The appeasement of the Fascist dictators during the 1930’s remains one of the worst episodes ever in British foreign policy. Fighting Churchill, Appeasing Hitler takes a new approach by looking deeply into the mechanisms and personalities that transformed it into an unstoppable bureaucratic force and beat down opposition to it. Potential allies against the fascist powers were ignored and despised in favour of bilateral dialogue with the dictators. Anything that seemed like an attempt to face Hitler down was positively avoided in the mistaken belief that this might provoke him. Even after appeasement had manifestly failed and was no longer either credible or acceptable it was still pursued through secret back channel diplomacy. The only result was to convince Hitler that the British were scared of him, inspiring him to the reckless gambles that made war inevitable.
The policy was shaped by the vanity, arrogance and inflexibility of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, nurtured and supported by his chief civil servant, Sir Horace Wilson. Wilson was practically the only man Chamberlain trusted fully and he shares the blame. He mirrored and encouraged Chamberlain’s worst tendencies and used his dominance of the Civil Service machine to impose appeasement. Fighting Churchill, Appeasing Hitler is the first book to recognize that Chamberlain and Wilson acted as a unit; what Wilson did was not a minor and marginal part of appeasement but lay at its heart.
Wilson was a key figure in fighting off opposition to appeasement from Winston Churchill, the one figure who recognised from the start that the only way to deal with Hitler was resolute measures. Personality played as great a part as policy. Very early in Wilson’s career Churchill had alienated him by unforgivable rudeness which inspired Wilson to decide that Churchill was unfit for office. During the abdication crisis in 1936 Wilson was Britain’s most powerful bureaucrat and used his influence at Downing Street to create the idea that Churchill’s support for King Edward VIII was a sinister and unconstitutional attempt to seize power for himself.