For long after World War II, particular opprobrium was reserved for the statesmen who failed to resist the belligerent dictators. Their failure was denounced in the popular tract Guilty Men, which appeared in 1940 soon after Hitler overran Western Europe, leaving Britain to fight on alone. These guilty men included the prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, who was forced to resign, the mandarins of the Foreign Office, and the leaders of public opinion who had supported the Conservative government in its efforts to avert war. They had refused to recognise the clear evidence that Germany, Italy, and Japan were implacably aggressive, repeatedly accepted worthless assurances that each act of aggression was the last, delayed rearmament, undermined arrangements for collective security, and allowed small nations to be dismembered. They were guilty of appeasement.
Australia’s troubling stance prior to World War II
Australia and Appeasement: Imperial Foreign Policy and the Origins of World War II
by Christopher Waters
I.B. Tauris (Palgrave Macmillan), $39.95 hb, 320 pp, 9781848859982
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Stuart Macintyre is the Ernest Scott Professor of History at the University of Melbourne. He is a co-editor of The Oxford History of Historical Writing: Volume 4, 1800–1945, which is to appear later this year, and is currently working on a history of postwar reconstruction.
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