Some years ago I read a book called The Chamberlain-Hitler Deal (1993) by one Clement Leibovitz (1923-2009), a Canadian computer engineer, born in Egypt, with a PhD in physics from the Technion in Israel.
Leibovitz’s extraordinary and remarkably readable book presents the hidden history of Chamberlain's appeasement policies by means of contextualizing and annotating document after document to make his point that Chamberlain was bent on reaching a “general settlement” with Hitler’s Germany, in effect, a deal. Leibovitz’s theory is that Chamberlain hoped that his offer of “a free hand in the East” would be repaid with peace in the West.
Perhaps Leibovitz’s most important contribution is to overturn the notion of Chamberlain as a timid or even cowardly leader, a bit dull and slow to understand the threat from Hitler.
Chamberlain turns out to have been as tough, savvy, ruthless and as commanding as any of his contemporaries, arguably the equal as far as achieving his agenda, as any of the century’s dictators. Leibovitz’s portrait is consistent with the findings of other historians who have portrayed Chamberlain as essentially autocratic in nature, arrogant, stubborn and increasingly intolerant of criticism.
One can see that such a portrayal puts into question conventional notions of Chamberlain’s role at Munich, where he played an infamous and indispensable role setting the stage for WWII and its horrors.
In due course, I found that Chamberlain’s offer of a “free hand in the East” was only part of the story. By throwing Czechoslovakia and Poland (not to mention Austria) to the Nazi wolf, Chamberlain was also endangering the West. Was it possible that Chamberlain, the most capable and dominant politician in Britain, was unaware that his policies were enabling Hitler’s aggressions in the West as well as the East?
New York Times Book Review
May 29, 2011
By Adam Kirsch
I just read the Is World War II Still ‘the Good War’? article in the Times. It is obviously damage control. The last paragraph makes this crystal clear:In this way, a necessary but terrible war is simplified into a “good war,” and we start to feel shy or guilty at any reminder of the moral compromises and outright betrayals that are inseparable from every combat."
The best history writing reverses this process, restoring complexity to our sense of the past. Indeed, its most important lesson may be that the awareness of ambiguity must not lead to detachment and paralysis — or to pacifism and isolationism, as Nicholson Baker and Pat Buchanan would have it. On the contrary, the more we learn about the history of World War II, the stronger the case becomes that it was the irresolution and military weakness of the democracies that allowed Nazi Germany to provoke a world war, with all the ensuing horrors and moral compromises that these recent books expose. The fact that we can still be instructed by the war, that we are still proud of our forefathers’ virtues and pained by their sufferings and sins, is the best proof that World War II is still living history — just as the Civil War is still alive, long after the last veteran was laid to rest.
The only lesson the author draws from all this is that the 'democracies' should have spent even more on military preparations. As a matter of fact military spending by Britain and France exceeded that of Germany (What this book -Tooze:Wages of Destruction-- shows is that by 1940 Britain and France had armies that were superior in both numbers and equipment. Their navies were vastly superior to Germany's and their air forces at least equal. When France fell, although Britain lost its field army its air force was equivalent to the German in numbers and quality and its Navy vastly superior to anything the Germans and Italians could put to sea. More over the British were able to out produce the Germans in aircraft even prior to the German invasion of the Soviet Union. ) and Soviet spending greatly exceeded it. The most absurd non sequitur is the claim that ' the more we learn about the history... the stronger the case for accelerated military preparations becomes. Nowhere in his article does he make this case. As Tooze says in his preface: "America should provide the pivot for our understanding of the Third Reich. In seeking to explain the urgency of Hitler's aggression, historians have underestimated his acute awareness of the threat posed to Germany, along with the rest of the European powers, by the emergence of the USA as the global superpower."
And who is this Adam Kirsch? 'senior editor at The New Republic and a columnist for Tablet magazine.' New Republic is a well-known advocate of ultra-Zionism. According to CUNY journalism professor, Eric Alterman, “Nothing has been as consistent about the past 34 years of TNR as the magazine's devotion to Peretz's own understanding of what is good for Israel…It is really not too much to say that almost all of Peretz's political beliefs are subordinate to his commitment to Israel's best interests, and these interests as Peretz defines them almost always involve more war."(reference in wikipedia) And Tablet? It describes itself as "a new read on Jewish LIfe" What's new isn't clear.
One of the books he refers to, Norman Davies:No Simple Victory: World War II in Europe, 1939-1945” argues:
“If one finds two gangsters fighting each other, it is no valid approach at all to round on one and to lay off the other. The only valid test is whether or not they deserve the label of gangsters.” How does Kirsch answer this challenge to his "good war"? He merely says that, it"had a mixed reception, in part because of the way his account of the war in Eastern Europe seemed determined to minimize the importance of the Holocaust."
One would think that 'the Holocaust' would be something that might detract from the goodness of the good war, but here it is pressed into service to avoid answering Davies reasonable objection.
In fact he nowhere argues with the books he cites. He merely dismisses them: Nicholson Baker is' revisionist' and has a 'political agenda'(as if Kirsch doesn't) Buchanan is dismissed as an isolationist, who attacked the use of the Churchill cult to justify the Iraq war. In fact all the books Kirsch discusses are dismissed for one reason or another, but ultimately because they undermine the possibility of using the lessons of the 'good war' to legitimate other 'good' wars: " If we lose our ability to take pride in the victory over Hitler, we will be deprived of one of our surest moral compass points."
He resorts to praising 'the patriotism, sacrifice and bravery ' of our soldiers as if these virtues were not exemplified by those who fought on the other side.
Though he takes his distance from the style of Michael Burleigh’s Moral Combat: Good and Evil in World War II , he ultimately endorses its conclusion: 'Wars are not conducted according to the desiccated deliberations of a philosophy seminar full of purse-lipped old maids.” Or, to put it even more crudely: 'Shit happens'.