continued from Part 2…
In 1937, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin retired in favor of Neville Chamberlain, with whom Churchill had served in an earlier government, and respected despite their political disagreements in the past. But Churchill was soon disenchanted with Chamberlain’s foreign policy, which remained as dedicated as Baldwin’s had been to appeasement—to not antagonizing Germany.
Chamberlain did begin to rearm the country. In 1939, when Hitler took over what was left of Czechoslovakia, contrary to his promises in the Munich Agreement, Chamberlain sent a British guarantee to the likely next target, Poland. “Here,” wrote Churchill in his memoirs,
was decision at last, taken at the worst possible moment and on the last satisfactory ground, which must surely lead to the slaughter of tens of millions of people.
After Churchill replaced Chamberlain as Prime Minister in May 1940, the latter remained loyal, and supported Churchill against those who argued that Britain should reach an accommodation with Hitler, and end the war. Chamberlain died in November: Churchill eulogized him in Parliament and was praised for his generosity. But Baldwin’s stark admission of putting politics before country was still with him when he replied:
“…that was not an insuperable task, since I admired many of Neville’s great qualities. But I pray to God in his infinite mercy that I shall not have to deliver a similar oration on Baldwin. That indeed would be difficult to do.” [22 November 1940; Harold Nicolson Diaries, II 129]
Although he maintained friendly relations until Baldwin died in 1947, Churchill—which was rare for him—never forgave and never forgot. In January 1946 he made an astonishing statement:
I wish Stanley Baldwin no ill, but it would have been much better if he had never lived.
In my long search for Churchill, few letters have struck a clearer note than this one. Churchill was almost always magnanimous….But he saw Baldwin as responsible for the “locust years” when Britain, if differently led, could have easily rearmed, and kept well ahead of the German military and air expansion.
As we contemplate current politics, let us hope that today’s leaders do not put political campaigning ahead of the interests of the nation.