18 OCTOBER 1940, Page 15

Books of the Day

Britain's Blunders

,ANYONE who picks up this modest volume out of curiosity re- aarding the views of the 24-year-old son of the American Ambassador in London on the British political scene will soon find it worth while to pursue his reading for very different reasons. For this is an extremely able piece of work. Mr. Kennedy has written with a purpose—to warn his own country against repeating the mistakes into which he has seen Britain fall. He is writing, therefore, primarily for American readers, but it is very much to the good that British readers should have an opportunity of studying this succinct yet comprehensive, vigorous yet scrupulously fair, exposure of some of the errors that led to Britain's entering the war in 1939 under various severe handicaps. Considering that the writer has lived less than two years in this country, his sureness and maturity of judgement on varied aspects of its national life are remarkable.

Mr. Kennedy is out to frame no indictment. What he is engaged on is a diagnosis. Why was it that Britain reduced her defences to a degree which made it (in Mr. Kennedy's view) impossible for Mr. Chamberlain to fight at the time of Munich, and left us under serious disadvantages when we did decide to fight a year later? One reason, he suggests—and quite rightly— was a universal hatred of war; one was a too blind belief that somehow or other war would be avoided in the end; one was a sense of fairness towards Germany under which in $934 and 1935 "Hitler was able to ' cash in' on the goodwill that had been aroused by the sincere and earnest efforts of Germany to rebuild herself in the 'twenties under the Weimar Republic." Another was British Ministers' inexplicable lack of information on the lengths to which German rearmanent had been carried. And over and above all that was the handicap under which a democ- racy always lies in peace time in comparison with the dictator of a totalitarian State.

On all theie points Mr. Kennedy fortifies his argument abun- dantly with facts and figures and quotations from speeches. He makes no wanton attacks on anyone. His criticisms are always resolutely just. He is severe, not surprisingly, on Sir John Simon's handling of the Manchurian outrage, but he adds most rightly, in words which may be commended to many less objec- tive American writers (and some British), that " the English people naturally desired to avoid going to war, and the British Foreign Office did not know whether the American people would back Stimson to the end if it meant a war with Japan." Pre- cisely; that was what it was vital to know, and what Mr. Stim- son himself could not tell. Mr. Kennedy has some stringent comments to make on Mr. Chamberlain, but regarding Munich he says repeatedly, " Chamberlain could not have fought, even if he had wanted to; " " If Chamberlain had fought in 1938 he

would have been playing into Hitler's hands. Hitler had launched his rearmament programme' in 1933. England had launched hers in 1935 and 1936." He is severe on Lord Baldwin, but he insists again and again that if Ministers in a democratic State are culpable, the voters who put them where they are must share the responsibility, particularly when a Govern- ment's mandate is renewed at the polls, as the Baldwin Govern- ment's was in $935.

That is Mr. Kennedy's point of arrival—the need for the people as a whole, particularly his own American people, to face the responsibilities of the present moment. They, like us, are a democracy, and as such exposed to all the peculiar difficulties that beset democracies. A democracy, he observes, is normally geared for peace, a totalitarian State for war. As long as a democracy convinces itself that there will be no war, it is half- way towards defeat in the war when it comes. Britain made that mistake; America must avoid it. And America, like Britain, has been sleeping.

In one more quotation Mr. Kennedy's argument can be ade- quately summarised:

" We must always keep our armaments equal to our commitments. Munich should teach us that ; we must realise that any bluff will be called. We cannot tell anyone to keep out of our hemisphere unless our armaments and the people behind these armaments are prepared To hack up the command, even to the ultimate point of going to war. There must be no doubt in anyone's mind, the decision must be automatic: if we debate, if we hesitate, if we question, it will be too late. And if the decision goes to the British, we must be prepared to take our part in setting up a world order that will prevent the rise of

Ilitaristic dictatorship. We withdrew from Europe in 1921 and ed to do anything to preserve the democracy we had helped to

We thought that it made no difference to us what happened In hurope. We are beginning to realise that it does. Even from a Purely selfish point of view we realised it when we voted our first $5.0Do,000,000 for defence."

It is easy, of course, to be wise after the event. If British politicians had known five years ago what Mr. Kennedy knows now the history of those five years would have been very different. Not that Mr. Kennedy is ever guilty of any assumption of superior wisdom. He would probably, indeed, be genuinely sur- prised to find how much wisdom any detached reader of his book would impute to him. And, in fact, the claim that British political leaders did not know what was happening in Germany will not stand. For all through those critical years one man was sounding ceaseless notes of warning and backing them with figures which, if not always accurate in detail, were far more accurate than the rival figures with which Ministers countered them. That man was Winston Churchill. With considerable artistry Mr. Kennedy emphasises that just enough to let the fact