The Devils Bargain for India

Could it have happened to India?

I saw The Kite Runner last weekend and man did it rock. Beyond a great story, y’all should go be swept away by the shocking similarities between disco-era Afghanistan and India – I gaurantee you’ll recognize an uncle or 2 from your old home movies

In the movie, a pivotal plot point is the end to the Good Times marked by Soviet tanks rolling into Kabul to aid local communist forces… due to the interest in the “India in WWII” series, I thought I’d post on yet another aspect of the conflict that many folks probably aren’t aware of – this time, the Desi-Soviet angle.

The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact gets a fair amount of coverage as a milestone for WWII in Europe. Before the Soviets fought with the allies, they were secretly helping the Nazis and this pact solidified the Nazi-Soviet alliance. It outlined how the two butchers would divvy up Central and Eastern Europe whilst the British, under Chamberlain, sought appeasement; Wikipedia summarizes it thusly –

In addition to stipulations of non-aggression, the treaty included a secret protocol dividing the independent countries of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania into spheres of Nazi and Soviet influence, anticipating “territorial and political rearrangements” of these countries’ territories.

All were subsequently invaded, occupied, or forced to cede territory by Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, or both.

Based on the (initial) success of this pact, the Soviets & Nazis formed other pacts to divvy up the world…

“The British Empire would be apportioned as a gigantic world-wide estate in bankruptcy of 40 million square kilometers”

- Hitler to Stalin, 1940

The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was merely the most famous of several secret pacts negotiated between the two parties. Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin (via their respective foreign ministers Molotov and Ribbentrop) had much larger ambitions than just continental Europe. Some portions of the pact were known at the time but many weren’t revealed to the world until the late 1980′s & the fall of the Soviet Union.

The other secret pacts clearly show how Ribbentrop & Hitler aimed to create a grand axis including not just Italy and Japan but the Soviets as well who, collectively, would rule the world. BUT, all parties knew that the number one thing standing the way of such an arrangement was the nation that ruled the seas – Britain (at this point in history, the US was but a wee footnote in these calculations). And the axis powers knew that a good chunk of the might of Britain lay in her ability to draw men and materiel from across the Empire.

So, while FDR opposed the British Empire in the name of Freedom, Stalin and the Axis powers covetted it in the name of Wealth and Power. And the crown jewel of the empire of course, was India….

He’d need more than that to keep warm in the Gulag…

The key architect of the plan was Reich foreign minster Joachim von Ribbentrop. As maestro of Hitler’s international diplomatic machine, he was one of the most powerful members of the Furher’s inner circle – particularly at the beginning of the war. Focus on the British Empire was early and deep -

From the latter half of 1937, Ribbentrop had championed the idea of an alliance between Germany, Italy and Japan that would partition the British Empire between them. After signing the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact, Ribbentrop expanded on this idea for an Axis alliance to include the Soviet Union to form an Eurasian bloc that would destroy maritime states such as Britain.

Ribbentrop served as Hitler’s primary emmissary to the Soviet Union and his diplomatic communique’s back & forth between the Fuhrer & Stalin make for some fascinating, and now public, reading. In 1940 Hitler, confident of victory in the then raging Battle of Britain, via Ribbentrop, promised spoils to his allies if they’d play well together –

After the conquest of England the British Empire would be apportioned as a gigantic world-wide estate in bankruptcy of 40 million square kilometers. In this bankrupt estate there would be for Russia access to the ice-free and really open ocean. Thus far, a minority of 40 million Englishmen had ruled 600 million inhabitants of the British Empire.

Ribbentrop proposed that the Soviets and Japanese slice & dice the British Empire roughly along lines of latitude –

The aspirations of Japan would still have to be clarified through diplomatic channels. Here too, a delimitation could easily be found, possibly by fixing a line which would run south of the Japanese home islands and Manchukuo.

Reich Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop

The focal points in the territorial aspirations of the Soviet Union would presumably be centered south of the territory of the Soviet Union in the direction of the Indian Ocean.

The proposal was accepted and a draft, joint pact dated November 15, 1940 euphemstically hands over a half billion souls who live “in the direction of the Indian Ocean” to the Soviet Union -

Upon the signing today of the Agreement concluded among them, the Representatives of Germany, Italy, Japan and the Soviet Union declare as follows:

1) Germany declares that, apart from the territorial revisions in Europe to be carried out at the conclusion of peace, her territorial aspirations center in the territories of Central Africa.

2) Italy declares that, apart from the territorial revisions in Europe to be carried out at the conclusion of peace, her territorial aspirations center in the territories of Northern and Northeastern Africa.

3) Japan declares that her territorial aspirations center in the area of Eastern Asia to the south of the Island Empire of Japan.

4) The Soviet Union declares that its territorial aspirations center south of the national territory of the Soviet Union in the direction of the Indian Ocean.

The Four Powers declare that, reserving the settlement of specific questions, they will mutually respect these territorial aspirations and will not oppose their achievement.

What a world it would have been….

The Fate of India… Determined in the Skies Above Britain?

Thankfully, history rolled a different way. “The few” brave pilots decisively won the Battle of Britain at a time when England alone stood against the Axis. The sinews of Royal Navy seapower sustained the “maritime order” against attempted blockade. Afterwards, the Japanese prematurely woke the “sleeping giant” by raiding Pearl Harbor in the hope of a Chamberlain-like appeasement from FDR. 2.5M Indians joined the newly invigorated allies to fight the Nazis and the Japanese in both Europe and Asia.

And perhaps most importantly, the deal between scoundrels unravelled as both Stalin & Hitler misjudged each other & underlying, core differences broke through to the surface. For all the grand planning that went into the pact, the beastly nature of the parties involved ultimately tore it to shreds. Stalin, gambling that Hitler wouldn’t start a second front in the war, overreached and tried to grab more of Finland and the Baltics than was initially apportioned by the Pact. Hitler, finding a causus belli in this treachery and not exactly a fan of the Russian/Slavic communist, untermensch to begin with, gambled that the Soviet Union would be “brittle” and fall quickly during a lull in his ambitions for Britain.

The result was the disastrous (for the Reich) Operation Barbarossa just 7 months after the November pact. Barbarossa thrust the Russians deeply into the Allies camp and, almost fittingly, it’s estimated that 70% of *all* Nazi casualties over the course of the war were at the hands of the Red Army. Thus, many argue, the failure of Barbarossa more directly led to the destruction of the Third Reich than the D-day landings at Normandy.

Japan, of course, recognized that open war between Hitler and Stalin meant that Ribbentrop’s pact was in tatters. Given their near total success in routing the British & Americans from the Far East to date, they decided India was up for grabs and were finally stopped at the Battle of Kohima.

What If…. India got the Post-War “Korean” Treatment?

The most intriguing historical “what if” here centers on Ribbentrop. While Hitler was unlikely to ever really adhere to his pact with Stalin…. Ribbentrop provided the Good Cop to Hitler’s Bad Cop and had a keener sense of when diplomacy rather than war could achieve their shared ends.

Ribbentrop considered the Pact with Russia his crowning career achievement and thus fought hard to convince Hitler against Barbarossa and to maintain focus on England & the Empire –

Despite the obvious admiration and subservience with which Ribbentrop regarded Hitler, it should be possible to conclude one thing: prior to BARBAROSSA, Ribbentrop, for multiple reasons, was willing to attempt an un-tracking of Hitler’s ideological drive to Moscow.

…Ribbentrop’s frustrations concerning BARBAROSSA were again reflected in his dictation of the following words to his Secretary of State, Ernst von Weizsacker, on 28 April, 1941:

One can perhaps find it enticing to give the Communist system its death blow and perhaps say too that it lies in the logic of things to let the European- Asiatic continent now march forth against Anglo-Saxondom and its allies. But only one thing is decisive: whether this undertaking would hasten the fall of England . . . A German attack on Russia would only give a lift to English morale. It would be evaluated there as German doubt of the success of our war against England. We would in this fashion not only admit that the war would still last a long time, but we could in this way actually lengthen instead of shorten it.

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p>He let his feelings be known in unusually frank diplomatic language -

He passed a word to a Russian diplomat: “Please tell Stalin I was against this war, and that I know it will bring great misfortune to Germany.”

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p>

Would’ve shown desis colonialism like they’d never seen before…

And thus one of the key turning points in the war may have been avoided. Had Ribbentrop persuaded Hitler, not only would the bulk of the Wehrmacht be available to fight the Brits (and later the Americans) BUT, the Grand Axis could have thrived with the Soviets continuing to contribute their Industrial and Manpower might.

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p>Although Churchill & Roosevelt talked about “unconditional surrender” from the Axis, Ribbentrop bet that faced with these odds, “moderates” amongst the allies would bring them to the negotiating table. This pressure, Ribbentrop hoped, would create a détente where Good Cop / Bad Cop routine could work its magic. The goal? A new series of Grand Power-negotiated territorial partitions like his earlier pact that divided Eastern Europe. In modern terms, this could look a lot like the later creation of China/Taiwan, East/West Germany, North/South Korea, and North/South Vietnam. So perhaps, under pressure, a different partition of India might have created an Axis / Soviet / “land” aligned “North India” and a British / Western / “sea” aligned “South India”?

Of course, this is all speculation and we’ll never know for sure. As one of the top officers of the Reich, good chunks of Ribbentrop’s master plan were left dangling with him on a hangman’s noose in Nuremberg….

16 thoughts on “The Devils Bargain for India

  1. The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact gets a fair amount of coverage as a milestone for WWII in Europe. Before the Soviets fought with the allies, they were secretly helping the Nazi’s and this pact solidified the Nazi-Soviet alliance.

    First, Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was a biggest sham which both parties knew well. Hitler had very little friendship with communists from day one.

    Germany was rearming, and wanted to buy time – for the blitzkreig.

    USSR knew it was a matter of time (oil in Causasian Mountains) that Germany (oil starved) would attack USSR.

    India, Afghanistna and Russia go back to Great Game days. Even the Tsars wanted India.

  2. New Orleans sports billboards (for our excellent WWII museum) that essentially ask What If We Had Lost The War? Of course, theirs is a rhetorical question that acts as advertisement. I’ve, however, taken that question to heart and have wondered what re-apportionment plans the Axis powers had in the case of their victory. I’d always assumed that whether the Allies or Axis won, the colonies would retain their status (ever the Third World) and simply see a switch of boss, so to speak. I’ve also wondered if India would have gained independence in 1947 if the Axis had taken control.

    So, Vinod and Kush, if Molotov-Ribbentrop is just a flimsy handshake between Germany and the USSR, what would have India’s fate have been? Also, what did the Tsars want India for?

  3. USSR knew it was a matter of time (oil in Causasian Mountains) that Germany (oil starved) would attack USSR.

    do you have any citations on this? (i.e., where’d you read this?) i don’t know much world war ii history at all, but i was under the impression that stalin was pretty delusional on this count and didn’t anticipate a german attack.

  4. Also, what did the Tsars want India for?

    A lot – ports for winter time, coal, wagehera, wagehara.

    There is lot of historical research on flimsiness of Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, even to the level they both had already created a buffer zone in Finland, and Poland.

    They both were getting ready to fight again, after WW I. Even while the pact was signed, Germans was highly militarizing the border.

    A lot of communist party functionaries were quite prepared for Operation Barbossa. But Stalin wasn’t, and he did massive purges to avoid being overthrown while Operation Barbossa was in effect, even the first 24 hours – Heroes of Stalingrad were executed later.

  5. do you have any citations on this? (i.e., where’d you read this?) i don’t know much world war ii history at all, but i was under the impression that stalin was pretty delusional on this count and didn’t anticipate a german attack.

    dude, there are thousand (hazaar) books written on it – any detailed WW history book will tell you.

    read, the rise and fall of third riech for starters.

    Stalin was ill-prepared (or USSR at the Kermlin level) for the timing. He was expecting later. Germans were arming faster than expected.

    In fact, Stalingrad and Caussasian Mountains were fortified even before Operation Barbossa started. All the doomsday sayers/ Stalingrad heroes were purged since they more than Stalin.

  6. Here is a more balanced view of Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.

    Now, to oil, synopsis from Chapter 17, The Prize by Daniel Yergin.

    Ch. 17: Germany’s Formula for War

    I.G. Farben’s research on synthetic fuels (1913 Bergius process of hydrogenation) leads to an alliance with Standard of Jersey (328-31). Nazified I.G. Farben’s synthetic fuels produce 46% of Germany’s oil in 1940 (332-33). Blitzkrieg and oil scarcity (333-34). Oil and Hitler’s invasion of Russia (334-36). Operation Blau, to seize oil of the Caucasus: ironically, “the Germans ran short of oil in their quest for oil”; “the blitzkrieg phase was over” (336-39). Rommel’s contempt for “the quartermaster’s advice” controverted by failure in North Africa (339-43). Speer’s reorganized German economy depends on synthetic fuels made by slave labor, e.g. at Auschwitz (343-46; 817). Beginning in May 1944, Allied air attacks on synthetic fuel plants and other oil facilities are a “fatal blow” (Gen. Adolph Galland) (346-48). Battle of the Bulge: Col. Jochem Peiper’s panzer unit almost seizes Stavelot fuel supply’s 2.5m gallons of fuel (348-49). No fuel left in war’s last months (349-50).
  7. do you have any citations on this? (i.e., where’d you read this?) i don’t know much world war ii history at all, but i was under the impression that stalin was pretty delusional on this count and didn’t anticipate a german attack. dude, there are thousand (hazaar) books written on it – any detailed WW history book will tell you.

    It takes a geo/logist/physicist to cut through the charlie. Thanks Kush. WW2 was very much a battle over oil. The Holocaust must be seen separately from the war. It is a crime among the darkest chapters of human history – but not merely a war crime. The Holocaust was a few years old by the time WW2 broke out.

  8. Have read (and loved) the book but not seen the movie yet. I keep telling my Texan friends who are excited about Charlie Wilson’s War to go see Kite Runner afterwards. KR qualifies as the sobering sequel to the much hyped and glamorous CWW.

    The incomparable Bengali author Syed Mujtaba Ali wrote a gem of a book about Afghanistan which is as scholarly as it is entertaining. It is my favorite among all the travelogues I have read in both English and Bengali (Dalrymple’s included). The amazing thing is that much of what he wrote of his travels there in the 1930s is still relevant to Afghanistan’s fate today. He also addressed the British – Russian Great Game over Afghanistan in exquisite detail but with a clear bias toward the Soviets. (Being a subject of British occupied India, that is not too surprising.) To the Bengali readers here, I recommend Ali’s books highly. The title is “Deshe Bideshe.” I am not aware of an English translation.

  9. Funny old song mocking the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact:

    Leon Trotsky was a Nazi, we all knew it for a fact: Pravda said it, we all read it before the Hitler-Stalin pact

    Once a nazi, would be a shot, see That was then the party line. Now a nazi’s, hotsy-totsy Volga boatmen sail the Rhine

  10. dude, there are thousand (hazaar) books written on it – any detailed WW history book will tell you.

    that’s for the patronizing tone in response to an honest question. stay classy will you?

  11. Speaking of Desis and Afghanistan and Washington DC, I have a Kashmiri-Pashtun friend here, and she once told me of a cafe, named something to the effect “Kabul Cafe” in Washington DC. They served kabobs and the typical Middle Eastern fare, and they insinuated that this cafe would be an Afghani experience. After all, all the foods are like mantoo, aushak, and kabobs. However, everyone that works there are Bangladeshis, and all the patrons of this place, even the ‘farangis’ knew that the proprietors were not Afghanis. I just thought that was hilarious. This cafe was not Marjan.

  12. I saw The Kite Runner last weekend and man did it rock. Beyond a great story, y’all should go be swept away by the shocking similarities between disco-era Afghanistan and India – I gaurantee you’ll recognize an uncle or 2 from your old home movies

    The book was sooooo good!!!! There were a couple of cheesy aspects of it, but the people that he described were very similar to Indians. Here are some less believable aspects of the book that I found: 1. I thought that when the protagonist visits/talks to his dad’s friend, Rahim, the ensuing conversation didn’t seem believable. Rahim mentions “the Americans have made you very optimistic just like themselves.” I’m sure that there is no word for optimism in Farsi/Pashto, and moreover, Desis, Middle Easterners, Central Asians, or Africans at that never comment on optimism at all. It seems that they don’t notice this quality. 2. The protagonists life in the USA isn’t consistent with their upper class lifestyle in Afghanistan. I would have thought that they lived nobly and have upper class ideals and values. I would have thought thought that they had a clean home, but the book seemed to imply that their apartment was not clean. I would think that their apartment would have been austere but very clean.
    3. I know many Indians who come here at the age of 6, and they are very Indianish. They seem to be very inwards looking and insular as far as mixing with others goes. Also, they seem to be very Indian in their tastes (movies, food, fiscal prudence, and ideals). I’m not saying that they all are like this, but they all seem to like Zee TV and Bollywood, and are less stoic than Americans. However, this protagonist seemed to be very American. He didn’t act macho-macho, he didn’t have many Afghani or Pashtun friends, whereas others in his situation would have had ONLY Afghani/Paki friends.
    4. If I were to have written this story, I would have made the protagonist work at a fast-food or in retail some where. One improvement of Afghani culture is there pride in work – Indians feel that some jobs are beneath them.
    5. The boy’s circle of friends would have been 95% Muslims. I base this on my observations of people who’ve spent their formative years in another country coming to the USA.

    I noticed a lot of similarities with India as well as differences: 1. It seemed to me that the people of Afghanistan are slightly more un-ambitious than Indians living here. Every Indian that I know works very hard, often at 2 jobs – including cultivating their own business. The Afghanis seemed to not to be materially motivated or ambitious. Moreover, their educational achievements seemed to be less.
    2. They were very similar in their pronouncement of words (i.e. “Amreeka” and “jaan” for ‘-ji’), their cultural conservatism (implied caste system of Pashtuns over Hazara, and “marriage into a good family”).

    All in all, the book was excellent, but the movie sucked. I couldn’t stand the film. Young Assef looked NOTHING like older Assef, and moreover, they didn’t even look half German! Where was Assef’s brass knuckles in the movie? I loved this prop in the book.

    The father wasn’t very big in the movie. He should have been very physically imposing, heavily bearded, and more spirited and less thoughtful/pensive. A more bearded and rotund version of Badshah Khan (Frontier Gandhi) would have been perfect.

  13. 11 · razib said

    dude, there are thousand (hazaar) books written on it – any detailed WW history book will tell you. that’s for the patronizing tone in response to an honest question. stay classy will you?

    Look who’s talking…

    do you have any citations on this? (i.e., where’d you read this?)
  14. 9 · Ruchira said

    Have read (and loved) the book but not seen the movie yet. I keep telling my Texan friends who are excited about Charlie Wilson’s War to go see Kite Runner afterwards. KR qualifies as the sobering sequel to the much hyped and glamorous CWW.

    saw KR today. It was nice but I liked CWW better. KR was too slow and mushy mushy for my tastes though its storyline was better.