As historian Gordon Craig has observed, "Americans are deeply ambivalent about history, choosing instead to follow the imperative of moral absolutes; they are uncomfortable with the idea of national interest as a guiding principle of policy, preferring motivations that are nobler." What does the national interest require? What does morality command? These issues bedevil us in Bosnia and Rwanda today as they did yesterday in the Persian Gulf and in Somalia. Such questions were fully played out in the era that led up to the dominant event of our century, the Second World War.
The Avoidable War details how the war, its destruction, and its consequences could have been avoided. This original interpretation of history also provides insights into ways of preserving peace that can guide contemporary diplomacy.
J. Kenneth Brody describes an incomparable galley of characters: a chief villain, Hitler; a thoughtful, conflicted, and human Mussolini; a fatuous Ramsey MacDonald; an uncharacteristically silent William Churchill; a smaller than life Stanley Baldwin. Above all, he rescues from undeserved obscurity the noble and inspiring figure of Lord Robert Cecil providing a thorough, controversial reappraisal and sympathetic portrait of Pierre Laval, his policy, and his character. Brody is the first to tell the story of the Peace Ballot, the first modern public opinion poll, created by Cecil in 1935. In this privately organized referendum on issues of war and peace, the British voted overwhelmingly in support of disarmament and morality rather than the national interest. Unfortunately its results helped bring on the war they worked so hard to avoid as, instructed by the Peace Ballot, the British met brute force with arms limitations proposals, the love of peace, and exalted ideals. Under cover of those ideals they betrayed a trusting ally, France. In doing so, they reaped a whirlwind of wartime consequences.
The first of a two-volume series sheds new and original light on the origins of the Second World War. It is a study of both modern British history and a period of French history usually consigned to darkness. It also explores the role of morality in policymaking. This is a very human story of the passionate devotion to peace and justice of the proponents of the Peace Ballot and their supporters, and of the paradoxical and perverse result they achieved.