Tim Bouverie, Appeasement: Chamberlain, Hitler, Churchill, and the Road to War, Tim Duggan Books, 2019, 496 pages, £14.90/$30.00. ISBN 978–0451499844
W. Mark Hamilton is author of The Nation and the Navy: Methods and Organization of British Navalist Propaganda, 1889–1914 (1986).
It is impossible to overstate the devastating impact the First World War had on the British nation and people. The loss of lives and treasure was immense, with 20,000 British soldiers killed on the first day alone of the Battle of the Somme. This enduring impact is front and center in Tim Bouverie’s Appeasement: Chamberlain, Hitler, Churchill, and the Road to War. King George V, whose reign spanned the Great War, once shouted late in his life, “I will not have another war. I will not!” It is against this backdrop that journalist and historian Bouverie provides a fascinating narrative history of the policy of appeasement and its ultimate ramifications in 1939 for Great Britain, Europe, and the world.
The scope of the book runs from when Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933 to the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. In their dealings with a revitalized Germany under Nazi control, both Britain and France pursued appeasement—a foreign policy of making concessions to avoid armed conflict—believing that Germany had been unfairly punished under the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. Underscoring Britain’s deep reluctance to fight another war, the Oxford Union approved in early 1933 the motion: “This House will under no circumstances fight for its King and Country.” In response, Winston Churchill, who was emerging with a small group of supporters as the archenemy of the appeasement policy, called the Oxford Union motion a “disquieting and disgusting symptom” of the times. Bouverie notes that because of Churchill’s aristocratic connections and high social standing, he had access throughout the 1930s to classified information about German motives that was not available to the general public. As a result, Churchill never doubted Germany’s aim to dominate Europe. Read More >
Secretary of the State Dean Acheson addressing the North Atlantic Treaty signing ceremony in Washington, D.C., April 1949
Finest Hour 186, Fourth Quarter 2019
By Klaus Larres
Throughout his long political life Churchill frequently was confronted with the “German Question.” In fact, even prior to the First World War, dealing with Germany became a major preoccupation for him. From the 1930s to his retirement from politics in 1955, it was the German Question that dominated Churchill’s political life and turned him into one of the world’s most successful and most famous politicians.1
Churchill’s first serious encounter with the German Question came just before the cataclysm of 1914 when, as First Lord of the Admiralty, he had to deal with the German-British naval race. At that time he grew so worried about the escalating tension between the world’s foremost empire and the globe’s most aggressive rising power that the young politician reached out to Prime Minister Herbert Asquith and Foreign Minister Edward Grey with the suggestion that he should be given permission to approach formally the German naval minister, the formidable Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, to convene a high-level meeting. Churchill wanted to overcome the naval race through personal negotiations. Read More >
Edwina Sandys is an award-winning artist based in New York City. Her books include Winston Churchill: A Passion for Painting (2015).
“May we dedicate ourselves to hastening the day when all God’s children live in a world without walls, that would be the greatest empire of all.”
President Ronald Reagan, 9 November 1990, Fulton, Missouri
Thirty years ago on 9 November 1989 along with the rest of the world, I was glued to the television screen, watching the Berlin Wall crumble and fall. The souvenir hunters immediately started chipping away. It was, however, only when I learned that the East Germans had removed long stretches of the Wall intact and were selling them that an idea came to me.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful,” I thought, “to get a piece of the wall, make a sculpture out of it, and then place it at Westminster College?” This would forever link the Berlin Wall with my grandfather Winston Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech made at the college in Fulton, Missouri in 1946 and in which he famously said:
From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe…in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject…not only to Soviet influence, but to a very high and in some cases increasing measure of control from Moscow.
Thirty years ago the Berlin Wall “came tumblin’ down.” The largely peaceful end to the Cold War came “quite suddenly and quite unexpectedly,” as Churchill once described the end of the First World War, to the relief of a world that had long lived in fear of nuclear war.
Churchill did not begin the Cold War— as early as 1943 Stalin was directing his armies with an eye towards building his Iron Curtain— but it was Churchill’s famous speech at Fulton, Missouri in March 1946 that alerted the world to the situation that had developed. Timothy Riley tells the story of how Churchill’s remarks at Westminster College were subsequently complemented by those of Mikhail Gorbachev in the aftermath of the Cold War. Edwina Sandys then explains how she conceived the idea for her sculpture Breakthrough that now stands near where her grandfather first outlined the “Sinews of Peace.”
Churchill accepted the invitation to speak in the Show-me State when he saw that it had been endorsed by Missouri’s most famous son, President Harry S. Truman. Alan P. Dobson looks at how Churchill tried working with Truman to preserve the special relationship, even as the Prime Minister took exception to details in the organization of NATO that he felt diminished British importance. Read More >
On 30 January 1933 Adolf Hitler was made Chancellor of Germany, and only a few months later, on 14th October 1933 – now 85 years ago – Germany announced its withdrawal from the League of Nations after the three Allied powers declined its request to increase its military power. The featured document this month illustrates the interwar circumstances which led to Hitler’s rise to power. The Treaty of Versailles which had brought the First World War to an end in 1919 required Germany to accept responsibility for the loss and damage caused in warfare, forcing the country to disarm, make substantial territorial concessions, and pay reparations (fixed at £6.6 billion). These arguably excessive demands, the result of the “lethargy and folly” of British and French governments, added to Germany’s resentment against the victorious Allied powers. When Germany proved unable to keep up with the reparation payments, France and Belgium invaded the Ruhr, taking control of the industry to extract the reparations themselves. The government tried to remedy the economic impact by printing more money, which led to hyperinflation. During the 1920s, the US government supported the German economy with loans in what became known as the ‘Golden Years’, but the collapse of the American economy after the Wall Street Crash during the autumn of 1929 returned Germany to high unemployment and severe poverty.
125 Years ago
Winter 1893 • Age 18
“Distinctly Inclined to Be Inattentive”
Winter was not kind to Winston, but, as usual, he had no one but himself to blame. It began on 10 January during his holiday at the estate of his aunt Lady Wimborne. While being chased by his younger brother Jack and a cousin, Winston was cornered on a long bridge across a ravine some thirty feet below. There were a number of pine trees around whose tops reached the level of the bridge. Winston climbed over the railing. As he later wrote in My Early Life, “Would it not be possible to leap on to one of [the trees] and slip down the pole-like stem, breaking off each tier of branches as one descended until the fall was broken? To plunge or not to plunge, that was the question! In a second, I had plunged, throwing out my arms to embrace the summit of the fir tree. The argument was correct; the data were absolutely wrong. It was three days before I regained consciousness.”
It was a long fall onto hard ground and, in addition to a ruptured kidney, he had also broken his thigh, although the latter injury was not discovered until 1963 when an x-ray was taken aft er he had a fall in Monte Carlo.
Bradley P. Tolppanen is author of Churchill in North America, 1929: A Three Month Tour of Canada and the United States (2014). The original version of this article appeared in FH 142. It has been revised and updated.
On 14 December 1940, as Britain struggled alone against a triumphant Nazi Germany, Winston Churchill briefly set aside his heavy responsibilities to watch with his family and advisers Charlie Chaplin’s new film The Great Dictator. They were at Ditchley Park in Oxfordshire, which was placed at the Prime Minister’s disposal by its owner Ronald Tree MP, on nights when the full moon made Chequers, the PM’s official country house in Buckinghamshire, too inviting a target.
An avid film lover, Churchill naturally enjoyed this pre-release viewing lampooning Hitler, which starred and was directed by an old friend. The Prime Minister laughed throughout, especially the scene where two dictators throw food at each other. After it ended, Churchill returned to composing another secret cable to President Roosevelt.
Churchill had met Chaplin more than a decade earlier, during a tour of North America shortly after the Conservatives had been defeated in the 1929 general election. Despite sharp political differences, Churchill and Chaplin had come to admire and appreciate each other’s qualities, and Chaplin had twice been Churchill’s guest at Chartwell.
Not satisfied with only Austria, Hitler began demanding parts of Czechoslovakia, too. In September 1938, with war against Germany seeming increasingly likely, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain flew to Munich (according to a British Pathe newsreel, his first trip in an aeroplane), to meet the German leader. His aim of this ‘mission of peace’ was to secure a guarantee that there’d be no further German aggression.
On 12 March 1938, Austria was annexed into the German Third Reich. Despite pressure from both Austrian and German Nazis, Austria’s Chancellor had tried to hold a referendum for a vote on whether the Austrian people wanted to remain autonomous but a well-planned attack on Austria’s state institutions by the Austrian Nazi Party, on 11 March, meant the vote was cancelled. Power was transferred to Germany and Hitler’s troops entered Austria and on 13 March, Hitler proclaimed: the union of Austria and Germany.
Lord Randolph was still in South Africa on business during the summer when he received Winston’s letter recounting, among other things, the abandoned factory windows he and some other Harrow students had broken. In his reply to Winston on 27 June, Lord Randolph made no reference to the broken windows. Rather, in distinct contrast to many of his critical letters to his son, he began this one in a cheery upbeat manner:
You cannot think how pleased I was to get your interesting & well-written letter & to learn that you are getting on well. I understand that Mr Welldon thinks you will be able to pass your examination into the Army when the time comes. I hope it may be so, as it will be a tremendous pull for you ultimately.
He concluded the letter with “Ever yr most affte father” and added a p.s. that he was “doubtful about being able to bring home a tame antelope.” In a letter to his father on 22 July, Winston clarified what he wanted: “I never meant you to bring home a ‘live’ antelope. What I meant was a head for my room.” Read More >
Leon Bennett, Churchill’s War Against the Zeppelin 1914–18: Men, Machines and Tactics, Helion, 2015, 406 pages, $59.95. ISBN 978-1909982840
Long interested in both airship history and Churchill, I had high expectations for this book that melds both topics. To a great extent they were met, though with a few frustrations along the way.
Leon Bennett’s book centers on the German Zeppelin (airship) bombing raids against England (and especially London) during the First World War and the defense measures taken to meet the new air threat. German fliers tried to bomb the city for months after the war began in August 1914, but initially managed only sporadic raids against easy-to-find coastal towns. Weather was often the chief culprit—especially capricious winds that could push the huge rigid airships miles off course. Crude nighttime navigation was hit or miss, often the latter. British airships (also covered here) faced the same limitations—a key reason that Churchill, after initial enthusiasm, became a consistent critic of the technology. Despite his misgivings, however, the British continued their expensive airship program after the war until the R 101 tragedy in 1930 shut down the effort.
When the huge and clumsy Zeppelins succeeding in hitting something in the Great War, public panic far exceeded the casualties or physical damage. For here was an invasion for which, at first, there seemed no defense. Gradually the fledgling British Royal Flying Corps and Naval Air Service developed methods of fighting the floating “baby killers,” including the use of searchlights and anti-aircraft guns, plus slowly improving fighter aircraft. The airship’s chief weakness was its reliance on highly flammable Read More >
In the first volume of his Second World War memoirs, Winston Churchill published the following account based on a German report:
At 01.30 on October 14, 1939, H.M.S. Royal Oak, lying at anchor in Scapa Flow, was torpedoed by U.47 (Lieutenant Prien). The operation had been carefully planned by Admiral Doenitz himself, the Flag Officer (Submarines). Prien left Kiel on October 8…course N.N.W., Scapa Flow….The boat crept steadily closer to Holm Sound, the eastern approach to Scapa Flow. Unfortunate it was [for the British] that these channels had not been completely blocked. A narrow passage lay open between two sunken ships. With great skill Prien steered through the swirling waters….Then suddenly the whole bay opened out. Kirk Sound was passed. They were in. There under the land to the north could be seen the great shadow of a battleship lying on the water, with the great mast rising above it like a piece of filigree on a black cloth. Near, nearer—all tubes clear—no alarm, no sound but the lap of the water, the low hiss of air pressure and the sharp click of a tube lever. Los! [Fire!]—five seconds—ten seconds—twenty seconds. Then came a shattering explosion, and a great pillar of water rose in the darkness. Prien waited some minutes to fire another salvo. Tubes ready. Fire! The torpedoes hit amidships, and there followed a series of crashing explosions. H.M.S. Royal Oak sank, with the loss of 786 officers and men…. U.47 crept quietly away back through the gap.1 Read More >
Kaarel Piirimäe, Roosevelt, Churchill, and the Baltic Question: Allied Relations during the Second World War, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, xvi + 276 pages, $90.
This book’s cover accurately labels the Baltic nations “a neglected corner of wartime Europe.” But Josef Stalin never neglected them, occupying Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania without ceremony in June 1940. He had waited while fighting the Winter War with Finland in the hope that the three states would Sovietize themselves— which they did not. The swift fall of France that spring only fed Stalin’s suspicions that some sort of Anglo-German entente was afoot, prompting his move.
What could the little Baltic states do? Caught between the Soviet Union and Germany, they had no political leverage and even less military strength. All they really had was their own sense of cultural and (to a somewhat exaggerated degree) historic nationalism. As with Finland, the West reflexively empathized and sympathized (though much less noisily)—and did nothing. Whether the West could have done anything effective is what this book is about.
The stage was set for the entire war by the initial reactions of Britain and the United States: reactions too minor to be called policy. The personal involvement of Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt showed equal indifference. Soviet concerns and reactions were far more important to the two leaders than awkward promises of self-determination made in the Atlantic Charter. Read More >
The greatest book of the twentieth century is The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. Anne’s tragically short biography is well known. She was born on 12 June 1929 in Frankfurt, Germany, a city with a long and rich history of Jewish culture. After the Nazis came to power in 1933, her family emigrated to the Netherlands and settled in Amsterdam.
Anne adored her adoptive country, but following the German invasion of the Netherlands in the spring of 1940 (on the day Churchill became prime minister), Anne’s father Otto began to make arrangements to hide his family from the inevitable Nazi roundup of Jews.
On 6 July 1942 the Franks and another family went into hiding together in a specially prepared “secret annex” at the back of a warehouse on the Prinsengracht Canal, now home to the Anne Frank Museum. Altogether there were eight people in seclusion: Anne, her sister Margot, their parents Otto and Edith, Hermann and Auguste Van Pels (known as the Van Daans in the book), their sixteen-year-old son Peter, and, starting in November 1942, Fritz Pfeffer (an elderly dentist known in the book as Mr. Dussel). Read More >
Professor David Patterson holds the Hillel A. Feinberg Chair in Holocaust Studies in the Ackerman Center for Holocaust Studies at The University of Texas at Dallas.
Malcolm MacDonald, the son of Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald. As Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1939, he produced the controversial White Paper restricting Jewish immigration into Palestine.
Sir Winston Churchill was known for his foresight. Just as he saw the gathering storm over Europe long before the Second World War broke out, so he understood early on the singularity of what we now call the Holocaust, Shoah, Churban, Final Solution, Judenvernichtung, or simply, in Paul Celan’s words, “that which happened.”1 In his radio broadcast of 24 August 1941, just two months after the Einsatzgruppen killing units began the systematic murder of the Jewish people, Churchill announced that Jews in “whole districts are being exterminated,” adding, “We are in the presence of a crime without a name.”2
Well before the Nazis were gassing and burning Jews in the six extermination camps a year later, Churchill understood that what was to be called the Holocaust was something more than mass murder, something more than the annihilation of a people.3 Unlike most others, he had some sense of just what the Nazis set out to exterminate in their total extermination of the Jews, from Tromsø to Tunis, namely, the millennial teaching and testimony that the Jewish people represent by their very presence in the world.
Churchill’s insight into this aspect of the nameless crime can be seen in his view of the Zionists’ effort to seek a haven for the Jews in the Land of the Covenant. When as First Lord of the Admiralty he first met with Zionist leader Chaim Read More >
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The next issue of Finest Hour will be about "Churchill, Race, and Religion." In the foreword, Lord Boateng, Chair of the Churchill Archives Trust, writes: “Sir Winston did not run away from controversy in his life and would not expect anything less in that which has followed. We do owe him and each other, however, civility and respect in the conduct of those arguments—not least, since we owe to him and the global anti-fascist fight, which he helped lead to such good effect, the secure freedom to hold those arguments at all.” … See MoreSee Less
The International Churchill Society (ICS), founded in 1968 shortly after Churchill's death, is the world’s preeminent member organisation dedicated to preserving the historic legacy of Sir Winston Churchill.
At a time when leadership is challenged at every turn, that legacy looms larger and remains more relevant than ever.