Anthony Eden, the son of Sir William Eden, the High Sheriff of Durham, was born at Windlestone Hall, near Bishop Auckland, on 12th June, 1897. His father, was an "eccentric country squire who, besides having an interest in foxhunting and gardening, was a better than average amateur painter and a first-rate boxer.... Anthony's mother, the former Sybil Frances Grey, was a gentle, cultivated woman and a great beauty whose portrait was painted by James McNeill Whistler." (1)
Eden, like his father and grandfather, was educated at Eton. "Eden was a sensitive child, who had a somewhat lonely upbringing at Windlestone Hall. His father was an irascible and distant figure, though Eden's aesthetic sensibility, not to mention his sometimes short temper, was inherited from his father, who was an amateur painter of renown and a noted collector of art. From his mother, a renowned society beauty, not over-cautious in financial matters, he inherited charm and his handsome bearing." (2)
Eden hoped to go to Sandhurst before joining the British Army, but was rejected because of his poor eyesight. With the outbreak of the First World War the British Army reduced its entry standards, and Eden was able to obtain a commission in the King's Royal Rifle Corps. His brother, Lieutenant John Eden, was killed in action on 17 October 1914, at the age of 26. Timothy, Eden's surviving elder brother, inherited the baronetcy. (3)
Eden joined the King's Royal Rifle Corps and arrived on the Western Front and took part in his first battle in May 1916. Soon after arriving in France he heard that his sixteen year old brother, Nicholas Eden, had been killed when the Indefatigable had been sunk at the Battle of Jutland. Eden won the Military Cross at the Battle of the Somme in 1916. After one attack at at Delville Wood, Eden's battalion suffered 394 casualties, of whom 127 were killed. Nearly all the junior officers were either dead or badly wounded and as a result Eden was promoted to adjutant. On 26 May 1918 he was promoted brigade major in the 198th infantry brigade, at the age of twenty the youngest in the British army. (4)
Eden reached the rank of captain on 13th June 1919, the day after his twenty-second birthday. After leaving demobilization and in the autumn of 1919 he entered Christ Church, University of Oxford, to read oriental languages, specializing in Persian and Arabic. He obtained first-class honours in 1922. The following year he married Beatrice Helen Beckett, daughter of Sir Gervase Beckett, a banker and owner of the politically influential Yorkshire Post. "It was a fashionable marriage that promoted his career not only among the peers and squires of Yorkshire, but also among their kind who were running the Conservative Party." (5)
Anthony Eden in Parliament
Eden became the Conservative Party candidate for Warwick and Leamington. The Independent Labour Party candidate was Daisy Greville, Countess of Warwick. Eden won easily with 16,337 votes. George Nicholls, the Liberal Party candidate finished second with 11,134 with the Countess finishing third with 4,015 votes. Eden later wrote that the election "gave me an unexpected opportunity to defeat my sister's mother-in-law, the Countess of Warwick, who had taken up the cause of socialism." (6)
Eden was a strong supporter of Stanley Baldwin, who wanted to move the Conservative Party to the left. This was reflected in a speech Baldwin made in May, 1924, where he commented on the changes that were taking place in politics: "The government had no mandate to govern, and its members won their seats as a Socialistic vote, but were not carving out a Socialist policy. This could be only temporary. If words meant anything the Labour Party was a Socialist Party, and if they went back on socialism they were little more than a left wing of the Conservative Party. Socialism had certain obvious advantages, possessing cut and dried remedies for every evil under the sun, but Conservatives have been in the fore-front of the battle to help the people more… If we are to live as a party we must live for the people in the widest sense… Every future Government must be Socialistic." (7)
Stanley Baldwin took a keen interest in this young MP and in July 1926 Eden was appointed parliamentary private secretary to Sir Austin Chamberlain, the foreign secretary. According to his biographer, D. R. Thorpe: "This decisive promotion conditioned much of Eden's later thinking, and he learned at first hand from Sir Austen Chamberlain how the Foreign Office operated. Like his mentor, Eden believed that the best way to keep the peace in Europe was to remain on good terms with France, at a time when many in the Conservative Party were impatient of such views, favouring rapprochement with Germany. With Chamberlain's illness and absence in 1928 Eden achieved unexpected autonomy and was widely regarded as a potential foreign secretary." (8)
Eden was a member of a group of young Tory MPs who according to Eden were to the "left of centre in our own party". The group included Noel Skelton, Oliver Stanley, William Ormsby-Gore, Walter Elliot and William S. Morrison. Eden later recalled: "Stanley Baldwin was accessible and to members of our small group he was the most sympathetic, sharing our youthful ideas for a progressive Conservatism which would have positive aims, and knowing what we meant by such expressions as 'a property-owning democracy'. I believe that it was Noel Skelton, a thought-provoking young Scotsman and a close friend of mine, who first used this phrase in our talks together during this Parliament." (9)
In November 1926 Baldwin appointed John C. Davidson as chairman of the Conservative Party organization. Baldwin and Davidson wanted to change the image of the Conservative Party to make it appear a less right-wing organisation. In March 1927 He suggested to his Cabinet that the government should propose legislation for the enfranchisement of nearly five million women between the ages of twenty-one and thirty. This measure meant that women would constitute almost 53% of the British electorate. The Daily Mail complained that these impressionable young females would be easily manipulated by the Labour Party. (10)
Eden fully supported this reform but those on the right of the party like Winston Churchill, argued that the affairs of the country ought not be put into the hands of a female majority. In order to avoid giving the vote to all adults he proposed that the vote be taken away from all men between twenty-one and thirty. He lost the argument and in Cabinet and asked for a formal note of dissent to be entered in the minutes. There was little opposition in Parliament to the bill and it became law on 2nd July 1928. As a result, all women over the age of 21 could now vote in elections. (11)
Stanley Baldwin firmly believed that he would win the 1929 General Election. He realised that he did not have a good manifesto, "but thought that his reputation as a moderate statesman, calmly if slowly steering the country in the right direction, would overcome that". (12) In its manifesto the Conservative Party blamed the General Strike for the country's economic problems. "Trade suffered a severe set-back owing to the General Strike, and the industrial troubles of 1926. In the last two years it has made a remarkable recovery. In the insured industries, other than the coal mining industry, there are now 800,000 more people employed and 125,000 fewer unemployed than when we assumed office... This recovery has been achieved by the combined efforts of our people assisted by the Government's policy of helping industry to help itself. The establishment of stable conditions has given industry confidence and opportunity." (13)
The Labour Party attacked the record of Baldwin's government: "By its inaction during four critical years it has multiplied our difficulties and increased our dangers. Unemployment is more acute than when Labour left office.... The Government's further record is that it has helped its friends by remissions of taxation, whilst it has robbed the funds of the workers' National Health Insurance Societies, reduced Unemployment Benefits, and thrown thousands of workless men and women on to the Poor Law. The Tory Government has added £38,000,000 to indirect taxation, which is an increasing burden on the wage-earners, shop-keepers and lower middle classes." (14)
In the 1929 General Election the Conservatives won 8,656,000 votes (38%), the Labour Party 8,309,000 (37%) and the Liberals 5,309,000 (23%). However, the bias of the system worked in Labour's favour, and in the House of Commons the party won 287 seats, the Conservatives 261 and the Liberals 59. The Conservatives lost 150 seats and became for the first time a smaller parliamentary party than Labour. David Lloyd George, the leader of the Liberals, admitted that his campaign had been unsuccessful but claimed he held the balance of power: "It would be silly to pretend that we have realised our expectations. It looks for the moment as if we still hold the balance." However, both Baldwin and MacDonald refused to form a coalition government with Lloyd George. Baldwin resigned and once again MacDonald agreed to form a minority government. (15)
Eden responded to this defeat by a speech to party workers in November, 1929: "The outcome of the general election will not prove an unmixed evil if it affords the Conservative Party an opportunity to set its own house in order, to re-examine its own beliefs, to reaffirm them, and to present to the country the policy by which it hopes to see them realized... The Conservative objective, therefore, must be to spread the private ownership to property as widely as possible, to enable every worker to become a capitalist. The status of the worker in industry must be raised." (16)
In August 1931 Ramsay MacDonald formed a National Government. He was only able to persuade three other members of the Labour Party to serve in the National Government: Philip Snowden (Chancellor of the Exchequer), Jimmy Thomas (Colonial Secretary) and John Sankey (Lord Chancellor). The Conservatives had four places and the Liberals two: Stanley Baldwin (Lord President), Neville Chamberlain (Minister of Health), Samuel Hoare (Secretary for India), Herbert Samuel (Home Secretary), Lord Reading (Foreign Secretary) and Philip Cunliffe-Lister (President of the Board of Trade). Eden became Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs in the National Government. (17)
On 7th June 1935 Stanley Baldwin became prime minister again. He appointed Eden as his Foreign Secretary. Henry (Chips) Channon commented: "He has had a meteoric rise, young Anthony. I knew him well at Oxford, where he was mild, aesthetic, handsome, cultivated and interested in the East - now at thirty-eight he is Foreign Secretary. There is hardly a parallel in our history. I wish him luck; I like him; but I have never had an exaggerated opinion of his brilliance, though his appearance is magnificent." (18)
The Conservative Party feared the spread of communism from the Soviet Union to the rest of Europe. Stanley Baldwin shared this concern and was fairly sympathetic to the military uprising in Spain against the left-wing Popular Front government. On the 19th July, 1936, Spain's prime minister, José Giral, sent a request to Leon Blum, the prime minister of the Popular Front government in France, for aircraft and armaments. The following day the French government decided to help and on 22nd July agreed to send 20 bombers and other arms. This news was criticized by the right-wing press and the non-socialist members of the government began to argue against the aid and therefore Blum decided to see what his British allies were going to do. (19)
Anthony Eden received advice that "apart from foreign intervention, the sides were so evenly balanced that neither could win." Eden warned Blum that he believed that if the French government helped the Spanish government it would only encourage Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini to aid the Nationalists. Edouard Daladier, the French war minister, was aware that French armaments were inferior to those that Franco could obtain from the dictators. Eden later recalled: "The French government acted most loyally by us." On 8th August the French cabinet suspended all further arms sales, and four days later it was decided to form an international committee of control "to supervise the agreement and consider further action." (20)
Baldwin told Eden that he hoped that the next war Nazi Germany would fight would be against the Soviet Union. (21) In a letter to Churchill, Baldwin argued: "I do not believe Germany wants to move West because West would be a difficult programme for her, and if she does it before we are ready. I quite agree the picture is perfectly awful. If there is any fighting in Europe to be done, I should like to see the Bolshies and the Nazis doing it." (22)
Neville Chamberlain and Appeasement
On 28th May, 1937, Stanley Baldwin resigned and replaced by Neville Chamberlain. Eden initially welcomed the prospect of a more pro-active Downing Street involvement in foreign affairs, especially as Chamberlain shared his view that war with Germany could be avoided through rearmament and collective security backed by the League of Nations. Eden wrote to Chamberlain: "I entirely agree that we must make every effort to come to terms with Germany". (22a)
As Chancellor of the Exchequer Chamberlain had resisted attempts to increase defence spending. He now changed his mind and asked the defence policy requirements committee to look at different ways of funding this expenditure. It was suggested that £1.1 billion was financed through increased taxation and £400 million coming from increased government borrowing. It was suggested that of this sum, £80 million should be spent in air-raid precautions. (23)
Over the next two years Chamberlain's Conservative government became associated with the foreign policy that later became known as appeasement. Chamberlain believed that Germany had been badly treated by the Allies after it was defeated in the First World War. He therefore thought that the German government had genuine grievances and that these needed to be addressed. He also thought that by agreeing to some of the demands being made by Adolf Hitler of Germany and Benito Mussolini of Italy, he could avoid a European war. (24)
Joachim von Ribbentrop was ambassador to London in August, 1936. His main objective was to persuade the British government not to get involved in Germany territorial disputes and to work together against the the communist government in the Soviet Union. During this period Von Ribbentrop told Hitler that the British "were so lethargic and paralyzed that they would accept without complaint any aggressive moves by Nazi Germany." (25)
According to Christopher Andrew, the author of Defence of the Realm: The Authorised History of MI5 (2010) MI5 was receiving information from a diplomat by the name of Wolfgang zu Putlitz, who was working in the German Embassy in London. Putlitz told MI5 that "He (Ribbentrop) regarded Mr Chamberlain as pro-German and said he would be his own Foreign Minister. While he would not dismiss Mr Eden he would deprive him of his influence at the Foreign Office. Mr Eden was regarded as an enemy of Germany." Putlitz constantly provided clear warnings that negotiations with Hitler and Rippentrop were likely to be fruitless and the only way to deal with Nazi Germany was to stand firm. Putlitz told MI5 that her policy of appeasement was "letting the trump cards fall out of her hands. If she had adopted, or even now adopted, a firm attitude and threatened war, Hitler would not succeed in this kind of bluff". (26)
Baldwin was critical of the government's appeasement policy. He complained to Anthony Eden that his own work "in keeping politics national instead of party" had been rendered worthless by the actions of Neville Chamberlain. Eden replied that Chamberlain was attempting to "return to class warfare in its bitterest form". (27) However, at this time he supported Chamberlain's appeasement policy because he believed that Britain needed time to rearm. However, as Keith Middlemas, the author of Diplomacy of Illusion: British Government and Germany, 1937-39 (1972), has pointed out: "While Eden held to the policy of keeping Germany guessing long enough to give Britain time to rearm, so that he could negotiate from a position of strength, Chamberlain, conscious of time running out, preferred to settle the outstanding accounts at once." (28)
Eden slowly came into conflict with Chamberlain over the conduct of foreign policy. Chamberlian confided to his sister: "I fear the difference between Anthony and me is more fundamental than he realises. At bottom he is really dead against making terms with the dictators". (28a) As a result Chamberlain bypassed Eden, whom he saw as a hindrance to his wish for Anglo-Italian rapprochement, writing in his diary of a letter to Mussolini, after a private meeting with Count Grandi, the Italian ambassador in London, in July 1937, "I did not show my letter to the Foreign Secretary, for I had the feeling that he would object to it." (28b)
Nevile Henderson, the British ambassador to Berlin, upset Eden and Sir Robert Vansittart, his boss at the Foreign Office, by attending the annual Nuremberg Rally. (29) Henderson told Eden that he was regarded as "too pro-Nazi or pro-German". However, he believed that sometimes it was necessary to impose a dictatorship. He considered Antonio Salazar, "the present dictator of Portugal" one of the "wisest statesmen which the post-war period has produced in Europe". He argued that Hitler had probably gone too far with the Nuremberg Laws but "dictatorships are not always evil and, however anathema the principle may be to us, it is unfair to condemn a whole country, or even a whole system. because parts of it are bad." (30)
Henderson admitted in his autobiography, Failure of a Mission (1940), that his comments gave "most offence to the left wing". However, he believed that that the British people should pay more "attention to the great social experiment which was being tried out in Germany" and condemned those who suggested that "our old democracy has nothing to learn from Nazism". Henderson argued that "in fact, many things in the Nazi organisation and social institutions... which we might study and adapt to our own use with great profit both to the health and happiness of our own nation and old democracy." (31)
In November, 1937, Neville Chamberlain announced he was sending his friend, and fellow appeaser, Lord Halifax, to meet Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels and Hermann Göring in Germany. Anthony Eden was furious when he discovered this and felt he was being undermined as foreign secretary. One historian has commented: "Eden and Chamberlain seemed like two horses harnessed to a cart, both pulling in different directions." (32)
Major Ball and the Media
Soon after becoming prime minister, Neville Chamberlain appointed the former MI5 officer, Major George Joseph Ball as his political adviser. Chris Bryant pointed out that this was a shrewd move: "Ball was a passionate Conservative and Unionist with a deep hatred of socialism, communism and all points in between. Ball also had a keen understanding of the dark arts of political manipulation, a readiness to use all means at his disposal and an ability to keep himself out of the limelight... he knew how to lie and how to keep a secret." (33)
John C. Davidson was well aware of Ball's shady past: "Joseph Ball and I have been associated for a great many years, and is undoubtedly tough and has looked after his own interests... On the other hand, he is steeped in the Intelligence Service tradition, and has had as much experience as anyone I know in the seamy side of life and the handling of crooks." (34)
Chamberlain asked Ball to run black operations against his critics: "Ball had already been cultivating close personal contacts in the press, the BBC and the British film industry. He had courted all the newspaper barons. Now he provided pliable journalists from supportive newspapers with twice-weekly briefings away from prying eyes at the St Stephen's Club opposite Westminster Bridge on the completely deniable understanding that he knew the PM's mind. He rewarded those who filed supportive copy with titbits of gossip and bullied critics into rejecting derogatory articles." (35)
Tim Bouverie, the author of Appeasing Hitler: Chamberlain, Churchill and the Road to War (2020) argues that it was not difficult for Ball to manipulate the media as it was inherently a supporter of the Conservative Party and the "most influential elements of that industry" did not need "to be pressured into taking the Government line." He quotes the BBC Director General, John Reith, as saying "assuming that the BBC is for the people, and the Government is for the people, it follows that the BBC must be for the Government." Bouverie adds "a sophistry which also applied to a number of newspapers." (36)
Reich and the BBC willingly gave its support to Neville Chamberlain. It was told by Ball that Chamberlain did not want the BBC to give an opportunity of his opponents to give "independent expressions of opinion". Winston Churchill was effectively banned from the BBC during Chamberlain's first two years at Number 10. Churchill commented at the time: "If we could get access to the broadcast some progress could be made. All this is very carefully sewn up over here." (37)
Reith had been a supporter of Adolf Hitler since he took power by force in 1933. In his diary he wrote about the problems of radio broadcasting in Nazi Germany. Reith's daughter, Marista Leishman, in her book, My Father: Reith of the BBC (2008), claims Reith was reluctant to acknowledge the truth about the Nazis, actually arguing in their favour with another German contact in November 1933. (38)
Reith wrote in his diary: "Dr. Wanner (head of broadcasting for southern Germany) to see me in much depression. He said he would like to leave his country and never return. I am pretty certain, however, that the Nazis will clean things up and put Germany on the way to being a real power in Europe again. They are being ruthless and most determined. It is mostly the fault of France that there should be such manifestations of national spirit." (39)
In 1937 Major George Joseph Ball developed a relationship with Adrian Dingli, a British barrister and legal counsellor at the Italian Embassy who had been raised in Malta (his father was the Chief Justice of the island between 1880-1900). Ball got to know Dingli at the Carlton Club "where the British Empire's movers and shakers met was testament to his Britishness." As Giorgio Peresso has pointed out: "Chamberlain believed that since both Britain's economy and its military defences were weak, the best bet was appeasement to the Nazi-Fascist regimes to avoid war. His Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, believed that appeasement facilitated the possibility of war. Nevertheless, the British prime minister was determined to reach an accommodation with the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini." (40)
On 10th January, 1937, Ball told Dingli that Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain "wished to know whether Grandi would obtain permission from Rome to start 'talks' in London with the PM". Dingli was suspicious, but Ball assured him that, with Eden abroad, Chamberlain was acting Foreign Secretary and the "suggestion represented the view of the PM". David Faber argued: "Grandi was in Rome at the time, and Ball knew that any message sent en clair by telegram would be deciphered by British intelligence and passed to the Foreign Office, and thus to Eden. Incredibly, it necessitated a series of guarded telephone calls between London and Rome to convey the gist of Chamberlain's message without the information reaching the ears of his own Foreign Secretary." (41)
It was originally arranged for Chamberlain to meet Ambassador Count Dino Grandi on 17th January. However, this was cancelled when Sir Alexander Cadogan, the Deputy Permanent Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs discovered what was going on. Ball and Dingli now created an unofficial diplomatic channel which allowed Chamberlain to communicate with the Italian Government behind the backs of the Foreign Office and vice versa. It was a deliberate attempt to circumvent Anthony Eden, who was adamant that no further concessions should be made to Italy unless and until she verifiably withdrew her support for General Francisco Franco and abandoned her claim to Abyssinia. (42)
This development was almost entirely to the Italians' advantage. This unofficial diplomatic channel was welcomed by Benito Mussolini as he could see how it would cause conflict within the British government and as the Italian Ambassador Count Dino Grandi pointed out it provided an opportunity to "drive a wedge into the incipient split between Eden and Chamberlain and to enlarge it more if possible." (43)
On 21st January, the BBC announced that "no efforts to improve Anglo-Italian relations were at all contemplated". This announcement upset Dino Grandi and Chamberlain told Ball to arrange for the story to be refuted. Under pressure from Ball, the following evening the BBC declared that the story had been inaccurate. Ball told newspaper editors that "Chamberlain had spoken firmly to Eden, told him to to toe the line, and instructed him to unearth the original source of the story." (44)
Eden wrote to Chamberlain on 8th February, 1938, that this diplomacy "recreates in Mussolini's mind the impression that he can divide us and he will be the less ready to pay attention to what I have to say to Grandi... Rome was already giving out the impression from that interview that we are courting her, with the purpose, no doubt, of showing Berlin how worth courting she is... This was exactly the hand which mussolini always likes to play and plays with so much skill when he gets a chance. I do not think we should let him." (45)
Christopher Andrew, the author of Secret Service: The Making of the British Intelligence Community (1986) has pointed out that "Ball and Dingli acted intermittently as a secret channel of communication between the prime minister and Count Grandi, the Italian ambassador. On occasion Ball saw Grandi and Dingli saw Chamberlain. Precisely what these backstairs intrigues amounted to remains obscure... Dingli's unpublished memoirs doubtless exaggerate his own role. Ball's own version of events, on the other hand, probably underrates the extent of his secret dealings." (46)
Major Ball continued to work on persuading the media to report favourably on Chamberlain's appeasement policy. It was also important to use the media to undermine those who were opposing this policy. Ball told Count Dino Grandi that his publicity campaign was running at "full blast", and he was delighted to hear that "every possible persuasion was being placed on the Press to conform to the desired object of reversing public opinion about Italy." (47)
An article that appeared in The Daily Mail especially upset the Foreign Secretary: "I am able to state authoritatively that the British Government is eager to press forward new negotiations with Italy with least possible delay. Count Grandi, the Italian Ambassador, is to see Mr. Eden as the Foreign Office today. It is felt in political quarters that already there has been far too much delay in seeking a solution of the differences between Britain and Italy." It added that full legal recognition of Abyssinia would be conceded "as part of a general settlement". (48)
Eden was furious when he read the article as it had "all the hallmarks of authoritative inspiration". (49) Eden asked about this but Chamberlain "flatly denied any responsibility - a barefaced lie." Oliver Harvey, a civil servant working in the Foreign Office correctly discovered the truth: "A curious story reaches me that press campaign about Italy was given out by Sir Joseph Ball at Conservative Head Office, not from No. 10. By whose authority I wonder." In fact, the story was authorized by Chamberlain. (50)
Some newspapers contained stories about the conflict between Chamberlain and Eden. Major Ball persuaded the Sunday Times to run an article denying a disagreement over foreign policy: "There is no truth in the stories published yesterday of acute differences between the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary and of a consequent Ministerial crisis. Though the reports vary in scope and detail, they agree in representing Mr. Chamberlain as the adventurous spirit in foreign policy and Mr Eden as the advocate of more cautious and slower action. I have the highest authority for saying that there is not a word of truth in all this. The Prime Minister and Mr. Eden are in complete agreement." (51)
Neville Chamberlain invited Konstantin von Neurath, the German foreign minister, to London. On 26th November, 1937, Chamberlain recorded his objectives in the negotiations: "It was not part of my plan that we should make, or receive, any offers. What I wanted to do was to convince Hitler of our sincerity and to ascertain what objectives he had in mind... Both Hitler and Göring said separately and emphatically that they had no desire or intention of making war and I think we may take this as correct, at any rate for the present. Of course they want to dominate Eastern Europe; they want as close a union with Austria as they can get, without incorporating her in the Reich." (52)
Anthony Eden made it clear to the prime minister that he was unwilling to force President Eduard Beneš of Czechoslovakia, to make concessions. William Strang, a senior figure in the Foreign Office, also urged caution over these negotiations: "Even if it were in our interest to strike a bargain with Germany, it would in present circumstances be impossible to do so. Public sentiment here and our existing international obligations are all against it." (53)
In the cabinet Eden had few supporters. Duff Cooper , Secretary of State for War, argued in his autobiography, Old Men Forget (1953): "I had been glad when Eden had become Foreign Secretary and I had always given him my support in Cabinet when he needed it. I believed that he was fundamentally right on all the main problems of foreign policy, that he fully understood how serious was the German menace and how hopeless the policy of appeasement. Not being, however, a member of the Foreign Policy Committee, I was ignorant of how deep the cleavage of opinion between him and the Prime Minister had become. It is much to his credit that he abstained from all lobbying of opinion and sought to gain no adherents either in the Cabinet or the House of Commons." (53a)
Nevile Henderson, who was in favour of an agreement with Hitler, warned the British government that Nazi Germany was building up its armed forces. In January 1938 he reported: "The rearmament of Germany, if it has been less spectacular because it is no longer news, has been pushed on with the same energy as in previous years. In the army, consolidation has been the order of the day, but there is clear evidence that a considerable increase is being prepared in the number of divisions and of additional tank units outside those divisions. The air force continues to expand, at an alarming rate, and one can at present see no indication of a halt. We may well soon be faced with a strength of between 4000 and 5000 first-line aircraft.... Finally, the mobilisation of the civilian population and industry for war, by means of education, propaganda, training, and administrative measures, has made further strides. Military efficiency is the god to whom everyone must offer sacrifice. It is not an army, but the whole German nation which is being prepared for war." (54)
On 4th February, 1938, Adolf Hitler sacked the moderate Konstantin von Neurath as Foreign Minister, and replaced him with the hard-line, Joachim von Ribbentrop. Eden argued that this move made it even more difficult to get an agreement with Hitler. He was also opposed to further negotiations with Benito Mussolini about withdrawing from its involvement in the Spanish Civil War. Eden stated that he completely "mistrusted" the Italian leader. (55)
At a Cabinet meeting Chamberlain made it clear that he was unwilling to back down over the issue. Anthony Eden resigned on 20th February 1938. He told the House of Commons the following day: "I do not believe that we can make progress in European appeasement if we allow the impression to gain currency abroad that we yield to constant pressure. I am certain in my own mind that progress depends above all on the temper of the nation, and that temper must find expression in a firm spirit. This spirit I am confident is there. Not to give voice it is I believe fair neither to this country nor to the world." (56)
Winston Churchill, the leader of the Conservative Party opposition to appeasement in parliament, argued: "The resignation of the late Foreign Secretary may well be a milestone in history. Great quarrels, it has been well said, arise from small occasions but seldom from small causes. The late Foreign Secretary adhered to the old policy which we have all forgotten for so long. The Prime Minister and his colleagues have entered upon another and a new policy. The old policy was an effort to establish the rule of law in Europe, and build up through the League of Nations effective deterrents against the aggressor. Is it the new policy to come to terms with the totalitarian Powers in the hope that by great and far-reaching acts of submission, not merely in sentiment and pride, but in material factors, peace may be preserved." (56a)
Clement Attlee, the leader of the Labour Party, also supported Eden in his action against the government. He accused Neville Chamberlain of "an abject surrender to the dictators". Attlee added: "There can be no doubt that it is a tremendous victory for Herr Hitler. Without firing a shot, by the mere display of military force, he has achieved a dominating position in Europe which Germany failed to win after four years of war. He has overturned the balance of power in Europe. He has destroyed the last fortress of democracy in Eastern Europe which stood in the way of his ambition. He has opened his way to the food, the oil and the resources which he requires in order to consolidate his military power, and he has successfully defeated and reduced to impotence the forces that might have stood against the rule of violence." (56b)
Eden later admitted: "My action had gained support in the Liberal and Labour Parties as well as in my own, and I had some encouragement to form a new party in opposition to Mr. Chamberlain's foreign policy. I considered this once or twice during the next few months, only to reject it as not being practical politics. Within the Conservative Party, I, and those who shared my views, were a minority of about thirty Members of Parliament out of nearly four hundred. Our number might be expected to grow if events proved us right, but the more complete the break, the more reluctant would the newly converted be to join us." (56c)
Major George Joseph Ball persuaded the BBC to relegate Eden's resignation to the second story on the evenings bulletins and to say nothing at all about Germany or Italy. The Daily Mail reported: "The country will be relieved to learn that Mr.Eden resigned from the Government last night. Mr. Eden's policy during his two years as Foreign Secretary has produced uncertainty at home and bewilderment abroad. The Daily Mail has never seen eye to eye with him. It is to be hoped that in his future political career he will profit by his experiences and mistakes. Above all, the country is fortunate in having a Prime Minister to whom it can give its fullest confidence - a statesman who handles the nation's affairs, both domestic and foreign, with realism and sound common sense. Health reasons have played their part. One of Mr. Eden's colleagues said to me last night: 'Mr. Eden was overwrought this weekend, and there is no doubt that his condition was the culmination of months of strain and hardwork' ". (57)
The Evening Standard, the Daily Express and the Daily Telegraph all supported Chamberlain against Eden. (58) The Times claimed that "his policy of appeasement, which is also the policy of peace." (59) The Manchester Guardian, not under the control of Major Ball, noted that although a resignation of this kind might have precipitated a major government crisis, the press had "preserved a unity of silence that could hardly be bettered in a totalitarian state." (60)
Ball now attempted to undermine Eden by suggesting he was a homosexual and that while he was at university he had attempted to seduce Eddie Gathorne-Hardy. Ball also pointed out that most of his close friends were bachelors or well-known bi-sexuals (Robert Boothby, Ronald Cartland, Harold Nicolson, Harry Crookshank, Jack Macnamara, Jim Thomas, Noel Coward). As a result of these relationships his marriage to Beatrice Beckett was in difficulty and she was having affairs with other men. (61)
Most newspapers backed Chamberlain, while Eden's principal supporters were the Labour Party friendly Daily Herald and the Liberal Party inclined News Chronicle. Despite this Eden was able to attract sizeable support in the country, despite the Government's manipulation of the media. The cheering crowds outside Eden's London home reflected the reaction of many people. According to an opinion poll conducted that month by the British Institute of Public Opinion, fully 71 per cent thought Eden was right to resign, while only 19 per cent thought he should have stayed on. When asked whether they favoured "Mr Chamberlain's foreign policy", only 26 per cent said that they did, against 58 per cent who did not. (62)
Eden defended his resignation in a speech made at Stratford-upon-Avon: "Nobody will quarrel with the Government's wish to bring about appeasement in Europe. But if appeasement is to mean what it says, it must not be at the expense either of our vital interests, or of our national reputation, or of our sense of fair dealing. For our own people the issue becomes clarified. They see freedom of thought, of race, of worship grow every week more restricted in Europe. The conviction is growing that continued retreat can only lead to ever-widening confusion. They know that a stand must be made. They pray that it be not made too late." (63)
On the outbreak of the Second World War Eden was seen to have been right about his criticisms of Neville Chamberlain and his government. In December 1939 he declared that Adolf Hitler was the symptom of what faced Britain: "Hitler himself is not a phenomenon; he is a symptom; he is the Prussian spirit of military domination come up again. National Socialism was originally conceived in militarism, and it believes only in force. From the beginning, it has organized its people for war. It is the most barren creed that was ever put before mankind. Therefore, if it is allowed to triumph there will be no future for civilization." (64)
Chamberlain appointed Eden as Dominions Secretary. Winston Churchill returned to the Admiralty, but unlike Eden as a member of the war cabinet. Although Eden was disappointed he regarded it as his patriotic duty to serve. In May 1940 Chamberlain fell from power and was replaced by Churchill as prime minister. R. A. Butler, a Chamberlain loyalist was unhappy about Churchill becoming prime minister. "The good clean tradition of English politics had been sold to the greatest adventurer of modern political history". (65)
Churchill appointed Eden as War Secretary and although not a member of the war cabinet he was much closer to the executive decision-making process. On 14th May Eden made a radio broadcast appealing for able-bodied men to join the Local Defence Volunteers (the Home Guard). In the broadcast Eden pointed out: "We want large numbers of such men in Great Britain, who are British subjects, between the ages of seventeen and sixty-five, to come forward now and offer their services in order to make assurance doubly sure... It must be understood that this is, so to speak, a spare-time job, so there will be no need for any volunteer to abandon his present occupation. When on duty you will form part of the armed forces, and your period of service will be for the duration of the war. You will not be paid, but you will receive uniform and will be armed. You will be entrusted with certain vital duties for which reasonable fitness and a knowledge of firearms is necessary. These duties will not require you to live away from your homes." (66)
Eden later commented: "I had expected the response to this appeal to be prompt. In fact it was overwhelming, the first recruit arriving within four minutes of the end of the broadcast. It was quite impossible to deal with the number of volunteers who flocked to join, still less to provide them with weapons. But this was only a beginning and the answer which mattered had already been given. The Local Defence Volunteers acted as a catalyst, giving point to the nation's will to resist. As the years passed, the volunteers recorded long periods of service which were often dreary, but always devoted, with only one reward, the knowledge that 'The Home Guard', as it was re-christened, closed a gap in our defences which must have been dangerous and could have been fatal." (67)
The following month Eden had the responsibility of telling that nation about the retreat from Dunkirk: "Our duty in this country is plain. We must make good our losses and we must win this war. To do that we must profit by the lessons of this battle. Brave hearts alone cannot stand up against steel. We need more planes, more tanks, more guns. The people of this country must work as never before. We must show the same qualities, the same discipline, and the same self-sacrifice at home as the British Expeditionary Force have shown in the field. The nation honours with proud reverence those who fell that their comrades might win through. The innumerable actions, the countless deeds of valour of the last week, cannot all be recorded now. Each will have its place in history. Soldiers, sailors, airmen, who gave their lives to help theirs is an immortal memory. Their spirit must be our banner, their sacrifice our spur." (68)
Neville Chamberlain, suffering from cancer, was forced to resign as Lord President of the Council in October, 1940. Churchill now suggested to Lord Halifax that he might replace Chamberlain as Lord President, with Eden succeeding him at the Foreign Office. Halifax refused but in December, 1940, on the unexpected death of Lord Lothian, Halifax agreed to become the British ambassador in Washington. Eden now became Foreign Secretary and a member of the war cabinet. Only Clement Attlee, the Labour Party leader, was to serve longer in the central councils of the war as one of Churchill's principal lieutenants. Looking back on their five years together, Attlee told Eden that their unique function had been to put a curb on Churchill's wilder schemes and, when necessary, to give him unpalatable advice. (69)
On 22 June 1941, Adolf Hitler invaded the Soviet Union (Operation Brbarossa). Eden, who was staying at Chequers when the news broke, fully backed Churchill's unilateral decision to treat the Russians as partners in the struggle against Hitler. Eden had great respect for Joseph Stalin who he visited in Moscow . He later wrote: "Stalin was the ablest negotiator I have ever seen in action. He had a very clear sense of purpose. He was never violent in speech, nor brash, but quiet and he insisted oh the things that mattered to him. Stalin was ruthless and cruel, no doubt, but remarkable." (70)
In a memorandium to the prime minister Eden argued: "Our main problem after the war will be to contain Germany. Our treaty with the Soviet Union, which is designed to secure the collaboration of the Soviet Union for this purpose on Germany's eastern flank, needs to be balanced by an understanding with a powerful France in the west. These arrangements will be indispensable for our security whether or not the United States collaborate in the maintenance of peace on this side of the Atlantic. Our whole policy towards France and Frenchmen should therefore be governed by this consideration. In dealing with European problems of the future we are likely to have to work more closely with France even than with the United States, and while we should naturally concert our French policy so far as we can with Washington, there are limits beyond which we ought not to allow our policy to be governed by theirs." (71)
Eden traveled to Washington to confer with President Franklin D. Roosevelt on several occasions. He also attended all three major allied conferences during the war: Tehran ( 28 November - 1 December 1943), Yalta (4 February 1945 – 11 February 1945) and Potsdam (17 July 1945 - 2 August 1945). Eden was critical of Roosevelt. "Roosevelt was familiar with the history and geography of Europe," he wrote. "Perhaps his hobby of stamp collecting had helped him to this knowledge, but the academic yet sweeping opinions which he built upon it were alarming in their cheerful fecklessness. He seemed to see himself disposing of the fate of many lands, Allied no less than enemy. He did all this with so much grace that it was not easy to dissent. Yet it was too like a conjuror, skillfully juggling with balls of dynamite, whose nature he failed to understand." (72)
Eden later recalled: "Roosevelt was, above all else, a consummate politician. Few men could see more clearly their immediate objective, or show greater artistry in obtaining it. As a price of these gifts, his long-range vision was not quite so sure. The President shared a widespread American suspicion of the British Empire as it had once been and, despite his knowledge of world affairs, he was always anxious to make it plain to Stalin that the United States was not 'ganging up' with Britain against Russia. The outcome of this was some confusion in Anglo-American relations which profited the Soviets." (73)
In June 1945, Eden heard that his eldest son, Simon, a pilot officer with the RAF in Burma, was missing. He specifically arranged that this news should not be made public in the press, as the general election campaign was under way and he did not wish to seek any sympathetic advantage. It was not for four weeks that the news of Simon's death was confirmed, on 20 July. (74)
The Conservative Party was fully expected to win the 1945 General Election. Although Winston Churchill had officially accepted plans for social reform drawn up by William Beveridge in 1944, he was unable to convince the electorate that he was as committed to these measures as much as Clement Attlee and the Labour Party. In the 1945 General Election Churchill's attempts to compare a future Labour government with Nazi Germany backfired and Attlee won a landslide victory. Eden's reputation in the party remained high and he was appointed as deputy leader of the opposition. (75)
When the poll closed the ballot boxes were sealed for three weeks to allow time for servicemen's votes (1.7 million) to be returned for the count on 26th July. It was a high turnout with 72.8% of the electorate voting. With almost 12 million votes, Labour had 47.8% of the vote to 39.8% for the Conservatives. Labour made 179 gains from the Tories, winning 393 seats to 213. The 12.0% national swing from the Conservatives to Labour, remains the largest ever achieved in a British general election. It came as a surprise that Winston Churchill, who was considered to be the most important figure in winning the war, suffered a landslide defeat. Harold Macmillan commented: "It was not Churchill who lost the 1945 election; it was the ghost of Neville Chamberlain." (76)
The 1951 General Election saw the return of a Conservative government and once more Eden became Foreign Secretary. Later that year, Mohammed Mossadeq, took power in Iran and nationalised the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, Britain's largest overseas asset and the world's biggest oil-producer. Eden approved a SIS plot to overthrow Mussadeq. The following year MI6 agent George Young helped to organize protests demonstrations against the government in Iran. In August 1953 over 300 people died during a riot in Teheran. Mussadeq resigned and was replaced by the SIS candidate, the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavi. (77)
After obtaining a divorce Eden married Clarissa Anne Spencer-Churchill in August 1952, the daughter of Major John Strange Spencer-Churchill, and the niece of the prime minister. "It proved a serenely happy marriage that brought Eden a calm contentment after his years of loneliness, and devoted care in his illnesses, both before and after his retirement. His first major illness in April 1953 nearly ended his life after a failed operation to remove gallstones, when his bile duct was accidentally cut. A life-saving operation in Boston in May 1953 largely rectified the earlier damage, but Eden, wary of Churchill's enthusiasm for summitry, spent much of the summer recuperating. If he had been in harness he could well have succeeded to the premiership in June after Churchill suffered a major stroke, but Churchill, who had taken over the Foreign Office in Eden's absence, made a remarkable recovery." (78)
Eden replaced Winston Churchill as prime minister in April, 1955. Eden believed that he should take an early opportunity of seeking a fresh mandate from the electorate, and nine days after becoming prime minister he announced a general election for 26th May. At the time the Conservative Party was only 4% ahead of the Labour Party. During the 1955 General Election Eden emphasized the theme of the "property-owning democracy", and won by sixty seats. It was the first-time since 1900 that an incumbent administration had increased its majority in the House of Commons. (79)
The Labour leader, Clement Attlee, retired and was replaced by the much younger, Hugh Gaitskell. It has been argued that when Hugh Gaitskell became leader in December, 1955, "British politics moved into a new era. Press criticisms became less inhibited. To some extent, Churchill and Attlee had been above criticism, but both Eden and, eventually, Gaitskell were fair game for a new breed of journalist." Eden found criticism difficult to take and William Clark, his press secretary, was kept very busy issuing statements defending his policies. (80)
President Dwight Eisenhower became concerned about the close relationship developing between Egypt and the Soviet Union. In July 1956 Eisenhower cancelled a promised grant of 56 million dollars towards the building of the Aswan Dam. Gamal Abdel Nasser was furious and on 26th July he announced he intended to nationalize the Suez Canal. The shareowners, the majority of whom were from Britain and France, were promised compensation. Nasser argued that the revenues from the Suez Canal would help to finance the Aswan Dam. (81)
Eden wrote to President Dwight Eisenhower for support: "In the light of our long friendship, I will not conceal from you that the present situation causes me the deepest concern. I was grateful to you for sending Foster over and for his help. It has enabled us to reach firm and rapid conclusions and to display to Nasser and to the world the spectacle of a united front between our two countries and the French. We have however gone to the very limits of the concessions which we can make.... I have never thought Nasser a Hitler, he has no warlike people behind him. But the parallel with Mussolini is close. Neither of us can forget the lives and treasure he cost before he was finally dealt with. The removal of Nasser and the installation in Egypt of a regime less hostile to the West, must therefore also rank high among our objectives. You know us better than anyone, and so I need not tell you that our people here are neither excited nor eager to use force. They are, however, grimly determined that Nasser shall not get away with it this time because they are convinced that if he does their existence will be at his mercy. So am I." (82)
According to Harold Wilson, a Labour Party MP, Harold Macmillan, the Foreign Secretary was the main supporter of taking action against Nasser: "Eden was at first a reluctant warrior. Macmillan was putting the heat on from the start. At a separate dinner, he and Lord Salisbury were entertaining Robert Murphy, the US Defence Secretary. Macmillan took an extremely tough line about Nasser's action, which, he later explained, was designed to stiffen the American administration. Murphy was left to draw the conclusion that Britain would certainly go to war to secure the Canal and ensure free passage for the world's ships. In the whole history of the Suez fiasco, nothing has become clearer than the effect of Macmillan's tough line with Murphy both then and throughout the following weeks, when Eden was going through the torment of preparing to use force to recapture the Canal." (83)
At a cabinet meeting in July the minutes recorded: "The Cabinet agreed that we should be on weak ground in basing our resistance on the narrow argument that Colonel Nasser had acted illegally. The Suez Canal Company was registered as an Egyptian company under Egyptian law; and Colonel Nasser had indicated that he intended to compensate the shareholders at ruling market prices. From a narrow legal point of view, his action amounted to no more than a decision to buy out the shareholders. Our case must be presented on wider international grounds. Our argument must be that the Canal was an important international asset and facility, and that Egypt could not be allowed to exploit it for a purely internal purpose. The Egyptians had not the technical ability to manage it effectively; and their recent behaviour gave no confidence that they would recognize their international obligations in respect of it. It was a piece of Egyptian property but an international asset of the highest importance and should be managed as an international trust. The Cabinet agreed that for these reasons every effort must be made to restore effective international control over the Canal. It was evident that the Egyptians would not yield to economic pressures alone. They must be subjected to the maximum political pressure which could only be applied by the maritime and trading nations whose interests were most directly affected. And, in the last resort, this political pressure must be backed by the threat - and, if need be, the use of force." (84)
Hugh Gaitskell, the leader of the Labour Party, warned Eden of the consequences of using military force: "Lest there should be any doubt in your mind about my personal attitude, let me say that I could not regard an armed attack on Egypt by ourselves and the French as justified by anything which Nasser has done so far or as consistent with the Charter of the United Nations. Nor, in my opinion, would such an attack be justified in order to impose a system of international control over the canal – desirable though this is. If, of course, the whole matter were to be taken to the United Nations and if Egypt were to be condemned by them as aggressors, then, of course, the position would be different. And if further action which amounted to obvious aggression by Egypt were taken by Nasser, then again it would be different. So far what Nasser has done amounts to a threat, a grave threat to us and to others, which certainly cannot be ignored; but it is only a threat, not in my opinion justifying retaliation by war." (85)
Eden feared that Nasser intended to form an Arab Alliance that would cut off oil supplies to Europe. Secret negotiations took place between Britain, France and Israel and it was agreed to make a joint attack on Egypt. On 29th October 1956, the Israeli Army invaded Egypt. Two days later British and French bombed Egyptian airfields. British and French troops landed at Port Said at the northern end of the Suez Canal on 5th November. By this time the Israelis had captured the Sinai peninsula. (86)
According to some historians, the majority of British people were on Eden's side. (87) On 10 and 11 November an opinion poll found 53% supported the war, with 32% opposed (88) The majority of Conservative constituency associations passed resolutions of support of Eden. The British historian Barry Turner wrote that: "The public reaction to press comment highlighted the divisions within the country. But there was no doubt that Eden still commanded strong support from a sizeable minority, maybe even a majority, of voters who thought that it was about time that the upset Arabs should be taught a lesson. The Observer and Guardian lost readers; so too did the News Chronicle, a liberal newspaper that was soon to fold as a result of falling circulation." (89)
Hugh Gaitskell immediately attacked the military intervention by Britain, France, and Israel, calling it "an act of disastrous folly". (90) Gaitskell accusing Eden that he had been lying to him in private. (91) Brian Brivati, the author of Hugh Gaitskell (1996) has pointed out that he argued that the government's policy had "compromised the three principles of bipartisan foreign policy: solidarity with the Commonwealth, the Anglo-American alliance, and adherence to the charter of the United Nations." (92) However, it was argued: "In doing so, however, he was exposed to the Conservative charge that he had changed his position in response to the clamour of his own party's left wing. Gaitskell was in fact consistent throughout the crisis, and spoke for an internationalist tradition that was deeply rooted in British politics. It was arguably at odds with the views of some core Labour voters, but he attracted support from sections of Liberal opinion who in other respects might have found a Labour Party based on trade unions and sentiments of class solidarity unattractive." (93)
President Dwight Eisenhower and his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, grew increasingly concerned about these developments and at the United Nations the representatives from the United States and the Soviet Union demanded a cease-fire. When it was clear the rest of the world were opposed to the attack on Egypt, and on the 7th November the governments of Britain, France and Israel agreed to withdraw. According to D. R. Thorpe: "Hostile reactions from the United States, the United Nations, and the Soviet Union, then engaged in its simultaneous invasion of Hungary, led within twenty-four hours to a humiliating ceasefire. The key factor in the decision was economic. Macmillan told the cabinet on 6 November, in terms which are now known to be disingenuous in their degree of pessimism, of the run on sterling reserves (he told the cabinet of £100 million lost reserves in the first week of November, when the true figure was £31.7 million) and American treasury pressures to end the hostilities. Faced with this information, Eden had no option but to call a halt." (94) Winston Churchill later commented on Eden's decision to invade and withdraw from Egypt: "I would never have dared, and if I had dared, I would never have dared stop". (95)
On 20th December 1959 Eden made a statement in the House of Commons when he denied foreknowledge that Israel would attack Egypt. Robert Blake, the author British Prime Ministers in the Twentieth Century (1978) controversially argued that the it was acceptable for Eden to lie on this issue: "No one of sense will regard such falsehoods in a particularly serious light. The motive was the honourable one of averting further trouble in the Middle East, and this was a serious consideration for many years after the event." (96)
Gamal Abdel Nasser now blocked the Suez Canal. He also used his new status to urge Arab nations to reduce oil exports to Western Europe. As a result petrol rationing had to be introduced in several countries in Europe. Eden, who had gone to stay in the home of Ian Fleming and Ann Fleming in Jamaica, came under increasing attack in the media. When Eden returned on 14th December it was to a dispirited party. On 9th January, 1957, Eden announced his resignation as Prime Minister and the House of Commons. (97)
Created Earl of Avon in 1961, Eden spent his later years writing his Memoirs (3 volumes, 1960-65) and Another World (1976), an account of his war experiences. Eden defended his actions in a 1967 interview: "I am still unrepentant about Suez. People never look at What would have happened if we had done nothing. There is a parallel with the 30's. If you allow people to break agreements with impunity, the appetite grows to feed on such things. "I' don't see what other we ought to have done. One cannot dodge. It is hard to act rather than dodge." (98)
Anthony Eden died on 14th January 1977.
Anthony Eden has been appointed Foreign Secretary by Mr Baldwin. His appointment is a victory for 'The Left', for the pro-Leaguers. He has had a meteoric rise, young Anthony. I knew him well at Oxford, where he was mild, aesthetic, handsome, cultivated and interested in the East - now at thirty-eight he is Foreign Secretary. There is hardly a parallel in our history. I wish him luck; I like him; but I have never had an exaggerated opinion of his brilliance, though his appearance is magnificent.
I do not believe that we can make progress in European appeasement if we allow the impression to gain currency abroad that we yield to constant pressure. I am certain in my own mind that progress depends above all on the temper of the nation, and that tmper must find expression in a firm spirit. This spirit I am confident is there. Not to give voice it is I believe fair neither to this country nor to the world.
I had been glad when Eden had become Foreign Secretary and I had always given him my support in Cabinet when he needed it. I believed that he was fundamentally right on all the main problems of foreign policy, that he fully understood how serious was the German menace and how hopeless the policy of appeasement. Not being, however, a member of the Foreign Policy Committee, I was ignorant of how deep the cleavage of opinion between him and the Prime Minister had become. It is much to his credit that he abstained from all lobbying of opinion and sought to gain no adherents either in the Cabinet or the House of Commons.
Had he made an effort to win my support at the time he would probably have succeeded, but with regard to Italy I held strong opinions of my own. I felt, as I have written earlier, that the Abyssinian business had been badly bungled, that we should never have driven Mussolini into the arms of Hitler, and that it might not be too late to regain him. The Italo-German alliance was an anomaly. The Germans and Austrians were the traditional enemies of the Italians; the English and the French, who had contributed so much to their liberation, were their historic friends, and Garibaldi had laid a curse upon any Italian Government that fought against them. The size and strength of the Third Reich made her too formidable a friend for the smallest of the Great Powers, who would soon find that from an ally she had sunk to a satellite. These were the thoughts that were in my mind during the long Cabinet meeting that took place that Saturday afternoon.
The resignation of the late Foreign Secretary may well be a milestone in history. Great quarrels, it has been well said, arise from small occasions but seldom from small causes. The late Foreign Secretary adhered to the old policy which we have all forgotten for so long. The Prime Minister and his colleagues have entered upon another and a new policy. The old policy was an effort to establish the rule of law in Europe, and build up through the League of Nations effective deterrents against the aggressor. Is it the new policy to come to terms with the totalitarian Powers in the hope that by great and far-reaching acts of submission, not merely in sentiment and pride, but in material factors, peace may be preserved.
A firm stand by France and Britain, under the authority of the League of Nations, would have been followed by the immediate evacuation of the Rhineland without the shedding of a drop of blood; and the effects of that might have enabled the more prudent elements of the German Army to gain their proper position, and would not have given to the political head of Germany the enormous ascendancy which has enabled him to move forward. Austria has now been laid in thrall, and we do not know whether Czechoslovakia will not suffer a similar attack.
When Anthony Eden and Lord Cranborne resigned from the Chamberlain Government early in 1938, as a protest against the Prime Minister's decision to open conversations with Mussolini whilst Italy was carrying on intervention in Spain and anti-British propaganda, I told the House that the policy of the Government was "an abject surrender to the dictators" and that "the Government, instead of trying to deal with the causes of war, had always been trying in a feeble way to play off one dictator against another. That is a policy which sooner or later leads to war."
The Government has had a triumph: at the end of a long day a majority of 161 against the Censure Vote is a victory indeed. The atmosphere during Questions was excited and no-one listened, as they never do, when a crisis is coming. Greenwood in an almost comic speech attacked the Government. Chamberlain replied. More speeches. At length Winston Churchill rose, and defended Eden, and attacked the Government. It was yet another bid on his part to lead an Independent, perhaps Centre, party. He was followed by Bob Boothby, who was clear, sensible and brief, and sat down amid applause. Then Lloyd George, looking mischievous and hearty, rose, and we knew we were in for fireworks. And we were. At first he was interesting about the Treaty of Versailles, and told the House how there had been arguments at the time for uniting Austria to Germany. He then began a eulogy of Eden, who, to everyone's surprise, was seated with Cranborne and Jim Thomas in the third row behind the Government: people said that it would have been better taste had he followed Sam Hoare's example, and stayed away. Lloyd George ranted on, cheered by the Socialists. Now and then Anthony nodded. Then Lloyd George deliberately accused the Prime Minister of withholding important information, and for a terrible moment the House stormed: the PM went scarlet with anger, but coolly denied the charges. Lloyd George passionately repeated them. . The House shouted 'Withdraw', and a duel followed between the old ex-Prime Minister and the present one and Chamberlain's position was not made easier by an interruption from Eden. The battle hung on a telegram from Italy on Sunday which, however, was only delivered by Count Grandi to the Prime Minister on Monday. Suddenly it was clear, even to the prejudiced, that Chamberlain had done nothing wrong and the atmosphere lightened. My heart went out to the PM and I determined to support him always. I feel loyal about him as I never did about old Farmer Baldwin.
I had resigned because I could not agree with the foreign policy which Mr. Neville Chamberlain and his colleagues wished to pursue. The opinions, especially of the senior among them, had become increasingly at odds with my own, and these were the colleagues with whom I had to deal. Every detail became a negotiation in the Cabinet before it could be a factor in our foreign policy. This was an impossible situation.
My action had gained support in the Liberal and Labour Parries as well as in my own, and I had some encouragement to form a new party in opposition to Mr. Chamberlain's foreign policy. I considered this once or twice during the next few months, only to reject it as not being practical politics. Within the Conservative Party, I, and those who shared my views, were a minority of about thirty Members of Parliament out of nearly four hundred. Our number might be expected to grow if events proved us right, but the more complete the break, the more reluctant would the newly converted be to join us.
The Labour Party, though anti-Chamberlain and ready to speak against the dictators, was not yet prepared to face the consequences, especially in rearmament, which it continued to oppose until the outbreak of war. Many Liberals were also tangled in the same contradiction. Such disparate elements as these could not form a party. On the other hand, the call for national unity and for a corresponding effort in armaments to meet the growing dangers was more likely to be heeded if voiced by men who believed in it with conviction, whatever their party. Their numbers, as well as their authority, might then influence events.
Nobody will quarrel with the Government's wish to bring about appeasement in Europe. But if appeasement is to mean what it says, it must not be at the expense either of our vital interests, or of our national reputation, or of our sense of fair dealing.
For our own people the issue becomes clarified. They see freedom of thought, of race, of worship grow every week more restricted in Europe. The conviction is growing that continued retreat can only lead to ever-widening confusion. They know that a stand must be made. They pray that it be not made too late.
Hitler himself is not a phenomenon; he is a symptom; he is the Prussian spirit of military domination come up again. National Socialism was originally conceived in militarism, and it believes only in force. From the beginning, it has organized its people for war. It is the most barren creed that was ever put before mankind. Therefore, if it is allowed to triumph there will be no future for civilization.
Since the war began, the Government have received countless inquiries from all over the Kingdom from men of all ages who are for one reason or another not at present engaged in military service, and who wish to do something for the defence of their country. Well, now is your opportunity.
We want large numbers of such men in Great Britain, who are British subjects, between the ages of seventeen and sixty-five, to come forward now and offer their services in order to make assurance doubly sure. The name of the new Force which is now to be raised will be ' The Local Defence Volunteers'. This name describes its duties in three words. It must be understood that this is, so to speak, a spare-time job, so there will be no need for any volunteer to abandon his present occupation.
When on duty you will form part of the armed forces, and your period of service will be for the duration of the war. You will not be paid, but you will receive uniform and will be armed. You will be entrusted with certain vital duties for which reasonable fitness and a knowledge of firearms is necessary. These duties will not require you to live away from your homes.
In order to volunteer, what you have to do is to give in your name at your local police station; and then, as and when we want you, we will let you know. This appeal is directed chiefly to those who live in country parishes, in small towns, in villages and in less densely inhabited suburban areas. I must warn you that for certain military reasons there will be some localities where the numbers required will be small, and others where your services will not be required at all.
Here, then, is the opportunity for which so many of you have been waiting. Your loyal help, added to the arrangements which already exist, will make and keep our country safe.
I had expected the response to this appeal to be prompt. In fact it was overwhelming, the first recruit arriving within four minutes of the end of the broadcast. It was quite impossible to deal with the number of volunteers who flocked to join, still less to provide them with weapons. But this was only a beginning and the answer which mattered had already been given. The Local Defence Volunteers acted as a catalyst, giving point to the nation's will to resist. As the years passed, the volunteers recorded long periods of service which were often dreary, but always devoted, with only one reward, the knowledge that 'The Home Guard', as it was re-christened, closed a gap in our defences which must have been dangerous and could have been fatal.
Our duty in this country is plain. We must make good our losses and we must win this war. To do that we must profit by the lessons of this battle. Brave hearts alone cannot stand up against steel. We need more planes, more tanks, more guns. The people of this country must work as never before. We must show the same qualities, the same discipline, and the same self-sacrifice at home as the British Expeditionary Force have shown in the field.
The nation honours with proud reverence those who fell that their comrades might win through. The innumerable actions, the countless deeds of valour of the last week, cannot all be recorded now. Each will have its place in history. Soldiers, sailors, airmen, who gave their lives to help theirs is an immortal memory. Their spirit must be our banner, their sacrifice our spur.
Paul Reynaud received us, firm and courteous despite the strain. We soon got down to discussion across the dining-room table; Petain, Reynaud, Weygand facing Churchill, Dill and me, with interpreters. General Georges joined us later. We talked for almost three hours, the discussion hardly advancing matters. The speakers were polite and correct, but although at that time the Maginot Line had not been attacked, it was soon evident that our French hosts had no hope.
Early in our talks, Weygand described the military situation, explaining how he had attempted to block a number of gaps in the line. He believed he had succeeded and, for the moment, the line held, but he had no more reserves. Somebody asked what would happen if another breach were made. 'No further military action will then be possible,' Weygand replied. Reynaud at once intervened sharply: 'That would be a political decision, Monsieur Ie General.' Weygand bowed and said: 'Certainly.' Georges told us that the French had altogether only some one hundred and ninety-five fighter aircraft left on the northern front.
Despite all the difficulties, our dinner, though simple, was admirably cooked and served. Reynaud presided, with Churchill on his right, Weygand sat opposite and I on his right. As we were taking our places, a tall and somewhat angular figure in uniform walked by on my side of the table. This was General Charles de Gaulle, Under-Secretary for Defence, whom I had met only once before. Weygand invited him pleasantly to take a place on his left. De Gaulle replied, curtly as I thought, that he had instructions to sit next to the British Prime Minister. Weygand flushed up, but made no comment, and so the meal began.
I had Marshal Petain on my other side. Conversation was not easy. His refrain was the destruction of France and the daily devastation of her cities, of which he mentioned several by name. I was sympathetic, but added that there were even worse fates than the destruction of cities. Petain rejoined that it was all very well for Britain to say that, we did not have the war in our country. When I said that we might have, I received an incredulous grunt in reply.
With General Weygand my talk was perfectly friendly and consisted mainly of a discussion about our available forces in Britain and what we were doing to speed their training. I had little cheer to give him. Weygand was something of an enigma. He had a famous reputation, crowned by his victory with Pilsudski over the Bolshevik forces in 1920. I had met him on several occasions, most recently early that year in the Middle East, and always found him friendly, quick and receptive, a modest man carrying his fame without affectation or conceit. He worked well with General Wavell, for the two men understood each other. I was glad when I heard that he had been called back to France to take over the supreme command. He achieved little, but probably no man could. At this stage, though always correct and courteous, he gave the impression of resigned fatalism. He was certainly not a man to fight the last desperate comer.
7th June: Winston rang up twice in morning. First about Libya battle, as to which we agreed that reports were disappointing. We were both depressed by extent to which Rommel appears able to retain offensive. "I fear that we have not very good generals," said Winston.
14th June: Libyan battle is raging fiercely. Rommel still seems to have the initiative and either his resources are much greater than our people judged, or his losses have been considerably less than they estimated. On their calculation he should have few tanks left, yet he always comes up strong.
On July 14th, 1942, Mr. Mask told me that reports from the Russian front were very grave and he wanted to know if there was any news of the latest convoy carrying military supplies to Archangel. I said that I regretted to have to tell him that the news was bad. Only five ships had got through out of the forty which had sailed; it was possible that two more might yet do so. The losses in shipping and material must have been very heavy; so far as we knew, about a hundred tanks out of six hundred had arrived and forty aircraft.
The first point raised by the President was the structure of the United Nations organization after the war. The general idea is that there should be three organizations. The first would be a general assembly at which all the United Nations would be represented. This assembly would only meet about once a year and its purpose would be to enable representatives of all the smaller powers to blow off steam. At the other end of the scale would be an executive committee composed of representatives of the Four Powers. This body would take all the more important decisions and wield police powers of the United Nations. In between these two bodies would be an advisory council composed of representatives of the Four Powers and of, say, six or eight other representatives elected on a regional basis, roughly on the basis of population. There might thus be one representative from Scandinavia and Finland and one or two from groups of Latin American states. This council would meet from time to time as might be required to settle any international questions that might be brought before it.
The President said it was essential to include China among the Four Powers and to organize all these United Nations organs on a worldwide and not on a regional basis. He made it clear that the only appeal which would be likely to carry weight with the United States public, if they were to undertake international responsibilities, would be one based upon a worldwide conception. They would be very suspicious of any organization that was only regional. We have strong impression that it is through their feeling for China that the President is seeking to lead his people to accept international responsibilities.
Our main problem after the war will be to contain Germany. Our treaty with the Soviet Union, which is designed to secure the collaboration of the Soviet Union for this purpose on Germany's eastern flank, needs to be balanced by an understanding with a powerful France in the west. These arrangements will be indispensable for our security whether or not the United States collaborate in the maintenance of peace on this side of the Atlantic.
Our whole policy towards France and Frenchmen should therefore be governed by this consideration. In dealing with European problems of the future we are likely to have to work more closely with France even than with the United States, and while we should naturally concert our French policy so far as we can with Washington, there are limits beyond which we ought not to allow our policy to be governed by theirs.
Europe expects us to have a European policy of our own, and to state it. That policy must aim at die restoration of the independence of the smaller European Allies and of the greatness of France.
We have intimate dealings with the French in Syria and Madagascar, and we have French forces stationed in this country. We have to live and work with France in the future. From both the political and the legal point of view it is inconvenient not to have formal relations with the authority whom we in fact recognize as responsible for all the French territories and armed forces which are collaborating with us in the war.
Roosevelt was, above all else, a consummate politician. Few men could see more clearly their immediate objective, or show greater artistry in obtaining it. As a price of these gifts, his long-range vision was not quite so sure. The President shared a widespread American suspicion of the British Empire as it had once been and, despite his knowledge of world affairs, he was always anxious to make it plain to Stalin that the United States was not 'ganging up' with Britain against Russia. The outcome of this was some confusion in Anglo-American relations which profited the Soviets.
Roosevelt did not confine his dislike of colonialism to the British Empire alone, for it was a principle with him, not the less cherished for its possible advantages. He hoped that former colonial territories, once free of their masters, would become politically and economically dependent upon the United States, and had no fear that other powers might fill that role.
Winston Churchill's strength lay in his vigorous sense of purpose and his courage, which carried him undismayed over obstacles daunting to lesser men. He was also generous and impulsive, but this could be a handicap at the conference table. Churchill liked to talk, he did not like to listen, and he found it difficult to wait for, and seldom let pass, his turn to speak. The spoils in the diplomatic game do not necessarily go to the man most eager to debate.
Marshal Stalin as a negotiator was the toughest proposition of all. Indeed, after something like thirty years' experience of international conferences of one kind and another, if I had to pick a team for going into a conference room, Stalin would be my first choice. Of course the man was ruthless and of course he knew his purpose. He never wasted a word. He never stormed, he was seldom even irritated. Hooded, calm, never raising his voice, he avoided the repeated negatives of Molotov which were so exasperating to listen to. By more subtle methods he got what he wanted without having seemed so obdurate.
There was a confidence, even an intimacy, between Stalin and Molotov such as I have never seen between any other two Soviet leaders, as if Stalin knew that he had a valuable henchman and Molotov was confident because he was so regarded. Stalin might tease Molotov occasionally, but he was careful to uphold his authority. Only once did I hear Stalin speak disparagingly of his judgment and that was not before witnesses.
He (Eden) thought perhaps they ought to take it to the Security Council.... I said 'Supposing Nasser doesn't take any notice?' whereupon Selwyn Lloyd said 'Well, I suppose in that case the old-fashioned ultimatum will be necessary.' I said that I thought they ought to act quickly, whatever they did, and that as far as Great Britain was concerned, public opinion would almost certainly be behind them. But I also added that they must get America into line.
The Cabinet agreed that we should be on weak ground in basing our resistance on the narrow argument that Colonel Nasser had acted illegally. The Suez Canal Company was registered as an Egyptian company under Egyptian law; and Colonel Nasser had indicated that he intended to compensate the shareholders at ruling market prices. From a narrow legal point of view, his action amounted to no more than a decision to buy out the shareholders. Our case must be presented on wider international grounds. Our argument must be that the Canal was an important international asset and facility, and that Egypt could not be allowed to exploit it for a purely internal purpose. The Egyptians had not the technical ability to manage it effectively; and their recent behaviour gave no confidence that they would recognize their international obligations in respect of it. It was a piece of Egyptian property but an international asset of the highest importance and should be managed as an international trust.
The Cabinet agreed that for these reasons every effort must be made to restore effective international control over the Canal. It was evident that the Egyptians would not yield to economic pressures alone. They must be subjected to the maximum political pressure which could only be applied by the maritime and trading nations whose interests were most directly affected. And, in the last resort, this political pressure must be backed by the threat - and, if need be, the use of force.
(1) We are all agreed that we cannot afford to allow Nasser to seize control of the Canal in this way, in defiance of international agreements. If we take a firm stand over this now, we shall have the support of all the maritime Powers. If we do not, our influence and yours throughout the Middle East will, we are convinced, be finally destroyed.
(2) The immediate threat is to the oil supplies to Western Europe, a great part of which flows through the Canal. We have reserves in the United Kingdom which would last us for six weeks; and the countries of Western Europe have stocks, rather smaller as we believe, on which they could draw for a time. We are, however, at once considering means of limiting current consumption so as to conserve our supplies. If the Canal were closed we should have to ask you to help us by reducing the amount which you draw from the pipeline terminals in the Eastern Mediterranean and possibly by sending us supplementary supplies for a time from your side of the world.
(3) It is, however, the outlook for the longer term which is more threatening. The Canal is an international asset and facility, which is vital to the free world. The maritime Powers cannot afford to allow Egypt to expropriate it and to exploit it by using the revenues for her own internal purposes irrespective of the interests of the Canal and of the Canal users. Apart from the Egyptians' complete lack of technical qualifications, their past behaviour gives no confidence that they can be trusted to manage it with any sense of international obligation. Nor are they capable of providing the capital which will soon be needed to widen and deepen it so that it may be capable of handling the increased volume of traffic which it must carry in the years to come. We should, I am convinced, take this opportunity to put its management on a firm and lasting basis as an international trust.
(4) We should not allow ourselves to become involved in legal quibbles about the rights of the Egyptian Government to nationalize what is technically an Egyptian company, or in financial arguments about their capacity to pay the compensation which they have offered. I feel sure that we should take issue with Nasser on the broader international grounds summarized in the preceding paragraph.
(5) As we see it we are unlikely to attain our objective by economic pressures alone. I gather that Egypt is not due to receive any further aid from you. No large payments from her sterling balances here are due before January. We ought in the first instance to bring the maximum political pressure to bear on Egypt. For this apart from our own action, we should invoke the support of all the interested Powers. My colleagues and I are convinced that we must be ready, in the last resort to use force to bring Nasser to his senses. For our part we are prepared to do so. I have this morning instructed our Chiefs of Staff to prepare a military plan accordingly.
(6) However, the first step must be for you and us and France to exchange views, align our policies and concert together how we can best bring the maximum pressure to bear on the Egyptian Government.
From the moment that Nasser announced nationalization of the Suez Canal Company, my thoughts have been constantly with you. Grave problems are placed before both our governments, although for each of us they naturally differ in type and character. Until this morning, I was happy to feel that we were approaching decisions as to applicable procedures somewhat along parallel lines, even though there were, as would be expected, important differences as to detail. But early this morning I received the message, communicated to me through Murphy from you and Harold Macmillan, telling me on a most secret basis of your decision to employ force without delay or attempting any intermediate and less drastic steps.
We recognize the transcendent worth of the Canal to the free world and the possibility that eventually the use of force might become necessary in order to protect international rights. But we have been hopeful that through a Conference in which would be represented the signatories to the Convention of 1888, as well as other maritime nations, there would be brought about such pressures on the Egyptian Government that the efficient operation of the Canal could be assured for the future.
For my part, I cannot over-emphasize the strength of my conviction that some such method must be attempted before action such as you contemplate should be undertaken. If unfortunately the situation can finally be resolved only by drastic means, there should be no grounds for belief anywhere that corrective measures were undertaken merely to protect national or individual investors, or the legal rights of a sovereign nation were ruthlessly flouted. A conference, at the very least, should have a great education effort throughout the world. Public opinion here, and I am convinced, in most of the world, would be outraged should there be a failure to make such efforts. Moreover, initial military successes might be easy, but the eventual price might become far too heavy.
I have given you my own personal conviction, as well as that of my associates, as to the unwisdom even of contemplating the use of military force at this moment. Assuming, however, that the whole situation continued to deteriorate to the point where such action would seem the only recourse, there are certain political facts to remember. As you realize, employment of United States forces is possible only through positive action on the part of the Congress, which is now adjourned but can be reconvened on my call for special reasons. If those reasons should involve the issue of employing United States military strength abroad, there would have to be a showing that every peaceful means of resolving the difficulty had previously been exhausted. Without such a showing, there would be a reaction that could very seriously affect our peoples' feeling toward our Western Allies. I do not want to exaggerate, but I assure you that this could grow to such an intensity as to have the most far-reaching consequences.
I realize that the messages from both you and Harold stressed that the decision taken was already approved by the government and was firm and irrevocable. But I personally feel sure that the American reaction would be severe and that great areas of the world would share that reaction. On the other hand, I believe we can marshall that opinion in support of a reasonable and conciliatory, but absolutely firm, position. So I hope that you will consent to reviewing this matter once more in its broadest aspects. It is for this reason that I have asked Foster to leave this afternoon to meet with your people tomorrow in London.
I have given you here only a few highlights in the chain of reasoning that compels us to conclude that the step you contemplate should not be undertaken until every peaceful means of protecting the rights and the livelihood of great portions of the world had been thoroughly explored and exhausted. Should these means fail, and I think it is erroneous to assume in advance that they needs must fail, then world opinion would understand how earnestly all of us had attempted to be just, fair and considerate, but that we simply could not accept a situation that would in the long run prove disastrous to the prosperity and living standards of every nation whose economy depends directly or indirectly upon East-West shipping.
With warm personal regard - and with earnest assurance of my continuing respect and friendship.
In the light of our long friendship, I will not conceal from you that the present situation causes me the deepest concern. I was grateful to you for sending Foster over and for his help. It has enabled us to reach firm and rapid conclusions and to display to Nasser and to the world the spectacle of a united front between our two countries and the French. We have however gone to the very limits of the concessions which we can make.
I do not think that we disagree about our primary objective. As it seems to me, this is to undo what Nasser has done and to set up an international regime for the Canal. The purpose of this regime will be to ensure the freedom and security of transit through the Canal, without discrimination, and the efficiency and economy of its operation.
But this is not all. Nasser has embarked on a course which is unpleasantly familiar. His seizure of the Canal was undoubtedly designed to impress opinion not only in Egypt but in the Arab world and in all Africa too. By this assertion of his power he seeks to further his ambitions from Morocco to the Persian Gulf....
I have never thought Nasser a Hitler, he has no warlike people behind him. But the parallel with Mussolini is close. Neither of us can forget the lives and treasure he cost before he was finally dealt with.
The removal of Nasser and the installation in Egypt of a regime less hostile to the West, must therefore also rank high among our objectives.
You know us better than anyone, and so I need not tell you that our people here are neither excited nor eager to use force. They are, however, grimly determined that Nasser shall not get away with it this time because they are convinced that if he does their existence will be at his mercy. So am I.
It now appeared, however, that the Israelis were, after all, advancing their military preparations with a view to making an attack upon Egypt. They evidently felt that the ambitions of Colonel Nasser's Government threatened their continued existence as an independent State and that they could not afford to wait for others to curb his expansionist policies. The Cabinet must therefore consider the situation which was likely to arise if hostilities broke out between Israel and Egypt and must judge whether it would necessitate Anglo-French intervention in this area.
The French Government were strongly of the view that intervention would be justified in order to limit the hostilities and that for this purpose it would be right to launch the military operation against Egypt which had already been mounted. Indeed, it was possible that if we declined to join them they would take military action alone or in conjunction with Israel. In these circumstances the Prime Minister suggested that, if Israel launched a full-scale military operation against Egypt, the Governments of the United Kingdom and France should at once call on both parties to stop hostilities and to withdraw their forces to a distance often miles from the Canal; and that it should at the same time be made clear that, if one or both Governments failed to undertake within twelve hours to comply with these requirements, British and French forces would intervene in order to enforce compliance. Israel might well undertake to comply with such a demand. If Egypt also complied, Colonel Nasser's prestige would be fatally undermined. If she failed to comply, there would be ample justification for Anglo-French military action against Egypt in order to safeguard the Canal.
We must face the risk that we should be accused of collusion with Israel. But this charge was liable to be brought against us in any event; for it could now be assumed that, if an Anglo-French operation were undertaken against Egypt, we should be unable to prevent the Israelis from launching a parallel attack themselves; and it was preferable that we should be seen to be holding the balance between Israel and Egypt rather than appear to be accepting Israeli co-operation in an attack on Egypt alone.
I was in favour of the tough line which the Prime Minister took in July when Nasser announced the nationalisation of the canal and I must say that I was not fundamentally troubled by moral considerations throughout the period for which the crisis lasted. My anxieties began when I discovered the way in which it was proposed to carry out the enterprise. I did not like the idea of allying ourselves with the French and the Jews in an attack upon Egypt because I thought from such experience and knowledge as I had of the Middle East that such alliances with these two, and particularly with the Jews, were bound to bring us into conflict with Arab and Muslim feeling
Secondly, and to an even greater extent. I disliked taking positive and warlike action against Egypt behind the back of the Americans and knowing that they would disapprove of our course of action I felt that the future of the free world depended principally upon the United States and that we should be dealing a mortal blow to confidence in our alliance with them if we deceived them in this matter.
One of the curious features of the whole affair as far as the Cabinet was concerned was that partly owing to a not unnatural habit on the Prime Minister's part of preferring to take into complete confidence, when things were moving fast, only those with whom he agreed, many of us in the Cabinet knew little of the decisive talks with the French until after they happened and sometimes not even then. A great deal of the public criticism of the conduct of the Suez affair was directed at its abandonment in mid-stream rather than at its beginning. There were some discussions, many of them at night, with Washington, and I have always thought that the decisive point was reached when Mr Macmillan was of opinion that the United States would make our financial position impossible unless we called a halt.
I ought to add for the guidance of those who may read this, that I was the only member of the Cabinet who openly advised against invasion though it was plain that Mr Butler had doubts and I know that Mr Heathcoat Amory was troubled about it. Outside the Cabinet I was aware of a number of Ministers, apart from Mr Nutting and Sir Edward Boyle who resigned, who were opposed to the operation.
Naturally I anxiously considered whether I ought not to resign. Resignation at such a moment was not a thing lightly to be undertaken. I felt that I was virtually alone in my opinion in the Cabinet and that I had not the experience or the knowledge to make me confident in my own view when it was so strongly opposed by Eden, Salisbury, Macmillan, Head, Sandys, Thorneycroft, and Kilmuir; for all of whom I had respect and admiration.
I knew that if I did resign it was likely that the Government would fall, and I still believed that it was better for the country to have that Government than the alternative. What the Labour people had in mind was a kind of rump of the Tory Government led by Butler, which they would support. This could not last. Moreover, far more than I knew at the time, the ordinary man in the country was behind Eden.
In any case in the result I wrote to Eden telling him that, as the fact was, I was very far from fit and did not feel I could continue in my office as Minister of Defence. At the same time I told him in the letter that had it not been for my fundamental differences with my colleagues over the size of the forces, and over Suez, I should not have been tendering my resignation at that moment. He behaved very generously, accepted the position that I would not go on as Minister of Defence, but kept me in the Cabinet as Paymaster General, thus preserving the unity of the front.
If the United States Government had approached this issue in the spirit of an ally, they would have done everything in their power, short of the use of force, to support the nations whose economic security depended upon the freedom of passage through the Suez Canal. They would have closely planned their policies with their allies and held stoutly to the decisions arrived at. They would have insisted on restoring international authority in order to insulate the canal from the politics of any one country. It is now clear that this was never the attitude of the United States Government. Rather did they try to gain time, coast along over difficulties as they arose and improvise policies, each following on the failure of its immediate predecessor. None of these was geared to the long-term purpose of serving a joint cause.
I admired his courage, his gallantry, his wartime record and his Foreign Office achievements. He seemed thoroughly in character in standing up for British rights in the Middle East and I supported him.... These were deep-seated emotions affecting liberal-minded people, but they coalesced only too easily with less generous sentiments: the residues of illiberal resentment at the loss of Empire, the rise of coloured nationalism, the transfer of world leadership to the United States. It was these sentiments that made the Suez venture so popular, not least among the supporters of the embarrassed Labour party.
After the fiasco of Suez it was clear that Anthony Eden could not remain as Prime Minister. He fell ill during the crisis and resigned in January 1957. There was much speculation in the circles in which I moved as to who would succeed - in those days, of course, Conservative Leaders 'emerged' rather than being elected. My Conservative friends in Chambers were convinced that Rab Butler would never be summoned by the Queen because he was too left wing. By contrast, the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time of Suez, Harold Macmillan, was considered to be the right-wing candidate. All of which shows how little we knew of the past and present convictions of both men - particularly the brilliant, elusive figure who was shortly to become Prime Minister.
Harold Macmillan had the strengths and weaknesses of the consummate politician. He cultivated a languorous and almost antediluvian style which was not - and was not intended to be - sufficiently convincing to conceal the shrewdness behind it. He was a man of masks. It was impossible to tell, for instance, that behind the cynical Edwardian facade was one of the most deeply religious souls in politics.
Harold Macmillan's great and lasting achievement was to repair the relationship with the United States. This was the essential condition for Britain to restore her reputation and standing. Unfortunately, he was unable to repair the damage inflicted by Suez on the morale of the British political class - a veritable 'Suez syndrome'. They went from believing that Britain could do anything to an almost neurotic belief that Britain could do nothing. This was always a grotesque exaggeration. At that time we were a middle-ranking diplomatic power after America and the Soviet Union, a nuclear power, a leading member of NATO, a permanent member of the UN Security Council and the centre of a great Commonwealth.
About Churchill I shall not try to say anything. He was a towering figure from the past, and I saw him closely only in the enfeeblement of age. Eden, I had a lot of regard for. But, as Montgomery is alleged to have said about somebody else, "his tragedy was that he was promoted above his ceiling". He was not cut out to be the No. 1; he should have remained No. 2. He was right about Hitler, about Mussolini and about Chamberlain, but he always managed to be late in being right, and even when he was right he always seemed to remain in two minds. Yet I think he is a genuinely good man.
Mr William Clark, who resigned as Sir Anthony Eden's press secretary at the time of Suez, said yesterday that the "Manchester Guardian's" anti-Suez leading articles were one of the main reasons why the Prime Minister asked for the drawing up of an instrument to bring the BBC under direct Government control. The plan was never put into operation.
Mr Clark said that the "Manchester Guardian's" leaders critical of the Suez policy were being constantly quoted on the BBC and could be heard by troops overseas. The "Manchester Guardian's" diplomatic correspondent at the time, Mr Richard Scott, was frequently critical of Sir Anthony's policies when a guest on BBC discussion programmes.
According to Mr Clark, the resentment of the inner Cabinet was not discussed solely on the BBC, but the BBC happened to be the news service which most easily lent itself to direct Government action. "The fact was that there was a real attempt to pervert the course of news, of ordinary understanding of events. The BBC happened to be one place where Government action could most easily take place," said Mr Clark.
Anthony Eden often spoke at the many undergraduate debating societies which have traditionally been a training ground for future Prime Ministers; in preparing their papers for these debates, students took far more trouble than for their classroom assignments. Anthony eventually became Prime Minister; he still appears rather languid in manner but, obviously, has great hidden reserves of energy and ambition. Eden's Waterloo came with Suez in 1956. He was very ill at the time and left England for Panama, where he wrote me in reply to a letter I'd sent him after the debacle. lie mentioned certain mistakes he'd made over the years but said he was sure he'd been right in this instance Suez! Maybe he was, in the long run.
Robert Anthony Eden spent more than 30 years in public life, but when he finally became Prime Minister in 1955, his tenure lasted only 21 months and ended in a gloomy fiasco for Britain and himself in the failed effort to invade Egypt over control of the Suez Canal.
The failure (more diplomatic than military) of the attack in October 1956, drew upon Eden the condemnation of world opinion and tended to obscure his successes as a political leader who had been in the House of Commons since 1923 and who had led his Conservative Party to a notable electoral victory in 1955. The failure also tended to countervail his undoubted gifts as an international negotiator and his achievements as Foreign Secretary, a post he occupied with great diligence and éclat for more than 10 years between 1935 and 1955.
Apart from the first three years, when he was Stanley Baldwin's and Neville Chamberlain's Foreign Secretary, Eden served under Winston Churchill, whose forceful omnipresence served to conceal his protégé's strengths and weaknesses.
Groomed by Churchill for the Conservative leadership and for the Prime Ministership, the publicly popular and photogenic Eden seemed typecast for success; he proved to be a man out of step with history whose pertinacity was to policies and practices 20 year out of date. It was his further misfortune that Britain had waned as a world power and was obliged to trail in the wake of the United States.
Thus, in July 1956, when President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt nationalized, the Suez Canal, Eden reacted by supporting the sort of preventive "police action" that he would have liked to have mounted against Hitler and Mussolini in the late 1930's. By identifying the Egyptian nationalist strongman with the prewar Fascists, Eden committed a historical blunder.
The invasion, he contended then (and 10 years later in an interview for this obituary article), was aimed at maintaining the sanctity of international agreements and at preventing future unilateral denunciation of treaties. It also, he said, had averted a larger war in the Middle's East. Anglo-French troops, he argued, moved in after the Israelis had entered' Egypt, and his purpose was to halt the fighting and prevent new clashes "because the United Nations could not do so in time."
At the same time Eden faulted the United States for forcing him to withdraw; but he took credit for United Nations action in patrolling the Israeli-Egyptian borders. Eden said of the invasion: "Peace at any price has never averted war. We must not repeat the mistakes of the prewar years by behaving as though the enemies of peace and order are armed with only good intentions."