1939 by Michael Jabara Carley


The Alliance That Never Was and the Coming of World War II
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A richly detailed history of the failure of British, French, and Soviet political leaders to form the alliance that could have forestalled Hitler’s aggression. After a glance backward at Europe in the mid-1930s, Carley (Revolution and Intervention: The French Government and the Russian Civil War, 1917—1919, 1983) proceeds through the pivotal year 1939, examining the diplomatic strategies employed by the great European military powers as the clouds of world war darkened. The book benefits from Carley’s splendid research: he has read the published memoirs of all of the principals involved, as well as their public and private correspondence, and has enjoyed access to the vast archives of unpublished diplomatic exchanges, notes, and reports, much of which has become available only recently to scholars. These documents support Carley’s principal thesis—that the French and British feared Hitler, but because they feared the Soviets and Communism more, they adopted the policies of “appeasement” that emboldened Hitler; the Soviets, in turn, distrusted the French and the British and therefore signed with the Nazis in late 1939 the mutual nonaggression agreement that sentenced western Europe to years of death and destruction. The book is somewhat flawed by the uneven texture of the prose. Among the myriad quotations Carley’s voice is sometimes lost. And most ineffective and feckless are his numerous attempts to enliven his serious text with aw-shucks informalities (e.g., “the Germans had come a-courtin’ “ and coarse slang (at one point he discards his scholarly persona to refer to Molotov, a Soviet diplomat, as “a ruthless, cold-blooded son of a bitch”). What Carley does best is spotlight the unknown “heroes” (his word) of the period—diplomats like Maksim Litvinov, Ivan Maiskii, Sir Robert Vansittart, R.A. Butler, and Sir Stafford Cripps, who recognized early on that Hitler was the greatest danger to Europe, but, like the better-known Winston Churchill, failed to convince their dilatory governments to act. A heavily documented and dense narrative whose primary appeal is to scholars and diplomatic historians. (2 maps, not seen)

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 1-56663-252-8
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Ivan Dee/Rowman & Littlefield
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1999