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The dismal historical verdict on Chamberlain and the appeasers will not be mitigated by Colvin's revelations of intra-Cabinet proceedings from 1937-1939. Open to public scrutiny by the Parliament Act of 1967 (it reduced the secrecy period on government documents from 50 to 30 years), the Cabinet minutes and memos which Colvin has laboriously mined ought to effectively wipe out the claims of his cabinet cronies -- e.g. Samuel Hoare and Lord Halifax -- that the Prime Minister pursued a disingenuous and wily policy of buying time for rearmament. Cabinet records show Chamberlain waving the Inskip Memorandum of December 1937 which subordinated defense needs to the Treasury's ""homilies on strength through economic health."" Dissenters on the team (Anthony Eden, Duff Campbell and Lord Swinton) were squelched or dismissed so that by August 1939 the Cabinet was as homogeneous as it was lackluster. Purged of all but yes-men and nonentities, Cabinet meetings abound with ""hedged and provisoed talk"" -- dull and depressing reading. Colvin piles on damning evidence of how Chamberlain, in pursuit of a ""no risk"" policy based on military unreadiness, was able to ""largely discount"" (his own words) the warnings of the German opposition that Hitler had a fixed timetable for the incursion into Czechoslovakia and further convince himself that France, despite the pleas of Daladier, would welcome an escape from her treaty obligations. The impetus behind Munich is particularly unedifying when presented in Chamberlain's own words: he noted that ""Herr Hitler liked to see Heads of State and it might be agreeable to his vanity that the British Prime Minister should take so unprecedented a step."" Also agreeable to the Prime Minister's vanity. An extremely well-constructed narrative despite the author's highly restricted focus; but primarily for an academic audience.

Pub Date: June 30th, 1971
Publisher: Taplinger