Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Neville Chamberlain in Context

In response to my reference to Neville Chamberlain in my previous post, my friend Melvin offers the following thought-provoking analyses:
"Interesting thought about your comment that makes it sound as if Neville Chamberlain was responsible for bringing in a predicament to Britain prior to World War Two.

I am of the opinion that Chamberlain was trying to obtain 'peace in [their] time'. He probably could have been aware that British forces were not (yet) ready to face a suddenly and surprisingly resurgent Germany (whose capabilities should have been made in check by the burden of war reparations that was imposed on it as a loser of the previous Great War). It was the depression-hit 1930s after all. Britain, France, and other countries were struggling with the economic crisis at that time (which is probably the reason why a desperate Germany even considered being aggressors, spurred on by a feeling that they were unjustly punished for the Great War).

The isolationist stance of the new world power United States was not comforting -- and it showed during the Manchurian and Ethiopian invasions and the Austrian annexation. The pariah Soviet Union looked very menacing, as she was intent on exporting her revolution outside her borders and undermining the capitalist empires. Winston Churchill could probably have done exactly what Chamberlain did in 1938."
He adds...
"About the situations in the late 1930s. I don't think anyone could be sure whether Hitler will no longer be making more land grabs. Up to that time, Hitler's annexations were territories where Germans lived.

As for Chamberlain's credibility [to lead in World War 2], how similar would his situation be with Woodrow Wilson, who won the 1916 election with the slogan 'He kept us out of the war'...

...Could Chamberlain just have been echoing the sentiments of the British in 1938? The British fought a grueling 4-year war just 20 years before, where she lost many of her citizens and badly dented the mighty British Empire.

I am really wondering whether Britain and France were really ready to fight Germany at that point. World War II was won largely because of two other countries -- the menace Soviet Union fighting on their side and the United States joining in more than 2 years after the war started.

It is hard to imagine Germany allying themselves with the Soviets. Hitler was also strongly anti-Communist and thinks the Slav peoples do not belong to the Aryan race. The Nazis and the Communists were (indirectly) fighting each other in the very bloody Spanish Civil War that was happening at that time. Maybe Chamberlain thought Germany could be exhausted by that war, and he could really trade peace in their time?"
Neville Chamberlain's name is often mentioned in the context of Appeasement, but Melvin's description of the factors that Chamberlain had to consider gives us an idea that reality is never that clear-cut.

Update Sept-07-2008: Commenter Karl adds...
"Maybe another reason for Chamberlain not to go to war aside from war fatigue is that he was dying at that time. After he resigned as PM, he was assigned as an adviser to Churchill for the war but, unfortunately, he had to resign again because he was terminally ill. He died of cancer in 1940."


Unknown said...

I don't know but there was a strong anti-war movement in Great Britain at the time.

Truly, a majority of the Brits didn't want any more war -- WWI was barely 20 years earlier.

And I believe Chamberlain was following the general sentiment at the time.

Poor Winston Churchill, the prime mover then (he was a backbencher) of the prepare for war dictum suffered the warmonger label. During his various appearance at Oxford debate/speacking sessions, he was hissed and booed.

Such was the sentiment of the people at the time.

France on the other hand, I believe had, the right technology and prepared -- France possessed tank divisions that was the envy of Europe at the time, enough to battle with the Germans particularly during that period when Hitler's troops crossed the Rhine and annihilated the poor. At the time when Hitler invaded Poland, Hitler's arsenals were not as complete as Europe feared them to be (unknowingly).

The real cause I think of the appeasement mood was that politicians at the time didn't believe that Hitler was someone they couldn't trust until it was too late as typified by the stupidity of Mr Maginot who believed gobsmackingly, naively that his line would be respected by the Germans.

Unknown said...

Btw, The above post was in reference to that portion in the post:

"He probably could have been aware that British forces were not (yet) ready to face a suddenly and surprisingly resurgent Germany (whose capabilities should have been made in check by the burden of war reparations that was imposed on it as a loser of the previous Great War)."

Britain really at the time didn't even want to prepare for war. However, it is quite true that the British Army was at its lowest ebb at the time -- morale was lax and troop training was at its worst. The British army of old was in a shameful state. The country had truly entered a no-war stage. There was clear abhorence for war.

(My father in law who served gallantly in the war said had Hitler been able to invade Britain instead of Poland, Britain might have buckled under the unpreparedness of Britain at the time...)

Troop training only began in earnest only after Hitler had crossed the Rhine.

cvj said...

Hi Anna, thanks for the above insights which i think confirms Melvin's reading of the mood at that time.

Perhaps the British also thought that the roughly equal strength of the French and the German forces (as you have pointed out) would result in a World War One type trench warfare that would have given them time to mobilize while the French hold the line. They did not anticipate the decisiveness of the German Blitzkrieg.

Anonymous said...

"...reality is never that clear-cut."

Doesn't that hold true for most things?

cvj said...

Yup, which is not to say we should give up on making distinctions.