Guilty Men was a book published in Great Britain in 1940 that attacked British public figures for their appeasement of Nazi Germany in the 1930s. It is regarded as the classic denunciation of appeasement and it shaped popular and scholarly thinking for twenty years.
Authorship and publication 
Guilty Men was a British polemical book written under the pseudonym "Cato" and published in 1940. It attacked fifteen public figures for their policy towards Germany, Italy and Japan in the 1930s and for their failure to equip the British armed forces adequately to stand up to the dictators of those countries. It is regarded as the classic denunciation of appeasement, which it defined as the "deliberate surrender of small nations in the face of Hitler's blatant bullying."
The book's slogan, "Let the guilty men retire," was an attack on members of the National Government before Winston Churchill became prime minister, most of whom were Conservatives, although some were National Liberals and one was Ramsay MacDonald, the late leader of the Labour Party. Several remained members of Winston Churchill's government. The book shaped popular thinking about appeasement for twenty years and has been seen as destroying the reputation of ex-prime ministers Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain and contributing to the defeat of the Conservative Party in the 1945 general election. According to historian David Dutton, "its impact upon Chamberlain's reputation, both among the general public and within the academic world, was profound indeed".
The authors were three journalists, Michael Foot (a future Leader of the Labour Party), Frank Owen (a former Liberal MP), and Peter Howard (a Conservative). They wrote pseudonymously because their employer, Lord Beaverbrook, was active in the Conservative Party and banned his journalists from writing for other publications. Foot, Owen and Howard would meet on the roof of the Evening Standard building after the late edition had been put to bed, surveying the London skyline and considering what might happen in the imminent Battle of Britain.
They believed that Britain had suffered a succession of bad leaders, who, with junior ministers, advisers and officials, had conducted a disastrous foreign policy toward Germany and had failed to prepare the country for war. They persuaded Victor Gollancz, creator of the Left Book Club, to publish the book, divided the twenty-four chapters among themselves and wrote it in four days, finishing on June 5, 1940. Gollancz asked for some of the rhetoric to be toned down, fearing the reaction it might provoke.
The so-called guilty men were:
- Neville Chamberlain
- Sir John Simon
- Sir Samuel Hoare
- Ramsay MacDonald
- Stanley Baldwin
- Lord Halifax
- Sir Kingsley Wood
- Ernest Brown
- David Margesson
- Sir Horace Wilson
- Sir Thomas Inskip
- Leslie Burgin
- Earl Stanhope
- W. S. Morrison
- Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith
Guilty Men was published in early July, shortly after Churchill took over as Prime Minister, after the Dunkirk evacuation had shown Britain's military weakness, and after the Fall of France, which left the country with few allies. The major book wholesalers, W H Smith and Wyman's, and the largest book distributor, Simpkin Marshall, refused to handle the book. It was sold on news-stands and street barrows and went through twelve editions in July 1940 selling 200,000 copies in a few weeks. The police are alleged to have visited bookshops and to have told them they were selling a banned book, although Guilty Men was never banned.
There was speculation as to Cato's identity; some thought that he was Aneurin Bevan. The authors had some fun reviewing their own work, Michael Foot entitling an article, "Who is This Cato?" Beaverbrook was as much in the dark as anyone, but joked that he "made do with the royalties from Guilty Men". The authors earned no royalties, as their literary agent Ralph Pinker made off with them.
Guilty Men remains in circulation and has been reprinted for its historical interest, for example, by Penguin Books to mark its sixtieth anniversary in 2000.
||This section may contain original research. (May 2012)|
The speed with which Guilty Men was written shows in its errors. For example, the authors muddled the place and date where Baldwin said that re-armament was unpopular with the voters. (They placed it in the Fulham East by-election, 1933, instead of the 1935 general election and dated the Fulham by-election 1935. "1935" was corrected to "1933" in later editions, but the 1998 Penguin facsimile edition reproduced the error without comment.) It also shows in its excessively detailed description of Dunkirk.
The book's arguments and conclusions have been questioned by politicians and historians. In 1945, Quintin Hogg, MP wrote The Left was never Right, which was critical of Guilty Men and argued that "unpreparedness before the war was largely the consequence of the policies of the parties of the Left." In contrast, in 1944 Geoffrey Mander had published We were not all wrong.
The idea of appeasement as error and cowardice was challenged in 1960 by historian A. J. P. Taylor's highly controversial "The Origins of The Second World War", in which he argued that, in the circumstances, it might be seen as a rational policy.
See also 
- Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
- David Dutton, Neville Chamberlain (2001) pp=71–72
- Graham Macklin (2006). Chamberlain. Haus Publishing. p. 98.
- Paul Addison (2011). The Road To 1945: British Politics and the Second World War Revised Edition. Random House. p. 136.
- Michael Foot, Preface to the 1998 re-issue of Guilty Men, Penguin Books
- Cato, Guilty Men, London: Victor Gollancz, 1941, 34th impression
- Scott Kelly, "The Ghost of Neville Chamberlain: Guilty Men and the 1945 Election", Conservative History Journal, Autumn 2005
- Geoffrey Mander, We were not all wrong - How the Labour and Liberal Parties (& also the anti-Munich Tories) strove, pre-war, for the policy of collective security against aggression - with adequate armaments to make that policy effective: the truth about the peace ballot: etc, etc. (London: Victor Gollancz, 1944)