I just finished a book that was originally published in 1940, now that isn't surprising, after all many books were written in the past. This book though was a college thesis of a young man at Harvard, a book that shows the intellectual capacity of a man who would be President of the United States just 21 years later.
The book is WHY ENGLAND SLEPT, and its' author of course was John F. Kennedy. Kennedy at 23 wrote a book that showed the world his great ability to analyse complex issues and present facts in a sharp and honest tone.
The book chronicles The political, moral and emotional issues impacting England from 1931 to May of 1940, and explores in depth why it took England so long to arm herself for the impending war that was on the horizon.
Kennedy uses references to the White Papers that were proposals for what England would spend on defense and other issues inside her homeland. He makes references to many speeches of the various political leaders of the day and explains the mindset of the people of England.
Although the people of England had peace since 1918 with the end of the First World War, the mindset of the people was, "we do not for-see any future conflict, we believe in the league of nations and we are dedicated to the principle of unilateral disarmament of us and all nations in Europe."
This mindset was understandable. The people of England had lost a huge percentage of their young in the First World War, and the thought of being armed for a future conflict that no one believed would ever happen, only seemed to be a way of encouraging the conflict to come to be.
Because of this mindset, even when Hitler rose to power in 1933 and began the cycle of rearming Germany, both the people of England and the Political leaders refused to move from their beliefs in the disarmament talks and the support of the league of nations. So ingrained was the peoples' belief that if England and the rest of the world were not an armed camp, and if war came, that the league of nations would be the solution, that the threat of Hitler was completely ignored by those with power.
The book goes year after year, showing how slowly this mindset was changed, but how it took seven years before England truly turned around its' beliefs, and even then how labor still resisted the changes needed to bring England up to a fighting force equal to Germany.
Kennedy uses references to how there was also an internal structure of English labor, how workers were opposed to the rearmament as well, because they felt, due to the experience of the last war, that they would lose their say in how things were done, how the government would put restrictions including the forbidding of labor strikes in place.
One point that comes across strongly, is that a nations' mindset takes time to change, and the people of a nation will resist change to the point that when it is forced upon them, they do not take the responsibility for the delay, but blame the leaders of their nation for their failing to bring on the change needed sooner; when the leaders were following the public mindset and maintaining the perceived reality the public was supporting.
Time and again Kennedy shows how the political leaders were being advised that armaments were needed, how they attempted to bring up the number of new aircraft, ships and weapons, and how they could not get these changes because members of all parties refused due to the public mindset, or at least not in the quantity that had been proposed in the white papers.
One thing that Kennedy explains clearly is why Neville Chamberland remained on the appeasement cycle instead of challenging Germany in 1938, and it was the fact that England because it had slept so long did not have the forces to defeat Germany, he had to buy time to build its' forces. However in all honesty Chamberland was a believer in apeasement, he believed in peaceful dialogue.
In all reality Chamberlain was a man who was still deeply in the mindset of peace can conquer all, even when the Bear was ready to rip the heart out of the English Lion. Yet from what Kennedy wrote, Chamberlain was not a nieve man, he simply had difficulty dealing with the possibility that war was on the horizon yet again.
Why England Slept is a book well worth reading, whether from the perspective of the reasons a nation remained unprepared so long, or the ability to see how a young man at 23 was looking at issues complex and putting them into terms that anyone could understand and gain from.
Whether you are a fan of John F. Kennedy or not, this book is well worth the read.