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British Diplomacy and History

ISSUE:  Summer 1940

Failure of a Mission. By Sir Nevile Henderson. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. $3.00. Britain and France between Two Wars. By Arnold Wolfers. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company. $3.75. Umpire on the Seven Seas. By James Truslow Adams. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. $3.50. The Sun Never Sets. By Malcolm Muggeridge. New York: Random House. $3.00.

Sir Nevile Henderson’s “Failure of a Mission” is not history but the autobiographical attempt of Mr. Chamberlain’s “ambassador of appeasement” to justify that policy and his efforts to apply it in Germany from 1937 to 1939. But events beginning as late as 1937 and a view of the diplomatic scene as restricted as that presented by Sir Nevile form no adequate basis for any judgment of recent Anglo-German relations. This book is significant not because it describes what Hitler and his subordinates thought and did but because it reveals what a Conservative British diplomat thought and did about Hitler.

In this fascinating picture of Sir Nevile Henderson’s mental processes we have a case study of the attitude toward Nazi Germany of those in control of British foreign policy, an attitude which many persons believe to be the psychological key to the Third Reich’s rise to power in international affairs. Sir Nevile’s defense of the labor camps and dictators, his admiration forMussolini and his dislike of the U.S.S.R., his continuing hope that Hitler could be “bought off” without an international conflagration, and his apparent belief in the Fuhrer’s “moral” justification for seizing German-inhabited lands are interesting examples of this attitude. Nazi Germany’s chief sins are not totalitarianism, anti-Semitism, and the ruthless extinction of smaller nations; to Sir Nevile what is unpardonable is the fact that by the seizure of Bohemia and Moravia Hitler broke his word to a British Prime Minister and clearly demonstrated his intention to dominate the continent of Europe in opposition to one of the most fundamental tenets of traditional British foreign policy. Even in the account of the negotiations preceding the invasion of Poland one sees that Hitler’s unwillingness to achieve his ends by diplomatic parleys rather than by the outright use of force was the issue, and that the merits of the Polish-German differences constituted a secondary consideration.

The accounts of the Anschluss, the Munich agreement, the seizure of Bohemia and Moravia, and the futile efforts to prevent the invasion of Poland are interesting, in spite of being so discreet as to add little to our knowledge of these events. Sir Nevile’s arresting psychological analysis of Hitler and his descriptions of the lesser Nazis, especially Goering, make his book well worth reading. Although the reader gains a distinct impression of a confused British diplomat usually one jump behind the Nazi leaders, occasional flashes of “realism” warn him against any too dogmatic judgment of these memoirs. For example, despite blaming Hitler and his followers for the failure of his mission, Sir Nevile admits, “It is probably true to say that whatever attitude we had adopted toward Hitler and the Nazi gangsters, the result today would have been the same.” Despite his efforts for appeasement he admits that the reoccu-pation of the Rhineland in 1936 “was probably the last opportunity when it would still have been possible for Britain and France to have said ‘no’ to the Dictator without being obliged to go to war to enforce that ‘no’.”

The divergent foreign policies of France and Great Britain in the post-Versailles era constitute the decisive diplomatic factor in Germany’s steady rise in her renewed efforts to attain dominance on the European continent. To this crucial problem Arnold Wolfers has contributed “Britain and France between Two Wars,” a searching and brilliant study which will without doubt remain a classic in its field. With a skillful hand he has dissected the problems of Anglo-French relations and European Machtpolitik from the Versailles negotiations to the outbreak of the present war.

Beginning with France’s unsatisfied desire for security after the World War of 1914-1918, Professor Wolfers traces the history of her efforts to retain her hegemony over the continent of Europe in order to offset what she regarded as the potentially superior power of Germany. He then shows how these efforts were handicapped by French dependence on Great Britain and the fact that the latter’s traditional concepts of her vital national interests prevented her from supporting French policy, especially in Eastern Europe. In the long run, particularly after Munich, British conceptions prevailed, and Britain assumed the leadership of the anti-German coalition now unencumbered by the French alliance system and in accord with the traditional British attitude toward the balance of power in Europe.

This study sheds light on so many problems of the European political scene that it is impossible even to enumerate all of them here. Some of the more important are: conflicting party attitudes in France and Great Britain toward foreign policy, vital national interests, and the League of Nations; British and French policies toward Germany, Italy, the U.S.S.R., and the Little Entente; divergent Anglo-French attitudes toward Eastern and Western Europe, the League of Nations, security, revision of treaties, and armaments; the relation of the various ideological differences to possible alignments of the European balance of power; the various “crises” from the invasion of the Rhineland to that of Poland; and possible future alignments in European international politics.

It is unfortunate that Professor Wolfers did not include, in so far as they relate to his subject, a more detailed analysis of the Manchurian affair before the League of Nations and of Anglo-French policies toward the Spanish Civil War. It is no criticism of this excellent study, however, to point out that it leaves for further research the questions of the economic motivation behind the differing attitudes of the various British and French political parties toward their nations’ foreign policies, and the relation of the national and international economic problems of France and England to that Realpolitik which made possible Germany’s return to power.

In “Empire on the Seven Seas” James Truslow Adams traces the history of the British Empire from 1783 to date, and thus completes the task begun in his earlier work, “Building the British Empire.” This book is not a critical history, but rather a frank historical eulogy of “the greatest political factor that the world has ever known.” It is fresh in approach and popular in style. On many of its pages are such illuminating observations as Mr. Adams’s emphasis on the role of the great builders of machine tools in the industrial revolution in England. The broad scope of the subject matter, however, has led to abrupt transitions, oversimplified conclusions, and almost devastating brevity. This last characteristic is exemplified in the concluding chapter, which comprises a noble effort to encompass the history of the Empire since the World War of 1914-1918.

Although Mr. Adams does not overlook unpleasant incidents in the history of the Empire in Ireland, South Africa, India, and elsewhere, one cannot feel that he is “objective” in his general approval of the British brand of imperialism and his strong dislike of the French, German, and Russian products. The book concludes with the opinion that “In this world crisis, we in America have a great stake. . . . For those who have been accustomed to freedom of person and of spirit, the possible overthrow of the British Empire would he a catastrophe scarcely thinkable.” Malcolm Muggeridge’s “The Sun Never Sets” is a London journalist’s kaleidoscopic account of England in the 1930’s. Interspersed with dashes of detail, wit, and philosophy, the story of these eventful ten years flashes before the reader’s eyes and leaves him with the feeling of having seen a swiftly moving newsreel which ends with a bewildered Britain plunged into war.


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