If ever a politician got a bum rap it’s Neville Chamberlain. He has gone down in history as the British prime minster whose policy of appeasement in the 1930s allowed the Nazis to flourish unopposed. He has never been forgiven for ceding part of Czechoslovakia to Hitler in the Munich Agreement of September 1938, and for returning home triumphantly declaring “peace for our time”. The very word “appeasement” is now synonymous with him, signifying a craven refusal to stand up to bullies and aggressors. What a contrast to Winston Churchill, the man who took over as prime minister and who has ever since been credited with restoring Britain’s backbone.
But is the standard verdict on Chamberlain a fair one? After all, memories of the slaughter of the First World War were still fresh in the minds of the British, who were desperate to avoid another conflagration. And anyway what choice did Chamberlain have in 1938? There’s a good case for arguing that the delay in hostilities engineered at Munich allowed time for military and air power to be strengthened.