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1939: The Alliance That Never Was and the Coming of World War II Hardcover – May 25, 1999

ISBN-13: 978-1566632522 ISBN-10: 9781566632522 Edition: First Edition

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Ivan R. Dee; First Edition edition (May 25, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781566632522
  • ISBN-13: 978-1566632522
  • ASIN: 1566632528
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,761,871 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Any book named after that most fateful of years, 1939, is sure to tell a tragic tale. As Michael Jabara Carley writes in the opening pages of this volume, "This is not a pretty story. It is about appeasement and the failures of collective security in Europe against Nazi aggression. It is about moral depravity and blindness, about villains and cowards." Carley offers a provocative thesis: anticommunist passions in England and France prevented these countries from forming an antifascist alliance with the Soviet Union that might have headed off the bloodiest conflict in human history. This is not a totally original idea, but Carley makes a forceful case that just a few years ago was an especially tough sell: "Cold war ideology tended to overshadow Anglo-French culpability and responsibility for the path to war in 1939." In other words, the anticommunist sentiments that made it so difficult to deal with the Soviet Union during the 1930s also made it nearly impossible during the cold war to blame anticommunism for what went wrong. Carley's tale is not entirely bleak; he devotes a fair amount of attention to "a motley, imperfect group of heroes" who warned about the rise of Nazi power and urged a joint strategy with the Soviets to contain Germany. One of these Cassandras was Winston Churchill, but others have been nearly forgotten. Carley revives them on these pages in a thought-provoking--and certainly controversial--book that takes a fresh look at an old topic. --John J. Miller

From Booklist

For decades after the start of World War II, appeasement was a byword for spineless surrender by Britain and France to Hitler's demands. In recent years, revisionist historians have tended to see a more complicated (or balanced) picture, stressing Anglo-French hopes for buying time and acknowledging their legitimate fears regarding Soviet designs in central Europe. Carley is a diplomatic historian who has mined newly accessible Soviet archives in order to present a counter-revisionist thesis. He asserts that reflexive and extreme anti-Communist paranoia on the part of British and French politicians and diplomats prevented a very achievable alliance against Hitler. As a result, a justifiably frustrated Stalin signed the Non-Aggression Pact with Hitler as a means for self-preservation. Carley clearly has an axe to grind and ignores inconvenient factors, including Stalin's own paranoia and the Soviet desire for ideological expansion westward. Still, his utilization of new sources is quite revealing, and his provocative, if slanted, argument is certainly a useful contribution to an ongoing debate among scholars. Jay Freeman

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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful By alvin Finkel on April 23, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Michael Carley's 1939: The Alliance That Never Was demolishes the Cold War-inspired revisionism regarding the diplomacy that led to World War 2. From the Cold War perspective, Stalin, the left-wing dictator, betrayed the Western democracies who were wooing him, to form a dictators' pact with Hitler, the right-wing dictator. This allowed Hitler to invade Poland, giving the Soviets the chance to steal eastern Poland, a forewarning of how they would behave after World War 2 once the Nazis were beaten.
Wrong in every respect, argues Carley. The Soviets had been pressing for a front with the democracies to prevent Nazi rearmament and aggression since 1934. They still wanted this desperately in 1939, but after Munich, they did not think they would get it. Fanatic anti-communism on the part of most of the leadership of Britain and an important section of the French political class made such an alliance seem unlikely. Indeed the Western democracies appeared to prefer Nazi Germany to Communist Russia. While the Soviet Commissar of Foreign Affairs, Maxim Litvinov, worked tirelessly to press for collective security, and the Soviet Ambassador to London, Ivan Maiski, had an important network of friends in high places in Britain who trusted Soviet initiatives, the Soviet plans were always blocked by the "men of Munich." Led by Neville Chamberlain himself, they included key Cabinet members, members of the Foreign Affairs ministry, and the military. These men were impervious to pleas from Maiski, and from Winston Churchill, and Robert Vansittart for an alliance with the Soviets against the Nazis.
Carley's book is the result of painstaking research in the foreign affairs documents of all the principal players.
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Barron Laycock HALL OF FAME on March 15, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This excellent recent work by author Michael Jabara Carley adds more fuel to the continuing fire of controversy regarding relative responsibility for the outbreak of general war in the fall of 1939. Indeed, in this well-written and well-documented work, the author's main argument contends that it was the collective failure of the so-called allies to overcome their own fears about communism and the perceived threats associated with the rise of international socialism that were responsible for the failure to bring the Soviet Union into the Allied orbit in time to stave off Hitler's rush into Poland. Given the well-documented facts and figures marshaled in defense of this argument, it is difficult to fault this view.
For example, Carley illustrates how the Soviet Union made attempt after attempt to solicit the support and agreement of the western allies to form an alliance against Germany, only to be slow-rolled and virtually ignored time after time. In this fashion, the Soviets were finally left with few obvious options other than to turn into the direction fo their greatest fear and accept terms with the Nazis, hoping that by cooperating them and acting as their key supplier in the face of growing intransigence on the part of the Allies, the Germans would leave them alone. The author masterfully shows how this consistent series of rebuffs of the Russians by the western Allies was related to a western phobia of the communism and its associated threats, and illustrates how these fears of all things socialistic blinded the Allies to the obvious dangers presented by the acts of the Nazi regime.
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5 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Tom Holmberg on September 29, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Carley recounts the diplomatic story of 1939, the nadir of a "low, dishonest decade." Its characters are "Guilty Men" and "Gravediggers," whose "clever hopes" consisted mainly of appeasing Hitler. He reveals the failed negotiations to forge an alliance that "never was" with Russia which might have prevented war; the fear and short-sightedness that doomed that alliance; the ideological blindness that feared a victory that could lead to the spread of Communism more than a defeat that would spread Nazi terror. The book is a corrective to those who have blamed Russia and the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact for the outbreak of the war, ignoring the 5 years of efforts by the Soviets to form an effective anti-German alliance.
There are few heroes in this story. France, divided internally, found it easiest to follow the British. France wouldn't move to save Eastern Europe without Britain, and Britain wouldn't move. What the Russians wanted was an ironclad military alliance, with precise and concrete terms, staff talks and passage rights through Poland so that Russia could come to grips with Germany. Poland could not hold the eastern front against Germany alone. Without such an agreement Russia's options were to stay neutral or come to terms with Germany. One Foreign Office official in May 1939 summed it up, "The Russians have for years past been pressing for staff [talks]...and the French at our instigation have always refused them." Gen. Gamelin as early as 1936 told the French Staff that the only real help against Germany had to come from Russia and Russia needed passage rights to come to France's aid.
If the British and French were suspicious of Russian motives, the Russians were equally suspicious. They felt that the Allies would be happy to see Germany and Russia destroy each other.
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