In This Review

1939: The Alliance That Never Was and the Coming of World War II

1939: The Alliance That Never Was and the Coming of World War II
By Michael Jabara Carley
381 pp, Ivan Dee, 1999

Using extensive Russian and Western archives, Carley tells the sad story of the British-French relationship with the Soviet Union in 1938-39. Refuting recent revisionist views, he argues that Neville Chamberlain was an appeaser whose anticommunism exceeded his distaste for Nazism, not a realist constrained by Britain's insufficient resources and imperial commitments. Carley finds few heroes, and the lucid and farsighted exceptions -- such as Britain's Robert Vansittart and Winston Churchill, France's Edouard Herriot, and the Soviet Union's Maksim Litvinov -- could not prevail against the momentum of appeasement. (Litvinov was undone by both the Stalinist purges and the British and French sellout of Czechoslovakia at Munich in 1938.) Interwar anticommunism was an important cause of World War II, aided by the fear of Anglo-French policymakers that a new world war would lead to communist revolution. It is in this perspective, argues Carley, that the 1939 Stalin-Hitler alliance has to be seen. This volume is as adept at leading the reader through that crucial period's diplomatic intricacies as it is at discerning the essentials.