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James Bond creator Ian Fleming argued case for appeasing Hitler

14-Jun-2008 • Literary

Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, favoured appeasing Nazi Germany and dismissed those urging war with Hitler as “the slaughterhouse brigade” in a letter to The Times a year before the Second World War - writes Ben Macintyre in The Times.

Historians and biographers have hitherto overlooked the letter, published on September 28, 1938, as Britain waited to hear the outcome of Neville Chamberlain’s fateful meeting with Hitler in Munich. The letter was uncovered through the Times electronic archive, which has now been made accessible to the public.

During the war Fleming became an officer in Naval Intelligence and a dedicated enemy of fascism, but in the immediate prewar period, like many Britons, he appears to have believed that a deal could still be done with Hitler to avert war.

In the letter, Fleming argued that if Hitler’s territorial ambitions were limited to the aims he outlined in 1920 – uniting a greater Germany of German peoples, repealing the Versailles treaty and obtaining further territory for the German population – then Britain should step back from war.

“There will be no peace, no return of prosperity, and no happiness in Europe until England and France agree to the fulfilment of Herr Hitler’s stated programme in exchange for a binding disarmament pact,” he wrote.

However, he added that if Germany intended to rearm for aggressive purposes – “as she did in 1914” – then Britain should prepare for war.

“If . . . it is made clear that Germany already aims once again at world domination by aggression – then it will be time to organise this country on a war-time basis and announce to Germany that we shall fight at the first act of aggression.” Like many others at the time, Fleming still held out the hope “that Herr Hitler means what he says”, and that Nazi territorial ambitions could still be contained by diplomatic negotiation.

Fleming suggested that unless Chamberlain obtained firm guarantees from Hitler, Britain would face a choice between a binding peace pact or all-out war. “It will be time to turn a reluctant ear either to the dangerous counsels of the slaughterhouse brigade or to the bemused vapourings of those who long for the day when England is another Holland and out of the fight for ever.” Fleming’s letter was published on the day that Hitler and Chamberlain met in Munich in the midst of the crisis over Sudetenland, the area of Czechoslovakia with a large minority ethnic German population that Hitler was seeking to annex. The day after the letter appeared, Chamberlain signed the Munich agreement, effectively allowing Hitler to take over Czechoslovakia’s defensive frontier, and then flew back to Britain to declare: “Peace in our time”.

In some ways, Fleming’s letter was preaching to the converted, for The Times was strongly in favour of appeasement – perhaps the most misguided editorial stance in the newspaper’s history. Three weeks before Fleming’s letter appeared, the paper ran a leading article suggesting that Czechoslovakia simply cede territory to Germany. The editor at the time, Geoffrey Dawson, was determined to maintain peace.

Intriguingly, Peter Fleming, Ian’s brother, was then working as an editorial writer at The Times, contributing leaders on the Munich crisis under Dawson’s editorship. Like his brother, Peter would go on to become a highly successful intelligence officer.

The following March, six months after Fleming’s letter appeared, Germany seized the rest of Czechoslovakia, setting in motion the chain of events that would propel Britain, and the Flemings, into war.

Andrew Lycett, Ian Fleming’s biographer, described the letter as “an interesting study in political compromise”. Lycett said: “It has aspects of what we now know as appeasement. Conceding that Hitler should be allowed his demands over the German peoples in Czechoslovakia, but adamant that Hitler should be told: thus far, and no further.” Lycett points out that although Fleming was something of a Germanophile, having spent part of his youth and education in Germany, his family was also closely linked to Winston Churchill, the most vigorous opponent of appeasement.

Churchill wrote the Times obituary of Fleming’s father, who died in the trenches in 1917. A framed copy remained on Ian Fleming’s desk throughout his life.

David Cannadine, Professor of British History at the University of London Institute of Historical Research, pointed out that Fleming’s views were not exceptional for the 1930s: “Very few people wanted to go to war in 1938, especially those who had lost relatives in the first war, as Fleming had.”

At the time the letter was written in 1938, Fleming was a bachelor of 30 living in London after trying his hand, with limited success, at stockbroking, banking and journalism. By pure coincidence, his flat in Ebury Street had previously been the home of Sir Oswald Mosley, the British Fascist leader.

There was no doubting Fleming’s dedication to the war effort once the conflict was under way, nor the vehemence of his hatred for Nazism.

Many of Fleming’s villains have German names, and many have Nazi pasts: for example, Hugo Drax in Moonraker is really the former Nazi officer Graf Hugo von der Drache, while his aide de camp is Willy Krebs (Hans Krebs was Hitler’s army chief of staff). Ernst Stavro Blofeld, we are told, spied for the Nazis, while Le Chiffre in Casino Royale is found in a misplaced persons camp in Dachau at the end of the war, suffering from amnesia.

Thanks to `Sir Hilary Bray OBE` for the alert.

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