One day, in August of 1938 (one month before the "Peace in our Time" speech), Neville Chamberlain was walking by a pawn shop and noticed a beat up and cloudy crystal ball in the window. The swirling of the fog in the crystal ball intrigued him, and since he had a few minutes to spare, he walked into the shop and peered into the depths of the crystal. Since it was an oppressively hot day (it was August after all), the swirling fog in the crystal had a hypnotic effect and caused Neville to fall into a deep trance. During this trance, he had two visions of the future. In the first, he saw the future as it actually unfolded with WWII, its tens of millions dead, the holocaust, and the cold war. Chamberlain broke out in a sweat when the vision revealed him resigning as Prime Minister in disgrace.
In the second vision, he saw an alternate history. In the alternate history, he saw himself fabricating a story (a lie) in order to convince the British public to summon the will to confront and preemptively attack Germany and remove Hitler as leader. The fabricated story was that British intelligence was certain that Hitler was about to finish the development of a doomsday weapon, a weapon of mass destruction of unimaginable power, and that Hitler intended to use such a weapon to conquer Britain as well as other countries. Chamberlain would convince his intelligence services to go along with and support the deception. He would then have to deploy a sizeable military force without any support of any other country and attack the Germans. The plan would succeed and tens of millions of lives would be saved. However, there was also a downside. There would be 10,000 dead British soldiers. His deception would be uncovered. Because of the dead British soldiers and the fact that no one knew the horrors he had prevented, he would be prosecuted for treason and hanged. Because, let's face it, the British people would have been so outraged by the deception and dead soldiers so soon after WWI, that without experiencing the tremendous calamity of WWII, they would have wanted revenge against Chamberlain in this version of history.
Disgrace or death. Bummer. I hate choices like that!
Even if this story were true, it's easily possible to see someone picking the first vision anyway, hoping that it was just a dream. The main point is that even if the second vision didn't turn out quite so badly, a leader in Chamberlain's position really has no upside. If he lies and schemes in an "ends justifies the means" fashion, the political price could be quite high one day when the scheme unravels, even if the ends are achieved. If he tells the truth, the truth won't be adequately compelling to get the needed public support for the actions required. If he just lets events unfold and the appeasing of the tyrant does backfire, the political price is higher still. Chamberlain was in an awful situation. His lack of vision and courage was unfortunate, but not surprising.
After 9/11, George W. Bush was in a similar position with regards to Iraq. Talk about being caught between Iraq and a hard place! However badly Iraq turns out, we'll never be able to compare it too what would've happened if Saddam was left in power. Would've he eventually got the bomb? Would've he eventually used it to control the flow of middle east oil, badly damaging the economies of the rest of the world? Would've he nuked Israel? Would've he smuggled briefcase nukes into Europe and the United States? Could've Saddam ended up being as destructive as Hitler? Who knows?
If those things would've happen, we'd be terribly glad that Bush deceived us (and perhaps himself). I can't blame Chamberlain for his decisions. Neither do I blame Bush - no matter how Iraq turns out.