Neville Chamberlain: An important lesson from History


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In a couple of posts now on the topic of Barack Obama's foreign policy, I have made reference to Neville Chamberlain. Few people today recall this man and his views. Here are some excerpts from speeches by the then British Prime Minister that show just how misled he was and how his actions actually helped perpetrate the Second World War. I hope you take the time to read them. Personally, I find the parallels to today chilling.

Speech given in the House of Commons, February 21, 1938

In order that the House may have before it as complete a picture as possible of the events which have led up to the present situation, I must ask for their indulgence while I endeavour to state once again my own views upon certain aspects of foreign policy—views which have never altered, and which have been shared by all my colleagues. On a former occasion I described that policy as being based upon three principles—first, on the protection of British interests and the lives of British nationals; secondly, on the maintenance of peace, and, as far as we can influence it, the settlement of differences by peaceful means and not by force; and, thirdly, the promotion of friendly relations with other nations who are willing to reciprocate our friendly feelings and who will keep those rules of international conduct without which there can be neither security nor stability.

It is not enough to lay down general principles. If we truly desire peace, it is, in my opinion, necessary to make a sustained effort to ascertain, and if possible remove, the causes which threaten peace and which now, for many months, have kept Europe in a state of tension and anxiety. There is another fact which points in the same direction. We are in this country now engaged upon a gigantic scheme of rearmament which most of us believe to be essential to the maintenance of peace. Other countries are doing the same. Indeed, we were the last of the nations to rearm, but this process of general rearmament has been forced upon us all, because every country is afraid to disarm lest it should fall a victim to some armed neighbour. I recognise the force of that hard fact, but I have never ceased publicly to deplore what seems to me a senseless waste of money, for which everyone will have to pay dearly, if they are not paying for it already. I cannot believe that, with a little good will and determination, it is not possible to remove genuine grievances and to clear away suspicions which may be entirely unfounded.

For these reasons, then, my colleagues; and I have been anxious to find some opportunity of entering upon conversations with the two European countries with which we have been at variance, namely, Germany and Italy, in order that we might find out whether there was any common ground on which we might build up a general scheme of appeasement in Europe. It is not necessary now to enter upon a discussion upon our relations with Germany, because it is not over those that this difference has arisen. I would only observe that the visit of the Lord President of the Council to Germany marked the first attempt to explore the ground, and that we hope, in the light of the information which we then obtained, to pursue that matter further at a convenient opportunity. In the case of 55 Italy there has been what my right hon. Friend has alluded to as the gentlemen's agreement of January, 1937, an agreement which it was hoped was going to be the first step in the clearing up of the situation between ourselves and the Italian Government.


Towards the end of July, after a speech which was made by the Foreign Secretary in the House of Commons on the 19th of that month, the Italian Ambassador, Count Grandi, informed my right hon. Friend that that speech had made an excellent impression in Italy and that the situation seemed to be so much easier that he was encouraged to deliver to me, as Prime Minister, a message which Signor Mussolini had authorised him to make use of when he thought that the moment was propitious.

Accordingly, I arranged for Count Grandi to come to see me on 27th July. The message which he brought me from Signor Mussolini was of a friendly character. I felt that we were presented with an opportunity for improving our relations which ought not to be missed. I decided to take what I considered then, and what I consider now, to be the course which was best calculated to serve the purpose, namely, to put aside ordinary diplomatic formalities and send a personal reply in cordial terms by way of response. Perhaps I may remind the House of the words which I used on this subject in reply to the hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris), who asked whether I could publish in a White Paper the correspondence between Signor Mussolini and myself. My reply was as follows: "No, Sir. That correspondence was personal, but I have no, objection to telling the House the purport of it. At the end of July last the Italian Ambassador brought me a message from Signor Mussolini of a friendly character. I took advantage of the opportunity to send Signor Mussolini a personal letter expressing my regret that relations between Great Britain and Italy were still far from that old feeling of mutual confidence and affection which lasted for so many years. I went on to state my belief that those old feelings could be restored if we could clear away certain misunderstandings and unfounded suspicions, and I declared the readiness of His Majesty's Government at any time to enter upon conversations with that object. I was glad to receive from Signor Mussolini, immediately, a reply in which he expressed his own sincere wish to restore good relations between our two countries and his agreement with the suggestion that conversations should be entered upon in order to ensure the desired understanding between the two countries.


There remains a further brief chapter of the history which I must now relate. This morning I received a call from the Italian Ambassador in accordance with the arrangements made when we parted on Friday last. He had been in communication with his Government over the weekend, and he began by informing me that he had received from them a communication, which I think I had better read to the House. It is as follows: "The Italian Ambassador informs the Prime Minister that he has submitted to the Italian Government the proposals suggested at their meeting of last Friday, and is glad to convey to him the Italian Government's acceptance 62 of the British formula concerning the withdrawal of foreign volunteers and granting of belligerent rights." I have not the formula with me, but I think the House is familiar with it. It is that when a certain proportion of volunteers on both sides has been withdrawn there should be granted belligerent rights. I think I can say that in handing me this communication the Italian Ambassador intimated that I was to regard it as a gesture on the part of his Government indicating the spirit of good will and good feeling in which they would wish to begin our conversations.


I told the (Italian) Ambassador that I wished to impress upon him certain points. First of all I told him that the British Government regarded a settlement of the Spanish question as an essential feature of any agreement at which we might arrive. No agreement could be considered complete unless it contained a settlement of the Spanish question.

Secondly, I repeated that, as he had been already told by my right hon. Friend, we were loyal members of the League, and that if we came to an agreement we should desire to obtain the approval of the League for it. I said it was essential that it should not be possible, if we went to the League to recommend the approval of the agreement, for it to be said that the situation in Spain during the conversations had been materially altered by Italy, either by sending fresh reinforcements to Franco 63 or by failing to implement the arrangements contemplated by the British formula. I added that I did not believe these intimations would occasion his Government a moment's anxiety, since I was confident that his Government would approach the negotiations in the same spirit as we should do, namely, in perfect good faith and with a sincere desire to reach agreement.

Perhaps in that last sentence I have expressed that difference in outlook between my right hon. Friend and myself of which he has told us of his consciousness. I am not here to say that the actions of the Italian Government in the past have been satisfactory to me, but I am concerned with the future, not the past. I believe that if these negotiations are approached in a spirit of mutual confidence there is a good hope that they may be brought to a successful conclusion, but if you are going beforehand to enter upon them in a spirit of suspicion, then none of those conditions that you can think of, the initial withdrawal of troops or anything else that my right hon. Friend suggests, are going to save you. If there is going to be bad faith there will be bad faith, and no assurances beforehand are going to alter it.


The question is whether we are to enter upon negotiations or to refuse even to contemplate them, and if there be any here who really wish to obtain peace do they think they can ever obtain peace by continuing a vendetta and refusing even to talk about their differences? I have never been more completely convinced of the rightness of any course that I have had to take than I am to-day of the rightness of the decision to which the Cabinet came yesterday. What we are seeking to do is to get a general appeasement throughout Europe which will give us peace.

The peace of Europe must depend upon the attitude of the four major Powers—Germany, Italy, France and ourselves. For ourselves, we are linked to France by common ideals of democracy, of liberty and Parliamentary government. France need not fear that the resignation of my right hon. Friend upon this issue signifies any departure from the policy of the closest friendship with France of which he has been such a distinguished exponent. I count myself as firm a friend of France as my right hon. Friend. The difference between him and me will never mean that there is any difference between us about our relations with France. On the other side we find Italy and Germany linked by affinities of outlook and in the forms of their government. The question that we have to think of is this: Are we to allow these two pairs of nations to go on glowering at one another across the frontier, allowing the feeling between the two sides to become more and more embittered, until at last the barriers are broken down and the conflict begins which many think would mark the end of civilisation? Or can we bring them to an understanding of one another's aims and objects, and to such discussion as may lead to a final settlement? If we can do that, if we can bring these four nations into friendly discussion, into a settling of their differences, we shall have saved the peace of Europe for a generation. My right hon. Friend and I have differed not upon these general aims, which we share with equal earnestness and conviction, but in my judgment—and I hope that the House will agree with me and my colleagues in this—the response made this morning, the desire which was expressed by the Italian Government for a frank discussion, constitute an important step towards the accomplishment of our purpose.

Speech given in House of Commons, September 27, 1938

How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas masks here because of a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing. It seems still more impossible that a quarrel which has already been settled in principle should be the subject of war.

I can well understand the reasons why the Czech Government have felt unable to accept the terms which have been put before them in the German memorandum. Yet I believe after my talks with Herr Hitler that, if only time were allowed, it ought to be possible for the arrangements for transferring the territory that the Czech Government has agreed to give to Germany to be settled by agreement under conditions which would assure fair treatment to the population concerned. . . .

However much we may sympathize with a small nation confronted by a big and powerful neighbor, we cannot in all circumstances undertake to involve the whole British Empire in war simply on her account. If we have to fight it must be on larger issues than that. I am myself a man of peace to the depths of my soul. Armed conflict between nations is a nightmare to me; but if I were convinced that any nation had made up its mind to dominate the world by fear of its force, I should feel that it must be resisted. Under such a domination life for people who believe in liberty would not be worth living; but war is a fearful thing, and we must be very clear, before we embark upon it, that it is really the great issues that are at stake, and that the call to risk everything in their defense, when all the consequences are weighed, is irresistible.

Speech given at airport on return from Munich, September 30, 1938

We, the German Führer and Chancellor, and the British Prime Minister, have had a further meeting today and are agreed in recognizing that the question of Anglo-German relations is of the first importance for our two countries and for Europe. We regard the agreement signed last night and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again. We are resolved that the method of consultation shall be the method adopted to deal with any other questions that may concern our two countries, and we are determined to continue our efforts to remove possible sources of difference, and thus to contribute to assure the peace of Europe.

My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time...

Go home and get a nice quiet sleep.

Speech given in House of Commons, October 3, 1938:

Before giving a verdict upon this arrangement, we should do well to avoid describing it as a personal or a national triumph for anyone. The real triumph is that it has shown that representatives of four great Powers can find it possible to agree on a way of carrying out a difficult and delicate operation by discussion instead of by force of arms, and thereby they have averted a catastrophe which would have ended civilisation as we have known it. The relief that our escape from this great peril of war has, I think, everywhere been mingled in this country with a profound feeling of sympathy.

[Hon. Members: "Shame."]

I have nothing to be ashamed of. Let those who have, hang their heads. We must feel profound sympathy for a small and gallant nation in the hour of their national grief and loss.

I say in the name of this House and of the people of this country that Czechoslovakia has earned our admiration and respect for her restraint, for her dignity, for her magnificent discipline in face of such a trial as few nations have ever been called upon to meet.

The army, whose courage no man has ever questioned, has obeyed the order of their president, as they would equally have obeyed him if he had told them to march into the trenches. It is my hope and my belief, that under the new system of guarantees, the new Czechoslovakia will find a greater security than she has ever enjoyed in the past. . . .

I pass from that subject, and I would like to say a few words in respect of the various other participants, besides ourselves, in the Munich Agreement. After everything that has been said about the German Chancellor today and in the past, I do feel that the House ought to recognise the difficulty for a man in that position to take back such emphatic declarations as he had already made amidst the enthusiastic cheers of his supporters, and to recognise that in consenting, even though it were only at the last moment, to discuss with the representatives of other Powers those things which he had declared he had already decided once for all, was a real and a substantial contribution on his part. With regard to Signor Mussolini, . . . I think that Europe and the world have reason to be grateful to the head of the Italian government for his work in contributing to a peaceful solution.

In my view the strongest force of all, one which grew and took fresh shapes and forms every day war, the force not of any one individual, but was that unmistakable sense of unanimity among the peoples of the world that war must somehow be averted. The peoples of the British Empire were at one with those of Germany, of France and of Italy, and their anxiety, their intense desire for peace, pervaded the whole atmosphere of the conference, and I believe that that, and not threats, made possible the concessions that were made. I know the House will want to hear what I am sure it does not doubt, that throughout these discussions the Dominions, the Governments of the Dominions, have been kept in the closest touch with the march of events by telegraph and by personal contact, and I would like to say how greatly I was encouraged on each of the journeys I made to Germany by the knowledge that I went with the good wishes of the Governments of the Dominions. They shared all our anxieties and all our hopes. They rejoiced with us that peace was preserved, and with us they look forward to further efforts to consolidate what has been done.

Ever since I assumed my present office my main purpose has been to work for the pacification of Europe, for the removal of those suspicions and those animosities which have so long poisoned the air. The path which leads to appeasement is long and bristles with obstacles. The question of Czechoslovakia is the latest and perhaps the most dangerous. Now that we have got past it, I feel that it may be possible to make further progress along the road to sanity.

On September 1, 1939 Hitler invaded Poland and seven months later invaded Denmark, Norway, France, Belgium, Holland, and Luxembourg and the rest of Europe and the Balkans with Italy at his side. Thus began six long years of horror in Europe and around the world.


Well-Known Member
Old guys remember.....

Yes the parallels are CHILLING!



Santayana's famous aphorism "the one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again" is inscribed on a plaque at the Auschwitz concentration camp translated into Polish (above) and on a subway placard in Germany (below)


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Yep, substitute "United States" for "Great Britain, "Barack Obama" for "Neville Chamberlain", "Israel" for "Czechoslovakia", and "Iran" for "Germany" and you have an eerily similar scenario to today.


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mattfivefour said:
Yep, substitute "United States" for "Great Britain, "Barack Obama" for "Neville Chamberlain", "Israel" for "Czechoslovakia", and "Iran" for "Germany" and you have an eerily similar scenario to today.

Bullseye Bro !


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Thanks for posting that article. I don't know how many stories that I listened to about WWII from my dad who fought in Europe. Chamberlain and the rest didn't want to believe that Hitler would continue his rampage after taking Czechoslovakia. That lesson cost millions of lives. The Jews can't afford to repeat that part of history. :ohno


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Yes, I am all too familiar with Neville Chamberlain; my dad often spoke of him and his policy of appeasement. It didn't work then, as Hitler still ravaged Europe and murdered countless people (including the attempted annihilation of the Jewish Race), and it doesn't work today.

You cannot appease bullies and tyrants; they never have "enough".