I must buy Robert Harris’s new novel, Munich. A review of it on Swedish Radio this morning suggests it goes along with the view I’ve had for many years, that Chamberlain and ‘appeasement’ have had a bum deal at the hands of nearly everyone since 1938. In fact Chamberlain wasn’t fooled by Hitler, but knew that Britain couldn’t fight a war against Germany then, and needed to rearm; which he then set about doing in the breathing-space provided by Munich. By the autumn of 1939 Britain was capable of resisting the Nazis, if only just. What I didn’t know – and must check for myself – is that Hitler, wanting to go to war straight away, regarded Munich as a great setback. In other words, Chamberlain won.
So he doesn’t deserve the scorn and vitriol that have been almost universally poured on him for the last eighty years. That’s sad for his historical reputation, but in my eyes makes him more heroic. (It’s a shame he looked so little like a hero – more like Groucho Marx.) More damaging than this, however, is the effect the popular view has had on the policy of ‘appeasement’ generally. Every bellicose statesman brings up ‘Munich’ when diplomatic solutions to foreign policy crises are suggested. But appeasement isn’t a good or a bad policy per se. There are many instances in Britain’s history apart from this one – especially her imperial history – when appeasement has been, or would have been, the right course of action. Unless you think the anti-colonialists should have been resisted all the way.