The misunderstood great man — Neville Chamberlain's logic and wisdom in handling of Hitler's unbounded expansionism

Jul 2018
497
Hong Kong
#1
Introduction

Neville Chamberlain is always tended to be depicted as an "excessively benevolent gentleman", or a "simple-minded and naive pacifist", or even worst, the culprit that caused the Second World War because of his acquiescence in Hitler's incessant invasions everywhere.

However, these viewpoints are absolutely incorrect ! In fact, in the 1930s peaceful era prior to WW2, he was being consistently disparaged a "warmonger" — he was among the few British politicians in the cabinet advocating strong measures in response of the challenge posed by the Nazi Germany for stopping Hitler's further expansion. Britain only began the steady and slow-paced military rearmament thanks to his dedication in lobbying and promoting at the government and parliament. In AD 1935, he attempted to pass the law about taxation for contributing national defense in order to gathering more fund for military rearmament, but met with fierce opposition.

During the campaign, deputy Labour leader Arthur Greenwood even attacked Chamberlain for spending money on rearmament, saying that the rearmament policy was "the merest scaremongering; disgraceful in a statesman of Mr Chamberlain's responsible position, to suggest that more millions of money needed to be spent on armaments."

Obviously, other than Winston Churchill, Neville Chamberlain was one of the most hawkish politicians for the British foreign policy in the early 1930s. While Churchill was widely regarded as a "mentally deranged war maniac", a failed First Lord of the Admiralty in WW1, a madman who brutally suppressed the labor strike in AD 1926 — completely "a freaking boar" in contrast with that "good old gentleman" Chamberlain. Enduring so much failures and setbacks, Churchill still secured a seat in the House of Commons. Why ? that's totally attributed to his family background and social relationship.

At that point, in AD 1935, whether in reputation or influence, Churchill was far inferior than Chamberlain.

Nonetheless, in hindsight, many people accuse Chamberlain for his shortsightedness and cowardice by implementing the appeasement policy which meant concession to Hitler, without thoroughly realize what kind of situation Chamberlain was in, or what sort of character he was — in short, they judge Chamberlain by consequence, rather than cause and course. They only know how Britain and France were "deceived" by Hitler who incessantly broke the agreement and promise. Despite so, it was merely a small part of the whole story. The entire drama was far much complicated and sophiscated, as the image of that "good old gentleman".

And most importantly...the Third Reich was not the only potential enemy of the British Empire in the contemporary era. Chamberlain really had no reason to pay heavy cost for the pointless struggle in stopping Hitler who was aiming on snatching some territories in the Central and Eastern Europe. For this, I would expound in detail in the following episodes.

Indeed, Chamberlain demonstrated himself a matured, shrewd, cold-hearted politician in his handling of the Czechoslovakian Question and the Danzig Crisis. Perhaps you're unconvinced by now, but I am confident that some of you might change your mind after reading what I write in the following text.

Source : 元首的邏輯 — 二戰時希特勒的決策歷程
(Fuhrer's logic — the process of Hitler's decision in WW2)


元首的逻辑——二战时希特勒的决策历程_煮酒论史_论坛_天涯社区 (Chinese)

I'm planning to edit and write the following episodes based on that source's information

Episode 1 : Chamberlain's "win-win solution" — the basis of appeasement policy
Episode 2 : Chamberlain's "probing move" — the possibility of Anglo-German cooperation
Episode 3 : Why was Chamberlain's foreign policy doomed to fail ?
Episode 4 : Sudetenland Question — Chamberlain's "cold-blooded diplomacy"
Episode 5 : Munich Agreement — the high-water mark of Anglo-German cooperation
Episode 6 : Chamberlain's "counter-move" after Hitler violated the treaty
Episode 7 : Hitler's greatest mistake was not the invasion of USSR, but weakening the British appeasement faction ?
Episode 8 : Danzig Crisis — why Britain and Nazi Germany turned against each other ultimately ?
Extra Episode #1 : The birth and growth of Chamberlain in the British elite society
Extra Episode #2 : Two different worlds — Chamberlain and Hitler

Welcome any discussion. Just feel free to share your opinion.
 
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May 2011
13,981
Navan, Ireland
#2
Neville Chamberlain often get very unfairly treated by history often by people who are judging him with 20:20 hindsight. Yes he did follow a policy of appeasement but he wasn't the only leader of countries to follow such a policy and he wasn't unpopular in the country when he returned from Munich 1938with his white paper he was welcomed by cheering crowds.

We have to remember the context of the time Europe (in many countries not all) and Britain were thoroughly shocked by the horrific slaughter of WWI and wished to avoid another war that many (with good reason) forecast would be even more bloody and destructive than the last.

Chamberlain feared this as well.

If Churchill had been PM (or even in a position of influence) and tried to re-arm Britain earlier than she did then he would have simply have been removed. Chamberlain did manage to get through funds for fighters, radar and an air defence system (that would prove to be vital) because that was defensive and the many 'pacifists' couldn't make a strong case against 'defensive' weapons.

Even the accusation of 'trusting' Hitler not sure he did and thought him a horrible little man but was it worth the risk of taking him at his word if there was even a chance of avoiding a war that could (and did) kill in the millions.

You have also got to consider British opinion --Chamberlain had to be seen to do everything possible , that he'd made all the concessions he'd done everything reasonable and more for Hitler even made a fool of himself. In 1938 war would not have been popular in Britain, it wasn't popular in 1939 but perhaps because of Chamberlain trying everything they were rescind to it.
 

Rodger

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
6,171
US
#3
So when Chamberlain stated "peace in our time" was he fooling himself or trying to fool others? Most of my reading indicates that a war with Germany before September of 1939 would have been much easier, as Germany continued its frenzied military build up. Italy, while not much of ally, would have stayed neutral in in 1938 and may have even joined the allied cause. There would have been no German-Soviet Pact either. A determined Europe could have defeated Germany in 1938 with much less suffering, destruction and death.
 
Dec 2011
4,879
Iowa USA
#4
So when Chamberlain stated "peace in our time" was he fooling himself or trying to fool others? Most of my reading indicates that a war with Germany before September of 1939 would have been much easier, as Germany continued its frenzied military build up. Italy, while not much of ally, would have stayed neutral in in 1938 and may have even joined the allied cause. There would have been no German-Soviet Pact either. A determined Europe could have defeated Germany in 1938 with much less suffering, destruction and death.
It is unknowable, in my opinion.

If I were a betting man, though, based on the issues France had in 1940 it is hard to be confident that a 1938 campaign would have been short.
 
Likes: Futurist
May 2011
13,981
Navan, Ireland
#5
So when Chamberlain stated "peace in our time" was he fooling himself or trying to fool others? Most of my reading indicates that a war with Germany before September of 1939 would have been much easier, as Germany continued its frenzied military build up. Italy, while not much of ally, would have stayed neutral in in 1938 and may have even joined the allied cause. There would have been no German-Soviet Pact either. A determined Europe could have defeated Germany in 1938 with much less suffering, destruction and death.

But that's the problem there was no way there would be a determined Europe in 1938 -- whether it would have been militarily easier is debateable and may well have been-- but pacifisms rule in much of Britain and France (and other countries) no one wanted a war.

Whether Chamberlain was 'fooled' ( I don't think so) or was rather 'clutching at straws' (as I think) and perhaps hoping against hope that Hitler was honourable in some ways doesn't matter because that and Hitler's ignoring of the 'scrap of paper' convinced the doubters that war had to happen.
 
Likes: Futurist
Feb 2011
13,609
Perambulating in St James' Park
#6
It's a bit difficult trying to promote a policy of disarmament when the Italians, Germans, Russians and Japanese are arming themselves to the teeth. The British also had far more to lose in terms of territory to defend. How can Chamberlain promote peace by disarmament and still defend the empire? His only mistake, in my opinion, was not making a greater effort with the Americans, though they were also pursuing their own splendid isolation. Chamberlain did the best he could with the poison chalice he was offered.
 
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Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,095
#7
At least Neville Chamberlain did everything he could to avoid war. When Britain did go to war, unlike WW1, it knew it did what it could to avoid I, which gave hem a moral certainty they were in the right thing that they otherwise might have lacked, and that is not a little thing.

Also, the Chain Home radar network, which began to be implemented before the War played an important role in winning the Battle of Britain. Without those pre-war peparation, Britain might have lost the war.
 
Likes: Futurist
Jul 2018
497
Hong Kong
#8
His only mistake, in my opinion, was not making a greater effort with the Americans
The American was also a bitter rival of the British Empire, and not actually the British ally until WW2
They backstabbed the British in the AD 1956 Suez Canal Incident — the excellent interpretation of what is "there is no eternal ally, only eternal benefit".

The British Empire was ruined thanks to his destructive war with Nazi Germany, ended up USA seize the global domination in the British stead. Hence, the greatest benefit of the British Imperialism should be actually....ironically....co-operating with Nazi Germany for maintaining his sprawling global empire backup by naval supremacy, rather than stopping Hitler build up the overland empire. And this was exactly what Chamberlain intended to accomplish.

Unfortunately, in AD 1930s, Britain was no longer being totally dominated by monarchs, or aristocrats, or high-bornt elites. More social classes' people were blended into the parliament. They represented conflicting and different ideologies (or interest) other than simply protecting the interest of the British Imperialism. The growing influence of liberal MP was in leverage of Chamberlain's foreign policy.

Chamberlain could not simply become Metternich or Bismarck as he wished. His every move was accountable to the parliament in London, greatly inhibited his "freedom of manoeuver" in diplomacy. His greatest tragedy was not his timidity or incompetence, but his attempt of becoming a "classical diplomat", which was impossible in his age.

A determined Europe could have defeated Germany in 1938 with much less suffering, destruction and death.
First of all, Germany was not the ONLY potential enemy for Britain. (Japan, Soviet Union, Italy, even that "Uncle Tom"....)
Secondly, the military rearmament of Britain was insufficient. (partly due to the fierce opposition from those MPs)
Thirdly, war was extremely unpopular in AD 1938 Britain.
Fourthly, Chamberlain believed that he could work out a beneficial agreement with Hitler for his "win-win solution".
Fifthly, Britain really had no rationale and was unwilling to bear the obligation to defend Czechoslovakia from the non-liberalist perspective.
 
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Jan 2015
5,578
Ontario, Canada
#9
It is unknowable, in my opinion.

If I were a betting man, though, based on the issues France had in 1940 it is hard to be confident that a 1938 campaign would have been short.
France would not finish rearmament for years hence a war in 1938 was not feasible. During the Sudeten crisis Chamberlain actually asked France to speed up rearmament. French unpreparedness was a factor. But certainly so was Britain's rearmament. The Germans estimated that British rearmament (including naval rearmament) would not be finished until around 1942 to 1944. This was part of the reason why the Germans believed that Britain could not intervene in 1939. But also the reason for why they increased rearmament in 1938, to finish before Britain and France. Ultimately the Germans made large cuts to naval and aerial rearmament due to a lack of resources. They had to rework Plan Z in order to have some kind of naval build up to act as a deterrent to the Royal Navy.
 
Likes: Futurist

Rodger

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
6,171
US
#10
First of all, Germany was not the ONLY potential enemy for Britain. (Japan, Soviet Union, Italy, even that "Uncle Tom"....)
Secondly, the military rearmament of Britain was insufficient. (partly due to the fierce opposition from those MPs)
Thirdly, war was extremely unpopular in AD 1938 Britain.
Fourthly, Chamberlain believed that he could work out a beneficial agreement with Hitler for his "win-win solution".
Fifthly, Britain really had no rationale and was unwilling to bear the obligation to defend Czechoslovakia from the non-liberalist perspective.
First of all, Britain had established itself, or at least thought of itself, as the major power in Europe. So one could argue that Braitain had a moral obligation to defend Czechoslovakia. Otherwise, why insert yourself into the negotiations?
Secondly, no other nation was saber rattling like Germany, with the exception of Japan which was far away in the world of 1938. I understand Britain had colonial obligations, but Germany was in their backyard and consuming nation after nation on the continent.
Thirdly, no nation in Europe, with the possible exception of Germany wished to go to war, but they all did, at a great cost.
Fourthly, I don't know how prepared Britain was for war in 1938 but I have read that Germany was less prepared in 1938 than it was in 1939. So one can speculate as to whether Britain would have been on better footing in 1938 than 1939. They weren't well prepared in 1939, given the blitzkrieg's success in 1939-1940.
Finally, if Chamberlain truly though he could appease Germany he was obviously wrong. The Ruhr, Austria, Sudetenland, then Czechoslovakia. Each time, Hitler promised this was his last.
Here is an interesting article from Jstor: https://www.jstor.org/stable/260756?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
 
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