BOOK FESTIVAL – Peter Hitchens on “The Phony War: The World War II Illusion”


JOURNALIST, author and broadcaster Peter Hitchens, or “the hated Peter Hitchens” as he sometimes refers to himself, was on stage at the Edinburgh Book Festival to promote his new book The Phoney Victory – The World War II Illusion.

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Sitting to Hitchen’s right was veteran Scottish journalist Ruth Wishart who did a grand job chairing the questions and overall structure of the one-hour talk. As she introduced her guest, she said that while myths are the warm, comforting blankets to which we cling, Peter Hitchens offers us the “cold shower of reality”. This is very true and summarises what Hitchens came here to do.

The focal point of his book is pointing out that if you look meticulously at the details of world war II you’ll find that a lot of what people take for granted as a fact, turns out to be a myth.

“You can’t, after knowing everything that happened, say it was a good war” he told the Edinburgh audience.

The first aspect he takes apart is the supposed well founded ties the U.K had with the U.S throughout the war. For Hitchens, the special relationship, as it is sometimes called, between the U.S and U.K was not something predicated on affection.

“The attitude was not shoulder to shoulder, love and friendship… it was a cold relationship of mutual use of which we were always the junior partners” Hitchens said.

He claims this one-sided relationship and the debt which it accumulated from it sent the U.K into an even faster decline after the war.

The author turned the audience’s attention towards an aspect of the war that people already widely knon about but which he feels has not been morally scrutinised enough – the bombing of German cities by British forces. “It wasn’t just Dresden, it was cities all over Germany” he said.

Hitchens challenged the audience to think about the innocent German people who were deliberately bombed because of their densely populated living areas and the ultimate horror that was inflicted on them. “You can’t countenance it” he said.

Regarding the role and legacy of Churchill, Hitchens gave a historically objective response, saying: “He was indispensable…no one else could have done what he did”, however, “he acted appallingly during the war”.

There were numerous other aspects of the war that Hitchens pointed out as having been exaggerated, over-stated or down-right fiction.

The most interesting point Hitchens made was the way in which people generally think about war today.

He believes that today’s analysts and decision makers view every conflict in the same light as the second world war.

“Today leaders will say I am Winston Churchill, my opponents who oppose me are Neville Chamberlain and he, the foreign dictator who I wish to depose, is Adolf Hitler”.

Hitchens calls this “Munich Syndrome” and believes that many recent conflicts including Iraq and Libya are results of this kind of thinking.

His definitive problem with war of any kind is the cost in life that it accumulates. He noted that any time a war is to begin, a political leader will say “we must fight”. For Hitchens, there is no “we” as the leader will not be involved in the fight, it will be ordinary citizens of the country who are involved and who will feel the effects.

“War means broken families, widows, orphans and destroyed houses” he said.

Hitchens came and achieved what his book sets out to do: to offer a more informed, perspective of a world event which he claims that as time has passed has been coated in myths.

When Hitchens spoke, it was a reality check. If reality really is a cold shower, then he made probably made a few members of the audience shiver.

The Phoney Victory – The World War II Illusion is available to buy now.