Visiting the family archives of an English marquess, George Weigel came across the diary of the statesman Robert “Bobbety” Cranborne, who had served in the cabinet under Stanley Baldwin. The diary included notes on a 1935 dinner in Berlin attended by the future prime minister Anthony Eden, Adolf Hitler, and several high-ranking Nazis. Weigel paraphrases Cranborne’s conclusions about this “dinner party from Hell.”
There would be no stopping Hitler by any means other than armed force. The Führer had made himself a de-facto dictator by the Enabling Act of 1933. Nine months before the Eden-Cranborne mission [to Berlin] he had announced Germany’s remilitarization, including the reintroduction of conscription and the creation of a German air force. In all of this, he was following the plan he had described in detail in his turgid screed, Mein Kampf. Until early 1939, however, much of the civilized world refused to see what Lord Cranborne saw and refused to believe that Hitler meant what he wrote. Rather, the civilized world averted its eyes from what it should have recognized as the unmistakable threat posed by a re-arming Germany, which had taken on much of the world in 1914–1918 and almost won.
Looking through Bobbety Cranborne’s diary, it was impossible not to think of those today who still refuse to take Vladimir Putin at his word when he claims that Ukraine is a non-nation, or who defend his brutal war against Ukraine as a response to legitimate Russian security concerns, or who somehow believe that a “barking” NATO provoked Putin to do what he had signaled for decades that he intended to do: namely, reverse history’s verdict in the cold war. Such blindness is not only a matter of historical amnesia or unrealistic foreign-policy “realism.” It is also a moral and spiritual failing—the moral failure to recognize evil for what it is, and the spiritual failure to summon the wit and will to oppose it before it destroys whatever stands in its path.