Reading notes: Churchill’s insight and the willful ignorance The Times of London

June 4, 2018 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: journalism.

Author William Manchester called it “unfathomable.”

Manchester’s magisterial three-volume biography of Winston Churchill (The Last Lion) contains an interesting description of the attitude of The Times of London toward the rise of Adolph Hitler in volume 2, Alone. While Churchill in the mid-1930s was the single voice among the upper reaches of the British ruling class to sound the alarm against the rise of Hitler, The Times stood firmly on the side of appeasing the German leader.

Editor Geoffrey Dawson was adamant in insisting that the newspaper print nothing that would offend Hitler. The Times’ editorial columns were filled with praise of Hitler’s reasonableness and his wish for peace while rebuilding his country.

Manchester points out that Dawson followed this policy despite having a first-rate correspondent in Berlin who filed dozens of reports about Hitler’s erosion of civil liberties, his persecution of Jews and dissidents, and his military buildup.

Norman Ebbutt, the paper’s Berlin correspondent, filed accurate, perceptive dispatches on Nazi Germany for over three years until the summer of 1937 until the Nazis . . .  expelled him. Ebbutt’s editors read his stories; they knew what was happening in the Third Reich, though their readers often did not; his dispatches were often re-written or suppressed by Dawson . . . (p. 144)

Dawson changed his tune, finally, in March 1939 and called for military preparations for war. He remained editor of The Times until 1941 and died in 1944.

Manchester is right — the actions of The Times editor were “unfathomable” — and the peace-at-any-price aura that infected the era provide only a partial explanation. The evil of Naziism broke forth early and often when Hitler came to power. It took a staunchly willful ignorance, combined with a contempt for his profession, to do what The Times editor did.

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