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02/27/2003

Neville Chamberlain and Appeasement, Part I

With the current worldwide debate over what to do with Saddam
Hussein and Iraq, I thought it was a good time to take a look at
the history of the period before Adolf Hitler invaded Poland on
September 1, 1939. More specifically, we’ll examine the actions
of the great appeaser, British Prime Minister Neville
Chamberlain.

Chamberlain (1869-1940) was the son of British political leader
Joseph Chamberlain, an aggressive imperialist whose stance
helped lead to the Boer War in South Africa in the late 1890s.
For his part, Neville didn’t become a member of parliament until
age 50, but then he shot up the ranks, serving as Chancellor of
the Exchequer from 1931 to 1937 before replacing the retiring
Stanley Baldwin in the top spot. Author Piers Brendon (“The
Dark Valley”) describes Chamberlain thusly.

“With a prissy manner, a reedy voice and a smug expression
habitually imprinted on his corvine features, Chamberlain
seemed every inch the political haberdasher. His conventional
clothes added to the impression: the old-fashioned starched
wing-collars; the black jacket and striped trousers; the inevitable
umbrella, sceptre of the bourgeoisie since the time of Louis-
Philippe – almost the only time Chamberlain showed anger was
when his umbrella got broken.”

But Chamberlain would grow to become an arrogant, though
na ve, leader, drawing around himself an inner circle of
“subservient mediocrities.”

Meanwhile, Adolf Hitler had risen to power in Germany,
becoming chancellor in January 1933 and assuming dictatorial
powers just one month later. On September 15, 1935, the Jews
were stripped of their German citizenship, while that October
Italy’s Mussolini invaded Ethiopia.

In America, President Franklin Roosevelt recognized this
“prairie fire” of aggression (the Japanese were on the march as
well) was sweeping the globe, but by 1937-38, he felt hamstrung
by the lack of political will on the part of not only Chamberlain,
but also French Premier Edouard Daladier.

Henry Kissinger, in his book “Diplomacy,” notes a speech that
Chamberlain gave in November 1937, as part of a French /
British discussion on the status of Czechoslovakia, which Hitler
had begun threatening on behalf of its ethnic Germans in the
Sudetenland. Chamberlain said of the talks at the time:

“It seemed desirable to try to achieve some agreement with
Germany on Central Europe, whatever might be Germany’s
aims, even if she wished to absorb some of her neighbors; one
could in effect hope to delay the execution of German plans, and
even to restrain the Reich for such a time that its plans might
become impractical in the long run.”

Hitler began to hint he would annex the Sudetenland by force,
but first, on March 11, 1938, German troops rolled into Austria,
the Anschluss, where the majority of the people welcomed the
Nazis with open arms. Hitler announced the reunification of
Austria with the German Reich and trained his guns on the
Czechs.

Hitler correctly deduced that Britain, France and Russia wished
to avoid war at all cost. France had a treaty to protect
Czechoslovakia, but there were strong doubts they would do so if
the Nazis made a move, while the Soviet Union wasn’t going to
act unless France did, especially since Stalin would have had to
move his troops through Poland to help the Prague government.
Hitler code-named his next move, “Operation Green.”

In the summer of 1938, Britain’s Lord Halifax, Chamberlain’s
chief emissary to Hitler, told the Fuhrer’s special envoy, Fritz
Wiedemann, that before his death he would like to see “the
Fuhrer entering London at the side of the English King amid the
acclamation of the English people.” Oh brother.

Even when the British government received information about
Hitler’s timetable for taking Czechoslovakia, you had individuals
like the British ambassador to Berlin, Sir Nevile Henderson, who
when told to warn the Nazis that Britain wouldn’t just stand aside
should Hitler act, wrote a “hysterical plea (scrawled on blank
pages torn from a book of detective stories because the
Ambassador had forgotten to take writing paper to Nuremberg)
that this message would drive the Fuhrer ‘right off the deep
end.’” Instead, Henderson sought out the British press, urging
them to present Hitler as “the apostle of peace.” [Brendon]

Which leads me to a discussion of the press and the role it
played, specifically the Times of London. Author William Shirer
(“The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich”) was a reporter in Berlin
and heard Hitler’s famous May 21, 1935 presentation to the
Reichstag, the “thirteen points.” That evening Hitler kept
hammering away at Germany’s need for peace, even saying of
Austria:

“Germany neither intends nor wishes to interfere in the internal
affairs of Austria, to annex Austria, or to conclude an
Anschluss.”

The Western world lapped it up, with the Times writing:

“ The speech turns out to be reasonable, straightforward and
comprehensive. No one who reads it with an impartial mind can
doubt that the points of policy laid down by Herr Hitler may
fairly constitute the basis of a complete settlement with Germany
– a free, equal and strong Germany instead of the prostrate
Germany upon whom peace was imposed sixteen years ago
(Versailles)

“It is hoped that the speech will be taken everywhere as a sincere
and well-considered utterance meaning precisely what it says.”
[Shirer]

As Shirer writes, “This great journal would play, like the
Chamberlain government, a dubious role in the disastrous British
appeasement of Hitler.” What was worse is that the Times had a
correspondent, Norman Ebbutt, who until he was expelled in
August 1937 knew more about the inner workings of the Third
Reich than just about anyone, but much that he wrote was never
published, with Ebbutt’s editors ignoring his warnings.

Another example of the power of the press, and the Times
specifically, is from June 1938, when the Times published some
partially off the record comments that Chamberlain had made
which urged the Czech government to grant “self-determination”
to the country’s minorities “even if it should mean their
secession from Czechoslovakia.” Forget that the Czechs were
furious and, in light of Hitler’s move the previous March into
Austria, rapidly building up their defenses, the Times’ dispatch
was music to Hitler’s ears.

When it came to the Czechs, their ambassador to London, Jan
Masaryk, noted, “I am very much afraid that the senile ambition
of Chamberlain to be the peacemaker of Europe will drive him to
success at any price, and that will be possible only at our
expense.”

Chamberlain had thought that the injustices of Versailles could
be purchased in exchange for peace. Yet at this time, an opinion
poll in Britain revealed that only 43% supported him on his
seeming plan not to defend Czechoslovakia should it be invaded,
while 33% felt Britain had an obligation to. Masaryk said that he
spent most of his days in London “explaining that
Czechoslovakia is a country and not a contagious disease.” Of
course in the background was Winston Churchill, who at the time
insisted that for Britain the unfamiliar jumble of letters forming
the word ‘Czechoslovakia’ spelled “nothing less than self-
preservation.” [Brendon] On March 24, 1938, Churchill had
given a speech wherein he proclaimed “this famous island (was)
descending incontinently, fecklessly, the stairway which leads to
a dark gulf.”

As for Chamberlain, on July 3, 1938, he gave a speech in which
he said, “In war, whichever side may call itself the victor, there
are no winners, but all are losers.”

Then in September of that year, Hitler blistered the Czech
leadership at the annual Nazi Party rally in Nuremberg.
Chamberlain decided to visit him on September 15. That’s
where we pick up our story next week.

Sources:

“Diplomacy” Henry Kissinger
“The Dark Valley” Piers Brendon
“The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” William L. Shirer

Brian Trumbore


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02/27/2003

Neville Chamberlain and Appeasement, Part I

With the current worldwide debate over what to do with Saddam
Hussein and Iraq, I thought it was a good time to take a look at
the history of the period before Adolf Hitler invaded Poland on
September 1, 1939. More specifically, we’ll examine the actions
of the great appeaser, British Prime Minister Neville
Chamberlain.

Chamberlain (1869-1940) was the son of British political leader
Joseph Chamberlain, an aggressive imperialist whose stance
helped lead to the Boer War in South Africa in the late 1890s.
For his part, Neville didn’t become a member of parliament until
age 50, but then he shot up the ranks, serving as Chancellor of
the Exchequer from 1931 to 1937 before replacing the retiring
Stanley Baldwin in the top spot. Author Piers Brendon (“The
Dark Valley”) describes Chamberlain thusly.

“With a prissy manner, a reedy voice and a smug expression
habitually imprinted on his corvine features, Chamberlain
seemed every inch the political haberdasher. His conventional
clothes added to the impression: the old-fashioned starched
wing-collars; the black jacket and striped trousers; the inevitable
umbrella, sceptre of the bourgeoisie since the time of Louis-
Philippe – almost the only time Chamberlain showed anger was
when his umbrella got broken.”

But Chamberlain would grow to become an arrogant, though
na ve, leader, drawing around himself an inner circle of
“subservient mediocrities.”

Meanwhile, Adolf Hitler had risen to power in Germany,
becoming chancellor in January 1933 and assuming dictatorial
powers just one month later. On September 15, 1935, the Jews
were stripped of their German citizenship, while that October
Italy’s Mussolini invaded Ethiopia.

In America, President Franklin Roosevelt recognized this
“prairie fire” of aggression (the Japanese were on the march as
well) was sweeping the globe, but by 1937-38, he felt hamstrung
by the lack of political will on the part of not only Chamberlain,
but also French Premier Edouard Daladier.

Henry Kissinger, in his book “Diplomacy,” notes a speech that
Chamberlain gave in November 1937, as part of a French /
British discussion on the status of Czechoslovakia, which Hitler
had begun threatening on behalf of its ethnic Germans in the
Sudetenland. Chamberlain said of the talks at the time:

“It seemed desirable to try to achieve some agreement with
Germany on Central Europe, whatever might be Germany’s
aims, even if she wished to absorb some of her neighbors; one
could in effect hope to delay the execution of German plans, and
even to restrain the Reich for such a time that its plans might
become impractical in the long run.”

Hitler began to hint he would annex the Sudetenland by force,
but first, on March 11, 1938, German troops rolled into Austria,
the Anschluss, where the majority of the people welcomed the
Nazis with open arms. Hitler announced the reunification of
Austria with the German Reich and trained his guns on the
Czechs.

Hitler correctly deduced that Britain, France and Russia wished
to avoid war at all cost. France had a treaty to protect
Czechoslovakia, but there were strong doubts they would do so if
the Nazis made a move, while the Soviet Union wasn’t going to
act unless France did, especially since Stalin would have had to
move his troops through Poland to help the Prague government.
Hitler code-named his next move, “Operation Green.”

In the summer of 1938, Britain’s Lord Halifax, Chamberlain’s
chief emissary to Hitler, told the Fuhrer’s special envoy, Fritz
Wiedemann, that before his death he would like to see “the
Fuhrer entering London at the side of the English King amid the
acclamation of the English people.” Oh brother.

Even when the British government received information about
Hitler’s timetable for taking Czechoslovakia, you had individuals
like the British ambassador to Berlin, Sir Nevile Henderson, who
when told to warn the Nazis that Britain wouldn’t just stand aside
should Hitler act, wrote a “hysterical plea (scrawled on blank
pages torn from a book of detective stories because the
Ambassador had forgotten to take writing paper to Nuremberg)
that this message would drive the Fuhrer ‘right off the deep
end.’” Instead, Henderson sought out the British press, urging
them to present Hitler as “the apostle of peace.” [Brendon]

Which leads me to a discussion of the press and the role it
played, specifically the Times of London. Author William Shirer
(“The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich”) was a reporter in Berlin
and heard Hitler’s famous May 21, 1935 presentation to the
Reichstag, the “thirteen points.” That evening Hitler kept
hammering away at Germany’s need for peace, even saying of
Austria:

“Germany neither intends nor wishes to interfere in the internal
affairs of Austria, to annex Austria, or to conclude an
Anschluss.”

The Western world lapped it up, with the Times writing:

“ The speech turns out to be reasonable, straightforward and
comprehensive. No one who reads it with an impartial mind can
doubt that the points of policy laid down by Herr Hitler may
fairly constitute the basis of a complete settlement with Germany
– a free, equal and strong Germany instead of the prostrate
Germany upon whom peace was imposed sixteen years ago
(Versailles)

“It is hoped that the speech will be taken everywhere as a sincere
and well-considered utterance meaning precisely what it says.”
[Shirer]

As Shirer writes, “This great journal would play, like the
Chamberlain government, a dubious role in the disastrous British
appeasement of Hitler.” What was worse is that the Times had a
correspondent, Norman Ebbutt, who until he was expelled in
August 1937 knew more about the inner workings of the Third
Reich than just about anyone, but much that he wrote was never
published, with Ebbutt’s editors ignoring his warnings.

Another example of the power of the press, and the Times
specifically, is from June 1938, when the Times published some
partially off the record comments that Chamberlain had made
which urged the Czech government to grant “self-determination”
to the country’s minorities “even if it should mean their
secession from Czechoslovakia.” Forget that the Czechs were
furious and, in light of Hitler’s move the previous March into
Austria, rapidly building up their defenses, the Times’ dispatch
was music to Hitler’s ears.

When it came to the Czechs, their ambassador to London, Jan
Masaryk, noted, “I am very much afraid that the senile ambition
of Chamberlain to be the peacemaker of Europe will drive him to
success at any price, and that will be possible only at our
expense.”

Chamberlain had thought that the injustices of Versailles could
be purchased in exchange for peace. Yet at this time, an opinion
poll in Britain revealed that only 43% supported him on his
seeming plan not to defend Czechoslovakia should it be invaded,
while 33% felt Britain had an obligation to. Masaryk said that he
spent most of his days in London “explaining that
Czechoslovakia is a country and not a contagious disease.” Of
course in the background was Winston Churchill, who at the time
insisted that for Britain the unfamiliar jumble of letters forming
the word ‘Czechoslovakia’ spelled “nothing less than self-
preservation.” [Brendon] On March 24, 1938, Churchill had
given a speech wherein he proclaimed “this famous island (was)
descending incontinently, fecklessly, the stairway which leads to
a dark gulf.”

As for Chamberlain, on July 3, 1938, he gave a speech in which
he said, “In war, whichever side may call itself the victor, there
are no winners, but all are losers.”

Then in September of that year, Hitler blistered the Czech
leadership at the annual Nazi Party rally in Nuremberg.
Chamberlain decided to visit him on September 15. That’s
where we pick up our story next week.

Sources:

“Diplomacy” Henry Kissinger
“The Dark Valley” Piers Brendon
“The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” William L. Shirer

Brian Trumbore