By Eben Macdonald, Block 5
On Tuesday we had the pleasure of attending a talk by the young historian Tim Bouverie, author of the book Appeasing Hitler: Chamberlain, Hitler, Churchill and the Road to War. Bedales’ Head of History Matt Yeo asked Bouverie a variety of interesting questions about appeasement, Neville Chamberlain’s character and how the lessons of appeasement relate to today’s political environment. Although only students could attend the event in person, it is available to watch in full on the Bedales Vimeo channel here.
Bouverie stressed that politicians have simply taken the wrong lessons from Chamberlain’s disasterous attempt to woo Adolf Hitler in 1938 by getting him to sign a doomed agreement promising no further territorial demands in Europe. Opposition to appeasement, Bouverie argued, has instilled belligerence in politicians – leading to Anthony Eden’s Suez Canal debacle in 1956, the invasion of Iraq in the 1980s and the second invasion of Iraq in 2003. Hawkishness, Bush made clear, can be no substitute for appeasement. The two are simply a false dichotomy.
Matt also asked Tim about his personal life and what inspired his interest in history, and appeasement specifically. Tim had worked for Channel 4 News for a few years, and as a journalist. He covered various political events, such as the Brexit campaign, requiring him to travel across the country. Although he got the contract to write the book long before any of these events happened, he describes the EU Referendum and the election of Donald Trump in 2016 as occurrences which seemed to validate the importance of the matter about which he was writing.
Tim’s interest in appeasement seemed to revolve around Neville Chamberlain’s character and the naïve attitude at the time regarding Hitler. The 1930s were a wonderful decade for political diaries, he informed us, and they were often witty – as well as deeply ironic. In his research, he documented how many diaries of MPs seemed to believe that Adolf Hitler was under control (the big exception, of course, was Winston Churchill, who vocally warned of the dangers of Nazism). Then again, politicians tended to overestimate the damage of the Blitz. Churchill warned that within the first few months of the Blitz, there would be up to 40,000 casualties (the number was nothing close to that). One politician, Tim noted, warned that bombing could destroy the entire city of Leeds within 45 minutes. Matt wittingly commented that as a man from Manchester, such an event did not seem so bad to him.
Tim was interested in the character of Chamberlain – and the talk was made interesting because his character was not dissimilar to that of the incumbent’s. Chamberlain was known for his arrogance and extraordinary stubbornness (do any of those characteristics ring a bell?). He insisted that appeasement was the correct policy and refused to listen to any dissenting view. Although, this view was understandably shared amongst many politicians and voters, many of whom had relatives who had been victims of the First World War – nobody wanted war.
The audience asked very questions, and Tim returned them with very interesting responses. Questions ranged from how the principles of appeasement can be applied to the world’s post-Covid relationship with China, to if Chamberlain’s age affected his policy decisions. Tim stressed that the principles of international cooperation are necessitous and imperative to fighting climate change, a global pandemic and taking on an ever-more aggressive Chinese Communist Party. Tim’s answers to questions, ideas and unique historical perspectives made his talk incredibly interesting and worth the night.