November 10, 2023
I’ve always wondered how history viewed Neville Chamberlain, and been curious at the fact that it didn’t really seem to blame him for his incessant insistence on pacifying Hitler (which was a major reason WWII was allowed to happen), more than it does. I figured that Winston Churchill, Chamberlain’s successor and someone who understood Hitler earlier than most, may have some harsh words for him in that regard. I was wrong, and my confusion is largely explained away by Churchill’s magnanimous take. After Chamberlain died in 1940, Churchill said this about him in a speech to the House of Commons:
It fell to Neville Chamberlain in one of the supreme crises of the world to be contradicted by events, to be disappointed in his hopes, and to be deceived and cheated by a wicked man. But what were these hopes in which he was disappointed? What were these wishes in which he was frustrated? What was that faith that was abused? They were surely among the most noble and benevolent instincts of the human heart-the love of peace, the toil for peace, the strife for peace, the pursuit of peace, even at great peril, and certainly to the utter disdain of popularity or clamour. Whatever else history may or may not say about these terrible, tremendous years, we can be sure that Neville Chamberlain acted with perfect sincerity according to his lights and strove to the utmost of his capacity and authority, which were powerful, to save the world from the awful, devastating struggle in which we are now engaged. This alone will stand him in good stead as far as what is called the verdict of history is concerned.
Full speech here.
Read in Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, ch. XVIII: “The Fall of Poland”