1936: Let us set the stage.
In defiance of treaty obligations, Nazi Germany is arming at a frantic pace. We know from captured documents that Hitler was already planning to unleash war in Europe. He has occupied the Rheinland demilitarized zone. Already he has more modern weapons than Britain and France. He has every intention of using them.
Now let us turn to Britain, whose survival is very much at stake.
In a speech before the House of Commons, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin admits he considers it more important to win elections than to defend the country. For this he earns not disgust and hatred, but a rousing cheer. He is encouraged in a policy of appeasement by his chancellor and soon-to-be successor, Neville Chamberlain: who views everything in terms of pounds and pence, and says that standing up to Hitler will hamper trade and cost money.
The new King of England, Edward VIII, refuses to abandon his affair with multiple divorcee Wallis Simpson, an American with strong pro-Nazi sympathies. This escalates into a constitutional crisis, only resolved at last by the king’s abdication.
Winston Churchill, who has for years been trying to persuade Parliament to see the German threat, and to re-arm before it’s too late, squanders his hard-won political support by obstinately defending the king. By now the king is universally unpopular.
Churchill, who is never drunk, now shows up drunk to give a singularly tactless and clueless speech to the House of Commons. It comes very near to ending, once and for all, the career of the one man who might be able to save Europe from the Nazis.
Ex-King Edward with his new bride honeymoons in Germany, where he is photographed giving a Nazi salute.
Baldwin and Chamberlain, having bested Churchill in the fight over the king, double down on their appeasement policy. This will culminate in the infamous Munich pact of 1938, in which Chamberlain signs away Czechoslovakia to Hitler. From that point on, War War II is inevitable.
Daft leaders and foolish policies make for disaster.
All those people killed in the London Blitz, cringing in the subways as the Luftwaffe bombed their city into rubble… all because of this.
All because of this.
2 comments on “The Year Britain Went Mad”
It certainly stands as a monument to shortsightedness.
Churchill did restore his reputation and went on to lead Britain through the war years. It’s a shame that misplaced loyalties, on his part, even temporarily detracted from his message. For my purposes, the object lesson is to be careful about our loyalties. The cause of defending Britain was much more important than loyalty to one monarch, or to any one person.
What a crazy time in British history and you narrated that well. I can’t believe how much politcians in England were well, politicans. But Churchill was a statesman, a man with a bed rock of principles, though he wasn’t perfect.