6.06.2008

“The Most Noble And Benevolent Instincts Of The Human Heart”

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Neville Chamberlain, maybe because, not unlike Fred Merkle, he is another example of a historical figure who is remembered primarily for his biggest mistake.

Of course, in Chamberlain’s case, his mistake was more significant than losing the National League Pennant.

Chamberlain, the Prime Minister of Britain from 1937-1940, is (in)famous for his “policy of appeasement”—an attempt to deal with the rising threat of Nazi Germany through diplomatic channels rather than military action.

This policy led to his being duped by Adolf Hitler into signing the Munich Agreement in 1938 in hopes of maintaining peace in Europe, but in reality, it just allowed Hitler to overrun Czechoslovakia without interference from Britain and France.

Chamberlain returned to Britain among cheers, declaring that “peace for our time” had been accomplished. But then, as it became clear that Hitler was less interested in freeing Germans from the Sudetenland and more interested in taking over the world, the cheers ceased and Chamberlain’s popularity plummeted.

He lost his Prime Minister position by May 1940, and would be dead by November of that same year.

Winston Churchill, a great critic of Chamberlain and his eventual successor as British Prime Minister, eulogized him in the House of Commons in this way:

“It fell to Neville Chamberlain in one of the supreme crises of the world to be contradicted by events, to be disappointed in his hopes, and to be deceived and cheated by a wicked man. But what were these hopes in which he was disappointed? What were these wishes in which he was frustrated? What was that faith that was abused? They were surely among the most noble and benevolent instincts of the human heart—the love of peace, the toil for peace, the strife for peace, the pursuit of peace, even at great peril, and certainly to the utter disdain of popularity or clamour. Whatever else history may or may not say about these terrible, tremendous years, we can be sure that Neville Chamberlain acted with perfect sincerity according to his lights and strove to the utmost of his capacity and authority, which were powerful, to save the world from the awful, devastating struggle in which we are now engaged. This alone will stand him in good stead as far as what is called the verdict of history is concerned.”
People who are filled with hope and idealism are often disappointed in life and taken advantage of by others, but I don’t think that makes them any less admirable.

2 comments:

marcg 6/10/08, 9:23 AM  

This is very nice to Neville. He knew that the agreement at Munich, presented by the Italians, was written by the Germans. So many years later, details are blurred if not scrubbed from the account altogether. Chamberlain gave people's land away of whom he had no real right to do, tell the Czechs, give it to him or we'll leave you to fight the Germans alone.

Not an honorable dealer, IMO.

The thing about Neville Chamberlain's legacy that bothers me is the way it is being distortedly rewritten. The problem with Chamberlain wasn't naivete or his willingness to dialog, like the fascists now paint him so that they can smear their contemporaries that don't want war at every turn. The problem with Chamberlain is that he gave away Czechoslavakian's country to Hitler without even telling them first. Not that telling them first would have made it okay.

Nice blog, btw. The Kobe shit is right on.

Luke 6/11/08, 2:30 PM  

marcg,

Thanks for the comment.

You raise a valid point. The Czechs weren’t included in the Munich Agreement, which is part of the reason why some people refer to it as the “Munich Betrayal.”

I disagree with you though about Chamberlain in that I think he was clearly very naive. I think he bought pretty much everything that Hitler told him, including the ideas that he wanted to avoid war, and that everyone in the Sudetenland really wanted to be a part of Germany.

I like the fact that Chamberlain wanted peace and that he thought it could be obtained through negotiation with Hitler, but in hindsight, it clearly was the wrong approach, and the agreement itself, for reasons you stated, was somewhat of a sham.

I’m less trying to excuse Chamberlain, and more just trying to point out that I think his general motive was the preservation of peace, which is a good thing.

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