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A radically new view of the British policy of appeasement in the late 1930s, identifying the individuals responsible for a variety of miscalculations and moral surrender that made World War II inevitable.
Appeasement failed in all its goals. The kindest thing that can be said of it is that postponed World War II by one year. Its real effect was to convince Hitler and Mussolini that Britain was weak and afraid of confrontation, encouraging them to ever-greater acts of aggression. The turning point of the Czech crisis in September 1938 came when Wilson saw Hitler on his own and left him convinced that Britain was bluffing and would not go to war to defend Czechoslovakia. The dismemberment of Czechoslovakia that followed was not the end of appeasement. The Anglo-German Declaration was Chamberlain’s personal vanity project but both Chamberlain and Wilson believed that it genuinely brought "peace for our time."
Chamberlain and Wilson blindly pursued bilateral friendship between Britain and the dictators and ferociously resisted alternative policies such as working with France, the Soviet Union, or the U.S. to face down the dictators. They resisted all-out rearmament which would have put the economy on a war footing. These were all the policies advocated by Winston Churchill, the most dangerous opponent of appeasement. Churchill was a hated figure for Chamberlain and Wilson. They could not accept Churchill’s perception that that Hitler was the implacable enemy of peace and Britain, and opposing him became an end in itself for them. Churchill and Wilson had been bitter adversaries since early in their careers because of an incident that Fighting Churchill, Appeasing Hitler reveals publicly for the first time. Chamberlain had a fraught relationship with Churchill long before appeasement became an issue.
Neither Chamberlain nor Wilson had any experience of day-to-day practical diplomacy. Both thought that the dictators would apply the same standards of rationality and clarity to the policies of Italy and Germany that applied in Britain. They could not grasp that Fascist demagogues operated in an entirely different way to democratic politicians. The catastrophe of the Chamberlain/Wilson appeasement policy offers a vital lesson in how blind conviction in one policy as the only alternative can be fatally damaging.
Adrian Phillips is the author of The King Who Had to Go: Edward VIII, Mrs. Simpson, and the Hidden Politics of the Abdication Crisis. Adrian lectures and blogs regularly on the broader history of the period. He lives in England.
“Adrian Phillips has pulled off a remarkable coup. By sedulous research he has been able to shed fresh light on the intricate political maneuvers surrounding one of most studied episodes in our history—the 1936 abdication crisis. The King Who Had to Go is an elegant and compelling book.” Piers Brendon, author of 'Edward VIII: The Uncrowned King' [praise for 'The King Who Had to Go']
“The King Who Had to Go provides a dramatic and persuasive account of an important episode in British constitutional history. Based on an impressive range of sources, and written with flair, it makes a compelling case for Edward VIII's inadequacy as a monarch.” Richard Toye, Professor and Head of History, University of Exeter [praise for 'The King Who Had to Go']