Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Chief Justice Neville Chamberlain

Jeffrey Lord
Appeasing Statism: John Roberts abandons Constitution, Court, and Conservatives.

….governments are not always overthrown by direct and open assaults. They are not always battered down by the arms of conquerors, or the successful daring of usurpers. There is often concealed the dry rot, which eats into the vitals, when all is fair and stately on the outside. And to republics this has been the more common fatal disease. The continual droppings of corruption may wear away the solid rock, when the tempest has failed to overturn it….
-- Associate Justice Joseph Story, 1829

"His all pervading hope was to go down to history as The Great Peacemaker; and for this he was prepared to strive continually in the teeth of facts…. The Prime Minister wished to get on good terms with the two European dictators, and believed that conciliation and the avoidance of anything likely to offend them was the best method."
-- Winston Churchill on British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in The Gathering Storm

September 30, 1938.

After a meeting in Munich, Germany with the German dictator Adolf Hitler, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned to England on a British Airways plane that landed at the Heston Aerodrome in west London. It was the third time in two weeks Chamberlain had flown to Germany in an effort to strike a political deal with Hitler, and the Prime Minister emerged to cheers from the waiting crowd.

Captured on film, the newsreel footage of the day opens with this now highly ironic caption:

One man saved us from the greatest war of all.

The discussions with, as Chamberlain respectfully referred to him, "the German Chancellor, Herr Hitler," concerned Hitler's demand that the Sudetenland portion of Czechoslovakia, filled with ethnic Germans, be handed over to the Germans post haste. With German de facto control over the rest of the small country. After which, Hitler promised, having already invaded Austria and now achieving his goal in Czechoslovakia, he would cease his demands. Having at last satisfied Hitler's demand -- or so he thought -- Chamberlain asked Hitler to sign a piece of paper that read, in part:

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.

Hitler, happily, signed the paper.

To emphasize that he had Hitler's agreement in writing, and as immortalized in that piece of newsreel footage, Chamberlain proudly held the solitary piece of paper bearing Hitler's signature and his own into the air, the document fluttering in the wind. Later, on his return to 10 Downing Street, Chamberlain emerged one more time, document still in hand, to utter the phrase associated with him down through the ages:

I believe it is peace for our time.

Hitler, of course, had not the slightest hesitation about putting his name to the agreement -- because he had no intention whatsoever of living up to it. In fact, as captured German and Italian documents would later reveal, Hitler's contempt for Chamberlain was such that he had -- at the very same Munich conference, when Chamberlain was not in the same room -- already agreed with Mussolini that the two countries would fight "side by side" against England. Hitler could have cared less about what the British leader thought when he got around in his own good time to breaking the agreement in which Chamberlain foolishly put his faith.

Journalist William Shirer records that British euphoria over Chamberlain's "triumph" was such that the Times of London rhapsodized that "no conqueror returning from a victory on the battlefield has come adorned with nobler laurels."

A furious Winston Churchill, who had spent almost the entire decade of the 1930's trying to warn his countrymen about the danger of Hitler, took to the floor of the House of Commons to protest. Alas, Churchill was still the proverbial "voice in the wilderness." As he began his famous dissent by saying "We have sustained a total, unmitigated defeat…." -- he was shouted down in a "storm of protest" from the House, forced to wait until the shouts subsided before he could continue.

The policy with which Chamberlain was so obsessed, the policy that produced all of these theatrics and the ultimate disaster we know as World War II, was known then -- and infamously ever since -- as "appeasement."

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