Britain’s Blindness To The Nazis (or why Hitler called Chamberlain ‘Der Arschloch’)

A. L. Rowse

A. L. Rowse, an Englishman who lived through the events leading up to World War II and after, wrote a slashing book titled “Appeasement: A study in Political Decline” about the political leaders and opinion makers of England and their disastrous appeasement strategy toward Hitler. He begins with The London Times, which during the whole period exercised an extraordinary influence. The editor, Geoffrey Dawson, was ‘by instinct a proGerman’. He took to himself an assistant, Barrington-Ward, who believed that Britain and France had imposed an unjust settlement on Germany in World War I, and that the allies should now pay for their mistake. “The conclusion drawn was that nothing that Hitler did, however immoral, was to be resisted”.
Why did Dawson not see the danger from Hitler? “It was not for want of warning. He got plenty of that from his own correspondent in Berlin, Ebbutt. Instead of paying attention to it, he doctored Ebbut’s dispatches. Dawson himself wrote ‘I do my utmost, night after night to keep out of the paper anything that might hurt their susceptibilities.”

To please Hitler, Dawson eventually removed Ebbutt from Berlin.

The Times could explain anything. When on June 30 of 1934 Hitler engaged in the Night of the Long Knives, where he saw to the murders of his friend Roehm and his followers, while Goring attended to the many murders in Berlin, “The Times did not condemn these appalling events; on the contrary, it approved one aspect of them: ‘Herr Hitler, whatever one may think of his methods, is genuinely trying to transform revolutionary fervour into moderate and constructive effort and to impose a high standard on Nazi officials’. As Rowse adds, “in fact, the bloodbath of 30 June precisely revealed the true nature of Hitler’s Germany: if this was what they could do to their comrades, think what they would do to their enemies, and did!”

Hitler’s peace pronouncements were given much attention. Philip Kerr, a participant in the "top of English political society" wrote articles in The Times saying that Hitler had specifically told him that Germany wanted equality, not war, that she was ready to renounce war, …and in armaments he asks no more than "equality for Germany…"

The British Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, also hoping for peace, actually misled Parliament and the country about the rate of German rearmament in the air. It was not for lack of the true figures. "He was supplied with those by both Lord Vansittart and Churchill independently. German generals risked their lives in giving us the figures in the hope of our restraining Hitler." (Lord Vansittart, who worked in the foreign office, was one of the few who saw the true nature of the Nazi regime.)

A former secretary to Baldwin, Tom Jones, was also a believer in Hitler’s peaceful intentions. He advised Baldwin, who preferred listening to him than to Lord Vansittart “whose warnings were so uncomfortable”. Rowse points out that T.J., Baldwin Chamberlain, Philip Kerr and others had never read Hitler’s Mein Kampf and would not listen to people like Vansittart who did know about Germany, German history etc.

Rowse doesn’t just blame the leaders for stupidity. He talks of running for election in Cornwall, trying in vain to open the eyes of his own people, in his own home-town. “They never would listen, any more than they would listen to Churchill, or anybody else who told them the truth.”

Hitler’s Foreign minister, von Ribbentrop, successfully took advantage of Britain’s fear of Communist Russia. T. J. is quoted by Rowse after he had a lunch with Von Ribbentrop “He (Von Ribbentrop) talks of Hitler as a being of quite superior attainments and fundamentally an artist, widely read..Communism is the enemy which Germany cannot resist alone and successfully without the help of Great Britain.”

T. J. later visited the Führer himself, in the company of Lloyd George (the former Prime Minister). He described the visit: Lloyd George’s photograph stood solitary on the Fuhrer’s desk, the Fuhrer expressed admiration for the great man who had defeated Germany in the war. “Lloyd, speaking with a tear in his throat, was deeply touched, and proud to be praised by “the greatest German of the age.”

A later prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, continued the appeasement. When President Roosevelt offered to join him in a world conference with Russia to face Hitler and Mussolini with the question "What did they want?"Chamberlain turned him down. Chamberlain thought it better for England to deal by itself directly with Hitler.
Germany then marched into Austria, to which The Time’s editor Dawson had no real objection, according to The Times own official history of itself (The Times History).
Germany also laid claim to the German-speaking area of Czecheslovakia, called the Sudetenland. Lord Halifax of the Foreign Office disavowed any plan that would involve Britain giving a guarantee to Czechoslovakia. Then on Sept 7, 1938 the Times came out with Dawson’s leader advocating the cession of the Sudeten areas.

Leopold Amery, a friend of Rowse’s, though on the opposite side of the political spectrum (Rowse was on the left, Amery on the right), pointed out in a later account of the period that “the heads of the German Army were convinced that they could not possibly have faced a war at that time. ” The group of generals at this time planned Hitler’s arrest; “at the same time they sent a succession of envoys, more particularly a German Conservative leader, Herr von Kleist, who came over in August “with a rope around his neck” and saw Vansittart and Churchill to tell them that the German Army and people were unanimous against war, but could only stop Hitler if we made our attitude quite clear. Chamberlain however was determined to see Hitler personally. This entirely disorganised the general’s coup, which had actually been planned for the very day when Chamberlain flew to Berchtesgaden.

Russia, which later joined Hitler, at the time backed collective security, in effect an alliance between Russia and the Western Powers to meet the growing danger from Germany. These overtures by Russia were repulsed.

Chamberlain went to see Hitler, and afterwards wrote to his sister that he "heard from Hitler himself, and it was confirmed by others who were with him, that he was struck all of a heap, and exclaimed ‘I can’t possibly let a man of his age come all this way; I must go to London’. Of course when he considered it further, he saw that wouldn’t do, and indeed it would not have suited me, for it would have deprived my coup of much of its dramatic force. But it shows a side of Hitler that would surprise many people in this country"

Rowse says “No wonder Hitler used to call Chamberlain, “der Arschloch.” Chamberlain reported of his first meeting with Hitler …In spite of the hardness and ruthlessness I thought I saw in his face, I got the impression that here was a man who could be relied upon when he had given his word”. Rowse adds “Vain old fool – his impression against all the evidence of perjury, torture, murder, thuggery that had accumulated since 1933 and was there before!

Chamberlain believed that “War wins nothing, cures nothing, ends nothing.” As Rowse points out, history proves differently.

Chamberlain’s settlement with Hitler gave Hitler the Sudetenland. Chamberlain claimed it had brought “Peace for our time”, but instead it made war certain and in the worse possible conditions – minus thirty five Czech divisions and without an ally, save a divided and unnerved France.

Later Hitler was to conquer the rest of Czechoslovakia. Only a day or two before Chamberlain had issued a statement to say that the situation was so hopeful that disarmament discussions might begin before the end of the year. The Soviets soon signed a pact with the Nazis, which even startled Dawson. The Germans invaded Poland. At this point Britain declared war. But it was a partial war. Britain would not bomb communications lines or even munitions works for fear of alienating American public opinion. Then Germany invaded Norway. British pilots were not even allowed to attack German held aerodromes in Denmark and Norway till 11th April, and even then, for another two days only allowed to machine-gun, but forbidden to drop bombs!

Rowse ends his book with an effort to explain why good natured men such as Dawson and Chamberlain could be so blind. He says that perhaps they did not know what kind of men they were dealing with in Hitler and his kind. But, he says, they were told often enough, why would they not take telling?

He adds that they were ignorant of Europe and European history. Another consideration. “The practical way of looking at things, not looking too far in advance, not rocking the boat, and other cliches that do duty for thinking ahead, may serve well enough in ordinary normal times. But our times are not ‘normal in the good old Victorian sense, and never will be again. And this habit of mind in politics will certainly not serve in times of revolution, perpetual stress and conflict, war, the reshaping of the world.”

Rouse notes that they were also anti-Red, and that hamstrung them in dealing with the greater immediate danger to their country, Hitler’s Germany. Yet the total upshot of their efforts was to aid Nazi-Germany to achieve a position of brutal ascendancy and..the very result of letting the Russians into the center of Europe which the appeasers – so far as they had any clear idea of policy – wished to prevent.

(Appeasement was published in 1961 by WW Norton & Co Inc, NY)

A fascinating webpage on the general mentality of the British – both the public and their government –
in this period is at Appeasing Hitler

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