12/18/09 - neville chamberlain

In today's excerpt - Neville Chamberlain the man who tried to appease Hitler became an everlasting symbol of weakness in foreign policy. In fact, Chamberlain has become so reviled a symbol of weakness that his name is immediately invoked any time a politician even hints at a preference for negotiations, rather than military threats toward a potentially hostile dictator. While most historians now believe that Chamberlain's appeasement policy was not as hopelessly misguided as his political rival Winston Churchill portrayed it to be, he nevertheless made a series of other related diplomatic blunders that compounded his failure—chief among them neglecting to fully include allies such as France in his diplomatic efforts. He thought French lavatories smelly!:

"Getting the French, 'in on the act' [of diplomatic negotiations with Germany] as Edouard Daladier, Chamberlain's French opposite, had wished might have offered greater leverage and struck a sweeter entente unity note. Cold-shouldering the French and maintaining it was the Czechs, and not Hitler who constituted the problem, Neville Chamberlain allowed his love of the limelight and instinct for the unconventional to determine his policy. Having invested heavily in summit diplomacy, and being quite seduced by the popping flash-bulbs and cheering crowds that went with his foreign trips he was incapable of tactical maneuver once Hitler started misbehaving. Deliberately cutting himself off from such advice as the Foreign Office had to offer, he failed utterly to convey to the dictators ... that Britain meant business. ...

"While ever-larger allocations of the defense budget were devoted, or so he thought, to rendering England immune from air attack Neville Chamberlain strode the world stage, and made no effort to court, befriend, or even appease would be continental allies. As far as he was concerned, they were militarily on their own. Moreover, his rearmament program left the army so starved of resources that as late as the spring of 1939 French observers were still referring to it as a 'parade ground army'.

"The fatal consequence of neglecting the army lay in the way it affected relations with Britain's only palpable continental ally, France, and in the manner in which that neglect impacted on French strategic thinking. Unlike his Francophile half-brother, Austen Neville Chamberlain, he did not like the French. He thought their lavatories smelly and the people sexually degenerate. But in allowing his prejudice to influence his policy-making he aroused French suspicions that if war with Germany should come the British would leave them in the lurch. If the British proposed to effect a blockade from a distance and keep their bombers in reserve it would be left to the French to pay the butcher's bill of warfare on land. It was hardly surprising that they quailed at the prospect. Yet Neville Chamberlain cared not a jot for French sensibilities. Thinking it wise to, as he put it, 'keep everyone guessing' he made no undertakings about military assistance to France, and no suggestion until very late on about, staff-talks."


Nick Smart


'Neville Chamberlain and Appeasement'


History Review


December 2009


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