Well, hindsight is 20/20. In 1938 when Chamberlain made that statement, the start of World War Two was still a year away. Hitler leading a resurgent Germany would have been considered a somewhat disturbing prospect, but very few people were predicting anything remotely like what was to come. More to the point, the life experience of Chamberlain himself gave him an excellent reason to avoid a war with Germany. He had already seen one first hand, and by all accounts WW1 was the most horrific event in living memory.
Chamberlain's pursuit of peace was a brave and principled stance, given the geo-political situation of the time. Britain was still a mighty colossus compared to Germany, who were still recovering from the catastrophic events of World War 1. Britain also would have been able to call in a large coalition of willing allies. However, imagine the credibility such a move would have given to German ultra-nationalists, who would have justifiably become the best politicians to defend the nation against invasion. Given that Hitler was not yet the Hitler we know and loathe, it would have been reasonable to assume in 1938 that an attack on Germany would have caused the rise to power of a far worse regime.
I for one am sick of the narrative promoted by the likes of the History Channel, which presents the conflict as an essentially simple struggle of good Allies vs evil Hitler. The problem with this analysis is that it acts as a justification for pre-emptive war. Imagine how many lives could have been saved if Chamberlain had stood up to Hitler. No death camps, no brutal occupations, no Blitz on London. If only it were that easy.
Whenever I read opinion pieces about the brewing conflict between the West and Iran, someone will inevitably Godwin up the comments and cast Ahmadinejad in the role of Hitler. This is clearly a pile of crap. There are no Iranian jackboots on foreign soil. Iranian military spending is about 1% of American military expenditure. (as well as being a lower percentage of GDP) Even on the nuclear question, Iran is many years away from developing a single bomb, let alone the capability to attack Israel. And yet, it seems more and more like that there will be a pre-emptive strike on Iran. I cannot imagine a more reckless and stupid course of action.
Soon the leaders of the Western world will face a choice. They might well take the truly cowardly option, to send the children of their nation into yet another war. A strike on Iran will only inflame Muslim anger further, driving up jihad recruitment and further weakening the moral authority of the 'enlightened' west. In the short term, the leaders will enjoy strong poll ratings and be seen as warrior kings. In the long term, they will do irrevocable damage to a region which has frankly suffered enough already. Why should the Muslim world sit idly by as yet another country is bombed back to the stone age?
I hope Obama et al rise to the occasion and adopt the approach taken by Chamberlain. What the world needs is peace for our time. It was only through decades of uninterrupted peace that Europe was able to recover from the madness of the World Wars, and it is only through sustained peace that the Muslim world will be able to halt the influence of fundamentalist radicals. A truly brave set of leaders would ignore the polls and do what is right. Peace is not an easy thing to achieve, but we will never enjoy the benefits of it unless we stop pretending that somehow another war will make it happen.