The Avoidable War
Pierre Laval and the Politics of Reality, 1935-1936
The Avoidable War details how World War II, its destruction, and its consequences could have been avoided. This original interpretation of history provides insights into ways of preserving peace that can guide contemporary diplomacy.
Volume 1 of The Avoidable War chronicles three converging streams that brought Europe to crisis in the summer of 1935: the growing military might of Nazi Germany; Mussolini’s ambition to build a new Roman Empire in East Africa; and a massive mobilization of British public opinion in favor of peace, disarmament, and collective security through the League of Nations. Volume 2 brings the story to a close, detailing the tragic denouement of this crisis. While Hitler prepared to absorb Austria and remilitarize the strategically critical Rhineland, Pierre Laval, French foreign minister and later premier, labored to convert Italy into France’s partner, with Britain, in containing Germany. When Italian aggression in Abyssinia led to League of Nations sanctions championed by Britain, the issue became: Abyssinia or Austria, Africa or Europe? Brody argues that the celebrated Hoare-Laval pact was a wise and practical arrangement to resolve the Abyssinian war which, while it rewarded aggression, preserved Italy as an ally in the vital task of containing Germany. Hoare-Laval was, of course, rejected by the massive moral indignation of the British public. When German troops entered the Rhineland in March 1936 and Britain declined to respond to desperate French pleas, the balance of political and military power had decisively shifted, establishing the fundamental conditions for the debacle of 1940.
This unhappy tale invites the reader to reflect upon the conflict between a foreign policy based upon moral values as exemplified by Lord Cecil and a policy based upon interests and political realities, the guidelines of Pierre Laval. These considerations remain basic issues of foreign policy at the turn of the century.
“The Hoare-Laval Pact of 1935 was an attempt by the British and French governments to resolve the Abyssinian Crisis by buying off Mussolini in hopes of keeping him in the anti-Hitler coalition. The pact was repudiated by British public opinion and traditionally is seen as the beginning of "appeasement." In volume 2 of The Avoidable War (v.1, CH, Oct'99) Brody argues that this agreement was the last real opportunity to deter Hitler, and that French efforts to appease Mussolini were more realistic than the high-minded fantasies that emerged from London. This traditional history marries documents and memoirs with important insights on the workings of public opinion, especially in Britain… A strength of the work is that it redresses certain traditional Anglo-American biases about Laval and the origins of appeasement. Important for all European collections; undergraduates and above.”
—G. P. Cox, Choice