Churchill: The Inter-War Period (1920s-30s)

Churchill's warnings
Figure 1.--Churchill as a back bencher began warning the British people about Hitler and the NAZIs from a very early point. "After all, my friends, only a few hours away by air there dwell a nation of nearly seventy millions of the most educated, industrious, scientific, disciplined people in the world, who are being taught from childhood to think of war as a glorious exercise and death in battle as the noblest fate for man. There is a nation which has abandoned all its liberties in order to augment its collective strength. There is a nation which, with all its strength and virtue, is in the grip of a group of ruthless men, preaching a gospel of intolerance and racial pride, unrestrained by law, by parliament, or by public opinion. In that country all pacifist speeches, all morbid war books are forbidden or suppressed, and their authors rigorously imprisoned. From their new table of commandments they have omitted 'thou shall not kill'." (1934). These Hitler Touth boys were photographed at about the time that Churchill wrote his succinct warning of the NAZI menance.

Winston Churchill was a fixture in British Governments before abnd during World War I. He continued to be a fixture after the War. The Inter-War period can be divided into two periods, roughly corresponding to the first period while Churchill continued to play an important role in Government. The second period he was excluded from Government and a back bencher, what Churchill called his 'wilderness years'. The second wilderness period roughly corresponds to the rise of the NAZIs in Germany. Churchill in 1924 was elected to Parliament as a Constitutionalist and rapidly became Chancellor of the Exchequer in Stanley Baldwin's government. This put him tantalizingly close to becoming what he had dreamed of--the next prime minister. He played a prominent part in the defeat of the 1926 General Strike. He supported better conditions for the coal miners, but supported harsh action against the General Strike. He developed at this time the reputation of the embodiment of unfeeling conservatism. Churchill disagreed, however, with many Conservative policies. And with the Conservtives in opposition, he found increasing differences within the Party. This put him out of office from 1929 to 1939 (the wilderness years.) When a coalition givernment was formed, Churchill was not offered a cabinet post. Many thought that his political career was over. Even before Hitler seized power, Churchill began warning about the NAZIs. It is at this time he goes on his first lecture tour of the United Statres. Most political observers thought that Churchill's political career was over. A visit to Germany in 1932 was shoicking. Hitler had not yet seized power, but he saw the NAZIs on the street. After Hitler and the NAZIs seized power, Churchill was increasingly concerned with German rearmament. Churchill toured America and his constant topic was Anglo-American cooperation. He had sources in Germany and got secret ingormtion about NAZI rearmament. He spoke our increasingly about this in Britain. He became increasingly concerned with Neville Chamberlain's appeasement policy. Churchill was out of government and a back bencher. He was the one of the few important British political leaders urging action aginst the NAZIs and the rearmament of Germany. He seem to be one of the few English politicans of any stature to see the dangers of German rearmament or recognized the NAZI tyranny for what it was. He saw the terrible dangers of Chamberlain naivete. Chamberlain was determined to prevent another war and was convinced that no nationalleader could possibly desire another war. Chamberlain believed that he was uniquiely capable of reasoning with Hitler. Churchill correctly saw it as dangerous naivirty. He warned the British people anout disarmsnment, passivity, and pacifism. [Gilbert] At first he was seen as a crank, wanting to involve Britain in another War. After Munich, however, many Englishmen began to see him in a different light.

Government Years (The 1920s)

Churchill in 1924 was elected to Parliament as a Constitutionalist and rapidly became Chancellor of the Exchequer in Stanley Baldwin's government. This put him tantalizingly close to becoming what he had dreamed of--the next prime minister. He played a prominent part in the defeat of the 1926 General Strike. He supported better conditions for the coal miners, but supported harsh action against the General Strike. He developed at this time the reputation of the embodiment of unfeeling conservatism. Churchill disagreed, however, with many Conservative policies. Churchill in 1928 had been an important figure in British politics for nearly three decades. He had an enviable reputation as an orator, important in British parlimentary politics. He had held the important post of Chancellor of the Excequer, often astepping stone to primeminister. He saw the ultimate post to a political career within his grasp. His father who he had idealized as a boy also came very close before his political career imploded. And for Churchill everything suddenly changed.

Out of Government: The Wilderness Years (The 1930s)

The conservatives as aesult of the Depression were defeated (1929). And with the Conservtives in opposition, he began to find increasing differences within the Party. This put him out of office from 1929 to 1939 (the wilderness years.) When a coalition government was formed, Churchill was not offered a cabinet post. Many thought that his long and destinguished political career was over. And it was not helped by his increasingy focus on foreign affairs and the NAZIs. Even before Hitler seized power, Churchill began warning about the NAZIs. This was not what the British people wanted to hear. They wanted action on the economy and any politican talking about foreign dangers and armaments was completely out of step with the times. The last thing the British people wanted to hear was the possibility of another War, especially because many had concluded that the Great War (World War I) had been a terrible mistake. Churchill did not temper his warnings out of political expediency. But in part because of it he was increasingly seen as a political old fashioned politican who was locked into the politics of the World War I era. It is at this time he goes on his first lecture tour of the United States. Even at this erarly stage he had Anglo-American copperation on his mind. And Americas focused on the Deopression had also concluded that the War had been aistake and were determined to avoid any future European war. Most political observers thought that Churchill's political career was over. A visit to Germany shocked him (1932). Hitler had not yet seized power, but he saw the NAZIs on the street and recogized the frigtening political currents in play. After Hitler and the NAZIs seized power, Churchill was increasingly concerned with German rearmament. Churchill toured America and his constant topic was Anglo-American cooperation. He had sources in Germany and got secret information about NAZI rearmament, information the Government cjose to discount. He spoke our increasingly about this in Britain. He became increasingly concerned with Neville Chamberlain's appeasement policy. Churchill was out of government and a back bencher. He was the one of the few important British political leaders urging action aginst the NAZIs and the rearmament of Germany. He seem to be one of the few English politicans of any stature to see the dangers of German rearmament or recognized the NAZI tyranny for what it was. He saw the terrible dangers of Chamberlain naivete and warned about the dangers if disarmament. Chamberlain was determined to prevent another war and was convinced that no nationalleader could possibly desire another war. Chamberlain believed that he was uniquiely capable of reasoning with Hitler. Churchill correctly saw it as dangerous naivirty. He warned the British people anout disarmament, passivity, and pacifism. [Gilbert] At first he was seen as a crank, wanting to involve Britain in another War. He continued to warn about the NAZIS in radio speeches and pointed out the dangers against passivity and pacifism.

Chamberlain and Appeasement

Appeasement was a foreign policy largely based on the horrors of World War I. It is most associate with Primeminister Neville Chamberlain, but in fact was a widely popular policy in both Britain and France. Much of the public in the democracies (Britain, France, and the United States) were convinced that the War had beeb maistake which should never be repeated. While this was in fact true, the resulting thinking was deeply flawed. Many peoplein tghe democracies came to think that Germany should have been appeased in 1914. That thinking simply does not follow with a Germany that wanted a more dominant position in Europe and was prepared to use war to achieve thar position. This was the situation in 1914 and in the late-1930s the situatiin was ecen more desperate. You had aGermany that did not only want more influence, but one that wanted to rule Europe and to destroy millions of innocent lives to change the ethnic map of the continent. The inter-War policy of appeasement is today a disgraced policy, largely because its assoiciation with Munich and the start of World War II. The fact is, that it might well have precented war if Chamberlain had been working with a German leader who also desired to avert war. It was beyond Chamberlain's understanding that a leader of a great European nation could actually desire a war. John Lennon wrote a beautiful song,'Give peace a chance'. It has become a theme song for the Anti-War movement and modern pacifists. It should always be remembered that Neville Chamberlain gave peace a chance. The result was the most horrific war in human history and 50 million deaths.

Munich Conference: Abandoning Czechoslovakia (September 1938)

Hitler's next target after the Anchluss, was Czechoslovakia which had beeen created by the Versailles Peace Treaty. Hitler began to escalate his tirades against Czecheslovakia, claiming that the erhnic Germans in the Sudetenland were being mistreated. The NAZI rearmament program, the remilitarization of the Rhineland and the Anchluss with Austria came as a shock to Czecheslovakia. Even more so, the lack of response from Britain and France. The Czechs who had defensive alliance with France were prepared to fight. Even with the Anchluss, many Europeans chose to see the NAZI actions as domestic German matters. This changed with Hitler's next target--Czecheslovakia. Hitler in 1938 demanded the Sudetenland in Czecheslovakia which had a minority German population. Neville Chamberlin, the British Prime Miniister mused how terrible it was that war should be threatened by a "... quarel in a far away country by people of which we know little." A prominent member of the British parliament displayed even more ignoramce when he told the press, "Why should we bother with those gypsies in the Balkans?", meaning the Czechs who were of course not located in the Balkans. In the end, The British and French gave in at talks held in Munich. Vhamberlain flew back to London and stepping off the plane waved the agreement signed ny Herr Hitler which he assured the waiting repoters guaranteed "Peace in our time." Churchill was apauled. Most British anf French people were releaved. One European leader, Soviet Marshall Stalin, who was not at the conference drew the conclusion that the British and French could not be trusted as potential allies against Hitler. Less well recognized is the impact on the United States. There are many unanswered questions about Munich. Some maintain that if the Allies had honored their treaty obligations that the Wehrmacht would have arrested Hitler rather than gone to war. Others argue that if Hitler had gone to war in 1938, he wluld have not only overrun France, but the Luftwaffe would have defeated the RAF.

After Munich

After Munich many Englishmen began to see Churchill in a different light. After a brief period of relief, Hitler;s begavior made it increasingly clear that there was no apeasing him. Hitler in ignoring his pleadged, invaded Czechoslovakia (Mrch 1939). The British people, even Chamberlain now realized that they had been wrong and Churchill had been right. This was the beginning of the forging of a bond between Churchill and British people that would see them through the terrible orderals of World War II.

Sources

Gilbert, Martin. Winston Churchill: The Wildernes Years (2011).








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Created: 1:23 AM 1/8/2013
Last updated: 12:17 AM 4/28/2015