Chamberlain - Guilty Man or National Saviour?

Frank McDonough reviews the debate over Neville Chamberlain's appeasement policy

Neville Chamberlain stands, with his umbrella, on Horse Guards Parade, off Whitehall, London, 18 March 1940. Neville Chamberlain is popularly remembered as the man who believed a Second World War could be prevented by peaceful negotiations through a policy known as appeasement. The policy prevented a war over Czechoslovakia in September 1938, but not over Poland in September 1939. Ever since then Neville Chamberlain and the policy of appeasement have been enshrined in historic folklore as the epitome of failure, cowardice and illusion. Yet within the historical debate over the role of British foreign policy and the origins of the Second World War the reputation of Neville Chamberlain has undergone a remarkable transformation in recent times. The Guilty Man has been rehabilitated by a host of revisionist. historians into something of a national saviour. This article tells the story of the changing nature of the historical debate over Neville Chamberlain and Appeasement in the past fifty years.

The guilty man

The classic orthodox view of Neville Chamberlain and the policy of appeasement is The Guilty Men written in 194-0 by Michael Foot, Frank Owen, Peter Howard and others under the pseudonym 'Cato' (cleaned the sewers of Rome). This is a stinging attack on the conduct of British foreign policy between the wars. The 'guilty men' who include Ramsay MacDonald, Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain – who is the 'guiltiest of the guilty men' – are charged with failing to stop Nazi aggression in Europe and with bringing Britain near to the verge of military collapse in 1940.

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