Uncertain Lessons of Appeasement

Uncertain Lessons of Appeasement

MUNICH: THE PRICE OF PEACE, by Telford Taylor. New York: Doubleday. 1004 pp. $17.50.

When statesmen face world crises, they often tell us that their decisions are based on information the rest of us lack. Crises pass, archives close, and sometimes we forget to look back to count the change from the bill that has been paid. Telford Taylor, who teaches at the Columbia and Benjamin Cardozo law schools, has taken advantage of reopened archives to examine what passed for currency during the Munich crisis of 1938. Delving into the papers of the British cabinet, military staff documents, and a wealth of diaries, Taylor has recreated in remarkable detail the political and diplomatic events leading up to war in Europe. He tells us what the leaders knew, when they knew it, and, most interesting, what they could have known had they wanted to. He rightly concludes that the information, if not the will, for sounder decisions was readily at hand: Britain and France would have been far better served by fighting alongside Czechoslovakia in 1938 than without it in 1939.

Within this field of interest, Taylor’s Munich is by far the most complete study we have. Balanced and extensive, it supersedes older works. There are limitations. It does not offer any dramatically new reading of events. It fails to deal with some important issues. And the historical lesson about appeasement raises some thorny questions of ideology and historical perspective. But what Taylor does, he does exceedingly well.

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Duggan | University of California Press Gardels