fluke’ because of the size of the Atlantic battleground and the statistical impossibility of ‘finding’ subs under those circumstances.

      At that point ‘Enigma’ was still Top Secret because a derivative (KL7-TSEC) was still in use. But it was laterly revealed that Walker was using Ultra decrypts, and the ‘mystery’ was solved.

      There are always reasons, but often we are not told the complete story.

      One wonders what more is still to be revealed, I am most interested in the relationship between Chamberlain, Hitler and the CFR for example. Did this have a bearing on the Munich agreement and the (in hindsight) ugly (realpolitik) naivety of that agreement? Was the phoney-war the result of an expectation of a CFR mediation?

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