Magazine article The Spectator

Was His War Really Necessary?

Magazine article The Spectator

Was His War Really Necessary?

Article excerpt

Was his war really necessary? John Lukacs CHURCHILL AND APPEASEMENT by R. A. C Parker Macmillan, 20, pp. 290

History is revisionist. An `orthodox' history, Maitland said, is a contradiction in terms. The law eschews multiple jeopardy; the historian may revisit - and re-try old subjects again. During the last decade we have seen all kinds of attempts to revise the historic portrait of Churchill, suggesting that he was short-sighted and blinded by his prejudices, that his statesmanship was inconsistent. Even before that we have seen many a revision of the long-accepted view that Appeasement, at least involving Germany and the 1930s, was short-sighted and immoral. Now we have at hand yet another book, Churchill and Appeasement, involving both themes. Is it a revision of revisionism?

It is not. This is a very valuable (and readable) book in which Alistair Parker does not `pursue the obvious with the enthusiasm of a short-sighted detective', nor does he confect a novel thesis with the enthusiasm of a junior historian's appetite for publicity. Churchill and Appeasement is restrained and elegant, with a nearOlympian perspective. It concentrates on governmental and parliamentary politics, including a very thorough investigation of the parliamentary records for 1933 to 1939 relating to its theme. That theme goes beyond the well-known opposition between Churchill and Chamberlain and of their respective views; it focuses on the latter's decision to keep the former out of government even when - as many people began to think after March 1939 - Churchill's inclusion in a Chamberlain Cabinet could have been a salutary warning signal to Hitler. Chamberlain thought the opposite - a choice where more than personal animosities were at work.

There is much new, or hitherto unremarked, material in this book, including a statement by Attlee in the House of Commons in 1934, that Churchill is `one of those brilliantly erratic geniuses who, when he sees clearly, sees very, very clearly'. This is telling, especially in view of their relations in 1940 but also because for years after 1934 Attlee and Churchill disagreed on many things. The pen-portraits are sometimes delicious: Alexander Cadogan was `an apparently calm, placid bureaucrat whose angry passions were kept for his diary. . . There is ample evidence showing differences, both of judgment and of temperament, between Churchill and Eden. In sum, this is a relatively brief but incomparable treatment of Churchill's political career from 1933 to 1939.

There exists, at the same time, a large question that we will never be able to answer: could Churchill have prevented the second world war? …

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