Biscuits in need of some fruit cake

Decisions and Diplomacy
August 11, 1995

Decisions and Diplomacy is a collection of essays in international history "intended as a homage to the memories of two of the best-loved teachers and supervisors in the LSE's Department of International History", George Grun and Esmonde Robertson. Their long-time colleague Donald Cameron Watt, whose verdict this is, evokes each of them with characteristic elan in his forward:"They shared their dedication to and absorption in their subject, as they shared in the admiration and affection of their students. They were also alike, in that neither achieved promotion beyond the rank of senior lecturer, a rank too often regarded as the graveyard for old workhorses rather than a reward for scholarship. They differed in that Esmonde wrote by choice; George, equally by choice, did not. Esmonde was the scion of the old Anglo-Irish aristocracy, and from the more personally eccentric wing of that much-ignored group. George, though thoroughly anglicised by Winchester and Cambridge, remained recognisably Viennese, sympathisch, Stimmungsvoll, a man who lit up every room he entered by his sheer joie de vivre."

The collection focuses on the middle decades of the 20th century. It includes Robert Boyce on economics and British foreign policy management, Ian Nish on intelligence and the Lytton Commission, Dick Richardson on the Geneva disarmament conference, Steven Morewood on the chiefs of staff and the Italo-Abyssinian emergency, Peter Kent on the Vatican and Yugoslavia, Glyn Stone on Britain, France and the Spanish civil war, Peter Beck on a League of Nations alternative to appeasement, Callum MacDonald on the atomic bomb and the Korean war, and Michael Dockrill on the restoration of the Anglo-American "special relationship" after Suez. The editors provide a helpful summary of their contributors' arguments - so helpful as to prompt the unworthy thought that a swift glance at the introduction might obviate the need to read the subsequent chapters.

The diligent or curious who refuse this thought and read on will encounter the kind of international history that might be called old-fashioned - in its strengths as well as its limitations - Anglocentric, possibilistic, diplomatic (in every sense), realpolitik. It is Neville Chamberlain's kind of international history: "How best to restore shaken confidence, how to maintain the rule of law in international affairs, how to seek peaceful solutions to questions that continue to cause anxiety". It eschews a conscious style or literary effect. It is careful, professional and - too often - tame. A. J. P. Taylor liked to say that some historians produce dry biscuits and some rich fruit cake. These essays are good biscuits. Where is the fruit cake?

Alex Danchev is professor of international relations, University of Keele.

Decisions and Diplomacy

Editor - Dick Richardson and Glyn Stone
ISBN - 0 415 09795 9
Publisher - Routledge
Price - £35.00
Pages - 230

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