- Historic Sites
A Dreamer Wide Awake
October 1965 | Volume 16, Issue 6
Chamberlain, as a matter of fact, has been damned by his phrases as much as anything else. He couldn’t really have believed in “Peace in our Time” or he wouldn’t have started the rearmament policy after Munich, half-hearted though it was, which led to Hitler’s October 10, 1938 speech at Saarbrucken attacking the “British war-mongers.” That he said it, however, makes him guilty of misleading the British people.
Appeasement was, therefore, as I have said, partly based on the mistaken belief that peace might be achieved by concession but it was also a realistic hard-headed policy of playing for time. There is little doubt that history will show that if England had fought in 1938, she would have been blown off the map. She had no A.R.P., few fighters, few bombers, and her production was just beginning. There was no balloon barrage, no anti-aircraft, no camouflaged factories—she was wide open for a knockout. Her armament program was not scheduled to come to harvest till 1940 and 41. The appeasement policy had some realism in that it endeavored to postpone the war until the country could at least protect itself from a quick disasterous blow.
I’m not defending appeasement—it has been proved a failure both by our own experience and by Britain’s. But what I am trying to show is that the popular version of appeasement and its causes is not completely the true one and that in our bitter attacks on it, we missed the fundamental truth that the Munich part and other concessions were not so much a failure of British diplomacy to provide security as of British democracy to provide armaments. Chamberlain, and the other appeasers should have been attacked not for the appeasement policy as such, but for their failure to take full advantage of the breathing spell that their policy granted them. We also may as well plead guilty to the same indictment, the prosecutor would need only point to the headlines to convict us.
Bernard Baruch hit the truth when he said on returning home from Europe in 1938, “If they had been ready, it (Munich) would have been a different story.” He warned we should learn the lesson of Munich and prepare ourselves. We didn’t. We wasted bitter criticism on the symptom —and missed the cause. If we had not made the mistake of assuming that appeasement was purely a selfish policy drawn up by a group of Tories at Cliveden to save their own hides, our rearmament program might have started a year and a half sooner.
I’ve gone at some length into these points which I understand, of course, have little to do with your general thesis, but your book interested me tremendously—and I thought that perhaps these two points might be of some interest to you.
John F. Kennedy