APPEASEMENT: CHAMBERLAIN, HITLER, CHURCHILL, AND THE ROAD TO WAR by Tim Bouverie

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(Neville Chamberlain after returning from the Munich Conference)

In 1961 the controversial British historian, A.J.P. Taylor published THE ORIGINS OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR arguing that the war was caused by the appeasement policies pursued by England and France toward Nazi Germany.  He further purported that Adolf Hitler was more of a traditional European statesman who easily could have been stopped in March 1936 at the Rhineland bridges had England and France had the will to do so.  This book created a firestorm in academic circles and over the years numerous historians have challenged Taylor’s conclusions. Among the first was J.W. Wheeler-Bennett’s MUNICH: PROLOGUE TO TRAGEDY followed later by Telford Taylor’s MUNICH: THE PRICE OF PEACE, Lynne Olson’s TROUBLESOME YOUNG MEN: THE REBELS WHO HELPED SAVE ENGLAND,  David Faber’s MUNICH THE 1938 APPEASEMENT CRISIS, and last year a fictional account was written by Robert Harris.  These books among many others lay out the counter argument to Taylor that even though Anglo-Franco appeasement was responsible for the war, Hitler would have stopped at nothing to achieve at a minimum domination of Europe.

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(Winston Churchill and Neville Chamberlain)

The latest entry into this debate is Tim Bouverie’s APPEASEMENT: CHAMBERLAIN, HITLER, CHURCHILL, AND THE ROAD TO WAR.  Bouverie, a former British journalist offers a fresh approach in analyzing London’s foreign policy throughout the 1930s leading to the Second World War.  The author excoriates British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and his apologists who argue that he had little choice because of England’s lack of military preparation and fear of inflicting further damage to an already depressed economy.  Bouverie concludes that Chamberlain had decided even before he became Prime Minister that an accommodation with Hitler needed to be made in order to prevent revisiting the carnage of World War I.  With England’s position growing untenable in the Pacific due Japanese expansionism a rapprochement with Germany was a necessity.  Chamberlain would proceed to try to make deals with Benito Mussolini to pressure the Fuhrer, but in reality as his own writings and correspondence reflect he was bent on giving in to Hitler as shown in his reaction to the Anschluss with Austria, the drum beat by Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia for autonomy, the dismemberment of the only democracy in central Europe at the Munich Conference and thereafter, and finally over Danzig.  It was clear that the policies of Chamberlain and Lord Halifax, who Bouverie calls the “evangelicals of appeasement” would give away almost anything to achieve an Anglo-German Pact.

Bouverie does an excellent job developing the pacifist movement in England and the attitude of British elites toward Germany.  To the author’s credit he not only focuses on the major players in English politics during the period but others like Baron Lord Rothermere, his brother Lord Northcliffe, and Geoffrey Dawson who greatly impacted British public opinion through their newspaper empires.  In addition, Sir Robert Cecil, an ardent advocate of the League of Nations and the Peace Ballot in favor of collective security, Ernest Jenner, a banker, the historian Arnold Toynbee, former Labor leader George Lansbury, all whom received audiences with Hitler among others that the author discusses.  These individuals were able to mold public opinion and create further pressure on Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin who was replaced by  Chamberlain.

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(Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler at the Munich Conference)

Bouverie’s narrative is grounded in social and political history and makes exhaustive use personal papers, documentary collections, and the press.  He explains that England’s response to Hitler derives from a number of critical works such as John Maynard Keynes’ THE ECONOMIC CONSEQUENCES OF THE PEACE written in 1919 which pointed out the deficiencies in the Versailles Treaty.  Many in power in England saw the rise of Hitler as a manifestation of legitimate German grievances concerning the treaty, thus ameliorating Hitler’s “Diktat of Versailles” became a rallying cry for appeasers.  Those individuals include the British Ambassador to Germany, Neville Henderson; Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax, and Sir Horace Wilson, the government’s Chief Industrial Advisor and Chamberlain’s alter ego.   Bouverie presents an incisive narrative concerning the raucous debate in British politics centering around rearmament, especially since Hitler was rearming Germany right under the nose of France and England undoing that clause of the treaty.  England would face reality and in 1934 agreed to a naval treaty with Germany allowing the Nazis a navy 35% of that of Great Britain (though at the time the treaty was signed Germany had already passed that threshold).

The author takes the reader through each major crisis that predated World War II.  Beginning with attempts at an Anglo-German Treaty recognizing Germany’s eastern borders and League membership; the German occupation of the Rhineland in March, 1936; the Anschluss with Austria in March, 1938; machinations against Czechoslovakia leading to the Munich Conference in September, 1938; the seizure of all of Czechoslovakia in March, 1939, the Nazi-Soviet Pact, and the final crisis in Danzig that resulted in the invasion of Poland and the “Phony War” that followed.  In each instance Bouverie provides insights into the thought patterns of English politicians and why they did little or nothing to stop Hitler.  The author also explores the opposition to the Baldwin and Chamberlain governments, in particular Winston Churchill who found the warnings he had offered about Hitler since 1933 coming home to roost.  But it is clear that the “evangelical appeasers” faced no serious opposition or obstacles in Parliament.

Image result for london in 1940 pics(London, 1940)

One of Bouverie’s best chapters deals with “Hitler’s Wonderland” reflecting British attitudes toward Germany in light of the Nuremburg Party rallies and the 1936 Olympics that took place in Berlin.  British elites like King Edward VIII, Charles Vane Tempest-Stewart, and the 7th Marquis of Londonderry all visited Germany a number of times and became the United Kingdom’s leading Hitler apologists.

Bouverie provides fascinating portraits of the periods leading characters.  His most important was his analysis of Chamberlain describing his intellectual self-assurance, a trait that would not allow him to consider the opinions and findings of others.  His arrogance would alienate Laborite’s as well as people in his own party.  This would prove a disaster as he tried to form governmental coalitions in 1939 and 1940.  In his defense Bouverie points out that Chamberlain had been a social reformer, but events did not allow him to pursue that interest.  As the former Chancellor of the Exchequer he realized England could not afford an arms race, so he tried to engage his countries enemies.  Chamberlain realized he could not rely on the United States, in large part because of his low opinion of Washington, believed that “careful diplomacy” would in the end be successful.  Bouverie is careful to point out that Chamberlain did not invent appeasement as British governments had been practicing it since the early 1920s, but it is Chamberlain who seems to have earned the mantle of the “great appeaser” because of Munich and beyond due to his innate stubbornness in dealing with those who disagreed with him.

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(Winston Churchill and Edward Wood, Lord Halifax)

Bouverie’s narrative allows the reader to eavesdrop on many interesting conversations and events.  Particularly fascinating was a lunch thrown by German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop at the German Embassy on March 11, 1938 with British politicians in attendance at the same time that Hitler demanded the resignation of Austrian Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg or suffer an invasion.  Also interesting is the verbal give and take between Chamberlain’s Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax, a pro-German appeaser and his predecessor Anthony Eden who resigned over English recognition of Mussolini’s seizure of Abyssinia.  The give and take in the English cabinet after the Anschluss fearing Hitler’s next move is important as the evidence that Bouverie presents makes it clear that no one in Chamberlain’s government wanted to risk war over Czechoslovakia a country they believed had little to do with British national security. Lastly, Bouverie’s discussion of conversations between Henderson and German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop as negotiations proceeded in August 1939 is priceless.

When war finally came, Bouverie notes that following the conquest of Poland, England and France declared war on Germany, but this was a rare case when war was declared but it was not fought until Hitler’s blitzkrieg entered France and the low countries in May 1940.   Finally, Tory anti-appeasement rebels will begin an all-out effort to get rid of Chamberlain in and Bouverie’s coverage of probably the most important parliamentary debate in English history is exemplary as it finally brought Winston Churchill to power.

Bouverie’s effort is very timely as Lynne Olson points out in her New York Times article, “Failure to Lead” (July 21, 2019).  Olson commends Bouverie for providing historical evidence as what will occur when a politician who has no knowledge of foreign policy, like Chamberlain imagines himself to be an expert and bypasses other branches of government to further his aims.  In addition, when one focuses only on negotiations with dictators and leaves their allies in the lurch……sound familiar?

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SAY NOTHING: A TRUE STORY OF MURDER AND MEMORY IN NORTHERN IRELAND by Patrick Radden Keefe

 

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(The funeral of Dolours Price)

In reading Patrick Radden Keefe’s new book, SAY NOTHING: A TRUE STORY OF MURDER AND MEMORY IN NORTHERN IRELAND one has the feel they are inhaling a novel, a work of fiction that is drawing them into a complex plotline where it is hard to discern what is fact and what is fiction.  But Keefe’s work is not fiction, but a recounting of the brutal events that are part of the history of Northern Ireland from the 1960s onward that includes extreme violence, personal heroism, ideological commitment, individual growth, ideological evolution, and the last vestiges of colonialism.  The ongoing struggle between Catholics and Protestants; the Provisional Irish Republican Army and Protestant Unionists; the British army and its occupation are all played out from the “Time of Troubles” to an acceptable peace settlement.  Keefe is a terrific storyteller who has created a true story of murder and memory in the context of the larger struggle that is and was Northern Ireland.  Keefe accomplishes this by providing novelistic quality and pace which is the key to creating history that reads as if it is fiction.

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(The Price sisters, Marian and Dolours in prison)

When asked in a New York Times podcast how he came to write the book, Keefe describes how he was reading the Times obituary of Dolours Price on January 23, 2013 and was attracted to the former IRA member and decided to dig further into her life story.  As he became engrossed in her biography he came across Jean McConville, a Catholic mother of ten who was kidnapped, and whose fate would be buried for decades.  The connection between the two women is a major theme of the book as it pulled together victims and perpetrators during the “Time of Troubles.”

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Keefe focuses on a few important individuals as his protagonists.  Within this context are several families that come to the fore.  The story unfolds as Jean McConville, at the age of 38 is kidnapped and seized in front of her children to be murdered by unionist thugs.  Next, is the Price family that produced two daughters, Dolours and Marian who would experience the brutal unionist attack against a peaceful Catholic march on January 1, 1969 from Belfast to Derry.  This would turn the sisters from their socialist and civil rights beliefs into joining the IRA.  Radden reviews the history of Catholic v. Protestants, including important political, religious and socioeconomic points of view to place the reader in the moment as the “Time of Troubles” is about to commence.  The British response to the violence is key as Catholics assumed that British troops were being sent to Belfast to protect them from Protestant violence, but in short order it was clear that their mission was to support the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and B-Specials (anti-Catholic Unionist Auxiliary police).

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(Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein leader)

The history of the period is seen through the eyes of the McConville children as they have to cope with the loss of their mother, the separation of siblings into orphanages and other institutions, and living on the streets; the Price sisters who become key members of the violent wing of the IRA and carry out their operations until after years of imprisonment and hunger strikes they are released from prison and turn against the violence; and paramilitary leader turned politician, Gerry Adams and his alter ego, Brendan Hughes.  In addition to these individuals’ other major characters impact the story.  Reverend Ian Paisley, a radical Protestant preacher who calls for “religious cleansing” of Catholics; British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who does not have an empathetic bone in her body when it comes to the Irish; and Frank Kitson, a British officer who excelled an counter-insurgency in putting down the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya and was assigned to Belfast along with 30,000 troops to Northern Ireland to institute his theories in crushing a civilian led rebellion.  In introducing his characters Keefe provides a mini-biography of each that is insightful and allows the reader to understand their role and place in history.  What is amazing is how Keefe takes each character and deals with their emotional burdens.

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(Gerry Adams and Brendan Hughes)

Keefe analyzes the strategies and tactics used by all sides in the conflict.  He explores the creation of MRF by Kitson, an elite squad that infiltrates the IRA and carries out “interrogation in depth,” rather than “enhanced interrogation,” or just torture.  The planning and implementation of Provisional bombings carried out, i.e.; in central London in 1973 and the trial that followed are investigated in depth as are several other operations.  The conflict within the IRA between the Old Guard and the Provo’s is carefully dissected.  The imprisonment, particularly of the Price sisters is examined carefully, in addition to the overall effect of Provo, Unionist, and British actions taken to achieve their agendas.  But the main mystery that clouds the entire story surrounds the abduction of McConville.  It will eventually take decades to learn what occurred that night, well into the 1990s when the children learn the truth and finally break their silence.

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A key to Keefe’s success as an author is his ability to integrate aspects of Irish history throughout the narrative be it the Great Famine, the Easter Rebellion of 1916, etc.  As he tells his story Keefe weaves a few threads very effectively.  Keefe concentrates on one aspect of his story, the plight of the McConville children, then switches to the Dolours Price planning a bombing operation, to the arrests and escapes of Gerry Adams and Brenden Hughes, or the hunger strike of Bobby Sands, elected to Parliament, but allowed to die in prison from a hunger strike.  The components of the story seem diverse and unconnected, but Keefe can mesh the disparate elements for the reader which in the end come together.

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(Jean McConville and three of her ten children)

A key development in the history of the conflict is the supposed evolution of Gerry Adams from a paramilitary leader to a politician.  Adams would come to realize that violence alone would not achieve his goals and believed a political component to the IRA strategy was called for.   Adams believed that a political movement was needed to run parallel with the armed struggle, the Provo’s would carry out the armed strategy, the Sinn Fein the political as he is elected to parliament.  It is fascinating how Adams can carry out his metamorphosis as the provisional IRA was illegal, and its political wing, the Sinn Fein was not.  Keefe is correct in emphasizing the importance of how Adams successfully develops the IRA from a revolutionary cadre to a retail political outfit.

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(Northern Ireland during the Times of Troubles)

Keefe is very careful as he confronts the war’s strange ending.  Adam’s negotiates, but at the same time is planning and carrying out paramilitary operations.  The split between the former “partners” Adams and Hughes is thoughtfully portrayed as is the split between Adams and Dolours Price.  Keefe digs deep into their relationships as Adams seemed to suffer from amnesia concerning his role in the IRA, but for Hughes and Price he was their commanding officer who ordered them to carry out nasty operations.  The result was Adams denied it all, and Hughes and Price passed away by 2013.

Keefe’s approach is comprehensive and tries to uncover as many secrets as possible that are buried, bringing many to the attention of the public.  Keefe has done all those involved in “The Troubles” a great service as his efforts lays out the past and hopefully it should help those involved to achieve some type of closure.  Further, he describes the creation of the Belfast Project, an oral history of the “Time of Troubles” that is archived at Boston College which contains interviews that include Brendan Hughes that sparked a great deal of controversy and intrigue.  However, when you approach the history of Northern Ireland from 1969 to the present one must remember that the civil war was so vicious that closure may be something to aspire to, but difficult to achieve.  One last tidbit that Keefe brings up in the last pages of the book; wouldn’t it be ironic if Ireland is finally unified after all these years because of the Brexit vote, if so, the “Time of Troubles” needed have taken the course that it did – just a thought.

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(The funeral of Dolours Price)