Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Churchill Series – Dec. 19, 2007

(One of a series of weekday posts on the life of Winston S. Churchill.)

This is the second of a two-part series. The first post here outlined some of the reasons why it was relatively easy for Hitler to convince the German people they should rearm.

Today’s post looks at why it was so difficult for Churchill and others to convince Britain to rearm during as the Nazi menace grew.

Historians agree the German people were resentful of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles imposed on them and angry at the failure of the Weimar democratic governments to control inflation and restore the economy. Resentful and seeing themselves as weak, they were "an easy mark” for someone like Hitler and his rearmament policies

In Britain the situation was different. It was one of WW I’s “winners” but at a terrible price summarized in the phrase Briton’s used to describe their war dead: “the lost generation.” As “winners” who’d never-the-less lost a generation, the British people were determined to preserve what they had and avoid losing another generation.

Also, during the 20s and 30s Britain, while suffering serious economic downturns, was far more economically strong and politically stable than Germany

So appeasement, with it’s promise that by accommodation with Hitler another terrible war could be avoided, had great appeal to most, but no means all, Britons.

In Troublesome Young Men: The Rebels Who Brought Churchill To Power And Helped Save England author Lynne Olson points to another reason Churchill was frustrated in his efforts to convince Britain to rearm: the opposition of Neville Chamberlain, first while he served as chancellor of the exchequer during Stanley Baldwin’s premiership and then as prime minister when he succeeded Baldwin:

Determined to save England and the rest of the world from another conflagration, Chamberlain would listen to no one who disagreed with him about how that was to be done [once he became prime minister in May 1937.] …

“I am myself a man of peace to the depths of my soul,” he later declared. “Armed conflict between nations is a nightmare to me.” …
Olson then provides a psychologically insightful quote from another author who studied Britain’s reluctance to rearm:
"A boxer cannot work himself into a proper psychological and physical condition for a fight that he seriously believes will never come off. It was the same with England,” John F. Kennedy wrote in Why England Slept, his 1940 study of British appeasement.