Clause 61: The Pushback Blog

Because ideas have consequences

How Neville Chamberlain Went Wrong

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I believe it is safe to say that most Americans who have ever heard of Neville Chamberlain associate him with appeasement of Hitler and selling out Czechoslovakia at Munich. Why did Chamberlain think that appeasement was a good idea?

Chamberlain had been a managing director of a ship berth manufacturer for 17 years. He had also been Lord Mayor of Birmingham, as had his father before him. He was Chancellor of the Exchequer twice, from 1923-24 and again from 1931-37, at which time he succeeded Stanley Baldwin as Prime Minister.

Britain had not prospered after World War I, and the Depression had hit hard. Known in Britain as The Great Slump, it was a time of technological progress but economic distress. Official unemployment reached 25%, but some areas in the industrial North of England experienced 70% unemployment. Entire towns, such as Jarrow in Durham, were plunged into hardship as industries closed; the most famous of the hunger marches was the Jarrow Crusade. Chamberlain concluded that the country could not afford to keep up with Germany in military spending.

It was a decision that Chamberlain had reached mostly by himself. Ian Colvin researched the proceedings of the Chamberlain cabinet and found little policy discussion. Ministers who disagreed with Chamberlain, such as Foreign Minister Anthony Eden and First Lord of the Admiralty Duff Cooper, were ignored until they went away in frustration. He is known to have preferred to surround himself with people who would ratify his decisions, such as Samuel Hoare and John Simon.

How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas masks here because of a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing.
— Neville Chamberlain, radio address, 27 Sept 1938.

Chamberlain had believed that war would be disastrous both for Britain and the Empire, and he was right. What he was wrong about was how to prevent that war. Chamberlain believed that Hitler was a rational statesman with whom one could negotiate rationally. Hitler only respected strength, but Chamberlain did not want to hear that. Because of the way he managed his cabinet, there was no one to persuade him otherwise.

So Hitler had to show Chamberlain the error of his ways. On 15 Mar 1939, contrary to his claims to have no further territorial demands in Europe, Hitler invaded the rump of Czechoslovakia. This area was not ethnically German and there were no legitimate German ethnic claims to it. The action shattered the illusion that Hitler was only seeking redress of the wrongs of the Treaty of Versailles.

Britain now belatedly recognized the seriousness of the menace and guaranteed Poland’s territorial integrity. When Hitler violated that on 1 Sept, after two further days of “you better or I’m gonna,” Chamberlain reluctantly declared war. Privately, he admitted the futility of his policy:

Everything that I have worked for, everything that I have hoped for, everything that I have believed in during my public life has crashed into ruins.

 

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Written by srojak

July 24, 2016 at 12:00 pm

One Response

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  1. I enjoyed this. Great background information on Chamberlain. Appeasers have good intentions (they want peace), but they are blind to the true nature of the aggressor. A bully only respects strength, and takes advantage of weakness.

    I wrote a short essay (400 words) called “The Policy of Appeasement” on the World War 2 movie, Glorious 39. If you would like to read it, I am open to any feedback: https://christopherjohnlindsay.wordpress.com/2015/05/12/glorious-39/

    Chris Lindsay

    January 5, 2017 at 7:35 pm


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