Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago
By Peter Ibbotson
A well known technique, particularly favoured by the late but unlamented Herr Hitler, is that of accusing your adversary of being a Communist, or being communistically inclined, in order to create an aura of antagonism to him. I had thought that Hitlerian technique had died out, except for its temporary resurrection by Senator McCarthy in the United States a while back. But no; I was wrong; that technique is the favourite argumentative technique of N.M.U. (Noel Marrier d’Unienville). All who disagrees are smeared with the Communist brush; he has reduced serious argument to the level of mere mud-slinging. So it is with the Opinion du Jour of December 11, in which he once again accuses me of being a “subversive”.
It is apparently my attitude over the Suez affair which he does not like. I repeat — I am utterly opposed to the Anglo-French intervention in Suez; Britain and France were morally wrong to act as they did. And it is arguable that by their actions over Suez, Britain and France may have encouraged the Soviet intervention in Hungary.
There seems to be reliable evidence that in recent months there has been a division of opinion as to tactics at the highest levels in the Kremlin. Some favoured moderation; others favoured a continuance of the policy of toughness over Poland. it seemed that the moderate were in the ascendancy.
Then came the Hungarian uprising. On October 27, Budapest was still under gunfire all day. Then, on October 28, Soviet troops were ordered out of Budapest and they withdrew. On October 31 there were the first British and French bombing attacks on Egypt; two days later, on November 2, it was boasted that Anglo-French troops would be in the Canal Zone in a matter of hours. On November 4, Soviet troops at dawn attacked Budapest, after their withdrawal had been halted on November 1, after the first attacks on Egypt.
Was it a coincidence that the Soviet withdrawal stopped when the Anglo-French aggression started? Or did the fact that the great powers of Western Europe had attacked Egypt influence the moderates in the Kremlin and so tip the scales in favour of Soviet intervention?
Whatever the truth be about that, there is little doubt that the Anglo-French intervention in Egypt has strengthened Communism in the Middle East. The British government has alleged that huge supplies of Soviet arms were being poured into the Middle Eastern countries; but in fact, French and English arms were equally being poured into the same countries. The invasion has outraged Middle Eastern nationalism; and it is from outraged nationalism as well as from poverty that Communism grows.
The morality of the attack on Egypt is even more questionable when one considers the evidence in favour of the allegation that the British and French governments knew of Israel’s intentions beforehand.
On October 16, Eden and Selwyn Lloyd went to Paris and for four hours were closeted with MM.Mollet and Pineau with no advisers or interpreters present. What happened during those four hours in a locked room? None of the four men involved has yet spoken. A week later M. Pineau flew unexpectedly to London to confer with Eden; meanwhile the supply of military equipment from France to Israel had been stepped up. And from October 16 onwards, a “diplomatic curtain” was created between Britain and France on the one hand and the U.S.A. on the other. The U.S. could not penetrate this curtain of secrecy; yet normally the U.S. is kept well informed about Anglo-French diplomacy and moves. One suspects that the U.S. was deliberately kept uninformed because Eisenhower had previously warned Eden that no American help would be forthcoming if Britain used force against Egypt.
The British Cabinet knew what was the real reason underlying the Anglo-French attack on Egypt: to unseat Nasser and regain the Canal. Those had been Eden’s ambitions for months. And incidents, apparently unrelated, during the summer become understandable against this ambition in the light of later events. There were, for instance, the Cabinet changes in September and October, when Mr P.J.L. Thomas resigned as First Lord of the Admiralty (to be replaced by Lord Hailsham, a pro-invasionist) and Sir Walter Monckton, another opponent of force, left the Ministry of Defence where he was replaced by Anthony Head, also a pro-force man.
While Britain was seeking to get back the Canal, France had her eyes on North Africa. Successful action against Nasser would do much to restore French prestige there. So, for different reasons, both governments were determined to intervene against Nasser when the opportunity came.
By the end of October much French military equipment had gone to Israel. On October 29, the day Israel invaded Egypt, two French Air Force squadrons arrived in Israel via Cyprus. They were stationed at Haifa and Lydda. The pilots did not return to France till November 18; when they were greeted at Dijon on their return, the French Air Minister, Mr Laforest, said: “The whole country has applauded your exploits. But it will not know of all of them.” And in Paris, the head of the Air Force Security refused to let journalists interview the returning pilots. French refuelling tankers were in Lydda before the aeroplanes arrived; since the aeroplanes had flown to Israel via Cyprus, it is impossible to doubt that Britain and France knew what was afoot in Israel.
When the attack on Egypt took place, varying accounts of Britain’s aims were given by different Government spokesmen. We were there to stop a major war from developing; we were there to protect the Canal; we were there to keep the Canal open; we were there to forestall a Communist coup d’état throughout the Middle East. At last Anthony Head blurted out in the House of Commons what many people had suspected to be the truth: all this business had been about getting back control of the Canal.
What reliance can be placed on these avowed aims? None. There was no evidence of any contemplated Communist coup d’Etat in the Middle East. To say that British and French action averted a bigger war is just speculation. As for keeping open the Canal and protecting British lives and property — Nasser has blocked the Canal and has expelled all the British civilians from Port Said. Economic chaos threatens Western Europe; higher prices are affecting all classes of goods and all classes of people. The hard fact that has come out of the Anglo-French intervention is petrol rationing and higher prices; there is absolutely no evidence to justify Eden’s complacent claim that these irritations are a small price to pay for having averted a major war.
All the evidence that can be gleaned points to the fact that Britain and France knew what Israel was up to, and kept the U.S.A. in the dark about it, and were prepared to support Israel. The allegation is not that Britain and France knew exactly what Israel was going to do; not that Britain and France connived with Israel or acted in collusion with Israel; but that Britain and France were prepared to take advantage of events which they knew full well were going to take place, even if they didn’t perhaps know exactly when.
Once, Britain and France were respected by the rest of the world. Once, Britain and France were regarded as the bastions of freedom, as the champions of liberty. All that is changed, after the attack on Egypt. Sir Anthony’s vainglory has brought nothing but shame to his country; and he hadn’t the guts to stay in London and face the music. Instead he scurried off to Jamaica for three week’s holiday; not for three week’s recuperation or rest, but for three weeks’ holiday (and it was Mr Butler who told us that). At no time has Britain’s stock in the world been lower; and with the blood of Egypt on her hands, how can Britain honestly stand up at the United Nations and accuse that U.S.S.R. for her intervention in Hungary? As much as any man, I deplore and oppose the repression of the Hungarian people; but I do not blind myself to the fact of British and French faults in Egypt.
The British Government bears a direct responsibility for the attack on Egypt. It bears no direct responsibility for events in Hungary. Therefore, I say and write and speak more about the invasion of Egypt, because my words can have some direct effect.
But expressed disgust with British actions in Egypt doesn’t make anyone a Communist. If it did, then Lord Tedder, Anthony Nutting, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Prime Minister of Canada are Communists. The smear of Communism is just one of N.M.U’s tactics to which he is forced to resort when he has no real arguments to adduce. “When you have no case, abuse the other fellow’s lawyer” is a saying well know to attorneys the world over. It applies to N.M.U.’s journalistic outpourings as well.
May the year 1957 bring peace and prosperity to the whole world. May it see us delivered from out of the trials and tribulations that now beset us. May it also see the countries of the world moving closer still and closer to a full realisation of the United Nations Charter. And for Mauritius especially may it bring nearer self-government, equitably-distributed wealth, and a better life for all.
Friday 4th January, 1957
* Published in print edition on 23 August 2019