Making Friends

Readers will be excused if they mistake Making Friends With Hitler for a self-help book designed to assist us all in dealing with the despots in our lives. This is not a how-to, rather it's more of a "why did anyone bother in the first place." Specifically, this is an exploration of the not uncommon view circa 1935 that Britain should seek some sort of accommodation with Hitler rather than oppose him.

The idea of making friends was born in part of a belief that Germany's Versailles grievances were justified and a view that accession to power had matured Hitler out of his Mein Kampf "excesses." At its root was the assumption that Hitler's appetite for conquest could be sated.

Lord Londonderry is representative of the more benignly deluded adherents of this belief. He wanted to be a statesman of the caliber of his famous ancestor Lord Castlereagh. Castlereagh's legacy is a bit of a mixed bag - revered as a diplomat today but in his time reviled by the likes of as an elitist and a reactionary by the likes of Byron and Shelley. It's difficult to find any evidence that Londonderry understood Castlereagh's accomplishments - he seemed fixated instead on the glory of his legend, glory he very much wanted for himself. Kershaw's character sketch of Londonderry fascinated me nearly as much as Londonderry's gusto for socializing with the likes of Goering and Goebbels repelled me. It is nearly impossible to put aside what we know of their monumental crimes and imagine a time when they might be viewed as moderating influences on the "more extreme" elements of the Nazi party.

A less talented historian would spend time decrying the lunacy of hanging out with Adolf, Hermann and the boys in hopes of avoiding war. Ian Kershaw is a very talented historian with the ability to remind readers that what is in the past and seems inevitable, once lay in the future and was not at all certain. His approach is detailed, likely too detailed for the casual reader, but it is compelling for anyone interested in the topic.

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