Martin Gilbert and Richard Gott
Richard J. Garfunkel
May 30, 2006
I just finished your most interesting and seminal work The Appeasers, written withRichard Gott. I found it an incredibly detailed account of that sordid period in both European and British history. Of course for our generation (some maintain interest in that period, I was born on the 2nd of May in 1945) it still remains quite important. For the millions of other “baby-boomers” that followed it is almost ancient history. Today’s generation has almost no knowledge of World War II and even less, if possible, of the machinations that led to that most horrible conflagration. I will be doing a lecture at my old high school this Friday on my paper regarding FDR and MacArthur, and from my past experiences over the last 13 years few high school seniors (these are Advance Placement students) have any knowledge or interest in that period. To them, “history” is dead and the genesis of “appeasement” as a prelude to World War II is an arcane subject.
To me though, it is quite interesting, but not surprising how the rise of Nazism in Germany and its nominal acceptance and toleration in European circles was abated and nurtured by anti-Semitism. In a sense it was highlighted, as you noted, when Lord Londonderry (The Marquess of Londonderry, Charles Stewart Stuart 1878-1949, last post Secretary of State for Air 1931-5), a former British Minister for Air, wrote to Joachim von Ribbentrop (1893-1946, German Foreign Minister, hanged at Nuremburg) in 1936, and said “As I told you, I have no great affection for the Jews. It is possible to trace their participation in most of the International disturbances which have created so much havoc in different countries.”
Of course anti-Semitism was “mother’s milk” to most in Europe, especially the Slavic and Eastern States carved out of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. These older states were either Catholic or Eastern Orthodox and they were certainly not as tolerant as the more modern leaning and thinking northern European countries. It seems to me that as you trace this legitimization of the Nazi regime, the argument that comes mostly to the surface is that anti-Communism and the abject hatred of Soviet Russia, anti-Semitism, and the fear of a new World War fueled “appeasement.” The acceptance of this “new world order” to counter balance Communism and International Jewry seemed much more palatable to Western Europe than the long-term threat of Hitlerism.
Of course Hitler’s efforts to conclude a “Concordat,” with its author, Eugenio Pacelli, who had worked on it for decades, and was the then Vatican Secretary of State, the former Papal Ambassador to Germany and eventually the new Pope, Pius XII (1876-1958, Pope 1939-58), indicates his (Hitler’s) desire for legitimacy and therefore a smoother path towards recognition and acceptance. The “Concordat” treaty with the Vatican, that allowed Catholic schools, in Germany, to be on an equal political and financial footing with Lutheran schools, and virtually ended the role of independent liberal-minded German Catholic clergy in the political process, served as a strong tradeoff for Hitler. With the Anschluss with Austria in 1938, eight million more Catholics were absorbed into the greater Reich and swelled their (Catholic) minority from 25% to almost 33% of the new Germany’s population. This agreement smoothed the path for Catholics with their innate fear and loathing of “G-dless” communism to play a strong part in Hitler’s future plans. Eventually Catholics would be disproportionably represented in higher numbers in both Nazi and SS leadership roles and its membership numbers.
As you noted, people in responsible policy-making roles in government, never read Adolph Hitler’s (1889-1945), Chancellor, and Dictator 1933-45) Mein Kampf, (1923)but were willing to rationalize Hitler’s real aims. Many believed, whether sincerely or not, that Hitler was more moderate than his peers. Maybe after “The Night of the Long Knives” when on June 30, 1934, Hitler directed his people to murder Ernst Rohm (1887-1934) along with the leadership of his SA-Reichwehr quasi-military organization, gullible Europeans would perceive this as a progressive “cleansing” of the real Nazi extremists. How wrong they were. In retrospect we know that Germany never would have advanced in its historically vile direction without the visionary initiation, the demonic leadership and the hypnotic power of Hitler. Obviously if there was any moderate aspect of National Socialism, Hitler did not nurture it. Without much of an imagination, if Hitler had been one of the ones who were killed during the abortive Munich Beer Putsch, the direction of the world would have been profoundly different. Even after the successes in Poland, some German General staff officers were considering the removal of Hitler and an end to the war through negotiation and abject compromise.
You point out so effectively, that people like Horace Rumbold (1866-1941, last post, Ambassador to Berlin) and Robert Vansittart (1881-1957 Foreign Office 1930-41), whose names are lost to history, seemed to have understood the reality regarding the rise of Nazism, but were so marginalized and dispensed with that their anti-Nazi protests went virtually unheard. What is so fascinating, and you explain it in great detail, that there is a so-called “desire” to be fair to Germany and even when it is constantly challenged and ameliorated by German actions, it still proceeds on its own course, by and with, the political support of Chamberlain (Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940, Prime Minister 1937-40), Baldwin (Stanley Baldwin, 1867-1947 Prime Minister, 1923-4, 1935-7) and most of the top leadership charting Great Britain future from 1933 to 1939. The Cliveden Set, which was sponsored and nurtured by the American-born, and Francophobe Nancy Astor (1879-1964, first women MP, Unionist 1919-1945) seemed to be the greatest sponsor of appeasement, and many of their “fellow travelers” were people with familiar names like Lords Halifax (Edward Lindley Wood, 1881-1959, Foreign Secretary 1938-40,Ambassador to the US 1941-6) and Lothian (1882-1940 Ambassador to US 1939-40), Sir Thomas Moore (1886-1971), Sir Arnold Wilson and Sir Horace Wilson (1882-1972 Chief Industrial Advisor to the Government 1930-39). But is it fairness due Germany over the supposedly oppressive features of the Versailles Treaty? Most people understand the innate rationalization of “to the victor belong the spoils.” No peace treaty, by the victor upon the loser, is perfect and the tendency to lean towards draconian-style conditions is more historically prevalent than not. So British “guilt” over the “treaty” is really hard to digest. Certainly the Germans wanted redress of their so-called grievance. What else would any country want? Certainly Hitler won popular support from the masses with his promises to reverse the conditions of the Treaty of Versailles. But, all in all, his actions, which included re-armament of Germany, personal bellicosity, state-sponsored internal terrorism, were basically successful because of his ability to bluff.
The fact that Europeans, aided and abetted by the British, were willing to visit Germany and literally grovel to Hitler his sycophants reflects the cynicism and bankruptcy of their vision and sense of reality. Was it their greed in mortgaging the future, cowardice, or genuine fear of war that that lead them to this climate of “satiating the beast?” As negotiations proceeded with Hitler and his demands became more strident, it became obvious that the lives of millions could and would be traded away with impunity. The fact that all of these so-called democratic “imperialists” could look at the African continent as their own “feeding trough” is amazing, but true. And on top of that imperial arrogance, they were looking for ways to “buy-off” Hitler’s appetite for European lebensraum (living space) with a piece of colonial Africa. Britain, in its desire to keep all of the former German African colonies that it acquired after WW I, attempts even to force the Belgians and Dutch to surrender parts of their own empires. But are the Europeans really listening? Hitler tells them that he not only wants Germany’s former colonies back so he can compete economically in Europe, but he wants unification of all European Germans and new areas to settle his growing population. Where is that land going to come from? Well are the Europeans being blind?
Of course in the same way that Winston Churchill (1874-1965, PM 1940-5, 1951-55, Nobel Prize for Literature, 1953) Anthony Eden (1897-1977 Foreign secretary 1935-8 resigned in protest, Foreign Office 1940-45) Duff Cooper (1890-1954 First Lord of the Admiralty 1937-8 resigned after Munich), Josiah Wedgwood (1872-1943, great, great grandson of the potter Josiah Wedgwood) and a few others protested this national insanity, a different style of “appeasement” was going on here in the United States. People of every rank, political party and creed made up the isolationist movement in the United States, most formerly backed by the American First Committee. As Arthur Schlesinger Jr. (1917-current, Pulitzer Prize, 1945) points out in his book, A Life in the 20th Century, “In the spring of 1940, Stuart (R. Douglas Stuart, Jr. a Yale Law student, the scion of the Quaker Oats family, and American First Committee’s founder) joined with Gerald Ford, later of the White House, and Potter Stewart, later of the Supreme Court, to circulate a petition that concluded starkly: ‘We demand that Congress refrain from war, even if England is on the verge of defeat.’ Other Yale students joining the cause were Kingman Brewster Jr., later President of Yale, and Ambassador to Great Britain, R. Sargent Shriver, later of the Peace Corps and the War on Poverty, and Jonathan Bingham, later a liberal Democratic Congressman from New York. Among other inherents were Chester Bowles, Willard Wirtz, and Richard M. Bissell, Jr. Among younger adherents was Gore Vidal, who organized the America First cell at Exeter.” The American First movement cut across many cultural and philosophical lines from traditional Republicans to socialists and even Trotskyites.
As late as the last Gallup Poll of December 1941, published right before the attack on Pearl Harbor, over 90% of Americans were opposed to going to war to save Britain. This view was certainly shaped by the strength and intellectually driven American First Committee. Schlesinger writes that, Charles Lindburgh (1902-1974, aviator –isolationist and apologist for the Nazis), “…this best American hero opposed aid to great Britain, now standing alone against Hitler, argued that white people, instead of fighting one or another, must unite to resist the onslaught of the Asiatic hordes.” Eventually the “peace rallies” were attracting all sorts of people and speakers like Burton K. Wheeler (1882-1975, US Senator, MT, 1923-47), Norman Thomas (1884-1968, Socialist Candidate for President) John T. Flynn (1882-1964 anti FDR neocon). Every time the name of Lindburgh was mentioned the crowds would go wild in delirium. At one such rally in Boston Ms. Alice Roosevelt Longworth (1884-1980, daughter of Theodore Roosevelt) sat prominently on the platform with Mrs. Robert A. Taft and with many other political and social dignitaries. Of course this is what President Roosevelt (1882-1945, President 1933-45) had to deal with on a daily basis.
Eventually in September of 1941 as Lindbergh ranted and raved around the country, his rhetoric became much more charged. In a speech in Des Moines he charged, “three groups were driving the United States into war: the New Dealers, the British and the Jews.” He became specific: “Instead of agitating for war, the Jewish groups in this country should be opposing it in every possible way, for they will be among the first to feel its consequences…Their greatest danger to this country lies in their ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio, and our government.” Basically Lindbergh was not only singling out the Jews for protesting German crimes and aggressions, but he was threatening them with the potential of punitive action in the future. He was saying that the Jewish position in the media (the old canard that the Jews control the news!) would be at risk and potentially altered by some future government.
So despite the war, the naked aggression of Germany and its Nazi leadership, the threat to the survival of Europe and the beginning of the Holocaust, Americans cherished isolationism as a way of protecting itself. Let us not fight until we “see the whites of the eyes!” But here the national view was thankfully being shaped carefully by FDR in his famous Four Freedom’s State of the Union address. In that famous address he was able to articulate his future views that would be eventually incorporated in the Atlantic Charter, which he co-signed with Winston Churchill in their meeting in Argentia Bay.
The British “appeasers” of the thirties seemed no different, except that Hitler was located quite near their neighborhood. They were willing to see large tracts of land and their indigenous peoples forcefully fed into the insatiable appetite of the Nazis. Of course, even with their large armies and navies, the Western powers of Britain and France could not agree on a joint course of action. Therefore the peaceful abandonment of the Sudetenland was actuated which led eventually to the destruction of democratic Czechoslovakia, the undermining of Lithuanian control of Memel and its eventual occupation, and the demand for the return of Danzig. Eventually East Prussia and the Polish Corridor would be new bargaining chips placed on the negotiating table that was established by precedent at Munich. German demands for the reunification of East Prussia would finally precipitate the final European crisis that brought on war. Certainly the fact that there were many Jews in both Memel and Czechoslovakia did not engage the sympathy of the British. The French, with their more left leaning government and their connections to Russia, seemed to be more negative towards German bellicosity but felt only a unified stand with the British would be affective against Nazi Germany.
Ironically as you point out so well, the “Appeasers” were still at work even after the fall of Poland. According to Halifax, peace still had a chance and he was still looking for ways to appease the Germans. Accordingly Halifax listed certain conditions that they could live with:
a) Poland was to be reconstituted as an independent state with its eastern border the same as in 1914 and the western border as it was in September of 1939. (This seems to ignore the reality that the Soviet Union occupied half of Poland.)
b) Czechia was to be given a government of her own under German control and to remain part of Germany’s military sphere.
c) The former African and I assume Pacific colonies were to be returned (Would Japan relinquish their League Mandates?)
d) An alliance between European belligerents, plus Spain and Italy would guarantee the peace. Russia was to be omitted from the alliance.
Of course as you note, while Lord Halifax was “dreaming” and as Chamberlain was delaying any real action, the Germans were moving into Norway and the Low Countries. At this was all happening, you quoted the MP Leo Amery (1873-1955, MP and Secretary of State for India and Burma 1940-5), an adamant foe of appeasement, who during a debate in the Commons, on May 7, and 8, 1940, indicated, “enough was enough. The defeatism of Chamberlain’s government must be brought to an end, or the war would be lost, by defeat, or by the humiliation of a compromise peace.” You write that “Amery goes on to quote Oliver Cromwell, as he said to the Long Parliament when he thought it was no longer fit to conduct the affairs of the nation: ‘You have sat too long for any good you have been doing. Depart I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of G-d, go!’”
Of course Chamberlain did not go automatically, and when the reality of the German advance in the West was not going to end, the need for a coalition government was paramount. The war that the “Appeasers” wanted to avoid at all costs was, not now in a far off place, it was knocking on their door. The Labour Party would not join a coalition government headed by Chamberlain and he therefore was forced to resign. But the “Appeasers” did not really disappear and many were rewarded with other posts. Lord Halifax was even made Ambassador to the United States!
Of course this marvelous book answered all of my questions about Chamberlain. I had originally been looking for the exact language and circumstances that brought about the end of the Chamberlain government and on page 351 I found it.
Personally I was looking for a metaphor regarding how a new 2007 Congress would deal with the wartime failures of George W. Bush. Obviously the circumstances, conditions and eras are diametrically different. But maybe the new “Appeasers” are the group of Republican sycophants that have supported almost every one of Bush’s bankrupt and incompetent policies. Of course Bush can remain for two and half more years. But a new Congress can bring new direction to our country.
In the same way that you wrote of Cromwell referring to his army being beaten by the Cavaliers and Prince Rupert’s cavalry 300 years earlier, to the failures that were besetting Britain and would culminate with the disaster at Dunkerque in 1940, we are now experiencing another debilitating war of attrition in the quagmire of Iraq. The history of this current conflict is yet to be written, but for sure fighting it “on the cheap” has not worked, putting in unlimited troops seems not to be an option, and pulling out could possibly make it really much worse.
Regards, and thanks for leading me to the “right” answer,
Richard J. Garfunkel
(Amended and annotated version)
The Appeasers- Phoenix Press 1963