…but it’s not such a big deal, although my saying that may surprise you.
First of all, let me state that I have disagreed, and continue to disagree, in the strongest possible terms with Obama’s actual foreign policy, which can be summarized as “concessions to your enemies, insults to your friends, and naivete (at best) and encouragement (at worst) towards the forces of Islamism in the Middle East.” So there’s that.
Obama did indeed use the famous phrase “peace in our time” in his inaugural speech yesterday [emphasis mine]:
And we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice–not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes: tolerance and opportunity; human dignity and justice.
One could poke several holes in that, including the fact that sometimes, unfortunately, war is the best way to promote human dignity and justice. But it’s the phrase itself I’m interested in at the moment, and the fact is that, widespread belief notwithstanding, Neville Chamberlain didn’t say it.
What he actually said was, “peace for our time.” For some reason his words have been widely misquoted, but perhaps it is because “peace in our time” is a famous expression that occurs in other contexts:
The phrase echoed Benjamin Disraeli, who upon returning from the Congress of Berlin in 1878 stated “I have returned from Germany with peace in our time.”…[However,] “peace in our time”…had appeared long before in The Book of Common Prayer as “Give peace in our time, O Lord”, probably based on the 7th-century hymn ‘Da pacem Domine! in diebus nostris, Alleluja’.
Perhaps I am giving Obama and his speechmakers way too much credit here, but in the interests of accuracy I have to set the record straight. And along those lines, let’s hear what Chamberlain actually had to say [excerpts from two speeches on the day of his arrival back in Britain; emphasis mine]:
The settlement of the Czechoslovakian problem, which has now been achieved is, in my view, only the prelude to a larger settlement in which all Europe may find peace. This morning I had another talk with the German Chancellor, Herr Hitler, and here is the paper which bears his name upon it as well as mine. Some of you, perhaps, have already heard what it contains but I would just like to read it to you: ‘ … We regard the agreement signed last night and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again.’…
My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Go home and get a nice quiet sleep.
If you look at that second quote, you’ll note that Chamberlain was clearly referencing Disraeli’s earlier trip to Germany, after which Disraeli had actually said “peace in our time.”
Unfortunately, in Chamberlain’s time, peace was not to be. Hitler was a different species of crocodile to feed, and the amount of time that was bought by Chamberlain’s concessions was short, and purchased at great price.
[NOTE: It is not as widely remembered that Chamberlain died in 1940, not all that long after these events occurred. His reputation has been the subject of controversy, both pro and con. It’s a complicated story.]