In 1869, on this day the future British Conservative Prime Minister Arthur Neville Chamberlain was born in the leafy West Midlands town of Edgbaston. Founded in the first millenia as the "village of a man called bold sword", by the late nineteen century Edgbaston was an affluent surburb on the outskirts of Birmingham where the trees begin.
Happy Endings Part 12
Where the trees beginEducated at the elite Rugby School, he was sent to the Bahamas to rebuild the family fortune. But the plantation was a dismal failure, and he soon returned from this "faraway place of which we know little". After working in business and local government, he followed his father and older half-brother into politics becoming a Member of Parliament in 1918. Being trusted as a safe pair of hands he was rapidly promoted to Minister of Health and then Chancellor of the Exchequer. When Stanley Baldwin retired in May 1937, Chamberlain took his place as Prime Minister.
The architect of the adjustment policy, he travelled to Munich to negotiate a "grand settlement" between the victor and the resurgent reformist powers. Although Anglo-France had dictated foreign policy during the 1920s, it was now time to bring Germany and Italy back inside the European Security Model. This required the resetting of a delicate balance of global interests between the Anglo-French retention of Great Power status and the ceding of selective territories to satisfy the nationalist interests of Germany and Italy. For creating this new "concert of Europe", he was rightly hailed as a successor to Metternich and Castelreagh, but in truth his framework was a modern adaptation of Victorian era thinking. Tragically, at the height of his prestige, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He died in November 1940 and within months, the world would be plunged into a new great power crisis.
Due to the vast size of the British and French Colonial Empires, Chamberlain saw very clearly the challenges of global imperial defence ("We are a very rich Empire, and there are plenty of adventurers not very far away who look upon us with hungry eyes"). Even after the post-war return of Germany's African Colonies, the limited Germano-Italian overseas possessions permitted a European concentration of forces; whereas a year before Chamberlain's death over 90,000 British troops were deployed in the "troublesome" Middle East. Now, a generation who only wanted "peace in our time" would have to confront the irresistible rise of Japan. And with their working classes largely ambivalent about the Empire, the Anglo-French elite would somehow have to make some painful cessations of their own precious overseas possessions in the Far East. At the League of Nations in Geneva, the situation was summed up with a chuckle of self-satisfaction by Benito Mussolini, Che cosa viene intorno, va in giro ("What comes around, goes around").