Friday, September 28, 2007

Young Turks

He was a dominant leader of his government, utterly convinced of the righteousness and the rectitude of his policies, especially insofar as they concerned international affairs. He gathered around him a coterie of tight-lipped conservative advisers who were as like-minded and narrow-minded as he was. He scorned his critics in the legislature, branding them foolish, ignorant and unpatriotic. He had no time for members of any party but his own, and he treated the opposition with contempt. He cowed and coerced the media, and he authorized telephone tapping on an unprecedented scale. By such arrogant and intimidating means, he was determined to leave a more significant mark on public affairs than either his father or his brother had. But the result was a succession of foreign policy disasters that did his country untold damage in the eyes of the world.

George W. Bush? No, Neville Chamberlain. As Lynne Olson, a former White House correspondent for the Baltimore Sun, points out in this vivid and compelling book, these were exactly the criticisms directed at the British prime minister as he persistently pursued his policy of appeasing Adolf Hitler in a manner that may be described as vain in both senses of that word. Chamberlain was conceitedly confident during the late 1930s that he was doing the right thing, but his policy crashed into ruins when it turned out that the F├╝hrer could not be sated and that a second world war with Germany could not be avoided.

Troublesome Young Men describes and celebrates the efforts of Chamberlain's opponents within his own Conservative Party. These Tory rebels finally succeeded in bringing the prime minister down after a famous debate in the House of Commons in early May 1940 in which Leo Amery ended his powerful speech by quoting the terrible words that Oliver Cromwell had used to dismiss the Long Parliament 300 years before: "You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing! Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!" Chamberlain grudgingly resigned, and Winston S. Churchill succeeded him, convinced that destiny had nurtured him and prepared him for what would soon be his finest hour. Yet while this may all seem inevitable in retrospect, there was nothing predestined about it at the time.
Factual story-telling at its best. I really couldn't put it down until I finished it.


(David Cannadine's Washington Post review as quoted on Amazon)

7 comments:

peter hoh said...

Why do you hate America?

Internet Ronin said...

Peter, Peter, Peter ... why aren't you out painting another intersection? Or at least, growing things?

Internet Ronin said...

That reminds me, the cotoneaster on my hillside is suffering significant die-back for the second year in a row. Never seen anything like it before. None of the plants die, and the amount that dies is less than half the new growth.

peter hoh said...

Sorry about the snark. Couldn't resist, and I meant to add a follow up commnet.

I've been transplanting things. Rain just sent me back inside.

Don't know much about cotoneasters.

Internet Ronin said...

No sweat, Peter! I thought it was funny, myself. It rained here last night and is absolutely beautiful this morning, so what am I doing? Washing clothes.

tjl said...

Ronin, what on earth is a cotoneaster?

Internet Ronin said...

It is a low-growing shrub, tjl. There are bout 20 of them on the bank in my front yard.