Friday, December 18, 2009 12/18/09 - neville chamberlain

In today's excerpt - Neville Chamberlain, the man who
tried to appease Hitler and thus became an
everlasting symbol of weak naïveté 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

"Getting the French "in on the act" [of diplomatic
negotiations with Germany] as Édouard Daladier,
Chamberlain's French opposite number, 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 wouldbe 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 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, pp. 24-25.


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