Friday, October 1, 2010



Nothing, except the trivial — dates at which events occurred — can be asserted with certainty. There are too many factors related to historical evidence that may affect the validity of conclusions. Too often, a politician states what is advisable, and not what reflects his policy. His statement may be influenced by what he wants to be found on record. Sometimes, he tries to avoid revealing unavowable objectives. In addition, negotiations and meetings are often conducted behind screens without leaving any written record. Commonly enough, the minutes of a meeting do not tell the whole story.

Diaries and memoirs are a rich source of information. Here also one must be prudent. Faulty memories, self-serving presentations, the tendency to exculpate oneself, inevitably colour the personal renderings of events. Letters to friends and relatives may be revealing but, even to a best friend or closest relative, a politician might present his actions as motivated by good intentions that cover ulterior motives.

Historians have to live with such difficulties. Their conclusions must weigh the evidence. They must go further and analyse the events, correlate them with others and present ‘the truth’ as they see it. According to the importance given to various pieces of evidence, historians may differ in their conclusions.

The most common difficulty is that of imposing on oneself the golden rule consisting in treating equally the political figures one respects and the political figures one dislikes. If facts about Churchill, for instance, are deemed insufficient to prove a given upsetting conclusion, then similar facts concerning Stalin should equally be deemed inconclusive. Evidently, when correlated with other facts concerning the two leaders, different conclusions may be admissible. Still, it is the correlation that should prove decisive, and not one’s personal preferences.

I endeavoured to adhere to that rule, and found it difficult to apply. Were I to say that I have treated even-handedly evidence about Churchill and Stalin, I would be making a subjective judgement. I therefore decided to mistrust all important evidence supporting my own conclusions. It is thus that, under close examination, some evidence that seemed at first to be very significant and had the sanction of other historians, turned out to be unreliable. It is up to the reader to decide the degree to which, in his view, I have been successful in the application of the golden rule.

While the openness of British society allows public criticism to be voiced, it does not ensure that only leaders devoted to democracy and peace would be chosen as heads of the Government and members of the Cabinet. Yet British public opinion is committed to fairness, democracy and peace. This imposes limitations on a politician who is not devoted to these principles. The more his policies are unavowable the more he has to dress up his statements, and the justifications for his policies, with a ‘façade’ of respectability.

Speeches, letters, statements made by a politician might be part of the façade. He may be successful to the point of solidly establishing the myth of his respectability. Such a myth surrounds the personality of Chamberlain. Most of the historians and politicians who criticised his policies, did not question the nobility of his motives nor his attachment to peace and to the well-being of the people. One can, without creating any disquiet, doubt Chamberlain’s political wisdom, his trust in the dictators, his neglect of the British defence requirements.

However, to question his motivations is an altogether different matter. I affirm that Chamberlain faced the option of either successfully preventing, and later resisting, Germany’s policy of aggressive expansion, or allowing Germany to expand in Eastern Europe. Chamberlain was certain that Germany would end up making war against the Soviet Union. Motivated by anti-communism, he chose the second option though, in doing so, he was gambling with Britain’s security. I affirm that this choice has been the object of a deal between Chamberlain and Hitler. To many people such a statement sounds cynical and sacrilegious.

These conclusions are not new but, till today, were of a speculative character though they corresponded to the conviction of such responsible people as Roosevelt, Harold Ickes, Sumner Welles, and that of numerous respected journalists who had close contacts with the governing circles of England. The strongest argument in favour of these conclusions was that the history of the period did not make sense unless it was assumed that Chamberlain did give Hitler a free hand in Eastern Europe. Further support is found in the fact that such a free hand was advocated by those leaders of the establishment whose expressed opinions were not restricted by governmental responsibilities.. Such was the conclusion arrived at, for instance, by the historians G. Salvemini and Frederick Schuman.

After the British Government released to the public most of the relevant documents covering the period of the thirties, it became possible, with the usual means of analysis familiar to all historians, to establish as a fact the deal made between Chamberlain and Hitler. It gave Hitler a free hand to pursue his aggressive ambitions in Eastern Europe. Furthermore, it can be established that the deal was not a sudden policy quirk but was the crowning of incessant efforts to encourage Japan and Germany ‘to take their fill’ of the Soviet Union.

Most historians, today, are reluctant to go that far. They remember how critical the establishment had been of such an interpretation when it still was just an interesting speculation. That interpretation having been discredited by many reputable historians, it became difficult and hazardous to resuscitate it. The cold war had also its effect and increased the reluctance of many historians to accept an interpretation that would make of Britain as ‘evil’ an empire as the Soviet Union.

The historians’ reluctance to prod further in the evidence supporting the existence of the Chamberlain-Hitler deal, may have been reinforced by the Soviet Union’s attempts to establish the deal as a fact. It was felt that the Soviet Union was motivated by the need to exonerate itself — on account of the Stalin-Hitler deal — by stating that she had no choice in view of the British policy as exemplified by the Chamberlain-Hitler deal. However, the Soviet efforts did not rely on sufficient documentation and paralleled the Salvemini-Schuman thesis, though in a more dogmatic way. While these two historian were trying to explain the events by adopting what seemed to them the most plausible explanation, many Soviet publications sounded more as works of propaganda than of history research.

Historians may have felt that, had there been substance in the speculation of the Chamberlain-Hitler deal, the Soviet historians would have been able to do a better job. The trouble is that the Soviet historians have more readiness to accept the Chamberlain-Hitler deal as a fact and, therefore, are less demanding of the evidence. Similarly, an English public would demand much more convincing proof to accept the fact of the Chamberlain-Hitler Deal, than they would request to incriminate a Soviet politician of wrongful intentions and doings.

This is why the book, disregarding the chronological order, starts with establishing the deal as an irrefutable historical fact. In this way the analysis of the events and documents predating the deal can be put in the perspective of the firm knowledge of the real motivations of Chamberlain and the British Establishment. Some readers may still say: ‘However true the fact of the deal seems to be, there must be some error somewhere’. Those readers should read the rest of the book. Having established in the first chapter the fact of the deal, I beg the readers to tolerate that, starting with Chapter 2, I take the Chamberlain-Hitler deal as an established event which throws light on the history of the period between the two world wars.

This book deals with events in Europe from 1917 to 1939. It is not a history of Europe for that period. It only considers such events, and such documents, that are relevant to its conclusions, whether supporting them or disproving them.

The book avoids speculations. The conclusions are based on facts and their analysis, and are, I hope, validly established. That is why it was not felt necessary to address all the cases to the contrary built by other historians. The question as to why so many of them failed to read the truth clearly written on the walls, is of great interest. A study should be made on this subject. It might reveal the relation between the social and political myths which, true or false, do influence the way historians select the evidence and give it their respective weights.

I should not be concerned, for instance, that Simon Newman, in “The British Guarantee to Poland”, asserts that Great Britain never intended to give Germany a free hand in Eastern Europe. The FACT — if the evidence I present is correct, and is correctly analysed — is that she DID. It is true, as Newman writes, that some British Cabinet members suggested to counteract the German influence in Central Europe by financial help to the countries of the region. This cannot stand in the way of the evidence presented in the present book. Besides, Chamberlain, at the time, was opposed to the idea and paid little attention to others’ opinions. In addition, there is no contradiction between giving to Hitler a free hand in Eastern Europe, while trying to retain whatever economic advantages to Britain.

Much criticism could be directed at this work. What matters, however, is the correctness of its conclusions. In this respect, no criticism can be of importance unless it relates directly to the partial and final conclusions of the first chapter, and can show that these conclusions do not necessarily derive from the evidence presented[1].

I took the liberty of stressing the importance of passages in quotations by printing them in bold italics. All other non-bold italics are either so in the original, or concern Latin or French expressions. Some readers may resent the intrusion of bold-italics, others may find it helpful.

Clement Leibovitz

1 [1] Though we assert that our conclusions necessarily derive from the analysed evidence, the conclusions would still have merit were it only recognised that I made a case for their truth, stronger than any made to the contrary.