Martin van Creveld: Britain’s smartest leader warned about open borders in 1968. It blew their minds.

Summary: Europe’s leaders have opened their borders to immigrants with radically different cultures. It’s one of history’s largest public policy experiments, made with little or no planning or research about its consequences. In 1968 Enoch Powell, a genius British politician, foresaw this — and warned about its effects on Britain. The generation now growing up will see the conclusion to this story.

Refugees arrive by sea
The Vlora unloads Albanian refugees to the Italian port of Bari on 8 August 1991.


By Martin van Creveld. From his website, 22 June 2017.
Re-posted with his generous permission.

The name Enoch Powell {Wikipedia} is unlikely to strike a chord with most of those who are under 60 years old. Yet at the time I took my PhD in London (1969-71) he was all over, frequently appearing on TV (“the telly,” as people used to call it), radio, and the papers. Today it pleases me to write a few lines about him. My reasons for doing so will become clear by and by.

Enoch Powell was born at Stechford, a borough of the city of Birmingham, in 1912. The family was lower middle class; his father, Albert, was an elementary schoolteacher, his mother Ellen, a housewife. Their somewhat constrained economic circumstances did not prevent Enoch from receiving a first class education, first at home — it is said that by the age of three, he could already read fairly well — and later at various grammar schools. Typical of the age, the most important part of the curriculum was formed by the classics, especially ancient Greek (a thorough mastery of Latin was considered self-evident) in which Powell soon revealed himself as a real prodigy. Later, at Cambridge, he not only received the highest possible, and extremely rare, grades but added German, modern Greek, Portuguese, Welsh, Urdu, and Russian.

Enoch Powell
Enoch Powell by Allan Warren (1987).

In 1937 Powell, having completed his studies, went to Australia where, employed at the University of Sydney, he became the youngest professor in the entire Commonwealth. From there he sent letters to his parents expressing his disgust at Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s “terrible exhibition of dishonor, weakness and gullibility” in his attempts to appease Hitler. “The depths of infamy,” he added, “to which our accurst ‘love of peace’ can lower us are unfathomable.”

Returning to England as soon as World War II broke out, Powell joined the army which appreciated his linguistic skills and put him into its intelligence service. By the time he got out in 1945 he was a brigadier general, the youngest in the entire service.

Entering politics, he was elected to Parliament as a conservative member, making several speeches against Constitutional changes which, the way he saw it, were slowly but surely leading to the breakup of the British Commonwealth and of Britain itself. He wore his immense learning lightly; his measured, eloquent and, above all, extremely clear delivery — I remember watching him on TV — soon turned him into a star performer.

Throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s he occupied a variety of senior positions, reaching the peak of his career in 1962 when he was appointed Secretary of Health under Harold Macmillan. This post he occupied until 1964 when Labor under Harold Wilson won the elections, pushing the Conservatives into the opposition. In 1965 the Conservative leader Edward Heath appointed him shadow Secretary of State for Defense.

It was during his time in the opposition that Powell first started drawing national attention by pointing out the danger of unrestricted immigration from Commonwealth countries. Especially Kenya which, over the previous few decades, had become home to many Indians and Pakistanis. Discriminated against and oppressed by the country’s new African rules, the people in question sought refuge in Britain.

At the time I was living in Kilburn, a relatively poor neighborhood in northwestern London where I often encountered them. On one hand there were the Indians who set up small neighborhood shops and, by working themselves and their families very hard indeed, started their way up the social ladder. Contrasting with them were bands of young Moslems who, the papers said, were sometimes subject to what was popularly known as Paki-bashing.

The Aeneid by Virgil
Available at Amazon.

It was a year or so before my arrival, on 20 April 1968, that Powell gave the speech for which he will forever be remembered.

“As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding. Like the Roman, I seem to see ‘River Tiber foaming with much blood’ [referring to the Sybil in Virgil’s The Aeneid]. That tragic and intractable phenomenon which we watch with horror on the other side of the Atlantic but which there is interwoven with the history and existence of the States itself, is coming upon us here by our own volition and our own neglect. Indeed, it has all but come. In numerical terms, it will be of American proportions long before the end of the 20th century. Only resolute and urgent action will avert it even now.”

{See the full text. See Wikipedia on the “River of Blood Speech“.}

The reaction, both in Parliament and in the media, can be imagined. The day after he held the speech Heath, as leader of the opposition, took Powell’s post as shadow minister of defense away from him. The same Heath, however, later admitted, in private, that Powell might have been “prescient.”

He remained a member of Parliament until 1987, but was never again offered a cabinet post. From then to the present, in spite of warnings more numerous than the stars in the sky, no British government has dared taking the “resolute and urgent action” required. Instead, it contented itself by inventing reasons why such action was not required.

And now, feeling abandoned to their fate, some of Britain’s people are beginning to take matters into their own hands.


About the speech, its racism — and why it looks prescient

Powell’s speech was explicitly racist, as seen in this excerpt (note its wrong forecast).

“A week or two ago I fell into conversation with a constituent, a middle-aged, quite ordinary working man employed in one of our nationalised industries. After a sentence or two about the weather, he suddenly said: “If I had the money to go, I wouldn’t stay in this country. …I have 3 children …I shan’t be satisfied till I have seen them all settled overseas. In this country in 15 or 20 years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.”

Powell’s racism motivated his remarks about immigration, but that does not invalidate his insight. Multicultural societies tend to be unstable (Switzerland is the exception, not the rule).

That has been slowly recognised by UK leaders. In 1991 former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said that Powell had “made a valid argument, if in sometimes regrettable terms.” In 1998 former Prime Minister Edward Heath said that Powell’s remarks on the “economic burden of immigration” had been “not without prescience.” Labour Party MP Michael Foot said that Powell used the quote from the The Aeneid to communicate his own sense of foreboding, not as a prediction of actual bloodshed (source).

Future historians will wonder why the Left in western nations pushed for open borders in the early 21st century, bringing in people so many utterly opposed to their values. They will well understand why conservatives did so, as corporations wanted a larger supply of cheap eager workers.

The drastic effects on Britain can only be imagined, which makes this policy a leap of faith with few precedents in history.

Martin van Creveld

About the Author

Martin van Creveld is Professor Emeritus of History at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and one of the world’s most renowned experts on military history and strategy.

The central role of Professor van Creveld in the development of theory about modern war is difficult to exaggerate. He has provided both the broad historical context — looking both forward and back in time — much of the analytical work, and a large share of the real work in publishing both academic and general interest books. He does not use the term 4GW— preferring to speak of “non-trinitarian” warfare — but his work is foundational for 4GW just the same. See links to his articles at The Essential 4GW reading list: Martin van Creveld.

Professor van Creveld has written 20 books, about almost every significant aspect of war. He has written about the history of war, such as The Age of Airpower. He has written about the tools of war in the fascinating Technology and War: From 2000 B.C. to the Present and Wargames: From Gladiators to Gigabytes (see the chapters about modern gaming, wargames for the people).

Some of his books discuss the methods of war: Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton, Training of Officers: From Military Professionalism to Irrelevance, and Air Power and Maneuver Warfare.

He has written three books about Israel: Defending Israel: A Controversial Plan Toward Peace, The Sword And The Olive: A Critical History Of The Israeli Defense Force, and a biography of Moshe Dayan.

Perhaps most important are his books examine the evolution of war, such as Nuclear Proliferation and the Future of Conflict, The Transformation of War: The Most Radical Reinterpretation of Armed Conflict Since Clausewitz (IMO the best work to date about modern war), The Changing Face of War: Combat from the Marne to Iraq, and (my favorite) The Culture of War.

He’s written controversial books, such as Fighting Power: German and U.S. Army Performance, 1939-1945 (German soldiers were better than ours!). Even more so are his books about western culture: Men, Women & War: Do Women Belong in the Front Line?, The Privileged Sex, and Pussycats: Why the Rest Keeps Beating the West.

And perhaps most important for us, his magnum opus— the dense but mind-opening The Rise and Decline of the State— describes the political order unfolding before our eyes. Also see this remarkable book: More on War (2016).

For More Information

If you found this post of use, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Also see these posts about immigration, and especially these…

  1. Europe’s elites use immigration to reshape it.
  2. Sociologist Wolfgang Streeck explains the politics of the migrant crisis reshaping Europe.
  3. Stratfor: Is the West Being Overrun by Migrants? — By the famous sociologist and historian Ian Morris.
  4. An anthropologist explains the disruptive politics of immigration. — By Maximilian C. Forte, Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Concordia U.
  5. A Harvard Professor explains the populist revolt against immigration & globalization — By George Borjas.
  6. Immigration: a cause of Brexit, denied by the Left.
  7. A UK engineer explains: elites oppose Brexit because they import cheap workers. — By Andrew Fentem at The Register.
"Pussycats" by Martin van Creveld
Available at Amazon.

His powerful book about modern societies.

See Pussycats: Why the Rest Keeps Beating the West. From the publisher…

“In the kingdom(s) of the West, something is rotten. Collectively, the countries of NATO are responsible for almost two thirds of global military spending. In terms of military technology, particularly electronics, communications and logistics, they have left the rest so far behind that it is no contest. Yet ever since the Korean War ended in 1953, almost every time they went abroad and fought non-Westerners they were defeated and had to withdraw. As happened, to cite but two recent cases, in Iraq and Afghanistan; and as may yet happen if and when Islamic terrorism spreads into Europe, as it is quite likely to do.

“What went wrong? How did the ferocious soldiers who, between 1492 and 1914, brought practically the entire world under their sway, become pussycats? The present study, unique of its kind, seeks to answer these questions.

  • Chapter I, “Subduing the Young,” focuses on the way Western people raise their scanty offspring. Infantilizing them, depriving them of any kind of independence, and, in the words of a recent best-seller, turning them into “excellent sheep.”
  • Chapter II, “Defanging the Troops,” shows how the same is happening in the military.
  • Chapter III, “The War on Men,” examines the way in which the forces are being feminized affects, indeed infects, their fighting power.
  • Chapter IV, “Constructing PTSD,” looks at the way returning soldiers are almost obliged to develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
  • Chapter V outlines the emergence of modern societies which, exalting rights and forgetting about duty, have come very close to delegitimizing war itself.

“The book is written in jargon-less language laymen can understand. It is also thoroughly documented. Readership should include anybody with an interest in national security, and then some.”


14 thoughts on “Martin van Creveld: Britain’s smartest leader warned about open borders in 1968. It blew their minds.”

    1. Pluto,

      “This article is too small a space to discuss something this controversial.”

      No more so than many of the other posts on the FM website, and less so than the series now running about the gender revolution (the next few will blow readers’ minds).

  1. The marxist left believed in worker solidarity, they viewed the influx of new workers not as enemies but as class allies to be enlisted in there fight against the boss class. The cultural left viewed the new comers as victims of colonialism, and drawing on there christian heritage, saw them as sanctified by there suffering, and deserving of love.

    The economic arguments and the moral and political arguments come together in a powerful political force, which lasted from the 60’s until quite recently.

    Colonialism is receding into the past, automation is removing the need for low paid work, the unions and labour in general is in rapid decline.

    1. meocaine,

      “which lasted from the 60’s until quite recently.”

      I think it is too early to say the era of open borders has ended. It’s unclear what Trump has done to slow immigration. We don’t know the effectiveness of his actions against illegal immigration, and he has done little to slow the larger flow of legal immigrants. Britain is the one western nation that appears to have changed course, perhaps.

      On the other hand, France has put into power an enthusiastic open borders believer.

      “automation is removing the need for low paid work”

      Yes, but not just low paid work. As so many posts here have described, automation is beginning to destroy substantial numbers of high skilled jobs. As you note, that makes mass immigration quite a mad destructive policy. Perhaps that is one reason some people like it.

  2. This comment is worth a little consideration: “Powell’s racism motivated his remarks about immigration, but that does not invalidate his insight. Multicultural societies tend to be unstable (Switzerland is the exception, not the rule).”

    Now it could be possible to attack this comment as fundamentally racist, but there is a very good precedent here: the state of Iraq.

    Iraq is a very peculiar shape with a seemingly arbritrary triangular shape. I used to wonder about this until i read the story of Lawrence of Arabia’s intelligence from the Middle East and the creation of states at Versailles at the end of WWI. The fact is that between the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, and the growing realisation by the British that they would be unable to hold an empire by force, as they had, a third option was needed.

    The Western powers were loathe to leave substantial oil supplies in Iraq in the control of a powerful new national government. Their solution was to create a state in Iraq that had roughly equal numbers of Sunni, Shi’ites and Kurds. The state, by virtue of this balance, would never be stable as each group fought for control.

    So – wereally have a very good precedent for supporting the idea that Multicultural societies tend to be unstable- and one that has been understood and exploited by deep state influences for at least a century.

    1. metaskepticism,

      Thanks for that observation! I knew of the Brits’ use of ethnic discord to weaken the new states they created. Look at the Durand Line, the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Carefully drawn to make the Pastuns a minority in both.

      But I hadn’t linked that to the west’s quest to make our societies multicultural. That’s very helpful!

      1. Ramojus,

        Yugoslavia is the anti-Switzerland, the poster child for failed multiculturalism. The Middle East and Africa also have many exciting examples of multiculturalism.

        For that matter, the United States is an especially stunning example. We are still grappling with the consequences of massive (forced) immigration of people from a different culture — slaves from Africa.

        As always, it’s easy to imagine different public policies that would have produced better outcomes. But why assume that our policy responses to mass immigration will be any better?

  3. Brexit was about blocking European immigrants (mostly from Eastern Europe).

    UK needs EU. British leaders knew that when they joined That’s why they joined. Only seniors voted in majority for Brexit, not the young. There is a split among Tories also.

    Britain will sink without EU; but any deal wlll likely require immigration.

    By the way, Millennials are the most diverse US generation. But the problem with US is that the boomers will take down US. Boomer exit from work force will upend the status quo in many ways.

    1. Winston,

      “Brexit was about blocking European immigrants (mostly from Eastern Europe).”

      No. Brexit was driven by many factors — such as the loss of sovereignty and shift of power to an unelected and unresponsive EU bureaucracy.

      “UK needs EU.”

      Unless you talk with God, that’s only a theory.

      “the problem with US is that the boomers will take down US. Boomer exit from work force will upend the status quo in many ways.”

      You state conclusions of economic theory as if they were like the law of gravity. They’re not. The coming wave of automation might be a net destroyer of jobs. A shrinking labor force might be a blessing.

  4. Immigration was not an ‘experiment’, UK immigration was a consequence of UK imperialism. Even in 68, the UK was still in control of quite a few colonies. The UK had historic ties to Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India that were only very recently ex-colonies, and to others in the Commonwealth. Many people in these places had deep historic ties to the UK. Part of the whole ’empire thing’ is that you have to at least appear to care about people in the countries you rule, so when things went bad, they got called on this.

    Really, it’s always like this. Military enterprise leads to a more diverse population. Japan to this day has Korean nationals, Chinese nationals, due to the time when these places were occupied by Japan. France has many Arabs from their colonial days. The USA took in many Southeast Asians following this failed war. Israel conquered Gaza and West Bank, and now they have many more Arabs under their control.

    Basically no modern country is going to have both empire and retain ethnic purity. For empire to function it requires accomodation to other races and religions, part of that means they are going to come over.

    1. Cathryn,

      “Immigration was not an ‘experiment’”

      Of course it was. Even in 1968 it was obvious that policy changes could have limited immigration.

      “UK immigration was a consequence of UK imperialism.”

      Belgium and Portugal had large imperialist colonies — esp. vs. their small home populations. Neither experienced large-scale immigration that drastically changed their ethnicity.

      “Part of the whole ’empire thing’ is that you have to at least appear to care about people in the countries you rule”

      That statement would have astonished people in the Belgian Congo – and many other of europe’s colonies. It would be seen as the blackest of irony.

      “Japan to this day has Korean nationals, Chinese nationals, due to the time when these places were occupied by Japan.”

      Japan is 99% ethnic Japan. I doubt the 1% has had much effect on it.

      “Basically no modern country is going to have both empire and retain ethnic purity.”

      I doubt that’s true, but even so it is really irrelevant to the current immigration policies. German, the Nordic nations — they are all allowing a flood of immigrants. None have empires. It’s purely a choice.

  5. Pingback: Linkage | Uncouth Reflections

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