Leaders do matter
Not only has Tim Bouverie written a real page-turner, this beautiful book is also a great reminder of the importance of moral courage and thorough intellectual analysis.
Many other narratives of the European pre-war years portray Chamberlain as a fool, as Hitler’s puppet. Bouverie is more nuanced: the prime minister was a good man with the best intentions. Chamberlain’s judgment is first and foremost heavily influenced by his desire to avoid war. We now know that his appeasement policy, the fatal delusion that Nazi Germany could be contained by buying it off with concessions, was the most momentous British mistake of the 20th century.
In Chamberlain’s defense, there were some mitigating circumstances; e.g. Britain wasn’t capable of fighting a war (until ’38/’39 the RAF had only a couple of fighters) and Europe had just come out of one. But Hitler’s behavior was quite alarming, to say the least. Nevertheless, Chamberlain stood his ground. Wishful thinking was his compass. Kristallnacht, the “Rape of Austria” and the occupancy of Czechoslovakia didn’t convince him otherwise.
Leaders do make a difference. And Chamberlain was the wrong man, at the wrong place, at the wrong time.
What an incredible book. Hands-down the best history book I’ve read in a while.