Saturday, April 3, 2010

Review: Making Friends with Hitler

Making Friends with Hitler is Ian Kershaw's biography of Lord Londonderry, an aristocratic British advocate of friendship with Hitler prior to World War II.

It is common to think that the supporters of appeasement were deluded fanatics, rabid anti-Semites, or dupes, such as Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Fascists, and clearly out of the mainstream. Lord Londonderry was not. He was an extremely wealthy, politically active, and (in some ways) farsighted descendant of the Marquis of Castlereagh who helped to create the post-Napoleonic settlement at the Congress of Vienna. He was active in the Conservative Party, and served as Secretary of State for Air in the 1930's. During that time, he began the design process that led to the development of the Hurricane and Spitfire.

His service in World War I led him to dislike the French. He sympathized with the Germans' feelings of anger at the Versailles treaty, and their demand for the modification of its terms. When the Nazis came to power in 1932, he advocated a policy of trying to lure Hitler into a net of alliances that would blunt his aggressive tendencies, backed with a strong rearmament effort in case this failed. He failed to see that the spirit of the times was not yet ready to rearm at the rate that would have been necessary, and that Hitler would not be restrained by any web of alliances.

Unfortunately, he had the defects of his virtues. The spirit of noblisse oblige was paired with a lack of understanding of democratic political nuance. His aristocratic pride left him open to flattery and prone to hold grudges. His conservatism made him fear Communism so strongly that he overlooked the dangers of Fascism. Like many of his day and class, he had a milder class-based Antisemitism which blinded him to the murderous potential of the race-based ideas of the Nazis.

It was difficult after the war to understand the motives of people like Londonderry, and it is even more difficult today. How could basically good people like Londonderry fail to see what is so apparent now, and was even then apparent to some, such as Churchill? Kershaw's book show how the events of the times and the character of Londonderry combined to lead him to advocate appeasement long after others had seen that it would not work. Although repetitive at times, for students of the period, it is well worth reading.


About Me

Jacksonville, N.C., United States
Retired teacher, motorcyclist, member of the Patriot Guard Riders, the Christian Motorcyclists Association, and the Moto Guzzi National Owners Club.