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A review by Carroll Quigley in The Washington Sunday Star, 16 December 1962,

of a book:

FACING THE DICTATORS: The Memoirs of Anthony Eden, Earl of Avon,

by Anthony Eden.

New York: Houghton, Mifflin Co., 19xx 

 

"Eden Facing the Dictators: How He Looks in Perspective"

 

FACING THE DICTATORS: the memoirs of Anthony Eden, Earl of Avon. 

   (Houghton, Mifflin Co.; $7.50.)

 

   This, the second published volume in Anthony Eden's memoirs, covers the first 15 years of his public career. Like all memoirs, it is a defense of its author's activities and' judgments. To most persons who remember these as they occurred, the task seems easy. Charming. serious-minded, immensely hardworking, and a very skilled negotiator, Eden appeared at the time -- the appeasement years -- as the chief English defender of collective security. He resigned in 1938 in opposition to Neville Chamberlain's efforts for all-out reconciliation with the dictators.

   This volume offers little new information, but it is well written and, as a good book should, rises to a climax at the end, with a quite unexpected version of Eden's resignation. Like most biographical or autobiographical works from English pens, it suffers from the second bane of English historiography, reticence. (The first bane is selective access to manuscript source materials). Again and again, Eden tells us that his joustings on foreign fields were being undermined by members of the government at home, but. until the last few chapters, these go unnamed or are specified only as "senior members" of the Cabinet.

Anthony Eden

Anthony Eden

   No adequate history of appeasement yet exists. and it may be years before one can be written. When the time arrives, these memoirs will contribute to the tone and background rather than to specific factual information. At present a strange situation emerges. We now have two villains (Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain) and two heroes (Eden and Churchill). The latter pair have now given their own versions of events, while the other two are defended by biographers, Baldwin by his son in 1955 and Chamberlain by Ian Macleod last year.

 

Convincing Accounts

   Each of these four accounts is convincing within itself, because each presents its hero's actions solely in terms of his knowledge of the situation at the time. No evaluation of a man's actions is possible unless we bring in a third factor to add to the account of his actions and his contemporary view of the situation. This third element, the wider and more complete framework of historical perspective, is frequently rejected by biographers (and autobiographers) as "hindsight," but no just assessment is possible without it. Most writers of memoirs, including Eden, make a virtue of omitting this. Eden tells us, in his Foreword that he will not introduce his later point of view without pointing it out, and, in fact, he rarely does introduce it.

   Clearly Churchill and Eden are heroes now, while Baldwin and Chamberlain are the villains of the piece, not because the former pair shared correct ideas at the time (in fact they disagreed on much), but simply because their advice was not followed, while Baldwin's and Chamberlain's was followed and led to a disadvantageous war. This is hindsight of the worse sort, and Eden is as guilty of it as Churchill (or the rest of us), but he is quite unconscious that he is using it. Historical perspective shows that Churchill and Eden were almost as wrong as Baldwin and Chamberlain on most issues of the 1931-1939 period, and the fact that they worked together to win the war in 1940-1945 should not affect this truth.

 

The Broader View

   From this broader view Eden's memoirs provides a wonderful laboratory specimen for historiographic analysis. In five years, from Hitler's ascension to power in January, 1933, to Eden's resignation in February 1938, the balance of power in Europe was overturned. For the earlier half of that period, Eden was near the top of the Foreign Office, and for the final 26 months, when the real damage was done, he was the responsible Secretary of State. Yet even now he does not see what happened.

   Eden presents events as a choice between collective action based on the League of Nations or individual power politics based on military force and alliances. He said at the time, and he repeats now, that Britain's policy was based on collective security. It never was. He presents Austen Chamberlain, the man who killed the Geneva Protocol, as a supporter of collective security. He never was. Eden fails to see his own role, because he fails to see the configurations of British domestic politics. The Labour Party was the party of collective security, and was quite unrealistic about it (as Eden makes clear), because the machinery for collective security had been removed from the League of Nations by Conservatives like Curzon, Balfour, Sir A. Chamberlain, and Sir Cecil Hurst.

 

Foreign and Domestic

   The English electorate wanted the Labour Party's foreign policy (notably collective security) and the Conservative Party's domestic policy (no nationalization of industry). and was generally inclined to vote Conservative because domestic affairs were more immediately important in 1923-1935.

   Eden still does not see the relationship in domestic politics between what he calls "Sir Samuel Hoare's resolute speech" at Geneva in September (before the elections) and the Hoare-Laval Plan of December (after the elections). He heads this chapter "The British Enigma." It is still an enigma to him because he does not see that Hoare's speech reflected how the government wanted to appear to the electorate, while the Hoare-Laval Plan showed the policy the party wanted to carry out (if public opinion would let them get away with it). And of course he cannot see that he, Anthony Eden, was the mask which "the senior members of the cabinet" put on when they wanted the world to believe that Britain stood for collective security. Eden still takes the mask for the reality in the Conservative Party.

   Setting aside Eden's naÔve contrast between collective security and power politics, the fact remains that peace could be preserved only if France and Britain stood together and remained strong. Eden saw this, but he still does not see why they failed to do this. He believes he failed to get the rearmament he wanted because of the indecision, procrastination, and lethargy of others. These qualities may have applied to Baldwin but certainly were far removed from Chamberlain, whom Eden criticizes even more. Eden sees that budgetary questions had something to do with slow rearmament, but never asks himself why a poorer country like Germany could afford to spend almost as much for arms as Britain could spend on its whole budget. Eden ignores the continued prevalence outside Germany of obsolete theories of international financial capitalism which insisted that the stability of international financial exchanges could be obtained only by balanced budgets, free exchanges, and the gold standard. One of the root causes of the collapse of our way of life in the period 1930-1938 was the insistence on this myth by men like Heinrich Bruning, Herbert Hoover, Philip Snowden, and Leon Blum. Eden regrets the British suspension of gold payments in September, 1931, and fails to see that this gave Britain (and others) the power to put compulsive pressure on the franc and thus on French foreign policy until 1939. One of the reasons France did not mobilize against Hitler at the remilitarization of the Rhineland in March, 1936, was that this would have destroyed the exchange value of the franc by unbalancing the French national budget. Of these things Eden says nothing.

   Eden is wholly unfair to Laval in connection with the Ethiopian crisis. Laval saw clearly that there was only one great threat to peace, in Europe -- Germany. He was prepared to sacrifice anything, even Ethiopia, to contain that threat. Laval knew that Italy, and Italy alone, had been prepared to defend Austrian independence when the Nazis killed Dollfuss on July 25, 1934. Ethiopia seemed to Laval a modest price to pay Italy to continue that service.

   Eden insisted on preventing that deal, although his alternative policy, the use of the non-existent machinery of collective security (which, as the Hoare-Laval plan showed, was unacceptable to his own government) was hopeless. Eden saw clearly the precarious balance of power in south-central Europe and fully realized that it was held together only by Italy, but he still does not see that his policy destroyed Austria's last hope for independence, drove Mussolini into the Spanish adventure, and, above all, permitted Hitler to remilitarize the Rhineland.

   Eden's failure to recognize the strategic significance of the Rhineland de-militarization and his general failure to see the significance of its loss (for example, he makes no reference at all to the consequent Belgium resumption of neutrality in 1937, which contributed so substantially to the fall of France in 1940) seems to be still present in 1962.

   Eden recognizes the great loss arising from the assassination of French Foreign Minister Barthou in October 1934. but he gives no indication why it was a loss. Apparently he liked Barthou just as he dislikes his successor, Laval. Such a preference reveals good taste, but nowhere in this book does Eden show that Laval's policy in 1935 was a continuation of Barthou's efforts to encircle Germany by grand alliance of the Little Entente, Poland, the western Entente, the Soviet Union, and Italy. Such a policy under Barthou was as antithetical to Eden's reliance on collective security, international agreements, and world morality as it was under Laval.

   By February 1938, when Eden resigned (and gave Chamberlain a free hand for appeasement by concealing his real reason for resigning), Barthou's grand alliance was not only in ruins, but France was encircled instead.

   Since Lord Avon does not point out the steps in that encirclement of France, we may list them here: (1) the jeopardy of the franc arising from the suspension of gold payments in London in 1931 and in New York in 1933; (2) the German naval threat to the French Atlantic coast arising from the Anglo-German Naval Agreement of June 1935; (3) the alienation of Italy over Ethiopia in 1935; (4) the re-militarization of the Rhineland and the neutrality of Belgium in 1936; and (5) the successful Italo-German intervention in the Spanish Civil War in 1936-39. As a consequence of these five steps, France was isolated, demoralized, totally dependent on Britain, and incapable of fulfilling her alliances in central Europe. Of these five steps Eden had nothing to do with the first, welcomed but did not participate in the second, and played a major role in the remaining three. He still thinks he acted correctly and defends his actions by correlating them with his contemporary view of conditions, but, in the full panorama and hindsight of historical perspective, these actions hardly present a picture of a successful statesman "Facing the Dictators."
 
--CARROLL QUIGLEY.
 
(Mr. Quigley is professor of history in the Georgetown Foreign Service School.)

 

 

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