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.
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The Road to World War II: How Appeasement Failed to Stop Hitler
Appeasement in an international context is a diplomatic policy of making political or material concessions to an aggressive power in order to avoid conflict. At the beginning of the s, such concessions were widely seen as positive due to the trauma of World War I , second thoughts about the treatment of Germany in the Treaty of Versailles , and a perception that Fascism was a useful form of anti-communism. However, by the time of the Munich Pact —concluded on 30 September among Germany, Britain, France, and Italy—the policy was opposed by most of the British left and Labour Party , by Conservative dissenters such as Winston Churchill and Duff Cooper , and even by Anthony Eden , a former proponent of appeasement. As alarm grew about the rise of fascism in Europe, Chamberlain resorted to news censorship to control public opinion. The policies have been the subject of intense debate for more than seventy years among academics, politicians, and diplomats. The historians' assessments have ranged from condemnation for allowing Adolf Hitler 's Germany to grow too strong, to the judgment that Germany was so strong that it might well win a war and that postponement of a showdown was in their country's best interests. It came to an end when Hitler seized Czechoslovakia on March 15, , in defiance of his promises given at Munich, and Prime Minister Chamberlain, who had championed appeasement before, decided on a policy of resistance to further German aggression.
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Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain makes a broadcast speech prior to his departure from Arras, France, after visiting the British Expeditionary Force on 15 December Britain and France declared war on Germany on 3 September , two days after the German invasion of Poland. The guarantees given to Poland by Britain and France marked the end of the policy of appeasement. Most closely associated with British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, it is now widely discredited as a policy of weakness. Yet at the time, it was a popular and seemingly pragmatic policy.