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A Dreamer Wide Awake
October 1965 | Volume 16, Issue 6
In 1926, when led by Stresemann, Germany entered the League. Her central theme was that the Allies should grant her equality by carrying out the provisions of their written documents. Only thus could Germany escape the humiliation forced on her by the “war guilt” clause. And that the Allies refused to do. With the single exception of Britain, no country in the post-war period reduced their armament expenditures, and England’s were chiefly nominal. In the early 30’s, however, there was a growing realization that unless Germany was granted armament equality, the sands of the uneasy post-war peace would swiftly run out. It was this realization that accounted for the almost hysterical importance countries like Britain attached to the disarmament conferences of 1932-1934. And it was the failure of the Conference of 1932, that really doomed peace for our time.
I do not think it unreasonable to say that the great crises in the diplomacy of the last decade was not reached at Manchuria, or at the Rhineland, or Spain, or Munich, which are popularly believed to be the great might-have-beens of the democracies. Rather, it came in the spring of 1932, when the German Moderates led by Bruening came with their hats in their hands to ask not for an actual equality of armaments, but only that equality be conceded in principal, while ample safeguard would be granted the French to insure them practical superiority. If the French, who were naturally the great opponent to the concessions to Germany had been willing to accept this compromise, it would have strengthened the German Moderates at home immeasurably. Bruening, with this great victory under his belt, a victory which would have raised the prestige of Germany through the world, and that if his own administration at home, might well have had the political ammunition to blow the rising forces of Nazism off the face of the earth.
Instead, the French refused. Chiefly was this due to the unwillingness of the French leader, Tardieu. His great objection seems to have been based on the purely domestic consideration that the French public was swinging to the Right, and that if he conceded to the German request, he would be defeated in the forthcoming General Election. Ironically enough, Tardieu misjudged the temper of the French swing. It was to the Left, not the Right, and he lost the election.
The French then made advances. It was too late now; Bruening had been thrown out on his return to Germany with his failure, and had been succeeded by von Papen and Schliecher. The German price was up. Nazism was on the march to complete power. The Germans, despairing of achieving equality through negotiation, decided to gain superiority through force. And so for want of an election, peace was lost; and Mr. Bruening teaches at Harvard, while Hitler rules Europe.
The second point I thought I would mention concerns your statement on page 13 in regard to the “British upper-crust,” who “nearly ‘appeased’ their nation into destruction.” You imply that the bases of the appeasement policy was the British Aristocracy’s fear of a Red revolution at home. It is true, of course, that the thought of Communism kept British Tories awake at night, but they were not alone. That feeling permeated the entire country; witness the ejection of Sir Stafford Cripps from the Labour Party. It is also true that a fundamental of British foreign policy during the 30’s was to see that Hitler never forgot that his principal objective, as set down in his Kampf, was Russia. From the British point of view this was not completely unsound. But, granting that the fear of a Red revolution was great, to say that this is what led to the appeasement policy is not quite correct.
I think that there was, and is, a great misconception in this country regarding British appeasement. It has been damned so much that no one wants to discuss it too closely for fear of becoming identified with it. And yet, British appeasement wag as much an effect as a cause—it was the effect of Britain’s failure to provide armaments. And for this failure— all must bear their share of the responsibility. British Laborites, who, while they attacked Nazism in bitter terms, yet voted with sickening regularity year in and year out, were indirectly just as responsible for British appeasement as were any Tories who gathered at Cliveden.
Appeasement, of course, was not completely due to lack of armaments. It was based partly on the mistaken belief that the aches and pains of Europe could be eased through soothing applications rather than the violent purgative of war. This was not, however, all of appeasement—there was a parallel policy. Neville Chamberlain gave it in 1937, when he first announced the policy of making “substantial effort to remove the causes which are delaying the return of confidence.” This parallel policy announced at the same time, was that of “continuing our program of the reestablishment of our defense forces.”
Chamberlain was wrong in that he sincerely believed peace could be won through negotiation. His policy was disasterous, in that his belief and confidence in achieving that peace gave the British people a feeling of confidence that there would be peace, which had a grave effect on the rearmament effort. But he was not a doddering old fool, he was not completely taken in by Hitler, and he was not a man who sold his country down the river for his own group’s interest.