Appeasement: Chamberlain, Hitler, Churchill, and the Road to War by Tim BouverieTim Bouverie has a background in journalism and, although this is his first book, I hope very much that it is not his last. In this title, Bouverie takes us from 1933, when Hitler became Chancellor, through to the Phoney War. He also uses many contemporary sources, to make the story feel more immediate, as well as covering not only the main players in events, but those who witnessed events – ambassadors, politicians, family members, translators and others, who all help to fill in the picture of what happened, through letters and diaries.
Of course, we all know about Munich, the ‘Peace for our Time,’ of Leo Amery’s stirring speech, the fall of Chamberlain, and of how England, and France, were unwilling to enter into a war. What this book does is to show just how unpopular war was, with the First World War still very much in the memory of many of those who feature in this book – as well as the public. In fact, Bouverie shows that the desire to avoid a second world war was very understandable. This story is told very much from a British perspective and through the turbulent years of British politics in this period.
It is fascinating to read of how many apologists there were for the rise of Hitler – from Nancy Astor and the Cliveden set, through Diana and Unity Mitford, members of the aristocracy and, to Hitler’s dismay, even a possible monarch (not much use to the Fuhrer after abdication), as well as many in the press, who did their best to try, not only to avoid war, but to suggest that greater ties should be made between England and Germany. There were, of course, those who were curious to meet this popular new leader. Bob Boothby, invited to meet Hitler while giving some lectures in Germany, was ushered into the great man’s presence, to be greeted with clicked heels, a thrown out arm and the shout of, “Hitler!” Not missing a beat, Boothby clicked his own heels and returned the salute, barking out, “Boothby!” It is doubtful whether the Fuhrer was amused.
Other politicians, such as Eden, were strongly against war. During WWI, all of the male members of Eden’s family were either killed, captured, or injured. Perhaps too eager to be positive, Eden was charmed by Hitler and thought him sincere – at least at first. However, in behaviour reminiscent of other, more current, political leaders, Hitler was soon leading Germany to flounce out of the League of Nations, ranting, as more than one of those mentioned in this pages suggest, ‘like a madman,’ (indeed Leo Amery thought him insane, after reading ‘Mein Kampf’), refusing to entertain visiting Britain, in case of demonstrations, and pushing boundaries, in the belief that France and Britain would not go to war despite his territorial claims and constant breaking of promises which, certainly, were of no value whatsoever.
In this age of political extremes, perhaps fascism seemed preferable to the rise of communism, but many of those – notably Churchill – warned of the danger from the sidelines. However, the attempts by the British to avoid war, often seem laughable. At one point, the Foreign Office even sent Hitler a questionnaire, asking which treaties he would respect. I imagine, they are still waiting for answer…
Although it is, of course, interesting to read of the fall of Chamberlain, I found the middle years – and less well documented – the most fascinating. It seemed that the Allies were ready to agree to any solution to avoid war. Czechoslovakia was a, ‘long way away,’ and it was hard not to sympathise with attempts to try to keep the peace, even if it was obvious that war was coming. This is an extremely readable account of how war broke out, despite many efforts to contain a threat which could not, ultimately, be restrained.
Neville Chamberlain meets German Chancellor Adolf Hitler
Neville Chamberlain Was Right
Chamberlain is best known for his foreign policy of appeasement , and in particular for his signing of the Munich Agreement in , conceding the German-speaking Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia to Germany. After working in business and local government, and after a short spell as Director of National Service in and , Chamberlain followed his father, Joseph Chamberlain , and older half-brother, Austen Chamberlain , in becoming a Member of Parliament in the general election for the new Birmingham Ladywood division at the age of He declined a junior ministerial position, remaining a backbencher until He was rapidly promoted in to Minister of Health and then Chancellor of the Exchequer. After a short-lived Labour -led government, he returned as Minister of Health, introducing a range of reform measures from to He was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer in the National Government in His premiership was dominated by the question of policy towards an increasingly aggressive Germany, and his actions at Munich were widely popular among the British at the time.
Halifax thought it a success. This was not really the fault of Hitler who barely concealed the murderous character of his regime and his monstrous ambitions. The deception of Halifax, Chamberlain and their many fellow travellers was of the self-induced kind. Appeasement, the fatal delusion that Nazi Germany could be contained by buying it off with concessions, was the most momentous British mistake of the 20th century. All involved had their reputations blighted to the grave and beyond. The alleged lessons have been invoked in many subsequent crises, from the Korean war to the Syrian conflict. Memories of appeasement inform and misinform Brexit arguments.