Neville Chamberlain and Appeasement

Neville Chamberlain and Appeasement

Neville Chamberlain and Appeasement

Neville Chamberlain and Appeasement

Synopsis

"The historiographical debate between supporters and critics of Neville Chamberlain's appeasement policy has endured for over fifty years, and historical consensus, even now, seems improbable. The failure of appeasement and Chamberlain's fall from power led his legacy to be utterly denigrated by many of his era, including Winston Churchill, Britain's savior during the nation's "finest hour." Conversely, his supporters have asserted for sixty years that Chamberlain did the best he could have done under severe constraints, namely Britain's fragile economy in the wake of a grave worldwide depression. The book details the course of that historiographical debate, beginning with the earliest accounts on appeasement from l938 through 1940. The easy answers and excessive moralism are challenged here; the author posits that the situation was a great deal more complex than most historians, past and present, care to admit. Neville Chamberlain was not an evil, cringing, proto-fascist coward; Winston Churchill was far from the faultless icon of 1940. While it may not be possible to offer a definitive last word on appeasement historiography, this book can certainly be offered as a more contemporary one." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

September 1988 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the infamous Four-Power Pact of the Munich Conference, which ceded the Sudetenland to Nazi Germany and led to the liquidation of Czechoslovakia as an independent state. For the British, it was one in a long series of fifty-year remembrances associated with the inexorable outbreak of the Second World War. It is rather ironic that at the time of Munich the agreement was perceived as a lastditch, even providential, maintenance of the European peace. With a righteous hindsight a majority of historians and politicians have since regarded the pact as another sad step on the road to war. Munich was arguably the apogee of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's prewar policy of appeasement of the dictator states. The recent anniversary of this watershed event again brought into focus the fifty-year historiographic debate on the efficacy of this policy.

Why, after all, more discussion of appeasement? Arthur Neville Chamberlain has been at eternal rest since 9 November 1940, and his demise, coming as it did in the midst of nine months of the relentless destruction of British cities by the Luftwaffe, evoked little overall mourning from his countrymen. Indeed, the positioning of his crypt in Westminster Abbey, as I discovered during a recent visit, spoke volumes about his popularity among Britain's twentieth-century worthies. Half-hidden by a pew, which necessitated removal for a view, his memorial lay isolated and forlorn, a poignant metaphor of his failed policies, which were to lead to the cataclysm that had been his deadliest fear. His successor, Winston Churchill, was to lead the nation through its “finest hour” of 1940, and on to ultimate victory. No mean historian himself, Churchill perceived that as a victor he would have the final word on appeasement when he noted, “Poor Neville, he will come badly out of history…. I know, because I will write the history.” Indeed he did, at great length, but therein lies the rub. It would be comforting to believe that the greatest Englishman of the twentieth century had eliminated every trace of ambiguity and had the definitive last . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.