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When Diplomacy Fails Podcast

1956 - The Suez Crisis #2.16: My Canadian Friends

1956 Episode 2.16 introduces the fascinating Canadian element into our story.


Eden’s efforts to control the discussion continued, as the Prime Minister sought to make the British people see things wholly his way. To some extent he would succeed, but much like his French counterparts, it was proving immensely difficult to control what people thought deep down about this strangely brave but also incredibly reckless action. For a few fleeting hours, it appeared as though Eden had judged correctly – it was nice to see the entente cruising into battle again without the American say-so. But this pride would evaporate once it became clear how alone Britain and France were in this plot.


Seemingly to the rescue in this equation was Lester Pearson, Canada’s Foreign Secretary and a critically important statesmen in the early Cold War era. An advocate of a police force controlled by the United Nations, and an enthusiastic supporter of negotiations taking place in the General Assembly, where many smaller states were represented, Pearson quickly became the face of solving Suez. This, of course, was not to Eden’s wishes, who wanted to crush Nasser, not be bailed out of his country. But even the PM had to make a show of going along with his proposals for the sake of good press, and before long, a stunning proposal was gathering momentum. A United Nations Emergency Force was the solution proposed by Pearson, and even while proposals in the General Assembly were not legally binding, Pearson soon counted several supporters eager to contribute men to this force.


The task of persuading the British and French to make peace and hold back while this force was assembled was another issue entirely of course. As we’ll soon discover, the art of backing down was something which Eden soon gravitated towards, as he moved to recast his country not as an interventionist power, but as one acting explicitly in the interests of the UN, and of course, of world peace. Until he had the opportunity to manipulate the truth though, the PM would have to rely on his Canadian friends to change the debate, and bring about a solution which even he could accept. It was destined to be a busy next few days.


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  • 1956 - The Suez Crisis #2.20: Americans And Soviets

    34:17
    Episode 2.20: Americans & Soviets examines the involvement of the Cold War’s primary protagonists in the Suez Crisis. At long last, we bring the events in Hungary full circle with events in Egypt, and assess whether Anthony Eden’s crimes doomed Hungary after all. In short, we bring everything full circle in 1956. What the events of this year demonstrated, between the Soviet aggressions in Hungary and the Anglo-French adventures in Egypt, was that a strong United Nations was critical for the sake of the peace of the world. ‘I agree with you’, said Eden, ‘and that was why I acted as I did in the first place!’ While the Prime Minister was in full-blown deception mode, his political rivals in the Commons were far from satisfied. Their curiosity was piqued, rather than satiated, and they latched onto the inconsistencies in Eden’s version of events like dogs latched onto a bone. In the end, their suspicious persistence would prove correct, though even they would be startled by just how far Eden had gone.To a great many British citizens and statesmen, it was easier to believe the narrative parroted by the Government. To suppose that the Government could have acted so rashly and aggressively was the antithesis of Conservative governance, and of a sensible foreign policy which the Tory ideology was meant to stand for. Not only that, but the version of events Eden parroted – that Britain had saved the peace by compelling the UN to offer up a peacekeeping force – enabled many Britons to feel proud of their country’s contribution to peace. They would have had good cause to feel proud, had there been any shred of truth to what the PM had said. It was clear to him by the end of 7th November that his choices had had consequences. Not only Egypt, but the relationship with the Americans, the powers of the Soviets and the nature of the Cold War itself had all been affected. It was at this moment, that Eden decided it was time for a holiday…Remember history friends - you can get these episodes ad-free with scripts attached for just $2 a month - for a fiver you can access our PhD Thesis series, so come and nerd out with us!
  • 1956 - The Suez Crisis #2.19: Not All Heroes Wear Capes

    42:01
    1956 Episode 2.19 examines Eden efforts to completely redefine what the Suez Crisis had meant, and what Britain’s role in the crisis had been. From the afternoon of 6th November, with a ceasefire in the air, a UN Emergency Force still had to be negotiated. Eden could claim that British and French forces were sticking around in Egypt only for the purpose of maintaining peace and protecting the Suez Canal. Yet, his critics could argue that Britain and France broke the peace in the first place, and that the Canal was now only blocked because of British and French belligerence.For his sins, Eden’s Party would be attacked in the Commons on the 6th November by the Labour Leader, until, shortly after 6PM, he decided to spill the beans to his peers in the Commons. No, he wasn’t about to tell the truth, instead he was about to put forward the polished turd of an explanation for why Britain had acted as it did. We quote from Eden in full in this episode, as we are reliant on the good folks at Hansard for making the all-important speeches in the Commons over these heady days freely accessible to all. Primary sources help build a story like no other, and here we can hear the British PM say the exact words he said at ten past six on 6th November. Words which, it would transpire, were based in the main on lies which Eden knew to be lies from the beginning. The British PM, as we learned last time, was now engaging in a new strategy – damage control. He was determined to make Britain look as good, as noble and as heroic as possible while doing it. By the end of his diatribe, one could be forgiven for thinking that the world owed Britain some heartfelt thanks. Only Eden and a closed circle of allies knew the truth, but it couldn’t stay this way for long…Remember history friends - you can get these episodes ad-free with scripts attached for just $2 a month - for a fiver you can access our PhD Thesis series, so come and nerd out with us!
  • 1956 - The Suez Crisis #2.18: The Art Of Backing Down

    35:08
    1956 Episode 2.18 brings us to a critical point in the narrative, where Anthony Eden decided that a ceasefire was in fact favourable after all!So just what had changed? Thanks to Harold Macmillan, Eden was persuaded that the economic situation in Britain was close to breaking point, and the Treasury Secretary greatly inflated the figures to ape a crisis which could not be avoided, unless peace was reached. Explaining this event necessitates a small investigation into the elements of truth in Macmillan’s economic doomsaying, as well as a deeper examination of Macmillan’s motives. Was the Treasury Secretary motivated by the hopeless Egyptian situation, or by his political ambition to oust Eden and take his spot?As the title of the episode indicates though, much of our time is spent on examining the incredible transformation in British aims which took place over the day of 6th November. With news that Egypt would not be capitulating now common knowledge among his peers, Eden determined to change virtually every aspect of the Egyptian campaign. If a ceasefire would have be implemented, then it was necessary Britain control the narrative which led to this ceasefire. This Eden did, with a breath-taking disregard for the truth. Britain, so the PM claimed, had gone to Egypt not to remove Nasser, recoup prestige or recapture the Suez Canal, but to prevent the Egyptian-Israeli war from spilling over into neighbouring countries and, most incredibly of all, to draw the conflict to the attention of the UN. This latter goal was ludicrous, but Eden insisted until the end that because the UN Emergency Force was en route, this ‘aim’ of his had been successful.This recasting of Britain’s role in the Crisis was never going to fool everyone, but it was immensely convenient now that Eden possessed someone to blame – the Americans – and something noble to cling on to – the idea that Britain had acted in the interests of the world. It was a combination which he was to uphold for the rest of his life, with the most damning of consequences for his legacy and Party. Remember history friends - you can get these episodes ad-free with scripts attached for just $2 a month - for a fiver you can access our PhD Thesis series, so come and nerd out with us!
  • 1956 - The Suez Crisis #2.17: Britain Knows Best

    35:01
    1956 Episode 2.17 looks at Anthony Eden’s furious efforts to shape the debate on the British intervention in Egypt in the first few days of November, 1956. Our story on 5th November where, just as British and French paratroopers were landing on Port Said, the British Government was fighting its own battle in the House of Commons. Selwyn Lloyd, the beleaguered Foreign Secretary, was tasked with standing up for British foreign policy in light of the emerging controversies. At this stage, the idea that there could have been collusion was vehemently denied, but for now, it was bad enough that Britain had acted without American support, defied the UN and failed to appraise all parties of the policy it planned to put forward.There seemed a great deal of secrecy underway, and while he couldn’t quite put his finger on it, Hugh Gaitskell, Labour Party leader, knew that something was up. Gaitskell wasn’t the only one; his Labour colleagues fired a succession of difficult questions at Lloyd, who by now probably wished he had stood up to Eden when he’d had the chance. Lloyd was able to open the debates of 5th November with some good news – the resolution on the UN Emergency Force had been approved in the UN General Assembly, meaning that a peace force could soon be sent to the trouble spot of the Middle East. What stood out from this resolution though was the fact that the British and French had abstained rather than vote for it in the UN. This stunned and deeply angered the opposition, who believed that yet another opportunity for peace had been lost.Hungary remained a topic on the lips of many, and few backbenchers on either side could ignore the fact that this crisis distracted perfectly from what was happening in Budapest. Still though, the Tories insisted – their intervention had been right, and peace would now be guaranteed. Eden’s government was now banking above all on a capitulation from President Nasser, which it was hoped would come once the Anglo-French forces landed in number on the following morning of 6th November. This victory would surely mask the terrible embarrassment which had preceded it, but here, it was made clear that not all were convinced. Something was afoot, yet even despite the objections of his peers, neither Eden nor Lloyd gave in. They had come to far to give up now. Might would make right, because in the confused international circumstances presented by the 1950s, it was only rational to conclude that Britain knew best… Remember history friends - you can get these episodes ad-free with scripts attached for just $2 a month - for a fiver you can access our PhD Thesis series, so come and nerd out with us!
  • 1956 - The Suez Crisis #2.15: Foiled Abroad

    31:00
    1956 Episode 2.15 resumes the story of Anthony Eden and his struggle to implement the once perfect plan upon his unwilling nation. Having been challenged passionately at home by a disbelieving political nation in the last episode, here we see this suspicion and fear transplanted to Britain’s supposed allies, and to the United Nations. It was within the UN that some of the sneakiest and indefensible behaviour took place, as Britain was forced to veto measures which would have ordered a ceasefire between Egypt and Israel. This put her forward, alongside France, as a disturber of the peace, and as the hypocritical Soviets rushed to condemn her actions, the American reaction also became apparent. Having operated on the ludicrous assumption that President Eisenhower would fall into line, Eden was faced instead with the quite predictable scene of a confused, hesitant and deeply suspicious President, who could not bring himself to believe that Eden had actually done what he had done. Evidently, the PM was operating according to his own interests, and had failed to consider the fallout of his schemes, yet Eden never seemed to have paused for a moment, before it all kicked off, to think about what would happen if anything went wrong.As further attempts were made to class the British act as legally justified, to the immense consternation of those legal officers who had insisted this was impossible, British foreign policy bungled its way through negotiations in the UN General Assembly, as John Foster Dulles came out strongly against the Anglo-French act. The news of an ultimatum had been delivered in the late afternoon of 30th October, according to their carefully laid plans. Now, the Egyptians would resist, the Israelis would compromise and make peace, and all would see that Egypt was the problem which only Anglo-French arms could solve. This delusional plan, while it had demonstrated several holes already, remained the hymn sheet of the British government. For better or worse, as Hungary was crushed under Soviet boots, and an Anglo-French flotilla approached the first military target in Egypt, everything must go according to plan.Remember history friends - you can get these episodes ad-free with scripts attached for just $2 a month - for a fiver you can access our PhD Thesis series, so come and nerd out with us!
  • 1956 - The Suez Crisis #2.14: Attacked At Home

    36:54
    1956 Episode 2.14 takes us to the scenes facing Anthony Eden in Britain in the final days of October.Having orchestrated an Israeli-Egyptian war, the plan now was to issue an ultimatum, and for Anglo-French forces to swoop into Egypt to separate the two belligerents. Such a noble act, Eden believed, would cloak the fact that Britain and France were really there to oust Nasser, recoup prestige and occupy the Suez Canal for Western benefit. It was a thoroughly imperialistic, backwards set of policy aims that moved Eden’s government forward, and what he seems to never have suspected during the time he spent crafting it, was just how the opposition in Britain would respond.Incredibly, the PM seems to have expected everyone to have just believed him and his bare-faced lies. The fact that they did not and that many were aghast as the British act in tandem with France and acting outside of the realm of the UN forced Eden to go on the defensive. The PM had completely underestimated the situation, and he was now put in a position where he would have to lie in order to defend himself.Amidst rumours which put it that he was largely to blame for the Crisis which was unfolding, Eden would insist that British forces were operating with France to keep the peace, and to protect the interests of the world, represented in the Suez Canal. What a noble set of goals, except of course, the claims were full of hot air. Under such circumstances were political and military disasters made, but the PM had made his bed, conspiratorial and confused as it had been. Now he would be forced to lie in it. Remember history friends - you can get these episodes ad-free with scripts attached for just $2 a month - for a fiver you can access our PhD Thesis series, so come and nerd out with us!
  • 1956 - The Suez Crisis #2.13: When A Plan Comes Together

    30:08
    1956 Episode 2.13 examines the final moments of peace between 25-29 October, as the conspiracy to attack Egypt and make it look like an accident developed further.In Britain, the focus was on the legal argument still, even despite the clear problems which Britain’s legal advisors in the Foreign Office had in painting any British attack on Egypt as legally justified. While some less informed Cabinet members, like the Lord Chancellor, insisted that there was grounds for claiming that British rights were involved and intervention justified, the majority of the legal profession disagreed. Anthony Eden meanwhile sought to lie and deceive his way towards the conflict, letting no hints drop in the meantime that what was to come would profoundly affect Britain’s position in the world.The French and Israeli governments were already actively mobilised for war, involved as each was in its own miniature struggle for supremacy which promised to tie into the Egyptian situation. For France, it was Algeria and President Nasser’s tireless support of the enemies of France. For Israel it was President Nasser’s threatening Pan-Arabism and his refusal to permit Israel to access the Suez Canal. While these schemes progressed, hints were dropped and Egyptian nerves were frayed.Surely though, it would not be possible to initiate such a conflict – surely the UN, or the US, or NATO or something would prevent such a 19th century approach to international relations from taking place? Indeed, in this strange transition period between world war, decolonisation and the increasing focus on domestic matters, here were three powers about to turn back the clock in policy and behaviour, in the name of a plan which was soon to shatter world opinion, and dramatically alter the debate. Our story is heating up, so make sure you don’t miss a minute of this incredible instalment here! Remember history friends - you can get these episodes ad-free with scripts attached for just $2 a month - for a fiver you can access our PhD Thesis series, so come and nerd out with us!
  • 1956 - The Suez Crisis #2.12: Collusion And Delusion

    33:27
    1956 Episode 2.12 takes us to the 22-24 October 1956, where the war plan that would create the Suez Crisis was created, developed and signed by Britain, France and Israel in an unassuming Parisian suburb.This process was, of course, far from straightforward or guaranteed to produce a result. It required the French reassuring both the Israeli and British representatives about the solid nature of their plan, and it also demonstrated the lack of tact which Selwyn Lloyd in particular seemed to possess. One of the most incredible scenes though comes near the end of the episode when, on the evening of 24th October, Britain’s representatives return home to Anthony Eden with a copy of the Sevres Protocol in hand, only to come under rhetorical attack for leaving this paper trail in the course of their top secret discussions.Eden was well aware that there could be no evidence of what had been done at Sevres, and he would send these men back to France to track down and destroy any pieces of evidence that remained. The Prime Minister, of course, was already planning ahead to what he would say when word of the Crisis got out. For the sake of plausible deniability, Eden wished there to be no evidence and no written record of the collusion. Thankfully for historians since, Eden’s wishes were not fulfilled. Here was the last piece of the Suez puzzle being set in place, so I hope you’ll give it a listen and enjoy!Remember history friends - you can get these episodes ad-free with scripts attached for just $2 a month - for a fiver you can access our PhD Thesis series, so come and nerd out with us!