by Nicholas Milton
Barnsley, Eng.: Pen & Sword / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2019. Pp. xiv, 280+.
Illus., biblio., index. $49.95. ISBN: 1526732254
Dupe or Wily Politician?
Chamberlain is generally regarded as the hapless appeaser hoodwinked at Munich, But he comes cross rather differently in this biography by British military historian Milton, reflecting a recent trend in reevaluating the man’s life and work.
The book covers Chamberlain’s early life and political career. He was a devoted public servant, but as one primarily interested in social justice, conservation, and peace, arguably rather unsuited to be running the world’s greatest empire. He was also, interestingly, a naturalist of considerable ability.
Of course Milton concentrates on Chamberlain’s years as Prime Minister (1937-1940). He reminds us that Chamberlain’s efforts to insure peace through negotiation were very much in keeping with the majority opinion in Britain, and indeed most of western Europe. But Milton also makes a good case that Chamberlain was not fooled by Hitler’s protestations of peaceful intent. While seeking a deal with Hitler that would insure peace, he also foresaw the likelihood of war, and worked to rearm Britain.
Alas, Milton only touches lightly on Chamberlain’s role in rearmament, though he does mention briefly such matters as the promotion of civil defense efforts and some other prewar preparations, subjects poorly covered by histories of the period leading up to the war: the planning that went into the successful evacuation of a million school children and their teachers from London and other cities to rural areas within three days of the outbreak of the war, the procurement of the Spitfire and other aircraft and weapons, Fighter Command, the Chain Home radar system, and the integrated air defense system, and more, even the various secure “war rooms” from which the war was directed.
Neville Chamberlain’s Legacy is an important read for anyone with an interest in the prelude to World War II.
Note: Neville Chamberlain’s Legacy is also available in several e-editions.
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