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.
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.
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
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 naïve 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
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."
(Mr. Quigley is professor of history in the Georgetown Foreign Service