18.5.41

Irak, Syria, Morocco, Spain, Darlan, Stalin, Raschid Ali, Franco – sensation of utter helplessness.[1] If there is a wrong thing to do, it will be done, infallibly. One has come to believe in that as if it were a law of nature.

Yesterday or the day before on the newspaper placards, “Nazis using Syrian air bases”, and reports in the paper than when this fact was announced in Parliament there were cries of “Shame!” Apparently there are people capable of being surprised when the armistice terms are broken and the French empire made use of by the Nazis. And yet any mere outsider like myself could see on the day France went out of the war that this would happen.

Evidently all chance of winning the war in any decent way is lost. The plan of Churchill and Co. is apparently to give everything away and then win it all back with American aeroplanes and rivers of blood. Of course they can’t succeed. The whole world would swing against them, America probably included. Within two years we shall either be conquered or we shall be a Socialist republic fighting for its life, with a secret police force and half the population starving. The British ruling class condemned themselves to death when they failed to walk into Dakar, the Canaries, Tangier and Syria while the opportunity existed.

[1] Orwell’s ‘sensation of utter helplessness’ seems to be expressed by his running together the names of Nazi and Communist leaders opposed to Britain and territories which might be vulnerable to attack and which might provide the means of encircling Germany and Italy. However, Britain’s resources in men, ships, and planes were severally strained, making takeovers of Dakar, the Canaries, Tangier, Syria, Morocco, and Iraq impracticable. Nevertheless, the troops already in Iraq were reinforced from 24 April, Baghdad was occupied on 1 June, and a pro-British Iraqi cabinet was appointed on 5 June. On 8 June, British and Free French troops entered Syria, and French troops loyal to Vichy accepted an armistice on 11 July. Given these operations, the fighting in North Africa, a spring bombing campaign against Britain, the disasters in Greece and unfolding in Crete, to take such a plum as Dakar, with its Vichy warships, was beyond Allied hopes. An attempted assault on Dakar on 24-25 September 1940 had not been continued when it was realized how effective and determined the defences were. Peter Davison

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6 Responses to 18.5.41

  1. This is one of his funniest. And to think how much worse it gets.

  2. Barry Larking says:

    Peter Davison’s commentary is both elegant and precise. Orwell is here impatient with himself; he so wanted to be at the centre in this crisis but was removed in part by health. These events also show, to those can understand them, how complex the war was in political and military terms. No Hollywood shorthand yet.

  3. M G says:

    “Within two years we shall either be conquered or we shall be a Socialist republic fighting for its life, with a secret police force and half the population starving.”

    George, not your best work as the prophetic visionary that the world now knows you to be.

  4. Tom says:

    Another excellent prediction George! :)

  5. Patrick says:

    “not your best work as the prophetic visionary” – At this point Stalin/Russia are (warily) allied with Hitler, having divied up Poland between them. The US is supplying Britain but showing no signs of entering the war. If the balance of forces stayed as they were I’d be as depressed for the UK’s chances as Orwell.

  6. SM says:

    To be fair, Orwell had no way of knowing how stretched British resources were (the numbers were all confidential, even if he did take clippings of all the published figures). Nor did he know that Operation Barbarrosa was only 35 days away. Its easy to see where he went wrong when we have information that only a few hundred high officials knew in the day.

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