Monday, 12 January 2015

NEVILLE CHAMBERLAIN (1869-1940)

    NEVILLE CHAMBERLAIN:   a weak, umbrella-toting, short-sighted prime minister whose policy of appeasement encouraged Adolf Hitler to greater aggression. 
     Really? . . . In a democracy a leader can rarely exceed the bounds set by the electorate.   Yet a democracy is often cruel to a leader who, thus shackled, fails to cope with situations not of his own making. The statesman is the scapegoat for the electorate.  Thucydides (455-400 B.C.), great Greek historian and general, was given inadequate forces to defend Thasos, yet was exiled from Athens for 20 years when the brilliant Spartan, General Brasidas, took Amphilpolis, Thagos, in a winter attack.  Even  winning  statesmen are often faced with ingratitude. Themistocles, who in 480 B.C., saved Athenian democracy from vastly superior Persian invaders, was later forced into exile.  Woodrow Wilson, who inspired the world with his conciliation and his League of Nations, was disavowed by his own United States.    Winston Churchill, a major architect of Allied victory in World War 11, was dismissed by the British electorate as soon as victory was won.  In the Great War of 1914-1918 the upper classes in the United Kingdom lost proportionately more men than did the other classes, so there was pressure from all sides to avoid any path that might entangle the nation in another war. Throughout the Commonwealth, France, the United States, and like-minded nations, there lingered a vivid memory of the horrors of war, so military preparedness was shunned or actively opposed.
      Chamberlain was bound to do his utmost to avoid war.  He was no fool; he had a commendable political record; and he feared what the dictators were doing. To deter them he had to put his faith in personal diplomacy.  As chancellor of the exchequer, Chamberlain did start rearmament in1934.  Had he not done so we would not have won the war.  He had to proceed cautiously so as not to arouse the electorate. They say that a good minister of finance can, on the books, quietly charge appropriations to HANGERS, Coat, when actually going to HANGARS, Aircraft, and Chamberlain had to resort to something like that.  The great fear of the day was from aerial bombardment, but Chamberlain pushed more money into bomber, rather than fighter, development.   Obviously, he knew that wars are not won with defensive fighters.  He targeted for 500 bombers to be ready by 1939.  It takes from 5 to 9 years to design, build, and bring to operational status fighters or bombers.  In 1937, after Sir John Simon and Anthony Eden visited Hitler, Chamberlain raised his target to 840 bombers by 1937, truly a rush job.  In 1936, specifications were approved for "heavies" (Stirlings, Halifaxes, Lancasters) that could carry 12,000- pound (5400 kg) bombs. This is appeasement?  To try to woo Mussolini from Hitler, he wanted his 1934 sanctions (Ethiopia) removed in 1935.  In 1937 he got assurance of Canadian support from Prime Minister MacKenzie King, but both men had to tread lightly.  King wanted a united Canada - and Quebec could be alienated by precipitous action.  King allowed Royal Air Force (RAF) recruitment in Canada without fanfare.  Canada, with depression hangovers, welcomed the armament orders Chamberlain placed in Canada where the British electorate would not notice the alarming course of events.  In Canada plans were laid for a sudden, and tremendous, expansion.
        During the 1938 Sudeten crisis the RAF had only 93 fighters to face 1,200 Luftwaffe bombers.  The French had fewer than 25 bombers. Chamberlain and Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax knew they could not fight Hitler over Czechoslovakia, but did force out of Hitler his "no further territorial ambitions" promise. 
    A year makes a big difference. The fact that the RAF mushroomed to include 26 Hurricane and Spitfire squadrons by September 1939 reveals that Chamberlain placed little faith in Hitler's promise.  British output of combat aircraft was now up to 100 per month, and growing.  Army and Navy units were steadily strengthened.
    Chamberlain helped arrange the highly-successful 1938 Canadian tour of George VI and Queen Elizabeth to cement British-Canadian solidarity.  After Hitler's broken promise and conquest of the rest of Czechoslovakia, Chamberlain offered guarantees to Poland, Romania, and Greece.   In 1914 Britain had offered no such guarantees even to France.  With growing strength Chamberlain was more willing to try to frighten Hitler into desisting.  In the 1940 blitzkrieg prior to Dunkerque, it is often overlooked that the RAF inflicted 1,284 losses on the Luftwaffe at a cost of 959 RAF aircraft, a feat that would have been impossible had Chamberlain been the appeaser it is said he was. 
       Fans are fickle.  They were willing to provide a human carpet for Chamberlain to walk on when he returned from Munich with "Peace in our Lifetime".   They were willing to crucify him when appeasement did not work.  Chamberlain failed in directing public opinion;  so did MacKenzie King.  Churchill and Roosevelt were better at this sort of thing.  Churchill and Roosevelt, however, needed the right climate to help them with the directing.  Chamberlain did not have the climate, so he had to work quietly and unobtrusively.  Rather than rave about his shortcomings, perhaps we should criticize ourselves and the shortcomings of democratic electorates. 
Neville resigned as PM 10 May 1940, but remained in the coalition government of Winston Churchill to whom he gave invaluable support until his death 09 November 1940.


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