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Major General Fuller and Liddell Hart

Amongst the most influential Britons to publish literature designed to relativise and thus diminish Nazi crimes in the immediate postwar period were Major General Fuller and Liddell Hart. Their influence was no doubt helped by the moderateness of their writings on the matter and their position as respected and important military commentators and strategists. A letter from Hart to Fuller explained how Chiang Kai-Shek’s military advisers had been brought up on their writings ‘as their bibles’,124 and an entry in Hart’s diary shows that he was invited to lunch by Nehru in 1948 while he was on a trip to London. In short, despite Fuller’s overt fascism in the interwar period, both remained respected military men, had links to the British Establishment, and both wisely, in public at least, stayed clear of the extreme denial material published by Leese, Ratcliffe and Bedford. At first glance much of what they published in the immediate postwar years comes across as legitimate criticism of the Nuremberg Trials born of a concern for justice.

Fuller’s postwar work did not so much deny Nazi atrocities (unlike his prewar comments) but rather he argued that both sides were guilty of terrible wrongdoing and to condemn the Nazis was simply victor’s justice. He argued modern conflict lacked all morality and had become what he called ‘Cads’ Warfare’,125 which had ‘dissolved into a howling pandemonium in which every kind of atrocity is applauded when committed against the enemy and execrated when perpetrated by him’.126 It was this position that made him such a critic of the Nuremberg Trials:

There are atrocities in every war, therefore if you are going to swing for a small one you may as well swing for a big. The whole thing is such a filthy business that it casts a halo round Hitler’s head. By our behaviour at Nuremberg we canonized him. What a farce!127

The published writings of Fuller in the postwar period do not often, at first glance, seem extreme or pernicious. Yet what Fuller was really doing was engaging in immoral equivalency with a view to denying the uniqueness of Nazi crimes. His comments become even more suspicious when placed in their proper context and combined with knowledge of his links to fascism and the far right. Prior to the war Fuller had published articles describing Jews as ‘degenerates’, praising concentration camps and denying prewar Nazi crimes.128 He also had a long history as a fascist activist in the BUF, which had scuppered any chance of re-employment with the military in the 1930s and 1940s.129 His connections with German Nazis and Spanish and Italian Fascists were well known and made him the target of governmental suspicion. He did however avoid the fate of many of his BUF comrades of being interned during the war years, possibly because his patriotism was deemed beyond doubt.130 Yet, his fascist sympathies survived the war with his biographer accepting they sometimes ‘peeped through’ in his postwar writings.131

A long-term friend and accomplice of Fuller was Captain Basil Henry Liddell Hart, described as ‘perhaps the most famous strategic theorist of the twentieth century’.132 Despite his respected reputation and patriotism he also published works designed to undermine the uniqueness of the Holocaust. In reply to a letter from Fuller outlining his position on the war crimes trials Hart replied, ‘I agree with your comments on Nuremberg’.133 In 1948 he published what proved to be a controversial book, The German Generals Talk, the second edition changed to The Other Side of the Hill. The book is by no means a work of outright Holocaust denial with only the briefest mention of atrocities or Nuremberg, though it has been described as ‘a markedly sympathetic assessment of the German Military High Command’.134 One of his core arguments was that the German army generally behaved well during the war and that it is possible to separate the actions of the generals and the army from the actions of the Nazis. Hart wrote: ‘What is really more remarkable than the German generals’ submission to Hitler is the extent to which they managed to maintain in the Army a code of decency that was in constant conflict with Nazi ideas’.135 He tended to believe that the generals’ postwar attempts to distance themselves from Nazi aggression and atrocities were ‘not without reason’ and based his position on a ‘prewar background knowledge wider than that of the prosecutors at Nuremberg’.136 However, he ‘wilfully ignored the Wehrmacht’s willing complicity in the descent into genocide’ and his attempts to portray the military as apolitical,

‘actively colluded in whitewashing their horrific crimes’.137 It is unsurprising then that the book was not greeted by universal approval, as Hart explained to Fuller:

Rather surprisingly, “The Other Side of the Hill” has had far more favourable reviews in France than anywhere else - indeed, there has not been a single unfavourable one, contrary to anticipation. All the reviewers have treated the book as purely objective, and none of them have suggested that it is an attempt to whitewash the Germans, or let them whitewash themselves - as was quite a frequent criticism of American reviewers and to some extent here.138

While the book itself is generally moderate in tone, the suspicion of pro-German-ness was perhaps not unfounded. His diaries from that period show that he was in contact with numerous prominent far-right and fascist activists involved in denial of Nazi crimes from both Britain and abroad. Most notable in Britain was the Duke of Bedford whom he met for lunch on at least several occasions around the time and just after the publication of the book.139

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