Guilty Men is a slim book – just 125 pages – written in 1940 by ‘Cato’ – the collective nom de plume of the journalists Michael Foot, Frank Owen, and Peter Howard.
It is an attack on the governments of Baldwin, MacDonald, and Chamberlain of the previous ten years, arguing that they had failed to prepare Britain for an inevitable war and describes how the actions of these governments led to the debacle of Dunkirk.
The book cites Churchill as the man who had consistently warned of the dangers and who was the right man to be in charge of Britain’s future in the war years.
It was a runaway bestseller and the principal author, Michael Foot, went on to become the leader of the Labour Party in Britain.
I bought a copy from a second-hand bookshop after learning of the existence of the book while reading Nehru’s The Discovery of India. I zipped through Guilty Men in a couple of sittings and more or less believed every word of it.
The benefit of 70 years hindsight is pretty good at testing the truth of what was said in the book. I recommend it to anyone who wants to read the story of Britain in the lead up to its darkest hour.
Where The Title Of the Book Came From
The Preface to the book states:
On a spring day in 1793 a crowd of angry men burst their way through the doors of the assembly room where the French Convention was in session. A discomforted figure addressed them from the rostrum. “What do the people desire?” he asked. “The Convention has only their welfare at heart.” The leader of the angry crowd replied. “The people haven’t come here to be given a lot of phrases. They demand a dozen guitly men.”
Who was Cato?
There were several people named Cato in Roman history, but I think the one who fits the best description was Cato the Younger. He is described in Wikipedia as being remembered for his legendary stubbornness and tenacity, as well as his immunity to bribes, his moral integrity, and his famous distaste for the ubiquitous corruption of the period.