This book is the author's PhD thesis and was published in 1976. It has been out of print for many years. I met the author at a party in December, and, just for fun, bought the book on my phone while we were talking. Naturally it came from a second-hand dealer, so he didn't make anything on the deal. I didn't get round to looking at it for a while, but when I did I was fascinated. It is a kind of apologia for Neville Chamberlain, and you don't see much of THAT these days. He says Britain could have avoided war with Germany, either by containment or by capitulation. He doesn't use the latter word, but calls it "granting her requirements wholesale". (When did countries stop being called "she", I wonder? Not in 1976, clearly. Faintly distasteful, I find it.) He refers to "Britain's continued interest in maintaining the independence of the central and south-eastern European states, an interest which most historians do not generally concede". No, it appears they do not. And what actually happened to those central and south-east European states, hein? Other historians, including a pair called Gilbert and Gott, who I do not think were artists in suits pratting around with their own turds, and from whom Newman quotes extensively, call it thus: "Chamberlain's policy was to allow Germany a free hand in eastern Europe". That went well, then.
|not the historians Gilbert and Gott|
|misguided or malevolent? You decide|
The whole book seems to be an attempt to rebut an earlier book called 'The Appeasers' by the said Gilbert and Gott. Did you know that in 1939 the Anglo-German Payments Agreement was still funding German rearmament? Nor me. It's all very readable, to a non-historian like me who is nonetheless interested in history and world events. Chamberlain told the Commons in March 1939, after the annexation of Czechoslovakia, that appeasement had failed and that the "spirit of Munich" had been violated. Quaintness, looked at from the 21st century: when an article appeared in the Nazi paper 'Volkischer Beobachter' denying that Germany had issued an ultimatum to Romania, Halifax as Foreign Secretary "suppressed the distribution of the report inside and outside the Foreign Office". Imagine trying that one now.
The book is chiefly about the process which led to the British guarantee to Poland, which was spun very successfully to the public at the time as a noble thing. Foreign Office papers of the time say "the value of Poland lay not in the capacity of her army to launch an an offensive against Germany, which was virtually non-existent, but in her capacity to absorb German divisions." Cynical, but true. And wise. Did Chamberlain understand this stuff?
Britain feared a German-Polish deal: they had reason to, as Poland had gone into alliance with Germany in the Sudeten crisis in "demanding the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia".
|Gdansk, picture tripadvisor|
Newman's line is that you can't say appeasement never worked, because it was never really tried. And that the British guarantee to Poland was not deterrence, but a deliberate challenge. Interesting.
Perhaps people who are cleverer at history than I am might like to give their views in the comments. They'd be really welcome. Jew-hating will not, however, get in, and there's plenty of it around, especially on the Guardianista left, as any fule kno. The cry-baby bully-boys (TM Julie Burchill) who have been active in recent months will also be welcome to leave their comments. But their tactics are more extra-blog and personal, hein?