In my reading of The Last Lion, Volume II the discussion has turned to Neville Chamberlain’s continuation of Appeasement, and once again I think there’s a good lesson here for life in general.

Hitler, determined to keep him hooked, quickly offered a Konzession, something, he said, he had never done before. The Czech evacuation needn’t end till October 1. This was flimflam; Chamberlain did not know that the Generalstab had told the Führer that they couldn’t possibly move in before the first of the month. But the prime minister was impressed, and expressed his appreciation. When the meeting broke up about 1:30 A.M., noted Schmidt, “Chamberlain bid a hearty farewell to the Führer.” As he left the Dreesen, a newspaperman intercepted him to ask: “Is it hopeless, sir?” Chamberlain replied: “I would not like to say that. It is up to the Czechs now.” In other words, peace was possible unless the Czechs stubbornly insisted on defending their homeland.1

[Having returned to England] At 5:30 P.M. he met with an anxious cabinet. At first, he told them, he had been “indignant” that Hitler was “pressing new demands on me.” Eventually, however, “I modified my view on this point.” The prime minister added that he thought he had “established some degree of personal influence over Hitler,” who had told him, “‘You are the first man for many years who has got any concessions from me.’” Hitler had told him, he said, that if they “solved this question without conflict, it could be a turning-point in Anglo-German relations.” The Führer had voluntarily added that (as he had already said several times) the Czech problem was “the last territorial demand” which he had to make in Europe. The prime minister thought this so important that he had instructed a bilingual young diplomat to write it out in German, and here it was: “die letzte territoriale Forderung.” Chamberlain stressed that the Führer had not been prompted and had spoken “with great earnestness.” (As Eden said later, “Chamberlain knew that Hitler lied. He just could not believe that Hitler would lie to him.”[empasis mine]) Now it was Chamberlain’s conclusion that “We should accept those [Hitler’s] terms and should advise the Czechs to do so.”2

The whole telling is sad and fascinating. The “Czech” problem, perhaps more than any other, well illustrates the wishful thinking inherent in the policy of Appeasement.

Although he had science specifically in mind when he addressed Caltech, Richard Feynman’s famous quote, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself–and you are the easiest person to fool,” offers useful caution.

When Hitler gave his “unique concession” to Chamberlain, Chamberlain had no trouble believing this. Of course a great man such as himself could bring about a change in heart in the recalcitrant Führer. Naturally, he had “established some degree of personal influence over Hitler.” Sure, Hitler lied all the time, but he wouldn’t lie to him.

We are all subject to believing we are a little better, a little more persuasive than the other guy. Maybe we are, but maybe we are also just average. Nothing a little more cynicism and hard work can’t fix, however.

  1. Manchester, William. The last lion: Winston Spencer Churchill Alone 1932-1940. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1988, Amazon Link↩︎

  2. Manchester, Amazon Link↩︎