Debunking the 1930s Analogy: Neville Chamberlain's Grand Strategy Re-Examined

Christopher Layne
Content Type
Working Paper
Centre for International Peace and Security Studies
The key events of the 1930s Hitler's rise to power, Germany's reoccupation of the Rhineland, the Anschluss with Austria, Munich and the subsequent German occupation of Prague in March 1939, and the outbreak of World War II in September 1939 transpired some seventy years ago. The events of the 1930s or at least Churchill's depiction of them have provided the standard images that have shaped U.S. foreign policy and scholarly research alike: falling dominoes, insatiable dictators, the interdependency of strategic commitments, the importance of demonstrating resolve, and the impossibility of achieving diplomatic accommodation with nondemocratic regimes. But does the myth track with the historical record? Does the 1930s myth accurately explain British grand strategy in the 1930s? Simply stated, my argument is that the 1930s myth as commonly understood in the United States is bad history, and that its use has contributed importantly to a series of dubious policy decisions by U.S. decisionmakers and still does. As I demonstrate, the British, in fact, were not willfully blind to the German threat or indifferent to the need to rearm to meet it. Rather, during the 1930s, London formulated a quintessentially realist grand strategy that attempted to blend deterrence and diplomacy to contain Hitler's Germany (and Japan and Italy), and defend Britain's interests as a world power by avoiding what, for Britain, could only be a disastrous war.
Foreign Policy, War
Political Geography
Britain, United States, Japan, Europe, London, Germany, Italy, Austria