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Neville Chamberlain Did The Right Thing

The very word “appeasement” is now synonymous with his policy of making concessions to Hitler, and the standard view is that he was weak and naive. But is it fair?

If ever a politician got a bum rap it’s Neville Chamberlain. He has gone down in history as the British prime minster whose policy of appeasement in the 1930s allowed the Nazis to flourish unopposed. He has never been forgiven for ceding part of Czechoslovakia to Hitler in the Munich Agreement of September 1938, and for returning home triumphantly declaring “peace for our time”. The very word “appeasement” is now synonymous with him, signifying a craven refusal to stand up to bullies and aggressors. What a contrast to Winston Churchill, the man who took over as prime minister and who has ever since been credited with restoring Britain’s backbone.

But is the standard verdict on Chamberlain a fair one? After all, memories of the slaughter of the First World War were still fresh in the minds of the British, who were desperate to avoid another conflagration. And anyway what choice did Chamberlain have in 1938? There’s a good case for arguing that the delay in hostilities engineered at Munich allowed time for military and air power to be strengthened.


For the motion

John Charmley

Professor of Modern History

Professor of Modern History at the University of East Anglia, and author of Splendid Isolation? Britain and the Balance of Power 1874-1914. Best known for his revisionist interpretation of British foreign policy in the mid-twentieth century

Glyn Stone

Professor of International History at the University of the West of England

Professor of International History at the University of the West of England, whose latest book is Spain, Portugal and the Great Powers, 1931-1941
Against the motion

Piers Brendon

Historian and former Keeper of the Churchill Archives Centre

Piers Brendon was born in Cornwall and educated at Magdalene College, Cambridge. He is the author of over a dozen books, including Winston Churchill: A Brief LifeThe Dark Valley: A Panorama of the 1930s and The Decline and Fall of the British Empire. He contributes widely to the national press; gives lectures, popular as well as academic; and does work for television on both sides of the camera, notably on such series as The Churchills and The Windsors, which was nominated for a Royal Television Society Award. Formerly Keeper of the Churchill Archives Centre, he a Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Sir Richard Evans

Regius Professor of History and President of Wolfson College, Cambridge University

Regius Professor of History and President of Wolfson College, Cambridge University whose books include The Third Reich in Power, and The Third Reich at War

Anne Applebaum

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and regular foreign policy columnist for the Washington Post. A vocal critic of Donald Trump, she has called his presidency a “threat to the West” that “could destabilise Europe.”