AUGUST '39: The Last Four Weeks of Peace by Stephen Howarth

AUGUST '39: The Last Four Weeks of Peace

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Here, Howarth (The Knights Templar, 1982, etc.) provides a captivating, capsule chronicle of how the British experienced the last month of pre-WW II peace against the backdrop of fateful, historic events by world powers. A people's history compiled mostly from the memories of ordinary Britons, the volume errs, if at all, in underplaying a people blindly caught up in the riptide of fate. August 1939 was fateful indeed. Hitler had resolved to war against proud Poland, whose independence was guaranteed by an appeasement-minded Britain. The Fuhrer believed that Britain would remain neutral in the face of a German attack on Poland. On September 1, the Nazis invaded Poland; on September 3, the British handed the Germans an ultimatum that caused a surprised and irritated Hitler to ask Ribbentrop, ""What now?"" We know the answer was WW II but, as Howarth points out, in the four weeks leading up to the invasion, this was far from a real possibility in the minds of the British. Most believed that the 1938 Munich Pact would somehow still mean peace in their lifetimes. Like a kite, that illusion floated aloft in especially beautiful weather that August. The slow, meandering flow of normal events continued. The House of Commons adjourned until fall (later reconvened for the emergency). The prime minister, Chamberlain, was fishing in Scotland until having to return to London to get firm with Hitler. Ordinary Britons had a Bank Holiday, enjoyed the beach, and practiced a lively denial upon seeing public buildings sandbagged or night searchlights newly positioned on street. Trying on the public-safety gas masks was comical, a playing at war like all else. A worthy addition to the growing shelf of micro-histories explaining large events in tiny time capsules, a valuable process that, however, invariably involves some distortion.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Mercury House--dist. by Consortium (213 East 4th St., St. Paul, MN 55101)