My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This might be my last review of a book received through the discontinued Penguin Books First to Read program. I requested 29 since 2015 and was selected for 19 (I might read one more that I was not selected for, thus the “might”) and I appreciate the opportunities.
Bouverie has composed an incredibly thorough relation of a narrow history of a particular time for a particular country, and particular players and their particularly disastrous choices of action. His political journalist chops are apparent…his research is extensive. For a reader not of his country, the insights were well received, including the acerbic observations throughout (on the future Edward VIII and his hands off opinion, Bouverie said “[l]acking intelligence and a sense of constitutional propriety, the Prince made his views clear …”) There are lessons here that are not being heeded in the country of this reader. I may draw crosshairs for finding parallels in a particular political party’s appeasement of the heinous actions and comportment of the current (as of this writing) elected executive. There are other observations that parallel today; one being:
I have the impression that the persons directing the policy of the Hitler Government are not normal. Many of us, indeed, have a feeling that we are living in a country where fanatics, hooligans and eccentrics have got the upper hand.
– British Ambassador to Berlin [Sir Horace Rumbold] to the Foreign Secretary [Sir John Simon], June 30, 1933
Hitler laid out in plain text his intentions in his manifesto Mein Kampf, yet somehow the sign were ignored. (Obviously I wasn’t there…and hindsight is always clearer.) Rumbold wrote to General Sir Ian Hamilton in 1938
The continued effort to exterminate the Jews [Bouverie inserts “four years before the Wannsee Conference at which the ‘Final Soultion’ was agreed”] is part of their policy I cannot understand and this is turning the world opinion against them with all its dangerous repercussions…
Unheeded. Rumbold makes another appearance in the epigraph to chapter VII “Hitler’s Wonderland”:
I have rather come to the conclusion that he average Englishman – whilst full of common sense as regards to internal affairs – is often muddle-headed, sloppy and gullible when he considers foreign affairs.
Huh. Fast forward to 2016 and since…little has changed save that maybe that common sense regarding internal affairs has waned (I speculate for Great Britain, but observe in the US.)
There is a lot here. A lot. I’ll fast forward myself… Thanks to Bouverie, one can’t help but feel for the bumbling of Chamberlain. When Germany invaded Czechoslovakia in 1939, Bouverie says
The consensus that appeasement was now dead was instantaneous. In one swift stroke, Hitler had broken his word – repudiating the claim that Sudetenland constituted his last territorial demand – and revealed that “lust for conquest” with which his critics had always charged him. There could be no further dealings with such a man and, as one Chamberlain loyalist noted in his diary, “we” should fight him as soon as “we are strong enough.”
The French knew they had to prepare for war, but “Chamberlain, by contrast, did not immediately grasp the transformative nature of the event.”
Bouverie snarks politely more than once, but (mostly) maintains his journalistic professionalism (I laughed at his comment on the British representative to the Soviet talks in 1939, Admiral the Honorable Sir Reginald Aylmer Ranfurly Plunkett-Ernle-Drax, as sounding “like a character from a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta.”!) But he is hard on point in his conclusion
The failure to perceive the true character of the Nazi regime and Adolf Hitler stands as the single greatest failure of British policy makers during this period, since it was from this that all subsequent failures – the failure to rearm sufficiently, the failure to build alliances (not the least with the Soviet Union), the failure to project British power and the failure to educate public opinion – stemmed. For defenders of appeasement, this is an exercise in ahistoricism.
We are failing today to maintain alliances, failing to measure the threats of dictatorial nations, allowing immediate twitting distractions to sway eyes from other threats such as Daesh. Those who do not study history might be doomed to repeat it, but those who do are too often forced to watch those who don’t.
Very good history.