Sunday, September 29, 2013

Rethinking Neville Chamberlain

Seventy-five years ago, on Sept. 30, 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain signed the Munich Pact, handing portions of Czechoslovakia to Adolf Hitler's Germany. Chamberlain returned to Britain to popular acclaim, declaring that he had secured "peace for our time." Today the prime minister is generally portrayed as a foolish man who was wrong to try to "appease" Hitler—a cautionary tale for any leader silly enough to prefer negotiation to confrontation.

But among historians, that view changed in the late 1950s, when the British government began making Chamberlain-era records available to researchers. "The result of this was the discovery of all sorts of factors that narrowed the options of the British government in general and narrowed the options of Neville Chamberlain in particular," explains David Dutton, a British historian who wrote a recent biography of the prime minister. "The evidence was so overwhelming," he says, that many historians came to believe that Chamberlain "couldn't do anything other than what he did" at Munich. Over time, Dutton says, "the weight of the historiography began to shift to a much more sympathetic appreciation" of Chamberlain.
Very interesting... read the rest here.


Stephen said...

What sheer nonsense. The Czechs had massive fortifications and ability to take on the Nazis, and only needed their ally -Britain-to honor their formal treaty. Hitler would have fallen before sept 1939 if Chamberlain and the appeasers had once not given in to hitler's rankings and ravings.
The real question is why is the left embracing Hitler? Easy answer: with the current rise in anti-semitism and anti-Christianity in Europe, the left can embrace Hitler as a kindred progressesive, a leader of a small favored group harnessing the power of the state to achieve socialistic goals.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

You lost me when you started talking about the left embracing Hitler.

Stephen said...

Why would Slate and Mother Jones feel comfortable now rehabilitating Chamberlain? His legacy is that he coddled Hitler. So rehabbing the Old Man allows the left to start rehabbing Hitler, who is a kindred progressive. Social Security, Head Start, Obamacare are all descended from programs and ideas first launched in Germany. The left doesn't want to admit to their lineage, so the rehab enablers like Good Ol Neville

John (Ad Orientem) said...

I don't even know where to begin. Your comment is so off base it stunned me. And in blogdom that's not easy.

First, Hitler was not the father of public assistance or social security programs. They existed for centuries before Germany even existed. Britain instituted its first Poor Law during the reign of Elizabeth I in the 16th century. In Germany it was Kaiser William II who instituted the nation's first social security programs. And to be honest I find the suggestion that support for some sort of minimal social safety net is tantamount to Nazism rather repellent.

Seriously. I may be misreading it (and if I am then I apologize). But the way your comment comes across is just bizarre. Your logic is not a leap. It's more like a moonshot.

Anam Cara said...

I guess I really don't have a proper grasp of history if this is all the proper way of thinking.

I just don't understand why it is ever the right thing to do for country A to say to country B, it's okay with us if you annex country C as your own.

If Britain knew that Germany wanted any part of Czechoslovakia, why did it enter into any negotiations at all? There was no need for Chamberlain to go to Munich in the first place! Why didn't Britain simply start the military build up straight away? My mother saw war brewing in Europe in 1938 and convinced my dad who was already 30 years old with one child and another on the way, to get out of the National Guard in the US. Are you telling me that a woman in the southern states in the US could see what people in Europe couldn't?

I mean, if this is the way things are supposed to work - peace pacts deciding which country gets what land - the end to our immigration problem might be as simple as a pact with France for the USA to annex Mexico. Instant citizens and we no longer have to worry about securing the border! In exchange, we could give Switzerland to France.

Eventually, we could take over all of the Western Hemisphere without firing a single shot and everyone will have universal health care. A win-win of all involved, especially France, Spain, the Netherlands, and Portugal who wouldn't feel a need to defend previously owned lands. (unlike Britain which never owned any part of Czechoslovakia)

Sorry, I'm not convinced about ol' Neville.

Stephen said...

Ok, sorry if I'm not being clear. Let me try again. To begin, it is so painfully clear that Chamberlain and much of the British elite in the 1930's were so against rearmament, so very much afraid of offending Hitler, so scarred from World War I, so annoyed with Churchill, that to think or even suggest that his violation of a sworn treaty with another nation (a nation that with Britain's help may very well have toppled Hitler) is redemptive in any way is preposterous.

Unless there is another goal the writer to be accomplished in trying to rehab Neville. I believe that this goal is the left's ultimate rehabilitation of Hitler. The Left doesn't really care about fighting anti-semitism, so the shame of being a fan of Hitler and Nazism is ebbing and the Left has more willingness therefore to probe the possibilities of rehabbing him. Plus, that Hitler and the Nazis were so anti-Christian is considered a positive by the Left. Finally, and most importantly, the Left is envious of the power he accumulated and what he was able to do as a progressive. Private property was totally at the mercy of the government and the courts; children were re-educated in a focused, state-sponsored set of programs taking them away from their families; exemptions from nasty parts the Nazi laws were given like candy to the politically connected, which served to only further enrich the grantors of the exemptions; programs to eliminate undesirables were "successful", and intermediary organizations that tried to stop such efforts were demonized by the government.

The list goes on and on. My earlier point is to say that the early programs like Social Security and all I referenced before are enablers of the transfer of power away from the smaller unit to the largest one, namely the state, and Hitler took advantage of that milieu.

Making any sense? Just because you've not heard it before doesn't mean that it can't be true; my main point is that the Left shares many of the same core principles as Hitler and the Nazis, and as the taboo against recognizing that commonality is diminished over time, it only stands to reason that the Left would begin embracing Hitler. And the first step is by rehabilitating a Hitler enabler, in this case Chamberlain.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Sorry, I'm not convinced about ol' Neville.

People have a rather idealized view of international relations in general. The British at the time had entered into a lot of ill-advised pacts after WWI. Since they apparently pre-determined not to rescind those pacts, I can understand the Chamberlain government getting desperate in attempts to avoid a second theater-wide war in a generation.

Nations are sovereign, which means there's no higher authority to make them honor their agreements. If a nation doesn't honor a mutual defense pact, and doesn't agree to subject itself to the jurisdiction of a supra-national tribunal, then that's that. The jilted nations can lob some cannonballs your way, or you get a reputation for not honoring pacts. Depending on the circumstances, that may be the better option. I doubt the US will will honor its mutual defense pact with Taiwan once mainland China decides it's ready to take it.

Nations only have interests.

Andrei said...

I can see where the writer is coming from here.

English speakers think the Treaty of Versailles bought peace to Europe but it didn't. New Nations emerged and they weren't ethnically, linguistically nor religiously homogeneous - Czechoslovakia is one of these - it was less than 20 years old at the outbreak of WW2, the two biggest groupings of people were the Czechs and the Slovaks but also there were Germans, Hungarians, Rusyns, Ukrainians etc living within its borders. Czechoslovakia doesn't exist today and its two successor states in combination have somewhat different borders than the way it was in 1939.

And of course almost unknown now Eastern Europe after the end of WW1 was a region of small wars involving border conflicts - also the Russian Civil War as these new nations emerged from the wreckage of the fall of the Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires. So for people well out of it the German threats to the Sudetenland was business as usual in the scheme of the interwar years - it is only us with 20/20 hindsight who get to see it as a significant milestone on the road to WW2

Of course Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill redrew the map again in the dying days of WW2 and whole population transfers took place, particularly between what ar e today the modern nations Poland, Ukraine and Belarus to try and create ethnically homogeneous nations within their new borders.

Last echo of all of this was the Balkan wars of the 1990s I suppose - or was it the last? Perhaps there's more to come?

EPG said...

By the time of the Munich conference, Chamberlain may have believed that he had few options. But that was in part due to the poor decisions he and the others governing the UK had made in the years leading up to Munich (for example, letting the re-militarization of the Rhineland go unanswered). It's hard to believe that Chamberlain only began to think that the Nazis were after world domination after Hitler went after the rest of Czechoslovakia. If so, it demonstrates a willful blindness that could have been corrected with an understanding of Hitler's own pronouncements of the need for room to grow to the East, etc.

lannes said...

Chamberlain looks rather weak in most of the photographs one sees of him. But in the one you show here, he doesn't look so bad.

Jason said...

It's a shame that Chamberlain continues to be scapegoated. Here's hoping that this and further historical research will reveal his true legacy, absent any gross distortions from either side.

Stephen said...

He deserves to be scapegoat, because it was his decisions and worldview, both as PM and as Sec of Exchequer under Baldwin, which enabled Hitler. He wasn't just "part of the leadership"; he was the leader of the dominant faction for much of 30's, and number 2 of that faction for the other part of the 30s. They embraced appeasement with Hitler; and rejected appeasement with Stalin, or France, or anyone else. No rearmament; break treaties if needed; squash dissent within the government; squash dissent anywhere they could.

For example, the editor of The Times, Geoffrey Dawson, was a very good friend of Chamberlain, Halifax, Inskip, Wilson, et al; his editors in Berlin wrote in their diaries - to a man - that anything critical of Hitler in their reporting was spiked by Dawson.

It wasn't until after Chamberlain was so embarrased by Churchill calling him out for his idiocy and blundering with Hitler, and the hue and cry from the public and his own party, did Chamberlain consent - against his best wishes - to try to mollify his detractors by bringing Churchill into his government. But that was way late in the game. Chamberlain should rightly be remembered as the one man who truly could have toppled Hitler many times without war breaking out, and steadfastly refused to do so.

Stephen said...

John, are you buying my thesis?

John (Ad Orientem) said...

Actually I am rather inclined to support EPG's take. Chamberlain's actions in 1938 might have been justified in the narrow context of that particular event. But he directly contributed to the failed policies that left Britain in a dangerous position in '38. And even there I am not entirely convinced since according to his apologists he sacrificed Czechoslovakia in order to buy Britain time to rebuild her own defenses (which he had consistently opposed through most of the 30's). But as noted above, the Czechs possessed a fairly modern army, with a well fortified frontier that also offered excellent natural defenses. Yet six months after Hitler swallowed Czechoslovakia Britain would go to war in defense of Poland, which had no natural lines of defense and whose armed forces were decidedly inferior to those of her sacrificed ally.

I do not believe that during the intervening period, Britain's military readiness improved to the degree that it outweighed the loss of the Czech army and its excellent defenses. Also Hitler gained undamaged all of Czechoslovakia's considerable industrial manufacturing capacity. Prominent among which must be counted the Skoda arms factories.

So no, I remain a critic of Mr. Chamberlain's failed polices.

As for your suggestion that the political left is embracing Hitler, I see no credible evidence of that whatsoever.