The Chamberlain-Hitler Deal
The first world war had been long, murderous and costly. Its issue remained in doubt till the end, and, when at last the Allies were lucky enough to win, they had no doubt that, were an opportunity given to Germany to regain her military strength, she would launch another World War from which, in all likelihood, she would this time come out victorious.
The treaty of Brest-Litovsk, imposed by Germany on Russia in 1918, gave the world a foretaste of the severity with which Germany could treat a defeated country. Would the West in similar conditions have acted with more magnanimity? At the time, no one considered this question. Few were aware of the secret treaties dividing expected spoils between England, France, Italy and Russia. Not one of the Allies doubted that this German ‘King-Kong’ of military machines had to be kept in chains, and that the chains had better be checked constantly.
Germany was therefore compelled to accept conditions designed to drastically reduce her military power and her military production potential. The Rhineland was to be occupied by France before becoming a demilitarised zone devoid of fortifications. This would make it possible for France to easily occupy the Ruhr, were Germany to start rearming, or otherwise default on the Versailles Treaty which codified, among other things, the permanent state of military inferiority of Germany.
As an added precaution, an international organisation, the League Of Nations, was created to provide ‘collective security’ to restrain any aggressor by means of economic and military sanctions. The world seemed thus safe from aggression and, in particular, safe from Germany.
It was an illusion.
To the bewilderment of people who lived through those days, and that of many historians, the world did not remain safe for long. Japan was allowed to implement a policy of conquest in China. Italy was allowed to conquer Abyssinia. Germany and Italy were allowed to secure Franco’s victory in Spain. And Germany, after being allowed to rearm, was allowed to remilitarise the Rhineland, to take a dangerous lead in military power and to annex Austria and the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia.
The legitimacy and advisability of each one of these actions had defenders. But why should any argument, whose validity was no greater at the time than in 1918, have suddenly carried more weight? Was the memory of the Allied leaders so short? Had they forgotten how close they had been to losing the war?
It seems paradoxical that while the defeated and prostrated Germany was considered a potential deadly danger, the Germany ruled by Hitler and rearming to the teeth induced much less fear within the British establishment.
Conciliatory approaches towards Germany were repeatedly made. While Britain’s rearmament was not getting the priority required by the dangerous situation, Britain let Germany know, sometimes through regular channels and sometimes through unofficial ones, that she ‘understood’ Germany’s claims. The fact that the satisfaction of each of these claims would result in the strategic and economic strengthening of Germany did not affect Britain’s ‘sympathetic’ stand which could be sensed even in her official protests against Germany’s acts of aggression.
It had always been Britain’s policy to abstain from an alliance with the strongest continental power and prevent it from reaching a position of dominance over Europe. As a result of this policy, Britain, before World War I, reached her apogee of power and authority. After the war, she ruled over an empire enlarged with colonies taken from the defeated Germany and, for a while, got rid of a strong competitor in the world export market.
This traditional policy that had served Britain so well seemed, after the first world war, to be more necessary than ever. And still, Britain, in defiance of her long standing traditions, in defiance of the repeated warnings of capable politicians and expert civil servants, in spite of precise information on bellicose German tendencies — information which came from the British representatives in Germany — and exorbitant dreams of German expansion put in writing by Hitler for all to see, Britain endeavoured to make an alliance with Germany.
The bewilderment of many historians is best illustrated by a quotation commenting on the Munich agreement of 1938:
Munich remains a hideously incised political indictment for which, many years later, there still does not exist a Rosetta Stone. What did happen? Why did it happen? And, most baffling of all, how could it happen?... — these men are patently not vile. But what are they if they are not vile? — that is the enigma. They peer astutely from miles of film and Press photographs; they have offered us, not only their official papers but their diaries. Yet nothing jells. It is as if they were saying, ‘That is all you know, and all you need to know’. (My emphasis throughout unless otherwise noted)
These men, “patently not vile”, constantly expressed their dedication to peace. For peace they would sacrifice small nations. For peace they would sacrifice colonies — albeit mostly non-British ones. For peace they would accept almost anything, except “Germany’s will to dominate the world”. They would keep the freedom to decide what circumstances would be an indication of such a will. For peace they were ready to, and did, make a deal with Hitler.
The peace they were so anxious to achieve, was of a particular kind. Their peace would not be universal. It would be peace in the West. In their plans, there was no place for peace in the East or in the Far-East. Somehow this would not prevent them to think and state that thus, and thus alone there could be peace. The policy was called ‘appeasement’. Appeasement was not for everyone. Only three countries were qualified to be appeased: Japan, Italy and Germany.
An Early Case Of Appeasement
It is not known what Chamberlain’s actions and initiatives at the time of the Munich agreement would have been, had England been as strong a military power as Germany. This missing knowledge might have indicated the measure in which his appeasement policy towards Germany was indeed due to an awareness of Britain's military weakness and to his dedication to peace.
However, there is on Chamberlain’s record another case of appeasement in which, as at Munich, there also was a victim, an aggressor and the shadow of the Soviet Union in the background. At the time, the case did not make it to the newspapers. It was the object of debates in the British Cabinet and Foreign Office and centred around a suggested pact of non-aggression with Japan. The matter was kept confidential and would have been made public only if successful.
The reading of a number of documents dating from 1934 reveals Chamberlain’s early interest in Foreign Affairs, as well as his strong influence over Sir John Simon, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
On September 1, 1934, Chamberlain addressed a personal and confidential letter to Sir John Simon . It included the draft of a memorandum on relations with Japan in which Chamberlain exposed his views on the international situation:
..I attach particular weight to your cool and analytical judgement.
...If you could bring off an agreement with Japan such as I have suggested, it would stamp your tenure of office with the special distinction that is attached to memorable historical events...
...I hope you may think sufficiently well of the idea to pursue it and that you will some day be remembered (inter alia!) as the author of the ‘Simon-Hirota pact’
The pact in question was to be one of non-aggression between England and Japan. The praise to Simon and the holding out of bright prospects may have been designed to sway him to Chamberlain’s views. It surely indicates the great importance that Chamberlain attached to the proposition. The letter goes on:
As for the U.S.A. don’t let us be browbeaten by her. She will never repay us for sacrificing our interests in order to conciliate her and if we maintain at once a bold and a frank attitude towards her I am not afraid of the result.
There were, at the time, many points of friction between England and the U.S., one of them being the attitude towards Japan concerning the Manchurian crisis. However, few English politicians would have thought it wise to antagonise the U.S. unless absolutely necessary. This was one of many instances in which Chamberlain would reveal his unwillingness to take into consideration US suggestions or policies.
We now quote from the draft memorandum:
... I suggest that the paramount consideration in this matter to which everything else, home politics, economy, or desire for disarmament must be subjected is the safety, first of this country and then of the British Empire...
We note Chamberlain’s priorities in 1934. Security came first, before ‘home politics’, economy or disarmament. He went on:
At this moment in the autumn of 1934 there is no immediate threat to our safety. But there is a universal feeling of apprehension about the future, whether it is a matter of 2, 3, 5 or 10 years, that such a threat may materialise and that the quarter from which it will come is Germany.
Chamberlain was decidedly not a naive person. Early enough he perceived the German threat and decided that meeting that threat should be Britain’s first priority. He went on:
In a recent and extremely interesting survey of affairs and persons of that country Sir E. Phipps summed up his conclusions in a grave warning of the need for a strong, united and watchful Europe.
’That country’ is Germany. Chamberlain seems to support the opinion of the British ambassador Sir E. Phipps. He knows exactly what must be done while there is still time: create a strong, united, watchful Europe.
However, in order to prevent Japan’s hostility — while England would have to face the German threat — he now strikes a note of appeasement, in the direction of Japan:
...the Cabinet has already more than once expressed its concurrence with the idea that it is desirable to cultivate the most friendly relations with Japan
...It is true that various circumstances, such as the Japanese action in Manchukuo, her defiant attitude towards the League of Nations and her aggressive export policy, have made her unpopular in Europe and have certainly not rendered it easier to introduce greater cordiality into our relations with her. Yet it is at least arguable that the Manchukuo affair, except insofar as it served to discredit the League, has not hitherto harmed us and, so long as the open door is maintained, is actually likely to benefit British exporters.
It is interesting to note how Chamberlain’s language is coloured by his perception of British interests. There is a Japanese action in ‘Manchukuo’ as there also is a Manchukuo affair. As to Japanese aggression this is limited to her export policy. Chamberlain belittles the importance of Japanese aggression (action, affair), belittles its harmful aspect (discredit of the League), ignores the harm to the victims of aggression, and highlights the benefit to British exporters.
Chamberlain is not always revolted by the thought of war and aggression. To look forward to the improved situation for British interests resulting from Japanese aggression may be a mark of realism: it is not a mark of profound devotion to peace. Chamberlain goes on:
...Considerations of this kind had led me to the view that whatever difficulties and objections there may be in exploratory discussions with Japan just now they are not so serious as to outweigh the immense advantages which would accrue from a satisfactory outcome.
This is a paradoxical position coming from a politician who so clearly perceives the German danger and the necessity of uniting Europe against a possible German aggression. Is it not setting a bad precedent to condone Japan’s aggression? Does it not jeopardise the future reliance on the League of Nations when it is discredited? And, finally, is it not creating a deadly danger to the British Empire, to strengthen such an aggressive country as Japan — at a time when Japan is relatively much weaker than the constellation of USA, France and Great Britain ? The year was 1934. Italy was not yet friendly to Germany, Japan and Germany were not yet bound by treaties and any one of them could be dealt with easily; even both of them could have been dealt with easily. Precisely at that time, instead of taking a stand against aggression wherever it may occur, Chamberlain is suggesting the following:
...we should endeavour to frame a Pact of Non-Aggression with Japan for a period say of ten years.
Chamberlain foresaw objections and answered them in advance:
...I have heard it suggested that whatever may have been the case in the past the Japanese are now in so aggressive a mood and so much under the influence of ambitious soldiers and sailors that they would not think of tying their hands by any agreement to keep the peace. This view seems to me to give insufficient weight to their anxieties about the Soviet Government, the only Power which really menaces their present acquisitions or their future ambitions. With Russia on their flank it seems to me that Japan would gladly see any accession of security in other directions.
This quote reveals the same appeasement spirit that will later be at work with respect to Germany. Consider, for instance, his reference to Japan’s anxiety which, according to Chamberlain, should be given more weight. The anxiety is not due to Japan being threatened by the Soviet Union. Even Chamberlain does not say that. The threat, he says, is against their present acquisitions — the term sounds very legal; it suggests the payment of a fair price — and against their future ambitions.
When speaking of Japan’s aggressions Chamberlain, as we saw, used the terms action, affair and ambitions. However when speaking of the Soviet Union with respect to Japan, Chamberlain uses the terms threatens and menace, though the only threat or menace he speaks of is that of standing in the way of a Japanese aggression — possibly by helping the victim. The expression ‘Russia on their flank’ suggests that Russia constitutes a danger of aggression against Japan herself, instead of being an obstacle to her expansion.
Chamberlain sympathised with Japan’s anxiety concerning the Soviet threat to its ambitions. In other words, Chamberlain knew that Japan intended to commit other actions and to become involved in other affairs. The Soviet Union stood in Japan’s way and therefore, he suggested, British interest is to sign with Japan a pact of non-aggression. This is tantamount to giving Japan in the Far-East a free hand with respect to whatever is not a British possession.
A free hand? Is it an unwarranted conclusion? Chamberlain predicts that, in reaction to the proposed pact of non-aggression, Japan, ‘with Russia at her flank’, ‘would gladly see any accession of security’.
w Such a pact would do away with the danger of British aggression against Japan. But does Japan fear British aggression? Evidently not. No such fear has been expressed in any quarter. Japan needs no pact to feel secure in this direction. She may resent the British military build-up in Singapore because it increases Britain’s ability to threaten Japan’s further expansion in Asia but not because it constitutes an actual threat to Japan itself. The fear is rather sensed by the British side, fear of a Japanese attack against British possessions.
w A pact that would ensure Britain's help — or at least neutrality — in case of an expected Russian attack against Japan, would evidently increase Japan’s ‘accession of security’. But Chamberlain makes it clear that the Soviet Union is a threat to Japan’s ambitions not to Japan itself. That shifts the ‘burden’ of aggression onto Japan rather than the Soviet Union. With no expected Soviet aggression against Japan, a sympathetic attitude by England in such an eventuality does not represent any accession to security.
w However, a non-aggression pact would be considered an encouragement to Japan’s policy of expansion. It would be a free hand given to Japan for this purpose. Chamberlain shied away from such a name and preferred to baptise this free hand as ‘accession of security’. This not only allowed him to avoid the blunt expression ‘free hand’ but seemed to legitimate Japan’s future aggressions.
If there were any doubts about the meaning of the pact, it is resolved by the following lines:
...In considering the proposed action with regard to Japan I submit that if it is right in our interests we should not be frightened out of it by any fear of American objections, unless that objection be founded on really solid and reasonable grounds. In the case of the proposed Pact of Non-Aggression the objection could not be merely to our agreeing not to settle differences by force.
The cat is out of the bag!
Why should the United States object merely to Japan and Britain agreeing not to settle their differences by force? Does the United States prefer they use force for the settlement of their differences? The question is so preposterous that it cannot be entertained seriously for a moment. However, Chamberlain is very serious. He understands that a pact of non-aggression with an aggressive Japan, means that Great Britain will not use force to interfere with Japan’s plans of aggression. Note how Chamberlain belittles the objection — to what amounts to a free hand — by using the term merely. He is a master at disguise.
When Simon objected to Chamberlain’s formulation of the free hand policy to Japan, Chamberlain became defensive. On September 10, 1934 he wrote to Simon:
No doubt she [Japan] would like a Free Hand in the Far East, so long as she respects British possessions there. But I did not suggest that we should give it to her... If you did not understand this my paper has been badly drafted and I must amend it...
Chamberlain’s disclaimer is not convincing. His draft was quite detailed and clear.
Before leaving Chamberlain’s memorandum let us note that he wrote:
Assuming that everything went ‘according to plan’ in our discussions first with Japan and then with the U.S.A., there would still remain to be considered our attitude towards European Powers and particularly France. Here I submit that the main point to be kept in mind is that the fons et origo of all our European troubles and anxieties is Germany. If this fact be constantly present to the consciousness of our negotiators they will not be too stiff with France or too insistent upon her discarding weapons which she may think essential to her safety.
Chamberlain’s memo does not specify what are Japan’s ‘future ambitions’. We cannot suspect Chamberlain of approving them whatever they be. A pact of non-aggression could have an escape clause invalidating its application in case one of the two parties attacks a third one. But such a clause would prevent the pact from increasing Japan’s ‘access of security’ with respect to her ‘future ambitions’. Without such a clause Japan would secure England’s non-interference whatever direction Japanese ambitions takes her — provided that she respects the territories belonging to the British Empire.
Unless Chamberlain knew what Japanese future ambitions consisted of, and unless he did not mind their realisation, it would not have been wise to give Japan a free hand. However those ambitions, apparently, did not trouble Chamberlain.
Some quotations from a memorandum written by C.W. Orde, head of the Far Eastern Department, may help us find the meaning of Chamberlain’s proposal. We may rely on the understanding of a public servant experienced in the use of diplomatic language and qualified to point at the implications of Chamberlain’s draft. He writes:
Since the German danger is primary[,] the effect of a pact on Russia is of the first importance. I believe it is agreed to be desirable that Russia should be sufficiently strong to be a potential check on Germany. If so, anything that will weaken Russia may presumably be taken as increasing the danger we have to fear from Germany. An Anglo-Japanese pact I suggest can hardly have any other effect.
A minor but perhaps not negligible consideration from the Russian aspect is the offence that any encouragement of Japan against Russia would cause to the Soviet Government and the worsening of our relations with them that would ensue...
If Japan is not afraid, but aggressively minded a pact will surely bring nearer the day when she will attack Russia and then, after a pause.., proceed against the East Indies.
Obviously, Orde was not blinded by anti-communism. Was Chamberlain? At this point it may still be too early to answer the question though Chamberlain’s description of the Soviet Union being the cause of Japan’s anxiety concerning her acquisitions and future ambitions may give credence to a positive answer. The pact, according to Orde, seems to be practically directed against the Soviet Union, but what about China? Orde goes on:
...I fear that we shall have a big price to pay in China unless we can show that in a pact with Japan we have protected China’s own interests. But how can this be done? After the tearing up of the Nine Power Treaty by Japan in defiance of world opinion would a new treaty protecting China against further aggression look like anything but mockery?
Orde’s memorandum scarcely had any influence on Chamberlain and Simon. They came out on the 16th of October with a common memorandum from which we quote:
Our obligations under the Nine-Power Treaty, our trading interests in China, our right to the Open Door and our obligations under the Covenant rule out from the start any notion of purchasing a promise from Japan that she will leave us alone at the price of giving her a free hand.
There is some hypocrisy in mentioning the League of Nation’s Covenant as ruling out a free hand to Japan. The Covenant did not get proper support from England with respect to restraining Japan in its aggression against China. We already saw how Chamberlain belittled Japanese defiance of the League. Moreover, unless the free hand to Japan was very much in their mind, there was no reason for Chamberlain and Simon to bring out here that a free hand was ruled out.
To reject a free hand to Japan only on account of obligations and treaties displays a disregard of moral obligations. If it were not for the legal considerations, would then a free hand to Japan be acceptable? Were there no principles excluding the grant of a free hand out of hand?
The memorandum goes on:
As for China, the Nine-Power Treaty bound the contracting Powers... The story of Manchukuo shows how little Japan has observed these stipulations so far as regards the four Chinese provinces outside the Great Wall. That however is largely past history, and the important thing, both for China and ourselves, is that Japanese aggression and penetration should not pass the Great Wall and invade or monopolise China proper.
Nobody mandated the authors to speak in the name of China and affirm on her behalf that the important thing is that Japan’s aggression should not extend inside the China Wall, implying that the aggression outside the Walls is not that important. Great Britain would have resented a remark from anyone who dared to say that the important thing for Great Britain is that any aggression against the British Empire should not extend to England proper.
As to considering Japan’s aggression on Manchuria as past history it is restricting too much the notion of past. The year is 1934 and the creation of Manchukuo by Japan over the territory of Manchuria was effected in 1932. On that basis, two or three years after an additional Japanese aggression against China, we could again speak of past history. Japan’s disregard of the League’s decisions would therefore also be past history. ‘Past history’ is an expression that can only be used by politicians who, when it comes to aggressions which do not impinge directly on their interest, lack sensitivity to moral considerations.
The memorandum by Chamberlain and Simon would be of no comfort to China, as the following quotation indicates:
While it would be difficult to frame the guarantee in such a way as not to amount to a recognition of Manchukuo and an abandonment of the line hitherto taken by the League of Nations in reference to it, an understanding which definitely calls a halt to Japanese penetration into China, contained in an instrument signed both by Japan and ourselves (we leave out for the moment the question whether the United States could not also be a party) would be of the greatest practical value to China and the British trade with China, as well as making a material contribution to peace in the Far East.
Such an undertaking was considered a mockery by Orde. Let us also note that Chamberlain and Simon are considering seriously an ‘abandonment of the line hitherto taken by the League of Nations’. This contrasts with the regard they expressed earlier for the obligations under the League’s Covenant.
What is also disturbing is the degree to which the authors are prepared to antagonise the United States. Chamberlain had underlined that Germany could soon become a serious source of trouble. This consideration motivated his proposed approach to Japan. However, Chamberlain also knew that without the help of Tsarist Russia, and that of the United States, the allies in World War I would have been defeated. Standing against Germany without these two countries would be an impossible task if Germany was allowed to rearm, and she was allowed. It must have been quite clear to any British political leader that worries about a German military revival should inspire a British desire to bring back the U.S. into play in the European political arena. Antagonising the U.S. could deepen its isolationist tendencies. The memo goes on to say:
As regards the United States, there can of course be no doubt that Anglo-Japanese approaches, designed to lead to a bilateral agreement between ourselves and Japan, are calculated, unless most discreetly handled, to arouse suspicion and resentment to a high degree
And, finally, the memo addresses the issue of the Soviet Union
As regards Soviet Russia, anything which makes Japan feel more secure tends to encourage her in an aggressive attitude towards Russia.. Japan’s attitude in favour of a definite policy of Anglo-Japanese friendship is in part inspired by the desire to secure our benevolence in the event of Soviet-Japanese relations becoming extremely strained.
Chamberlain is on record being perfectly aware of Japan’s aggressive intentions towards the Soviet Union. However, instead of discouraging a potential aggressor, he considers ways allowing Britain to abstain from becoming an obstacle to Japan’s aggressive designs and ensuring Britain’s ‘benevolence’ towards a Japan attacking the Soviet Union. This he puts down in the following two convoluted sentences:
On the other hand, the fact that the relation of Japan and Russia to the League of Nations has now been reversed, Russia coming in and Japan going out, may mean, in the event of a Russo-Japanese war, an increased anxiety for ourselves as a member of the League. Therefore, the creation of especially friendly relations between ourselves and Japan would help to correct the balance and to maintain the neutral attitude which we should beyond question have to adopt.
The memo explicitly expresses England’s anxiety at having, as a member of the League, to side with the Soviet Union in case of a Japanese aggression against her. The way out is the creation of especially friendly relations with Japan, the expected aggressor, which would help England to maintain, ‘beyond question’, a neutral attitude — expected by Japan to be benevolent towards her.
The fact is that after giving a formal expression of respect to the League of Nation, Chamberlain and Simon do not hesitate to:
w propose an ‘abandonment of the line hitherto taken by the League of Nations’
w propose a pact of non-aggression with Japan while acknowledging that it would encourage Japanese aggression against the Soviet Union, a proposal hardly in line with the Covenant of the League
w propose the maintenance of a neutral attitude in case of Japanese aggression against the Soviet Union, though the Covenant would recommend taking sides in applying sanctions against the aggressor.
It is clear that Chamberlain and Simon are ready to pay lip service to the League while disregarding it completely in their scheme for a non-aggression treaty with Japan.
In the case of Japanese aggression against the Soviet Union, England is to maintain a neutral attitude beyond question. Why beyond question? Everything else is argued except this point, which is apparently beyond argument. This is even more remarkable, since Orde’s memo is definitely against the proposed bilateral agreement, precisely because it would encourage Japanese aggression against the Soviet Union. In addition, the notes attached to the quoted documents reveal that Vansittart was equally against the bilateral agreement and supportive of Orde’s memorandum. The matter was indeed being questioned, despite the self-confident assertion in the memo that it was beyond question.
The way the matter was presented had two evident advantages: On the one hand it was intimidating. If it is beyond question, one should not question it. Questioning would seem an impropriety; on the other hand, if it was beyond question, Chamberlain and Simon were relieved of the difficulty of defending their proposed neutrality.
It is important to notice the following:
w Chamberlain suggests a non-aggression pact with Japan. His memo is understood as recommending a free hand to Japan.
w Chamberlain takes exception to this interpretation and declares being against the policy of a free hand to Japan. He explains the misunderstanding by the ‘bad drafting’ of his memo.
w Together with Simon, Chamberlain presents a redrafted memo which says that international obligations rule out the granting of a free hand to Japan. Except for this statement — framed legalistically without any reference to morality, — the redrafted memo seems as ‘badly drafted’ as Chamberlain’s previous one. In fact, though not in words, it still very clearly advocates a free hand to Japan.
Why should Chamberlain and Simon be so hesitant to give the proper and generally accepted name to the policy they recommend? The description of their policy fits in all details a policy of a free hand to an aggressive Japan against the Soviet Union. It also fits a policy of disregard of the League. Why then is it necessary for them to pay lip service to the League and to state explicitly the claim that a free hand to Japan is ‘ruled out’ by obligations?
Moreover, if they intend to recommend, though in disguise, a free hand to Japan, why should they remind the reader that this would mean breaking international pledges?
The reason is that as long as the words are not written and not pronounced, one can pretend they were not intended. International pledges can be forgotten as long as, on the face of lip service paid to them, one can claim they are at the centre of considerations.
When a policy is known to be either totally unpopular or at least very divisive, ‘realistic’ politicians advocating such a policy, find it convenient to proceed under a screen of evasive circumlocutions. Not giving the policy its true name becomes important.
Chamberlain’s suggestion for a non-aggression pact with Japan was presented as a measure that would allow the British government to concentrate her military might in Europe to face the greater German danger. The proposed Anglo-Japanese pact was never concluded and the German danger had to be faced without a formal appeasement of Japan. Though the matter was in the domain of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Sir John Simon, Chamberlain gave a lot of thought to the question.
In a letter dated May 12 1934 he wrote:
...For the old aphorism ‘force is no remedy’... I would substitute ‘the fear of force is the only remedy’... and so I have practically taken charge now of the defence requirements of the country
On December 12th 1934 he wrote about the naval conversations with Japan and America.:
I wish I were in at the conversations but of course I have no status there and could only pull the strings. I hope the puppets will make the gestures I want
And on March 23, 1935:
As you will see I have become a sort of acting PM — only without the actual power of the PM. I have to say “Have you thought?” or “What would you say?” when it would be quicker to say “This is what you must do”.
Chamberlain was much respected by his ministerial colleagues but did not use his influence to advocate a firm policy toward Germany. He became in fact a steady supporter of a policy of appeasement towards Germany.
Later, it could be argued that Germany was too strong to be resisted and therefore appeasement was the only policy that would allow Great Britain to gain time. However, in 1934-5 Germany was far from having achieved a state of rearmament that would make her an actual danger; she was only a potential one. Thus, at that time, appeasement could not have been motivated by military weakness.
On March the 9th, 1935, Hitler announced that Germany possessed a military air force.
On March the 16th, 1935, Hitler proclaimed conscription laws and formally denounced Part V of the Versailles Treaty which dealt with restrictions on Germany’s rearmament.
Germany was therefore in open breach of the Versailles Treaty. With the knowledge of Germany’s ambitions for expansion, her unrestricted rearmament spelled a lethal danger to all of Europe. The military balance between the West and Germany was known to be still favourable to the West but would not remain so for long. Unless something was done soon, Germany would become a military power unbeatable by any European coalition.
Britain was opposed to any serious action against Germany. In order to calm France, Britain agreed to hold a meeting with Italy and France to consider adequate measures against Germany. The meeting was held in April 1935 at Stressa and reached insignificant results. It denounced Germany’s unilateral action and maintained that Part V of the Versailles Treaty was still in full force. These were just words.
Two months later, the world was stunned by the announcement of the conclusion of an Anglo-German Naval Treaty allowing Germany to build her navy up to 35% the strength of the British navy. This was a clear violation of the Versailles Treaty that Britain so recently pledged to upheld.
The significance of the Naval Treaty was that Britain, alone among the allies, was joining Germany in challenging the validity of the Versailles Treaty. In exchange for Germany’s acceptance of modest Naval restrictions, Britain was implicitly recognising Germany’s right to unlimited land rearmament. With Britain’s help, the Versailles Treaty having become inapplicable, there was no other treaty, agreement or covenant to restrict Germany’s land rearmament.
In concluding the Naval Treaty, Britain seemed to declare that she did not care what Germany would do on land as long as she did not become a threat at sea. If we add to this that the Locarno Treaty had established guarantees for the boundaries in the West without doing the same for the East, if we add to it the numerous occasions on which Britain specified the cases in which she would certainly go to war, and none included aggression against countries of Eastern Europe, Germany could legitimately conclude that Britain had given her an implicit free hand in Eastern Europe.
Though such was the understanding of many politicians and journalists of the day, the British Government was denying the validity of such sinister interpretations. We will see that when Hitler and Chamberlain tackled the subject, they did acknowledge the implicit meaning.
It is fascinating to compare on the one hand Chamberlain’s statements demonstrating an acute awareness of Germany’s aggressiveness and, on the other hand, his statements and Cabinet interventions against any practical measures that would put a definite check to that danger.
Diaries and Cabinet minutes reveal that the fear of communism, the fear that, in the case of Hitler’s fall, communism would replace nazism, was greater than the fear of Hitler’s Germany.
Either there must have occurred a shift in the Conservative grasp of the European situation or else there was no shift at all and the spectre of the German danger had been raised earlier only in order to convince the Cabinet and the British people of the need for appeasing Japan. The mood of the Conservative leadership was understood by Vansittart.
At King George V’s request, Sir Robert Vansittart, Permanent Under-secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, sent a letter on November 7th 1935 to Lord Wigram, the King’s secretary, putting on record his expert advice:
..Any attempt at giving Germany a free hand to annex other people’s property in central or eastern Europe is both absolutely immoral and completely contrary to all the principles of the League which form the backbone of the policy of this country. Any British Government that attempted to do such a deal would almost certainly be brought down in ignominy — and deservedly....
..Any suggestion that a British Government contemplated leaving, let alone inviting, Germany to satisfy her land hunger at Russia’s expense would quite infallibly split this country from top to bottom, and split it just as deeply and disastrously as France is now split, though on rather different lines. This is an undoubted fact, whatever we may think of it, and I hope it will always be in the mind of our political folks.
Vansittart is warning ‘any British Government’. The sentence is revealing. The idea of giving a free hand to Germany in the East, and possibly encouraging her to ‘satisfy her land hunger’ is not an idea in the mind of some esoteric politicians. It flourishes in governmental circles to such a degree that Vansittart is warning the King of the consequences.
The last sentence of the quote deserves a particular treatment. Let us focus our attention on its second half: “..and I hope it will always be in the mind of our political folks”. It refers to the danger implicit in the granting of a free hand to Germany with respect to the Soviet Union. Vansittart thinks that it is not enough to be aware of the danger. He hopes that the awareness be always in the mind of our political folks.
Why always? Is just being aware not enough? One cannot avoid the conclusion that, in Vansittart’s opinion, the tendency to give Germany a free hand has not only pervaded ‘our political folks’ but is also permanently on their mind. As to ‘our political folks’, it referred to those who count, those in control, those who belong to us, and precisely those who need always to be aware.
What Vansittart told the King was common wisdom. Predicting that a free hand to Germany against the Soviet Union would dangerously split British opinion was not that hard to do. It is precisely this split, the reluctance of public opinion to go along, which forced the British government to stop its military intervention in the Soviet Union in the early years after its creation. Chamberlain was well aware of that. Intervention and free hand were not to be alluded to in public.
Chamberlain and Simon are not the only English leaders using a special language to advocate a policy which cannot be avowed publicly. We find it convenient to give a name to this special language and we will call it ‘knowese’ . ‘Knowese’ is the ambivalent language whose true meaning can be understood by a class of people, the people ‘in the know’. It is designed to convey to this class a precise non-popular meaning, while its plain English version remains publicly defensible as being innocent and moral.
We will later study the revealing case of N. Henderson, British ambassador to Germany, who after pages expressing his ‘free hand’ policy in a language that has all the appearances of high morality — a classical example of ‘knowese’ -, decides to be blunt and re-expresses his theme in plain language, thus providing a ‘dictionary’ allowing us to translate from ‘knowese’ to plain English. We will find out that the usage of knowese was quite pervasive among accountable politicians while politicians who, for different reasons, were temporarily without governmental responsibility, would not shy away from expressing the same opinion in plain English.
Free Hand And The Foreign Office
Chamberlain would not have preached a plain English version of appeasement unless it had large support from the ranks of the Conservative party and from the British people in general. However, the ‘knowese’ appeasement, the real policy behind that expressed in plain English, while obviously lacking popular support, could not be implemented unless here and there it had the enthusiastic support of influential people in the Foreign Office, in the Press, in the Parliament and in other institutions.
We may consider for instance a Foreign Office document which illustrates the thoughts prevailing in the department. It is written in plain English and gives the real meaning of various concepts, meaning never explained to the public.
‘General settlement’. It is a concept that comes out over and over again in talks, speeches, letters and other documents. In plain English it means that there are problems to settle, the general character of which would derive either from the number of parties involved, or from the number of problems involved, or from both.
However, in most cases, the expression was used with respect to a ‘general settlement’ between England and Germany. The generality of the settlement had to be derived only from the multiplicity of the problems.
We then learn, for instance, that ‘general settlement’ is an agreement to be reached with Germany giving sufficient security to France to induce her to renounce (later, to denounce) her treaty with the Soviet Union, so that the West would not be involved in the defence of the Soviet Union should she be attacked by Germany.
We quote from a document, quite explicit on the subject, originating from a political figure who does not have the reputation of being an ‘appeaser’:
1. Russia is really afraid that Germany, in combination with Poland, is planning to expand in the East.
2. She therefore wants to have her western frontiers defended against Germany and Poland, more especially in the event of a Russo-Japanese war.
3. The obvious power to do this is France, but France can only be induced to assume this new commitment if she can get something in return.
4. So long as France is frightened about her own security, she thinks a Russian guarantee would be of value to her, and will be prepared to pay for it by guaranteeing Russia’s western frontier.
5. It is therefore to Russia’s interest that France should not achieve by other means the security which she is looking for because if she does she will no longer require Russia’s help, or at least will not be so ready to pay the price for it.
6. The proposed ‘General Settlement’ with Germany, and the proposed Air Agreement for Western Europe are both intended to afford France the security which she is looking for.
7. They are both therefore objectionable to Russia and we must expect her to do her utmost to prevent either of them from materialising.
8. One of the weapons Russia will use for this purpose is the argument that if France does not come to the defence of Russia’s western frontier, Russia will come to terms with Germany, and face Europe with an aggressive German-Russian Alliance.
9. I submit that this is bluff and ought to be challenged whenever possible.
10. If Russia really thought it so easy to bring about a Russo-German Entente she would not be so frightened about her western frontier as she is.
11. If Germany and Poland had no plans for future penetration towards the East they would not be so opposed to the Eastern Pact in its July form as they are.
12. Nazism has two fundamental principles. The fight against the Jews and the fight against Communism. However much Hitler may compromise on other subjects he cannot compromise on these without destroying the raison-d’être of his system. For this reason a return of Germany to the policy of cooperation with Russia however much desired by the Reichswehr and the industrialists is possible only at the cost of overthrowing the Nazi regime and Hitler personally.
13. Even so the need of expansion will force Germany towards the East as being the only field open to her, and as long as the Bolshevist regime exists in Russia it is impossible for this expansion to take merely the form of peaceful penetration.
How to give France enough security? If France does not feel secure confronting the Germany of the day, how could she feel secure against a Germany reinforced by a victory over the Soviet Union? This remains a mystery to be solved by ‘a general settlement’. And since a disengagement of the West from reciprocal obligations towards Russia are to result from an understanding with Germany, we have to call it in plain English a negotiated ‘free hand’ given to Germany to attack the Soviet Union.
We see that the ‘smell’ of a ‘free hand’ to Germany in the East was in the air. But this does not mean that it was given explicitly. A ‘general settlement’ with Germany was deemed a preliminary necessity. The question remains to discover whether the free hand was ever discussed with Germany and then granted to her.
Since ‘knowese’ jargons are often the way for expressing what is being kept from the public, it becomes essential to discover the Anglo-German jargon for a free hand and to establish the legitimacy of its interpretation.
It is worthwhile to note that:
w Sargent’s memo was written in 1935 at a time when the military balance between the West and Germany was still very much in favour of the West, though it was known that this would not remain so for long
w the memo displays the certitude that Germany is intending to expand at Russia’s expense
w England, as a member of the League of Nations, was pledged to stand with the victim of aggression against the aggressor
w nevertheless Sargent recommends a solution that will give a free hand to Germany in the East.
We have noted Orde’s and Vansittart’s concerns that a policy of appeasement of Japan may deprive the Western countries of a Russian restraint over Germany. From this point of view, a free hand to Germany would be a major strategic blunder. Would the military stand for it?
The Opinion Of The Military
The Committee of Imperial Defence (CID) held meetings in early 1937 to review the international situation from the military point of view. Its findings were approved at a meeting attended by Neville Chamberlain. Let us quote important passages.
...With expansion eastward in her mind it is doubtful whether Germany has any real wish to enter into any treaty of mutual guarantees between the five Western Powers unless it is constructed in such a form as to leave her free to pursue a policy of expansion in Eastern and Central Europe, which, in conjunction with her antagonism to Communism, clearly tends to lead Germany into conflict with the U.S.S.R.
CID and Chamberlain are therefore aware that Germany has expansion eastward in her mind and that there is little hope for a ‘settlement’ with Germany unless a free hand is given to her for expansion in Eastern and Central Europe which would clearly lead to war with the Soviet Union.
It is important to note that the derivation of a free hand from the “form” of an agreement rather than from its explicit content is here a CID concept. There are things gentlemen do not need to say; it is enough if the ‘form’ hints at them. Therefore, when ‘delicate’ matters are to be considered by historians, the form must get at least as much attention as the explicit content.
Under such conditions, were the West unwilling to give Germany a free hand in Eastern Europe, British statesmen negotiating with Germany would have had to be very careful to avoid any ambiguity in form or content that could be construed by Germany as granting a free hand. In fact, this could be a touchstone allowing the historian to conclude whether a free hand had been granted or not. Let us continue the quotation:
As a further consequence her relations with Czechoslovakia, which has a defensive arrangement with the Soviet Government, have become strained, and the suspicion has arisen that Germany’s plans for expansion may take the form of an attempt to destroy Czechoslovakia, either by a process of disintegration or by direct attack.
In retrospect, the CID displayed a keen understanding of Germany’s plans and an appreciable ability for correct prediction. What is especially noteworthy is that the CID is aware that the destruction of Czechoslovakia (by disintegration or by direct attack) is, for Germany, but a steppingstone towards further expansion eastward which, let us remember, would involve war against the Soviet Union. Here, there is not a word about a legitimate right of self-determination for the Sudeten people. Britain was not taken in by the German propaganda.
But how does this all fit with British interests? Let us quote more:
Strategically, the future of the United Kingdom, and with it the future of the British Empire, is closely linked with that of France. If Germany crushed France she would dominate all Western Europe and would gain power and position which would subsequently render the situation immensely difficult for the United Kingdom.
The last paragraph merits some attention. It indicates the vital importance of preventing a French defeat at the hand of Germany. The CID report proceeds:
British military interest in central Europe or eastern Europe is only indirect, but in whatever part of Europe war might start, there would be grave risk that it would spread to involve other powers.
If, for example, Germany were to develop an expansionist policy Eastward, she might, as matters now are, be opposed by both France and Russia under their Treaty obligations. Thus the war would have spread to Western Europe, and we might become involved....
Apart from these considerations, if war should break out in Central or Eastern Europe, our policy must be dictated by our interests. In any case, it would obviously be of the highest importance to prevent the extension of the war to Western Europe, where a vital British interest would be involved.
Although at the moment it is possible, though by no means certain, that Germany has renounced all intention of expansion westward, the French pacts with the USSR, Poland and Czechoslovakia keep alive the danger that, in the event of an act of aggression by Germany in Eastern or Central Europe, France may become involved on behalf of her Eastern allies, thus extending the war to Western Europe. The possibility of Germany achieving her aims at territorial expansion in Europe, as a result of peaceful changes, lies outside the scope of this report, but we are bound to say that we feel considerable doubt as to this proving practicable.
Let us note the following:
w Britain knows it is futile to negotiate a Western settlement with Germany, without a readiness to give her, in the appropriate form, a free hand in Eastern Europe which will lead Germany into conflict with the Soviet Union.
w British military interest in Central and Eastern Europe is only indirect and non-vital.
w The trouble is not so much a German war of expansion Eastward but the fact that French pacts with the Soviet Union and other Central and Eastern European countries ‘keep alive the danger’ of extending to Western Europe hostilities that should be kept confined to Eastern Europe where no vital British interest is affected.
This stand is in complete conformity with that of Sargent’s memo discussed earlier.
The CID does not exclude the possibility that Germany may still have some tendency to expand westward. But, while seeing the danger, it prefers to ignore it, and to magnify the danger of French alliances. Without these alliances, Britain is safe. Germany then may expand in the East and make war on the Soviet Union without England’s involvement. In plain English, that position, if advertised, would give a free hand to Germany to attack the Soviet Union in the East, starting with Czechoslovakia. Even without advertising, it represents a choice: that of not interfering with Germany’s known ambitions provided the resulting German-Soviet conflict would be prevented from spreading to the West.
The report goes on to underline the aggressive nature of the German military machine, the great rate of increase in the airforce, the already dominant position of the German navy in the Baltic and that soon the German army would be more numerous, and much better armed, than in 1914. It nevertheless concludes that Germany is not yet ready for war.
This realisation of the German danger does not prevent the CID from singling out as dangerous the French reciprocal agreements with the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Poland.
The CID does not attempt to study the effect on the military balance that would result from a disintegration of Czechoslovakia and its effect on the military position of France, whose safety is deemed to be vital to Great Britain. No study is presented which considers the data on the increase of German population, the decrease in length of the overall German frontier lines, the loss of Czech defence fortifications and possibly the transfer of Czechoslovakia armaments and armament factories to Germany that would result from an incorporation of the Sudeten regions of Czechoslovakia, or all of Czechoslovakia, into the German Reich.
With the experience derived from the First World War, with the avowed recognition that Germany’s ambitions could, after all, be directed against the West, only a powerful motivation, transcending the strictly security considerations, could have lead the CID to reach conclusions so totally at odds with Britain’s vital interests.
For further clarification we quote the CID considerations concerning Japan:
Japan is aiming at hegemony in the East, just as Germany is in Europe...
In 1937, Japan’s aggressive ‘actions ‘ and ‘affairs’ are not therefore ‘past history’. The CID document goes on:
Japan’s further expansion in Mongolia will not bring her into direct conflict with us; but penetration into Central and South China and her economic policy in the Western Pacific impinge directly on British interests...
Japanese military aggression is liable to force her into hostilities with the USSR.
...If the strength of the Soviet forces in the Far East is increased, Japan might be deterred from such further expansion in North-West China as might result in hostilities with the USSR. Consequently, there is the possibility of Japan turning towards expansion in a southern direction... From the military aspect, therefore, we warmly support the efforts of our diplomacy to adjust the differences between Japan and ourselves, to which such a change of direction of Japanese policy might give rise..
...In the Far East.. the Soviet position is stronger.. Consequently, in the event of war between the United Kingdom and Japan, the assistance of the USSR might be of considerable value
No objections against Japan expanding to the North and coming in conflict with the Soviet Union. CID draws the parallel between the aggressiveness of Japan in the East and that of Germany in Europe. It reaches similar conclusions. Aggression against the Soviet Union (in both cases) does not involve any British vital interest, though the Soviet Union could be of great help in case Japan expanding in the South China direction would embroil England in war.
The pattern is the same. In spite of the community of interests between the Soviet Union and Britain, despite the fact that England may need Russia’s help to defeat Japan’s aggression, the conclusion is reached that no vital interest is threatened by Japan going to war against the Soviet Union. The defeat of a potential ally is of no vital interest! Two countries facing the same aggressor are not supposed to be concerned for the security of each other!
Once more, only a powerful motivation, transcending strictly security considerations, could have lead the CID to reach conclusions so totally at odds with British vital interests.
The consistency of opinions between Chamberlain, Simon, Sargent and the CID is remarkable. It was not modified in any essential manner by changes in the situation brought about by the passage of time. The thinking is the same whether Germany is still very weak or growing stronger, whether appeasement is to be directed towards Japan or towards Germany. In both cases there is the common thread of expecting an aggression against the Soviet Union and deciding to remain out of it ‘beyond question’, though questions of strategy and imperial interests abound.
In this respect it is worthwhile to consider a unique document. It is unique for having been written first in ‘knowese’, and then in plain English.
Bilingual Talk: ‘Knowese’ And Plain English
In a report dated May 10th 1937, included in a letter to the Foreign Office dated July 20th 1937, Neville Henderson, the new British ambassador in Germany, exposed his views on the political situation. He started by enunciating the fundamental principles of British national policy:
A. The defence of Great Britain and the British Empire, and
B. The maintenance of peace in Europe and throughout the world
Taking it for granted that each country will look after its own interests first, the only remaining principle in Henderson’s view is the maintenance of peace.
Peace is a recurring term with politicians. This was particularly true in the Thirties. The memory of World War I was still fresh and clouds announcing the next conflagration were gathering on the horizon. A politician had better be perceived as working for peace.
However, Henderson’s letter was not written for the public. There were no votes to be gained, no public reputation to protect, no public support to be sought. It was a genuine expression of Henderson’s commitment to peace.
In this same letter, Henderson suggests in plain English that Germany be given a free hand to use force against the Soviet Union. It means, of course, to make war against her. This does not look at all like a peaceful policy.
Henderson is not an uncharacteristic British diplomat. Before him, Lord D’Abernon, British ambassador to Germany in the twenties, had made similar suggestions. They are mentioned in his published diaries, symptomatically titled ‘An Ambassador for Peace’. Once more, peace can be made compatible with the use of force against the Soviet Union.
Henderson was to replace Phipps in Germany. The latter displeased Prime Minister Baldwin by not being sympathetic enough to Germany’s aspirations. Baldwin was advised to replace him by someone more like D’Abernon. Henderson, no doubt, fitted the bill in one important respect: his professed dedication to peace, and to a forceful liquidation of Bolshevism in the Soviet Union.
Henderson is convinced that England has no alternative but to follow a moral policy in the defence of peace. He goes on:
...we shall have to be inspired by our conceptions of moral principles...
..But the sum of the matter is this: our attitude towards German aspirations must be based in the end not on the Treaty of Versailles.. but.. on peace and peaceful evolution.
...if Great Britain’s influence in Europe and on the side of peace is to be effective and justifiable, friendship with France must never be exclusive
..The above premise is indispensable in respect of a fifth but international and moral policy of Great Britain, namely:
E. Support of the ideals and vital principles of the League of Nations.
How can this stated concern for morality, peace and commitment to the League square with what Henderson writes next in his memorandum:
On the other hand, though Germany must be regarded as the most formidable menace of all at the present moment, there is no reason, provided she does not ruthlessly disregard the vital principles of the League of Nations or revert to a policy of naval and overseas rivalry or of a renewed push to the West, or deliberately threatens us by air, why — restless and troublesome though she is bound to be — she should perpetually constitute a danger of war for us.
Henderson’s memo makes it clear that he does not mind a German ‘push to the East’ provided enough care is taken with ‘form’ that it could be said that the principles, though violated, were not ‘ruthlessly’ abused.
..Just as Great-Britain must be strong by sea and in the air so must Germany in self-defence be so also in the air and by land.
..The obstacles to an Anglo-German understanding are, it is true, extraordinary formidable. Quite apart from Germany herself, the Nazi regime, her traditional mentality and character and her inevitable urge towards unity and expansion, it is not to the interest — for obvious reasons — either of Italy or Russia to witness its consummation. And, though it is difficult not to feel convinced that it would be to her ultimate interest, it would be exceedingly hard to obtain the cooperation of France, who has her own ideas as to what is her own best national policy. Yet can we go forward without France?
It would seem therefore that the first objective must be to convince France that she must and can rely only on us to guarantee her security as part of an understanding with Germany.. Even so, France will be very reluctant on grounds of prestige and amour-propre, quite apart from security, to renounce her quasi-protectorships over Poland and the Little Entente, as well as the military obligations and guarantees of her alliance with Soviet Russia. Yet if she is not prepared to do so, it will be hopeless for Great Britain to attempt to reach an understanding based on French cooperation.
As we have seen, Orme Sargent, one of the clearest minds in the Foreign Office, was, nonetheless, of a similar opinion. Henderson goes on:
The alternative, however disagreeable and only as a last resort, would then be a direct Anglo-German understanding based on French security and integrity but including some guarantee of neutrality in the event of a Russo-German conflict.
Sounds familiar. This clearly is an advocacy for a free hand to Germany to attack Soviet Russia.
Henderson goes on:
And Germany herself? That Hitler himself and most Germans would prefer an alliance with Great Britain to any other is almost certainly true. Is, however, British friendship, tolerance or even negative acquiescence possible when the aims of German foreign policy are frankly stated? In other words is Germany prepared to pay a reasonable price and one which we can honourably accept for British friendship?
At last Henderson is restraining British ‘tolerance’ and ‘negative acquiescence’ to what can be ‘honourably’ accepted by Great Britain. Henderson’s concept of what is honourable will appear soon. He goes on:
In his valedictory dispatch.. Sir Eric Phipps sums up the aims of Germany as follows:
1. The absorption of Austria and other Germanic peoples (e.g. the German fringe of Czechoslovakia).
2. Expansion in the East.
3. Recovery of Colonies.
In themselves none of these aims need injure purely British national interest...
Expansion in the East is an elastic term. If the national integrity and independence of her neighbours were safeguarded, His Majesty’s Government would not be justified in actively objecting to a political and economic predominance which the German armies and German industry and population will in any case ensure of their own volition.
The elastic term “expansion” has been replaced by a “political and economic predominance” not affecting the national integrity and the independence of the neighbours. An elastic term has been replaced by the mystery of transforming a political predominance over a foreign country into independence and national integrity.
Let us note that Henderson is not against opposing Germany’s predominance etc... he is only against ‘active’ opposition. If English public opinion requires an opposition to Germany’s expansion, then, by all means, let us oppose, but not actively.
We close with a last and most important quotation from Henderson’s memo:
So long as Germany loyally observes ..her present undertaking to limit her fleet.. and is prepared to make an Air Pact with Great Britain, we can at least be confident that, whatever other ambitions she has, they are not directed against the British Empire... If Germany is blocked from any Western adventure.. have we the right to oppose German peaceful expansion and evolution in the East?..
Surely our right course is to be prepared to submit, provided we secure peace to the West, without too great discomfort to the surge and swell of restless Pan-Germanism in Central and Eastern Europe. It is true that the idea of leaving a comparatively free hand to Germany eastward will alarm and dissatisfy a section of public opinion....
To put it quite bluntly, Eastern Europe emphatically is neither definitely settled for all time nor is it a vital British interest and the German is certainly more civilised than the Slav, and in the end, if properly handled, also less potentially dangerous to British interests — One might even go so far as to assert that it is not even just to endeavour to prevent Germany from completing her unity or from being prepared for war against the Slav provided her preparations are such as to reassure the British Empire that they are not simultaneously designed against it.
It is to be noted that the blunt language contradicts totally the refined one. There is now, bluntly speaking, no talk of peaceful evolution, peaceful political domination (with due respect to territorial integrity and independence). Still there is a concern for morality, and it is in the name of morality (it is not JUST to oppose) that Henderson reveals the blunt version of the policy he is advocating.
Henderson’s diplomatic talk is transparent enough. It could not be made public. Nothing of it transpires in his book ‘Failure of a Mission’ in which he describes the policies he recommended and how he failed in the mission of preserving peace. However, his blunt talk is as dangerous as the disclosure of a secret code to the enemy (in this case the public). Such blunt talk is normally taboo. Only the privileged should have access to the true meaning of “peace, peaceful evolution, independence, superior civilisation, peaceful expansion, general settlement, tolerance and negative acquiescence” etc.. etc.. In fact, by comparing Henderson’s blunt talk to his non-blunt talk, it is possible to establish a translation table from ‘knowese’ to plain English.
What makes Henderson’s memo important is that
w it parallels to an appreciable measure the opinions expressed by Simon, Chamberlain, Sargent and the CID
w it was written at the start of his mission as an ambassador. If his opinions had indicated that he was not fit to represent Great Britain, it would have been necessary to replace him before he caused too much damage; he was not replaced.
w he could verify in a personal conversation with Chamberlain the identity of their views.
w he voiced openly what many leaders, and particularly Chamberlain, were convinced of
w it is a good illustration of a jargon debunked by one who used it so well.
What Chamberlain Knew At Munich
He knew the nature of the Nazi regime (internal repression and external aggression). We saw that he was aware of reports from Ambassador Phipps that left no doubt as to the odiousness of the internal repression and the avowed aggressive plans of expansion. Eden circulated to the cabinet relevant extracts from ‘Mein Kampf’ to make sure that all cabinet members were aware of the readiness of the Nazis to perjure themselves and to justify anything that would help their aggressive plans.
He knew that the annexation of Austria had been accomplished as a result of threats.
The whole cabinet was also aware of the fact that Hitler had suppressed the communist movement in Germany, on all occasions expressed his aversion to communism and the Soviet Union and was stating that Nazi Germany was the bulwark against communism.
Here is a summary of that part of Chamberlain’s knowledge — from his attending the CID meetings (and other sources) — which is of relevance to his meetings with Hitler:
w Germany: A country with aggressive tendencies directed towards the East and possibly — but less likely — towards the West. Has many times violated solemn pledges. Its military power is great and fast increasing. She is not willing to reach an understanding with England unless it is done in a form that gives her a free hand to the East. Professes an extreme anti-communism
w Czechoslovakia: A democracy in the best western traditions. Was created at the peace conference after World War I with the full support of England. Known to have a strong army, modern armament factories and excellent fortifications. Object of German aggressive designs as a first step to further expansion in the East.
w The Soviet Union: A country which is likely to be the target of a German aggression — possibly with Poland’s help — and of a Japanese aggression. Its treaty relations with France and Czechoslovakia are to be considered a source of danger for the West. In the case of a German move eastward, these treaties may cause the war to extend to the West.
w General: A German expansion to the East cannot be the result of a peaceful evolution.
The Smoking Gun
From the minutes of a Cabinet meeting held on May 3 1939 we read:
The Prime Minister said that the first time the idea of a free hand in Eastern Europe had been mentioned was, he thought, at his interview with Herr Hitler at Berchtesgaden.
In fact, the notion had been often mentioned before. The only possible interpretation is that it was the first time that Hitler had mentioned it to him, or vice-versa. Moreover, a ‘first time’ is very suggestive of the fact that it was not the only time. The free hand must have been mentioned between Chamberlain and Hitler on more than a single occasion.
Chamberlain and Hitler met only on three occasions at Berchtesgaden, Godesberg and Munich. Since it is possible to distinguish in the first meeting (precisely the one mentioned by Chamberlain) a distinct flavour of a free hand being discussed, it becomes clear that Berchtesgaden, as indicated by Chamberlain, is precisely the place were the free hand was first mentioned.
This is reinforced by the fact that ‘I think’ is a very common expression in Chamberlain’s style of speaking expressing a thoroughness for precision in the choice of words, with proper allowance to the fact that memory could play some trick.
Were it not for Chamberlain’s assertion that the free hand policy was indeed mentioned at Berchtesgaden it would have been impossible to assume it without risking being accused of exceeding the proper bounds of interpretation.
Now, we can, on the authority of Chamberlain himself, examine the Berchtesgaden discussion as mentioning the granting of a free hand (but not necessarily granting it). However, before dealing with what went on at the meeting, let us examine what were Chamberlain’s expectations. In a letter to his sister he writes on the 11th of September 1938:
There is another consideration... and that is the plan... if it came off, it would go far beyond the present crisis, and might prove the opportunity for bringing about a complete change in the international situation.
The ‘plan’ is explained to his sister in a letter dated the 19th of September 1938 which refers to his Berchtesgaden visit. The first letter was written before the visit while the second letter was written just after. The second letter mentions that it is a continuation of the first. It is written in an enthusiastic spirit and does not give any indication of the author being disappointed about the results of the meeting. He had great expectations, and the mood of the letter is that of a very satisfied person. What went on at this meeting must be considered with the understanding of Chamberlain’s great expectations of going ‘far beyond the present crisis’ and bringing about ‘a complete change of the international situation’.
There exist two documents recording what was said at that meeting. One was written by Chamberlain from memory and after the event. The other was the minutes of the meeting as recorded by Dr. Paul Schmidt, the German translator for Hitler. The two versions are very similar; they are both included in the DBFP (Documents of British Foreign Policy). Whenever they differ — and they do not differ on the essentials — Schmidt’s version is more likely to indicate what was said in the meeting, while Chamberlain’s version may clarify what he had in mind. We will mostly quote from Dr. Schmidt’s minutes that are likely to be more precise. According to him Chamberlain said at the very beginning of the meeting:
...He, Mr. Chamberlain, however, regarded the Fuhrer as a man who, from a strong feeling for the sufferings of his nation, had carried through the renaissance of the German nation with extraordinary success. He had the greatest respect for this man.
Let us proceed with Schmidt’s text:
He had come to Germany in order to seek by means of a frank exchange of views, the solution of the present difficulties. He hoped.. that on the basis of this exchange of views.. he could then, with double confidence, work further for an Anglo-German rapprochement.
Is this ‘rapprochement’ what Chamberlain had in mind when he wrote about ‘far beyond the present crisis’ and ‘a complete change in the international situation’? Let us refer to Chamberlain’s version:
...I thought we might perhaps usefully devote this afternoon to a clarification of each other’s point of view so that each might know exactly what the other had in his mind, leaving, perhaps, the Czechoslovakia problem till tomorrow.
The Czechoslovakia problem threatens to develop into a world war. But it can be left till ‘tomorrow’ so that the afternoon be devoted to an exchange of views which would, according to Schmidt’s version, lead to an Anglo-German rapprochement. What ‘goes far beyond it’ must come first. This is very natural; if there was no ‘understanding’ there might have been no reason to sacrifice Czechoslovakia.
To better understand the meaning of the ‘rapprochement’ suggested by Chamberlain, it is worthwhile taking a short leave from the events at Berchtesgaden to refer to a letter written by Chamberlain to King George VI on September 13th 1938, two days before meeting Hitler.
...reports are daily received.. Many of these (and of such authority as to make it impossible to dismiss them as unworthy of attention) declare positively that Herr Hitler has made up his mind to attack Czecho-Slovakia and then to proceed further East. He is convinced that the operation can be effected so rapidly that it will be all over before France or Great Britain could move and that they will not then venture to try to upset a fait accompli.
On the other hand, Your Majesty’s representative in Berlin has steadily maintained that Herr Hitler has not yet made up his mind to violence. He means to have a solution soon — this month — and if that solution, which must be satisfactory to himself, can be obtained peacefully, well and good. If not, he is ready to march if he should so decide.
At first sight it would seem there is very little difference between the two kinds of information. In the first case Hitler has made up his mind to attack Czechoslovakia (and then to proceed further East), while in the second case he would attack within two weeks if he is not ‘soon’ given peacefully what ‘must be satisfactory to himself’. Hitler not having ‘made up his mind to violence’ would therefore mean, according to Chamberlain himself, that before having recourse to violence Hitler would give the West a chance of capitulation.
Even if we consider the first kind of information as more reliable, there could be no doubt that Hitler would willingly accept a peaceful solution ‘satisfying to himself’ i.e. a complete capitulation to his demands, were it offered to him. The real difference is that the first kind of information does not exercise any pressure in the direction of a capitulation to Hitler, while the other does.
To attach so much importance to such a subtle difference can only be interpreted in one way: capitulation to Hitler is essential. A German military invasion of Czechoslovakia would make British public opinion totally opposed to an Anglo-German rapprochement, while a capitulation disguised as a ‘peaceful solution’ could facilitate the public acceptance of such a rapprochement. Chamberlain goes on:
In these circumstances I have been considering the possibility of a sudden and dramatic step which might change the whole situation. The plan is that I should inform Herr Hitler that I propose at once to go over to Germany to see him.. I should hope to persuade him that he had an unequalled opportunity of raising his own prestige and fulfilling what he has so often declared to be his aim, namely the establishment of an Anglo-German understanding preceded by a settlement of the Czecho-Slovakian question.
The aim is the Anglo-German understanding. It has to be preceded by a settlement of the Czecho-Slovakian question. Chamberlain is not clear about the ‘understanding’ but he gives a hint:
After sketching out the prospect of Germany and England as the two pillars of European peace and buttresses against communism, I should suggest that the essential preliminary was the peaceful solution of our crisis.
Germany is now, according to Chamberlain, one of the two pillars of European peace. We should note that two is the exact number, not three to include France. France with a popular front in its recent past, is not reliable as a buttress against communism and is therefore not a pillar of European peace.
Chamberlain seems to repeat himself. He said before that an Anglo-German understanding is to be preceded by a settlement of the Czechoslovakia question. Now he affirms that the peaceful solution of ‘our crisis’ (Czechoslovakia obviously) is a preliminary to the prospect of Germany and England as the two pillars of European peace and buttresses against communism. The repetition makes it clear that what was called Anglo-German ‘understanding’ in the first version is now called ‘a prospect of Germany and England as the two pillars of European peace and buttresses against communism’. This gives a new meaning to ‘understanding’
We should note that, only three paragraphs after Hitler is said (on very reliable authority) to have decided to attack Czechoslovakia as a first step to proceed towards the East, he is hailed as a “pillar of peace” and a “buttress against communism”. This was also the view in February 1937 of the CID which was more specific in explaining that ‘to the East’ meant against the Soviet Union. This gives a new meaning to ‘peace’, and its ‘pillars’.
What can be the peaceful solution Chamberlain has in mind? This can be seen from his knowledge that Hitler ‘means to have a solution soon — this month — and that it must be ‘satisfactory to himself’ otherwise he would have recourse to violence.
How then can a ‘peaceful solution’ satisfactory to Hitler be reached? Chamberlain has the answer:
Since I assume that he will have declared that he cannot wait and that the solution must come at once. my proposal would be that he should agree that, after both sides had laid their case before Lord Runciman and thus demonstrated the points of difference, Lord Runciman should act as a final arbitrator. Of course I should not be able to guarantee that Dr. Benes would accept this solution, but I would undertake to put all possible pressure on him to do so.
To assume about Hitler that ‘he cannot wait’, that the solution must come ‘at once’ and that a peaceful solution ‘must be satisfactory to himself’ means that THERE IS NO ROOM FOR ARBITRATION.
Runciman’s proposed arbitration is therefore an indecent comedy. The outcome is known in advance. It must be pleasing to Hitler and thus requires the imposition of pressure on Benes. Unless Chamberlain knew in advance the outcome of Runciman’s arbitration, he could not have felt as confident as he was that the sole opposition to it would be that of Benes. The proposed arbitration is obviously a veil to mask the capitulation. This gives a new meaning to ‘arbitration’.
Eden reports Chamberlain as saying (about the failure of the non-intervention policy to prevent intervention in the Spanish civil war) that what matters is the ‘façade’. It is clear that, once more, concerning the Czechoslovakia problem, it is the façade that matters. The façade this time is an indecent and fake arbitration followed by a so-called peaceful solution imposed on Czechoslovakia by ‘all possible pressure’.
With the knowledge of Chamberlain’s intentions and expectations, we can now go back to the Berchtesgaden meeting. According to Dr. Schmidt, during an exchange of opinions preceding the discussions of the Czechoslovakia problem Hitler told Chamberlain:
Germany had limited the strength of her fleet, of her own free will to a certain proportion of British naval power. The precondition for this agreement was, of course, the mutual determination never again to make war on the other contracting party. If, therefore, England were to continue to make it clear that in certain circumstances she would intervene against Germany, the precondition for the Naval agreement would cease to hold, and it would be more honest for Germany to denounce the agreement.
Never again to make war against a Germany determined to expand! It meant in short: Germany takes Austria and Britain does not intervene. Then Germany takes Sudetenland and Britain does not intervene. The process could continue with Germany taking whatever belongs to her sphere of influence and Britain not intervening. Otherwise — that is to say, unless Britain can now pledge never to make war against Germany — Hitler would denounce the pact. There would be no misunderstanding about the British sphere of influence. The regions of vital interest for her had been defined in a number of political speeches by Eden, Simon, Halifax and Chamberlain himself. It included France, the low countries, the British Empire, Egypt and Iraq (the latter two countries were formally independent and, in reality, English dependencies). It did not include Central or Eastern Europe.
Now, Chamberlain was in a difficult situation. On the one hand, he could deny that a relation existed between the Naval Treaty and the free hand implication of ‘never again to make war’. Then, Hitler would denounce the Naval Treaty. On the other hand, Chamberlain could accept the obvious relation but, by doing so, he would transform the implicit free hand into an explicit one. Chamberlain, apparently, did not relish to be put in this uncomfortable position. He preferred to have his cake and eat it too. Twice he tried to Have Hitler accept that the relation between the Naval Treaty and the obligation not to make war between the signatories, though existing and reasonable, did not preclude the possibility of war between Britain and Germany. The first attempt was rather awkward, if not downright stupid.
On the British Prime Minister interpolating the question whether this denunciation would be contemplated by Germany before a conflict broke out or at the outbreak itself, the Fuhrer replied that, if England continued to recognise the possibility of intervention against Germany, while Germany had herself concluded the Naval agreement with the intention of never again making war on England, a one-sided disadvantage for Germany must ensue; it would therefore be more sincere and more honest in such a case to terminate the treaty relationship.
Denunciation of a naval treaty in case of war ‘at the outbreak itself’, sounds ridiculous. Denouncing the treaty only makes sense if it is done in time of peace.
The subject is abandoned for a while and the discussion moves to the Czechoslovakia problem. However, Chamberlain seems to give great importance to the concept ‘never again to go to war against each other’. He returns to the question:
With regards to the Fuhrer’s remarks about the Anglo-German Naval agreement, the British Prime Minister observed that he could quite understand the German attitude up to a certain point. A very reasonable agreement had been made about naval strengths in the belief that there could be no question of war between the two countries. If conditions had now so altered that the possibility of a war must be taken into account, the basis of the naval agreement had, indeed, disappeared. Up to that point he could follow the Fuhrer, but he must add that no proper distinction was made on the German side between a threat and a warning. When two people are on the point of going into conflict with one another they must be perfectly clear in advance of the consequences of such a conflict. Britain had acted in this sense, and had made no threats but had only uttered a warning. It was now the business of the Fuhrer to make a decision on the basis of these facts which were known to him. No reproach could be made against England for giving this warning: on the contrary, she could have been criticised for failing to give it.
Chamberlain concedes the correctness of the relation made by Hitler between the Naval Treaty and ‘there could be no question of war between the two countries’. At this point, he could have proceeded ahead and move for instance to the Czechoslovakian problem. Instead he goes on to keep alive the possibility of war in changed conditions.
The reader can hardly prevent himself from a feeling of unreality. It is as if things do not seem to be what they really are. On the one hand, Chamberlain did not come to Germany to deliver a warning. The letter he sent to the King reveals his real intentions, his desire to conclude an anti-communist alliance with Germany. Within such alliance there were no reason for Chamberlain to consider the possibility of war between “the two pillars of peace”.
However, if we remember that, according to Chamberlain himself, they were discussing the matter of a free hand to be given to Germany, his attitude indicates a reluctance to let that free hand be as explicit as Hitler wanted it to be. If Britain can reserve, in some circumstances her freedom of action with respect to Germany, the free hand stops to be that free and that explicit. If Chamberlain succeeds, he will be in position to credibly deny that the implicit free hand implied in the Naval Treaty, has been spelled out in his meeting with Hitler. In fact, it was already spelled out, but in a way which did not satisfy Hitler. It was as if Chamberlain had told him: “Yes, you have a free hand, but one never knows what complications can still occur”. Hitler would not go for it.
..the Fuhrer declared that he must adhere to the fundamental view whereby the basis of this treaty was to be seen simply and solely in a kind of obligation of both parties in no circumstances to make war on one another. If therefore England showed from time to time that she must, nevertheless, in certain circumstances, reckon with a conflict against Germany, the logical basis of the Naval Agreement was done away with. While one party undertook a voluntary limitation of its naval strength, the other party left all possibilities open; and it was precisely at the moment when a warning was given that the disadvantage for the former party made itself felt.
Now the free hand is totally spelled out. Not only is the Naval Treaty an indication of a hope, or a reasonable expectation, that there would be no war between Britain and Germany, but it has now become an “obligation on both parties in no circumstances to make war on one another”. Hitler was forwarding to Chamberlain a mise en demeure: to immediately accept an obligation for both parties, in no circumstances to make war on one another, under pain of the abrogation of the Naval Treaty. This challenge, the blatant explicit request for a free hand, the nature of which was recognised by Chamberlain, had to be dealt with. It could either be rejected or explicitly accepted. To ignore it, would be an implicit acceptance which, nevertheless, would not satisfy Hitler
Chamberlain thanked the Fuhrer for the explanation. He did not take exception to what Hitler said nor did he give the requested undertaking. The whole matter was given serious attention during the meeting. It was not just a matter of niceties and empty diplomatic formula. It was full enough of meaning and consequence for Chamberlain to come back to the matter and put himself on record that changed circumstances might allow Britain to consider the possibility of war. This was at the first meeting between Chamberlain and Hitler. It was not made public though it was mentioned by Chamberlain to his Cabinet.
According to Chamberlain’s own notes:
He then launched into a long speech.. all he wanted was Sudeten Germans. As regards the ‘spearhead in his side’ he would not feel safe unless the Sudeten Germans were incorporated in the Reich; he would not feel he had got rid of the danger until the abolition of the treaty between Russia and Czechoslovakia
I said: ‘Supposing it were modified, so that Czechoslovakia were no longer bound to go to the assistance of Russia if Russia was attacked, and on the other hand Czechoslovakia was debarred from giving asylum to Russian forces in her aerodromes or elsewhere; would that remove your difficulty?’
Hitler referred to the Russo-Czechoslovakia treaty as a danger to Germany. In his reply Chamberlain is more candid and faced the real eventuality: an attack against Russia. Chamberlain understood him quite well. It would have been a loss of time to try to meet Hitler’s non-existent defensive qualms. From the CID report approved by him, he knew that Germany wanted a free hand in this respect. He knew that an understanding with Germany is only possible if ‘it is constructed in such a form as to leave her free to pursue a policy of expansion in Eastern and Central Europe, which, in conjunction with her antagonism to Communism, clearly tends to lead Germany into conflict with the U.S.S.R’. Chamberlain went straight to the point. By his answer, he demonstrated that, in his dictionary, Hitler’s defensive language represented aggressive intentions towards Russia.
Here, Chamberlain had the opportunity of dissolving all doubts. However, on this very special occasion, the first face-to-face meeting between the two leaders, Chamberlain did not put Hitler on notice that an attack on the Soviet Union would mean serious trouble with Britain. On the contrary, though knowing that Germany wanted a free hand, faced with a transparent request for a free hand, he decided not only to give it but to entice Hitler in the Russian direction. If there were obstacles, he would eliminate them.
Chamberlain again met with Hitler at Godesberg on September 22 and on the 23rd. This last meeting ended in the early morning hours of the 24th. Kirkpatrick was present and took notes. He was acting as the translator on the English team while Dr. Paul Schmidt was the translator on the German team.
Chamberlain reported by telephone to Halifax that the first meeting on the 22nd had been most unsatisfactory. Kirkpatrick’s notes show that the next meeting was no less discouraging. Hitler and Chamberlain argued about the nature of a memorandum and about a matter of fact: which of Germany and Czechoslovakia had first mobilised its army. Chamberlain was clearly frustrated to realise that on a matter on which he was very well informed he could be contradicted by Hitler.
Nevertheless his report, first at a meeting with a restricted number of Cabinet ministers, and then with the full Cabinet, sounds rather positive. On both occasions, he abstained from reporting a private meeting he had with Hitler just before taking leave from him. Kirkpatrick did not attend this meeting. Dr. Paul Schmidt, was the only witness. He described it as follows:
..at 2:00 in the morning Chamberlain and Hitler took leave from one another in a completely friendly tone after having had, with my assistance, an eye to eye conversation. During the meeting, with words that came from his heart, Hitler thanked Chamberlain for his efforts for peace. He remarked that the solution of the Sudeten question is the last big problem which remains to be treated. Hitler also spoke about a German-Anglo rapprochement and cooperation. It was clearly noticeable that it was important for him to have a good relation with the Englishman. He went back to his old tune: “Between us there should be no conflict”, he said to Chamberlain, “we will not stand in the way of your pursuit of your non-European interests and you may without harm let us have a free hand on the European continent in Central and South-East Europe. Sometime we will have to solve the colonial question; but this has time, and war is not to be considered in this case”. (my translation)
Hitler seemed to summarise the situation as he understood it. There were no ‘ifs’ in the described division of spheres of influence. It was not in the form of a proposal awaiting an answer. It looked as if he already had the answer, possibly in the clarification he made, and accepted by Chamberlain, of the meaning of the Naval Treaty or, possibly, in a part of the conversation not reported by Schmidt. He, justifiably, interpreted Chamberlain’s readiness to ensure Czechoslovakia’s neutrality, in case of an attack against Russia, as an encouragement in this direction. The acceptance of Hitler’s interpretation of the meaning of the Naval Treaty must also have been understood by Hitler as a free hand.
In order to be fair to Chamberlain, within the measure in which facts can be stretched, we may suppose that Chamberlain did not then consider that he had given a free hand to Hitler. In such a case, Hitler’s assertion that he will respect British extra-european interests and that he expects a free hand in Central and Eastern Europe must have come as a shock. Chamberlain is not the man who would have knowingly left Hitler with a false impression that the British interests were only extra-European. He was not a man who, knowingly, would have allowed Hitler to keep the false impression that, by remaining silent, Chamberlain had acquiesced to let Germany have a free hand.
Chamberlain, however, does not manifest any astonishment or opposition. He cannot ignore that Hitler’s talk on spheres of influence parallels what went on at Berchtesgaden in a different form. At the time, he discussed the matter of the Naval Treaty from all possible angles. He did not let Hitler get away with any statement without challenging him, at the least disagreement. This was also what he did at these last meetings at Godesberg.
Schmidt’s record shows that, just after this conversation, the mood became a particularly good one. Would this have been possible had Chamberlain opposed Hitler’s expansion plan as just revealed to him by the mentioning of a free hand?
Let us stretch the fact to the limit. Let us say that at 2:00 in the morning, Chamberlain was in no mood to start again a conversation on a new theme. Let us suppose also that he failed to see the importance of challenging Hitler at this very moment, if only by stating that Britain could not agree to a division of spheres of influence.
However, even if Hitler was not summarising the situation, even if he was just requesting a free hand in Central and South Eastern Europe, this could not fail to reveal to Chamberlain — if he did not know it already — the extent of Hitler’s ambitions. Chamberlain, however, came back to London with a rosy report to his Cabinet. The minutes of the Cabinet are revealing:
Did Hitler mean to go further? The Prime Minister was satisfied that Herr Hitler was speaking the truth when he said that he regarded this as a racial question. He thought he had established some degree of personal influence over Herr Hitler.. Herr Hitler had said that if we got this question out of the way without conflict, it would be a turning point in Anglo-German relations. That to the Prime Minister, was the big thing of the present issue. He was also satisfied that Herr Hitler would not go back on his word once he had given it.
Chamberlain was told by Hitler the kind of turning point in Anglo-German relations he was expecting. Chamberlain says that ‘this was the big thing of the present issue’. He does not warn his colleagues of Hitler’s ambitions in Central and South-East Europe; he does not mention Hitler’s ‘request’ for a free hand in these regions.
The matter did not end at the Godesberg meeting. It was again considered at Munich. Let us quote from the declaration issued by Chamberlain and Hitler at the end of a private meeting following the signing of the Munich agreement.
..We regard the agreement signed last night and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again.
This declaration is being made only fifteen days after the connection between the Naval treaty and ‘never again going to war’ had been debated in detail and understood as a request for a free hand. It is being made only nine days after Hitler mentioned, without being challenged by Chamberlain, that there would be no harm to Britain in letting Germany have a free hand in Central and Eastern Europe. This declaration had been prepared in advance by Chamberlain.
Strang, who wrote it down under Chamberlain’s dictation, objected then to the mention of the Naval Treaty “ which”, said Strang, “was not a thing to be proud of”. But Chamberlain insisted that it be incorporated. We now know why. At Berchtesgaden, Chamberlain, while indicating his readiness to give Hitler a free hand with respect to the Soviet Union, hesitated and somewhat resisted giving it in the form suggested by Hitler. At Munich, no longer hesitant, Chamberlain, specifically handed over to Hitler the ‘free hand’ in the form he had withheld at Berchtesgaden. This time it was Chamberlain who took the initiative of explicitly associating ‘never to go to war’ with the Naval Treaty using precisely the very language which, in Berchtesgaden, could be described as ‘free handing’ (as acknowledged by him in May 1939). Faced with the choice of either having the Naval Treaty denounced or having its free hand meaning explicitly spelled-out, Chamberlain chose the latter.
Chamberlain, having approved the CID report, knew that Czechoslovakia would be a steppingstone towards expansion in the East and military conflict with the Soviet Union. He was at the Cabinet meeting on November 1937 when Halifax reported on his meeting with Hitler in Germany:
..he would expect a beaver like persistence in pressing their aims in Eastern Europe but not in a form to give others cause — or probably occasion — to interfere..
To which the Prime Minister (Chamberlain) commented:
There would be nothing to prevent the Germans from continuing what Lord Halifax called their ‘beaver-like’ activity, but he would regard that as less harmful than (say) a military invasion of Austria.
This beaver-like activity was mentioned by Hitler himself when he said to Chamberlain at Berchtesgaden (Schmidt’s version):
..The Fuhrer replied that Czechoslovakia would, in any case, cease to exist after a time; for, apart from the nationalities already referred to, the Slovaks were also trying with all their energy to detach themselves from that country.
We also noticed that Chamberlain was offering Hitler a modification of the Czechoslovakia alliances so that the latter country should not be under obligation to get involved in case of an aggression against the Soviet Union.
Whoever observed the conviction and enthusiasm with which Chamberlain was triumphantly raising, shaking and deploying the written after-Munich personal agreement with Hitler, cannot doubt that, in Chamberlain’s mind, it had a tremendous value. Indeed for him it meant ‘peace in our time’. We will see that in Chamberlain’s dictionary ‘peace’ meant ‘peace in the West’.
On October 12, 1938, in a conversation with Joseph Kennedy, the U.S. ambassador to Britain, just twelve day after Munich, Halifax recognises that Britain intends to ‘let’ Hitler have a free hand in Eastern and Central Europe. On November 1st, one month after Munich, Halifax spells out to Phipps, British ambassador to Paris, the extent of the free hand given to Germany as a result of the Munich Agreement. These documents will be dealt with in chapter 13.
Soon after the Munich agreement, disappointing news reached the British government. They all corroborated the suspicion that, against all expectations, Hitler intended to start his main aggression in the direction of the West.
In order to ensure that Germany, in such a case, would have to fight on two fronts, Britain guaranteed Poland against a German aggression, rightly thinking that the guarantee would be reciprocal, and reciprocal it soon became. In response, Hitler denounced the Anglo-German Naval Treaty. He said that the treaty was incompatible with Britain’s intervention in Germany’s sphere of influence.
1  Ronald Blythe, “The Age of Illusion”, Oxford University Press, 1983, pp. 227-8
2 The Soviet Union had claims against Romania and Poland for boundary revisions. She, however, was not aggressively advancing them.
3 Chamberlain became Prime Minister in 1937, succeeding Baldwin. At the time, in 1934, he was Chancellor of the Exchequer
4 Sir John Simon was the Minister of Foreign Affairs
5 DBFP (Documents of British Foreign Policy), 2nd Series, vol. 13, doc. 14, p. 24
6  Chamberlain can be firm when he wants to.
7  It is known that Eden resigned from the Chamberlain cabinet because of the lack of enthusiasm with which Chamberlain responded to a US proposal concerning European security. We see that such an attitude on the part of Chamberlain dated from years before.
8 He was the British ambassador to Germany
9 Manchukuo is the name given by Japan to the Chinese territory of Manchuria. It also designated the puppet government imposed by Japan on that territory. The use of Manchukuo instead of Manchuria is in line with a policy of accepting the results of Japanese aggression.
10  DBFP 2nd Series vol XIII, doc. 19, p. 40
11  In fact, no escape clause existed in the Anglo-Japanese treaty of 1902 which, not only gave a free hand to Japan, but obligated England to side with Japan in case the latter was in conflict with two other powers. In consequence, not only did England remain neutral after the Japanese surprise attack against Russia in 1904 but she prevented France from helping Russia since Britain would then have had to side with Japan.
12  “This advance in Japanese power was not disturbing to the British; Japan, similar in its island character to Britain, tended to be regarded as a stabilising force which might serve to prevent Soviet Communism from penetrating China..” (’The Troubled Giant’ by F.S. Northedge, F. A. Praeger publishers, New York, p 274
13  DBFP 2nd series vol XIII, doc. 15, p. 31
14  Orde is entitled to say ‘it is agreed’. The need for a Russian check against Germany was always pre-eminent in the minds of the British politicians. So much so that, as will be seen later, Balfour, after the March 1917 revolution in Russia — but before the November Bolshevik revolution — argued for Poland remaining under Russian control so as to ensure the cofrontiality of Russia and Germany. Given Chamberlain’s premises that, in view of the German threat, everything must be subordinated to Britain’s safety, Orde’s conclusions follow more logically than Chamberlain’s
15  DBFP 2nd series vol XIII, doc. 29, p. 61
16  Chamberlain and Simon were not the only leaders advocating a neutral attitude in case of a war between Japan and the Soviet Union. In ‘Prelude to World War II’ by G. Salvemini, p. 125 Churchill is quoted as saying on November 25th 1933: “British interests required us to keep out of the quarrel which had broken out in the Far East.. It was the interest of the whole world that law and order should be established in the northern part of China”. The northern part is where Japan would have to clash with the Soviet Union. In the same vein, two years later, Sir Frank Clarke, President of the Legislative Council of Victoria (Australia) is quoted by Salvemini as saying: “We wish Japan well, while she confines her expansion westwards and northward, but not Southward..” (p. 125)
17  Keith Middlemas, ‘The Strategy of Appeasement’, Quadrangle Books, Chicago, 1972, p. 50
18  Ibid p. 51
19  One of the ‘puppets’ is John Simon to whom he expressed his appreciation for his ‘cool analytical mind’
20  Middlemas, op. cit., p. 51
21  The treaty allowed Germany a submarine force up to 50% that of Britain. Germany was authorised to increase her submarine force to 100% that of Britain if she felt the need for it. It is to be noted that Germany, not having to defend sea communication lines with an empire, could concentrate all her navy in the Baltic and become there the dominant navy power. It is also to be noted that the 35% represents a greater strength than the bare figure shows. The German navy was to be all made of new units more modern than the corresponding British units.
22  In “How War Came”, Heinemann, London, p. 22, Donald Cameron Watt writes: “For Hitler the subsequent Anglo-German Naval Agreement represented the concentration of German strength on dominion in Central and Eastern Europe and an act of demonstrative dissociation by Britain from any resistance to these plans. It was a voluntary sacrifice of any plans to challenge Britain on the world’s oceans.” It was, in short a division of spheres of influence. In a sentence just preceding that quote, Watt wrote about the treaty: “The British Cabinet accepted, not realising or even discussing the diplomatic consequences of their action in Europe”. This is too much to take. The judgement is obviously subjective, and not warranted.
23  CAB 23/81 11/03/1936 :“The PM thought that at some stage it would be necessary to point out to the French that... they might succeed in crushing Germany with the aid of Russia, but it would probably result in Germany going Bolshevik” See also ‘Diary and letters’ by Harold Nicolson; entry of 12/3/1936 and Intervention of Lloyd George in the House of Commons on 28/11/34
24  Ian Colvin, ‘Vansittart in Office’, Victor Gollancz, London, 1965, p. 51. H. Nicolson has the following diary entry on April 28, 1936:
25 I lunched alone with Robert Vansittart at his house. Van was extremely pleasant and friendly. His view is that a German hegemony in Europe means the end of the British Empire and that we have no right to buy Germany off for a generation by offering her a free hand against the Slav countries. Once she had established herself in an unassailable position she will turn round upon us and we shall be too weak to resist.
26 The Free hand to Germany is a recurrent theme opposed by Vansittart. The matter was not being argued between Vansittart and Nicolson. Vansittart mentioned it because the idea was ‘in the air’.
27  Andrew Rothstein, ‘The Soldiers’ Strike of 1919’, The Macmillan Press Limited, London, 1980, pp. 37-85
28  The Orwellian ‘Double Speak’ has a subliminal value. Calling a missile ‘Peace Maker’ does not suggest that the missile cannot possibly cause destruction and deaths. Describing the bombing of an enemy’s country as ‘surgical operation’ does not suggest to anyone that the bombing will heal the people on which they will fall. However, the repetition of such Orwellian expressions has an anaesthetic property on the critical faculties.
29 ‘Knowese’ is different. A knowese word or expression or form of speech conveys two truthful and different meanings. When Chamberlain and Henderson claim that they work for peace, they are saying the truth. However their claim is ‘knowese’ in so far as only the people ‘in the know’ are aware that by ‘peace’ Chamberlain and Henderson really mean ‘peace in the West’. When the same two leaders speak of the need for a ‘general settlement’ with Germany, they express their true intentions. By not detailing the outlines of the ‘general settlement’ the people are allowed to think that the intention is to find some way for the redress of some just German demand, and for acceptable compromises in the economic sphere. Only the people in the know are aware that a ‘general settlement’ is a way to provide security to a France willing to renounce a Franco-Soviet mutual assistance treaty. Such a ‘general settlement’ would allow the West not to be involved by a German aggression against the Soviet Union.
30 In short ‘double speak’ is a soporific use of euphemisms. Knowese is a truthful language in a form which conveys two meanings, one for the masses, and a different one for a restricted class of knowledgeable people.
31  Memo by O. Sargent, February 7, 1935, DBFP 2nd Series, vol. XII, doc. 428, pp. 501-2. At the time, Sargent was Assistant Under Secretary in the Foreign Office. He would later become Permanent Under Secretary
32  The Locarno agreements of 1925 guaranteed the security of the four western countries Britain, France, Germany and Italy. France had allies in Central and Eastern Europe whose security was vital for her. The suggested Eastern Pact was an attempt at complementing the Locarno Agreement by security measures for the East.
33  The Franco Soviet Pact of Mutual Assistance had been agreed upon on December 5th 1934 and would be signed on May 2nd of 1935.
34  DBFP 2nd Series vol. XVIII, pp. 965-987
35 The Anglo-German Naval agreement (1935) allowed a German build-up of its Navy up to 35 percent of the strength of the British Navy. In view of British imperial commitments (particularly in the Far-East) and in view of the better aerial protection for the German Fleet (if only for distance considerations), the Naval agreement conferred to Germany a dominant naval position in the Baltic.
36 Chamberlain’s change of heart towards Germany in March 1939, must therefore have had other reasons than caring for Czechoslovakia and Poland.
37  DBFP 2nd Series vol. XIX, p. 98
38  T. Jones, ‘A Diary with Letters 1931-1950’, Oxford University Press, London, 1954, p.208
39 Henderson is perfectly aware of Germany’s aggressive ambitions. Henderson goes so far as encouraging giving her a free hand in Eastern Europe. The expected Germans act of aggression would not be possible were Germany to be prevented from being strongly armed in the air and on land. In the latter part of the document, Henderson will ‘go blunt’. Here, however, and though he is not addressing the general public. he feels necessary to qualify as defensive the German rearmament, in spite of all his own evidence to the contrary. Sometimes, it may be necessary to read a document between the lines. In the case of documents written by Henderson , this is not difficult.
40  Henderson wrote his report before Germany’s annexation of Austria, which was thought to be opposed by Italy.
41  See ‘Obituaries from NEW YORK TIMES 1961-1970, October 24 1962.
42  N. Henderson, ‘Failure of a Mission’, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1940, p. 7
43  The Diaries of Sir Alexander Cadogan David Dilks editor, Cassell, London, 1971, p. 61, entry of 11/3/1938
44 Also, Keith Feiling, ‘The Life of Neville Chamberlain’, Macmillan, London, 1946, p. 341
45  The remilitarization of the Rhineland (1936), for instance, was in violation of the Locarno Treaty freely signed by Germany in 1925, and recognized as such by Hitler
46  CAB 23/99 0.122. The meeting was discussing Hitler’s denunciation of the Anglo-German Naval Treaty in April 1939 in response to the British guarantee to Poland. Inskip remarked that Hitler seemed to believe that Britain had given Germany a free hand in Eastern Europe. Chamberlain’s quote was in answer to Inskip.
47  Keith Feiling, op. cit., p. 360
48  Ibid p. 363
49  DBFP 3rd series, vol 2, doc. 895, p. 338
50  Dr. Paul Schmidt had minuted a great number of meetings between German and English politicians. Nobody questions the reliability of his minutes and his translations. What adds to his respectability is the fact that he was a member of an anti-Nazi group.
51  This was not just introductory courtesy. The duke of Cobourg, a German descendant of Queen Victoria and an Eton schoolfellow of Eden and Chamberlain went to England in January 1936. His family ties and personal relations made him a popular figure. The knowledge that he was close to the German leaders increased the interest of English political personalities in holding conversations with him. He reported the discussions to the German authorities [DGFP January 1936, Doc. 531, p. 1061]. The whole report makes fascinating reading. Eden, for instance told the Duke that “Mussolini’s domestic policy was excellent, his foreign policy was bad.” Lord Monell “expressed regret that, tied as he was by the constitution of the State, he was not, as Germany was, in a position to clear the Communists out of the shipyards.” Chamberlain invited the duke to dinner. The duke reports as follows about their conversation: “Chaimberlain [sic] hates Russia. His son has studied in Germany and has heard Adolf Hitler speak in Munich. His accounts are so enthusiastic that Chaimberlain [sic] would very much like to see the Fuhrer himself one day.”
52  J.W. Wheeler-Bennett, ‘King Georges VI’, The Macmillan Company of Canada, Toronto, 1958, p. 346
53  Keith Feiling, op. cit., p. 299
54 The Following is quoted from ‘The Last Lion’ by William Manchester, , p. 421. “Writing his sister of the Duce’s Albanian adventure, Chamberlain complained, not of Italian aggression, but of duplicity: ‘What I hoped when I went away on Thursday was that Musso would so present his coup as to make it look an agreed arrangement & thus raise as little as possible questions of European significance’.” Chamberlain gives a lot of importance to ‘making things look’. He needs to be able to rely on a ‘façade’ to dupe the public.
55  DBFP 3rd Series, vol. 2, doc. 896, p. 344
56  Chamberlain was among the people who approved a CID document which stated that Germany would refuse any agreement with Britain, unless it is in such a form as to give her a free-hand in Eastern Europe where she is expected to collide with the Soviet Union. A kind of obligation never to go to war is a proper form for a request for a free-hand.
57  Ibid, p. 346
58  We said earlier that Chamberlain, in a Cabinet meeting, has later stated that Hitler, at Berchtesgaden, mentioned the question of free hand. Thus the matter is no subject to doubt. Even without Chamberlain’s statement in the Cabinet, we could have been certain that Hitler’s language had been understood by Chamberlain as a free hand request. To suppose otherwise is to attribute to Chamberlain an incredible degree of stupidity, especially for a person on record for being well aware that a free hand request can be made by form, rather than by content, and is a perquisite to any Anglo-German settlement.
59  At the Berchtesgaden meeting there was no translator in the English team. After Ribentrop’s discourteous refusal to give a copy of Schmidt’s minutes to the English delegation, it was decided that, next time, the British would bring their own translator.
60  Dr. Paul Schmidt, ‘Statist Auf Diplomatischer Buhne 1923-45’, Athenaum-Verlag, Bonn, 1949, pp. 406-7
61  Here is the original German text of the italicized sentence: “wir werden Ihnen bei der Verfolgung Ihrer auereuropaishen Interessen nicht im Wege stehen, und Sie konnen uns ohne Schaden auf dem europaischen Festlande in Mittel- und Sudosteuropa freie Hand lassen.”
62  Ian Colvin, ‘The Chamberlain Cabinet’, Victor Gollancz, 1971, p. 162
63  DBFP, series 3, vol. 2, annex to doc. 1228, p. 640
64  At the time he was the head of the Foreign Office Central Department.
65  Lord Strang, ‘Home and Abroad’, Andre Deutsch, London, 1956, p. 147
66  CAB 23/90, p. 165