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THE morning of November 11, 1918 was a typically foggy London November morning. Hammersmith Broadway, where I had gone with other boys from my school, St. Paul's was shrouded in a gloom of smog. The lights of the shop windows glimmered in a blurred uncertain orange. Then punctually at eleven o'clock the historic moment we had been waiting for arrived. 'Boom! Boom! Boom!' the maroons went off, in Hammersmith and all over London, the maroons whose explosions until this moment had meant: "Enemy aircraft approaching. Take cover."
This morning the maroons were the signal of victory. They told us that the armistice had been signed, that the war was over, and that the allies had defeated the Kaiser. For me who had spent the first two years and a half of the war as a lone British schoolboy at the Friedrichswerdersche Gymnasium in Berlin and had sat through many celebrations of the Kaiser's victories "by my German school friends" it was as if the sun had come out and the cold November fog had suddenly turned into a bright and beautiful spring day. I was fourteen years old at the time, and I was ecstatically sure that from now on all would be well with Britain, with the Empire that had defeated the German challenge, and therefore with the world as a whole. The Pax Britannica was safe once more.
How false that assessment was I began to find out when ten years later I went to Berlin as the correspondent of the Daily Express, I discovered there how the Germans were secretly rearming In league with the Russians, and how the allied statesman were wishfully closing their eyes to the fact.
I had taken up my appointment in Berlin five years before the coming of Hitler. The next eleven years* I spent reporting from Germany, France, Spain, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and other countries the sinister series of manoeuvres with which the Germans were preparing for the second war.
If anyone should have been taught by experience that victory in war was not enough, that the peace can be lost more fatally even than war, it was I. Yet on May 8, 1945 there I was as over-optimistic about the future as I had been on November 11, 1918.
With the help of one solitary remaining member of my psychological warfare team the rest had all gone on a well deserved leave I had just written and published a final 'extra' of our newspaper for the Wehrmacht, 'Nachrichten für die Truppe'. It was dated Saturday May 5, 1945, and was dropped by our squadron of American Flying Fortresses on German garrisons making a nuisance of themselves by continuing to hold out in isolated strong points, like Brest.
"S C H L U S S ! " was the one word banner headline in fat inch high type above the report which told in detail of the Wehrmacht's unconditional surrender in all theatres of the European war. "Schluss" means 'finis', 'end', 'curtains' and 'Shut up!'.
And on May 8, 1945 I really believed it was "Schluss". With Germany, the aggressive trouble-maker, overrun and pulverised I thought that a rosy prospect of peace and stability lay ahead of us at last. The Japanese? They would not take long to finish off. The Russians? Well yes, they could become a bit of a problem, as they had already been proving by their refusal to carry out their pledges in countries like Poland. But with the United States in closest harmony with us as I then believed despite Roosevelt's reported trust in the democratic Russians and distrust of the perfidious British imperialists the Russians would soon learn the wisdom of cooperating with the Western powers.
So I gladly accepted Ian Fleming's invitation that I should drive up to London and join him in a round of parties to celebrate V.E.-day. In the secret* house in which I had lived with my team during the war I had led a life of almost monastic seclusion.
I had forgone all social contacts not immediately relevant to my work. That made it all the more fun to join in the V.E.-day gaieties of Ian and his friends, some of whom I was to meet again later in the pages of his James Bond thrillers. In all the drinking and laughter of Ian's party and the cheering, dancing and singing of the crowds in the streets outside, it never occurred to me for even the flicker of an eyelid that this was to be the overture to a period during which it would be my job to report and record the fulfilment of one of Hitler's direct predictions, that of the destruction of the British Empire. To be sure not by Hitler's hands but by our own and those of our U.S. allies.
I would have laughed at anyone who told me in that hour of triumph that our governments, Socialist and Conservative, would be competing over the next twenty years as to which of them could do most to liquidate the Empire and betray the trust of the colonial peoples that looked to us for sound administration untrammelled by nepotism, tribalism or corruption. Or that on the one and only occasion when a British statesman stood up to defend a lifeline of the Empire, the United States government with a dumbfounding blindness to its own long term interests and disregard for the international rule of law would join the Soviet Union in supporting the aggression of the Egyptian Hitler, Gamal Abdel Nasser. (Not that this deterred the Americans from reproaching us with a lack of loyalty and vigour in supporting them in the areas east of Suez - our line of communication with which they so rashly helped to sever - when they themselves in their turn became embroiled in Vietnam and the Middle East with the same forces they had supported against us in their post-war anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist fervour).
During the war I had been full of admiration for the amazing accuracy with which our intelligence staffs predicted the next moves of the enemy. I doubt however whether even their gifts of analysis and deduction would have enabled them to forecast in 1945 that a British government would outlaw our own kinsfolk in Rhodesia because they had dared to stand up for law and order in the territory they had opened up and developed to high prosperity to the benefit of black men and white men alike. Who would have predicted then that we would seek to destroy them economically because they would not follow us in submission to the reactionary anarchy of African racialist 'Africa-for-the-Africans' agitators? Men of the type that had ruined the Congo, Ghana, and other prosperous territories surrendered to them at the bidding of the anti-colonialist United Nations Organisation.
Nor would I have believed it, if someone had told me on that night that within six years we would be helping the Germans to rearm and to restore to power in the new Federal Republic men of Hitler's general staff who had helped him to plan and wage his war as well as civil servants, judges, diplomats, and police officers who had been instrumental in carrying out the Third Reich's policies of crime and violence. Or that by December 1966, the West-German parliament would have gone so far in losing its sense of shame for the past, as to appoint to the chancellorship a man who had been a member of Hitler's party from 1933 to 1945 and had played a leading part in the war time propaganda service of Foreign Minister Ribbentrop,
That our policy on Germany was liable to abrupt changes was to be brought home to me within a few months of Ian's V.E.-day party. In the last weeks of the war I had been appointed Controller of the German-Austrian Division of the Political Intelligence Department of the Foreign Office. In this capacity I had drawn up a plan for the reform of German newspapers and other mass communications media with a view to laying the foundations for a democratic non-authoritarian Germany. The plan had been approved not only by my own department but by the chiefs of the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Information, and the Control Commission.
Briefly it was to eliminate from the German scene the stodgy unreadable newspapers and unlistenable newscasts which had made things easy for Hitler by leaving the German public uninterested in current affairs and ignorant of them in their place we aimed to establish well written, attractively presented, and well informed newspapers and radio broadcasts. They were to be independent, free of the obsequious servility to authority which had characterised newspapers and radio under both the Weimar Republic and Hitler's Third Reich.
Above all I wanted to inject into them that respect for the laws of evidence and for the rights of the individual citizen which we enjoy in Britain where the law of libel prevents campaigns of character assassination such as had been rife in Germany and respect for the court prevents police and editors alike from describing a man as guilty of an offence before he has been tried. I believed that if we could do this it would be as great a contribution to the growth of genuine democracy in Germany, as disarmament and demilitarisation or the imposition of a parliamentary constitution.
My program provided for the establishment of a news agency, which would provide radio and newspapers with a wide ranging and accurate news service, and of a model newspaper whose content and layout we would transmit by teletype to other newspapers in the British zone for them to follow or not as they pleased. I flew to Germany myself to implement the plan with a team of British and German newsmen, drawn for the most part from my war time team. I had got as far as establishing the news service, parent of the Deutsche Presse Agentur of today, when I learned that our new Socialist masters in Whitehall were not prepared to go through with the rest of my plan.
So I resigned, and with me resigned the top men of my Foreign Office department. I went back to Fleet Street, the others to their peace time careers which they like me had been prepared to neglect in the hopes of contributing to the creation of a new and genuinely democratic Germany.