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03/06/2003

Neville Chamberlain and Appeasement, Part II

Last week I said I would pick up our story of Neville
Chamberlain, Adolf Hitler and appeasement around September
15, 1938, but I just want to back up to September 7 and the role
of the Times of London (hereinafter The Times) during this
historic period. In a lead editorial that day the paper opined:

“It might be worth while for the Czechoslovak Government to
consider whether they should exclude altogether the project,
which has found favor in some quarters, of making
Czechoslovakia a more homogeneous State by the secession of
that fringe of alien populations who are contiguous to the nation
with which they are united by race The advantages to
Czechoslovakia of becoming a homogeneous State might
conceivably outweigh the obvious disadvantages of losing the
Sudeten German district of the borderland.”

As author William Shirer (“The Rise and Fall of the Third
Reich”) notes, “There was no mention in the editorial of the
obvious fact that by ceding the Sudetenland to Germany the
Czechs would lose both the natural mountain defenses of
Bohemia and their ‘Maginot Line’ of fortifications and be
henceforth defenseless against Nazi Germany.”

Britain and its leader, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, were
ready to abandon Czechoslovakia (far more so than the French,
incidentally). Then on September 10, Nazi leader Hermann
Goering addressed the Nuremberg Party Rally.

“A petty segment of Europe is harassing the human race This
miserable pygmy race (the Czechs) is oppressing a cultured
people, and behind it is Moscow and the eternal mask of the Jew
devil.”

A few days later Hitler addressed the same gathering and railed
about the treatment of the Sudeten Germans, which led to
Chamberlain’s asking to visit the Fuehrer. The prime minister,
69-years-old, had never flown in a plane before and instead of
making things easier on him, Hitler chose to hold the meeting at
Berchtesgaden, the furthest point away from London that he
possibly could have picked. Hitler, though, was flattered that the
leader of the British Empire was groveling at his feet.
Nonetheless, the chancellor demanded the “return” of the 3
million Germans in Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain noted later:

“In spite of the hardness and ruthlessness I thought I saw in his
face, I got the impression that here was a man who could be
relied upon when he had given his word.”

But Chamberlain was beginning to come under great pressure
back home, even as he tried to convince Britain that ceding
ethnic German areas would guarantee a peace. The polls
reflected otherwise, with a two-to-one margin against his policy.

On September 22, Chamberlain returned to Germany, this time
Bad Godesberg on the Rhine and Hitler demanded more, the
immediate evacuation of the entire Sudeten territory, starting on
September 26, just four days later, and to be completed in 48
hours. Chamberlain objected. Hitler then said, O.K., September
28 and October 1 instead.

William Shirer, on the scene at the time as a reporter, noted that
Hitler that day had a strange tic, with “ugly, black patches under
his eyes.” Hitler appeared on the verge of a breakdown. Shirer’s
editor told him that same day that on more than one occasion the
Fuehrer had flung himself to the floor and chewed the edge of
the carpet.

Chamberlain returned home to a country that was suddenly
preparing for war, with similar activities in both France and
Czechoslovakia. The prime minister took to the radio airwaves
on September 27, famously proclaiming:

“How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be
digging trenches and trying on gas masks here because of a
quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know
nothing.”

Meanwhile, Hitler, who was obviously bent on “shmash-sh-sh-
ing the Czechs,” (as noted by one of his aides), wanted the whole
of the country, not just the Sudetenland, and he most desired a
military victory.

September 28 became known as Black Wednesday, with war
seemingly inevitable. Goering said, “A Great War can hardly be
avoided any longer. It may last seven years, and we will win it.”
[He had the time period right, wrong outcome.]

Hitler, though, realized his own people were lukewarm towards
conflict, so he acquiesced when Italy’s Benito Mussolini
recommended that a four-power conference be held in Munich
with the respective heads of state from Germany, Italy, France
and Britain. Chamberlain accepted the invitation, along with
French Premier Daladier. The Czechs, who were about to be
dismembered, were not invited, at which point their
representative in London, Jan Masaryk, said to Chamberlain:

“If you have sacrificed my nation to preserve the peace of the
world, I will be the first to applaud you. But if not God help
your souls!”

[At this same time, another significant plan was in the works,
that being the plot by many of Germany’s generals to mount a
putsch against Hitler and try the Nazi leadership before the
Supreme Court. This is a very complicated tale, but the bottom
line is that Chamberlain’s agreeing to go to Munich led to the
postponement of the elaborate plans, primarily due to the fact
that Munich allowed Hitler to claim he had legal authority to
dismantle Czechoslovakia.]

And so it was that the four powers met in Munich on September
29 and they quickly agreed that Germany would annex the Czech
Sudetenland, ostensibly because 3 million ethnic Germans lived
there. The real reason was that Neville Chamberlain believed
this appeasement would avert further war.

The Munich Agreement was signed in the early hours of
September 30 (thus the reason why this is the historical date) and
the German Army was to begin marching into Czechoslovakia on
October 1, with full occupation to be accomplished by October
10.

A jubilant Chamberlain returned to a heroes welcome in London
(as did Daladier in Paris). From the balcony of No. 10 Downing
Street he brandished the document and declared:

“This is the second time in our history that there has come back
from Germany to Downing Street peace with honor. I believe it
is peace for our time.”

The Times editorial page added “no conqueror returning from a
victory on the battlefield has come adorned with nobler laurels.”

Chamberlain went on to discuss a last meeting he had with the
Fuehrer before returning.

“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 ‘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.’”

As for Hitler, he dismissed both pieces of paper as having “no
significance whatsoever” and he told his aides he would still take
the rest of Czechoslovakia the first opportunity he had. The
morning of the 30th, Czechoslovakia, having been abandoned by
France and Britain, surrendered “under protest to the world,” as
the official text read.

But the jubilant mood back in London changed suddenly upon
further reflection and even the Oxford Union voted 320-266 to
deplore “the Government’s policy of peace with honor.” The
world then saw who the real Hitler was just about six weeks
later, November 9-10, when Nazi propaganda minister Joseph
Goebbels organized the Kristallnacht demonstrations that
destroyed some 7,500 Jewish businesses.

In March 1939, Hitler moved on rump Czechoslovakia and then
on September 1, 1939, World War II was officially underway
with the invasion of Poland.

Henry Kissinger has written that “Munich was not a single act,
but the culmination of an attitude which began in the 1920s and
accelerated with each new concession,” while “The destruction
of Czechoslovakia made no geopolitical sense whatsoever; it
showed that Hitler was beyond rational calculation and bent on
war.”

And so as the world ponders what to do with both Iraq and North
Korea today, the above should have supplied you with more than
a few examples of the dangers of appeasement, while experts I
have come across on the pre-World War II years are in
agreement; Hitler could have been stopped in his tracks if he
hadn’t been appeased at Munich.

For starters, the coup plotters inside the military may have
succeeded in arresting the Nazi leadership, but just as
importantly, in September 1938, if Britain and France had
backed up Czechoslovakia, militarily they would have smashed
Hitler’s forces. The Nazis just weren’t that strong at this point.
[The Czechs had a very capable military in 1938, but it was
forced to stand down.] It wasn’t until the following year that
Hitler’s war machine kicked it into high gear and the Nazis
began spending up to 80% of public expenditures on it.

These are the lessons. What have we learned?

Sources:

“Diplomacy” Henry Kissinger
“The Dark Valley” Piers Brendon
“The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” William L. Shirer

Brian Trumbore





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03/06/2003

Neville Chamberlain and Appeasement, Part II

Last week I said I would pick up our story of Neville
Chamberlain, Adolf Hitler and appeasement around September
15, 1938, but I just want to back up to September 7 and the role
of the Times of London (hereinafter The Times) during this
historic period. In a lead editorial that day the paper opined:

“It might be worth while for the Czechoslovak Government to
consider whether they should exclude altogether the project,
which has found favor in some quarters, of making
Czechoslovakia a more homogeneous State by the secession of
that fringe of alien populations who are contiguous to the nation
with which they are united by race The advantages to
Czechoslovakia of becoming a homogeneous State might
conceivably outweigh the obvious disadvantages of losing the
Sudeten German district of the borderland.”

As author William Shirer (“The Rise and Fall of the Third
Reich”) notes, “There was no mention in the editorial of the
obvious fact that by ceding the Sudetenland to Germany the
Czechs would lose both the natural mountain defenses of
Bohemia and their ‘Maginot Line’ of fortifications and be
henceforth defenseless against Nazi Germany.”

Britain and its leader, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, were
ready to abandon Czechoslovakia (far more so than the French,
incidentally). Then on September 10, Nazi leader Hermann
Goering addressed the Nuremberg Party Rally.

“A petty segment of Europe is harassing the human race This
miserable pygmy race (the Czechs) is oppressing a cultured
people, and behind it is Moscow and the eternal mask of the Jew
devil.”

A few days later Hitler addressed the same gathering and railed
about the treatment of the Sudeten Germans, which led to
Chamberlain’s asking to visit the Fuehrer. The prime minister,
69-years-old, had never flown in a plane before and instead of
making things easier on him, Hitler chose to hold the meeting at
Berchtesgaden, the furthest point away from London that he
possibly could have picked. Hitler, though, was flattered that the
leader of the British Empire was groveling at his feet.
Nonetheless, the chancellor demanded the “return” of the 3
million Germans in Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain noted later:

“In spite of the hardness and ruthlessness I thought I saw in his
face, I got the impression that here was a man who could be
relied upon when he had given his word.”

But Chamberlain was beginning to come under great pressure
back home, even as he tried to convince Britain that ceding
ethnic German areas would guarantee a peace. The polls
reflected otherwise, with a two-to-one margin against his policy.

On September 22, Chamberlain returned to Germany, this time
Bad Godesberg on the Rhine and Hitler demanded more, the
immediate evacuation of the entire Sudeten territory, starting on
September 26, just four days later, and to be completed in 48
hours. Chamberlain objected. Hitler then said, O.K., September
28 and October 1 instead.

William Shirer, on the scene at the time as a reporter, noted that
Hitler that day had a strange tic, with “ugly, black patches under
his eyes.” Hitler appeared on the verge of a breakdown. Shirer’s
editor told him that same day that on more than one occasion the
Fuehrer had flung himself to the floor and chewed the edge of
the carpet.

Chamberlain returned home to a country that was suddenly
preparing for war, with similar activities in both France and
Czechoslovakia. The prime minister took to the radio airwaves
on September 27, famously proclaiming:

“How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be
digging trenches and trying on gas masks here because of a
quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know
nothing.”

Meanwhile, Hitler, who was obviously bent on “shmash-sh-sh-
ing the Czechs,” (as noted by one of his aides), wanted the whole
of the country, not just the Sudetenland, and he most desired a
military victory.

September 28 became known as Black Wednesday, with war
seemingly inevitable. Goering said, “A Great War can hardly be
avoided any longer. It may last seven years, and we will win it.”
[He had the time period right, wrong outcome.]

Hitler, though, realized his own people were lukewarm towards
conflict, so he acquiesced when Italy’s Benito Mussolini
recommended that a four-power conference be held in Munich
with the respective heads of state from Germany, Italy, France
and Britain. Chamberlain accepted the invitation, along with
French Premier Daladier. The Czechs, who were about to be
dismembered, were not invited, at which point their
representative in London, Jan Masaryk, said to Chamberlain:

“If you have sacrificed my nation to preserve the peace of the
world, I will be the first to applaud you. But if not God help
your souls!”

[At this same time, another significant plan was in the works,
that being the plot by many of Germany’s generals to mount a
putsch against Hitler and try the Nazi leadership before the
Supreme Court. This is a very complicated tale, but the bottom
line is that Chamberlain’s agreeing to go to Munich led to the
postponement of the elaborate plans, primarily due to the fact
that Munich allowed Hitler to claim he had legal authority to
dismantle Czechoslovakia.]

And so it was that the four powers met in Munich on September
29 and they quickly agreed that Germany would annex the Czech
Sudetenland, ostensibly because 3 million ethnic Germans lived
there. The real reason was that Neville Chamberlain believed
this appeasement would avert further war.

The Munich Agreement was signed in the early hours of
September 30 (thus the reason why this is the historical date) and
the German Army was to begin marching into Czechoslovakia on
October 1, with full occupation to be accomplished by October
10.

A jubilant Chamberlain returned to a heroes welcome in London
(as did Daladier in Paris). From the balcony of No. 10 Downing
Street he brandished the document and declared:

“This is the second time in our history that there has come back
from Germany to Downing Street peace with honor. I believe it
is peace for our time.”

The Times editorial page added “no conqueror returning from a
victory on the battlefield has come adorned with nobler laurels.”

Chamberlain went on to discuss a last meeting he had with the
Fuehrer before returning.

“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 ‘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.’”

As for Hitler, he dismissed both pieces of paper as having “no
significance whatsoever” and he told his aides he would still take
the rest of Czechoslovakia the first opportunity he had. The
morning of the 30th, Czechoslovakia, having been abandoned by
France and Britain, surrendered “under protest to the world,” as
the official text read.

But the jubilant mood back in London changed suddenly upon
further reflection and even the Oxford Union voted 320-266 to
deplore “the Government’s policy of peace with honor.” The
world then saw who the real Hitler was just about six weeks
later, November 9-10, when Nazi propaganda minister Joseph
Goebbels organized the Kristallnacht demonstrations that
destroyed some 7,500 Jewish businesses.

In March 1939, Hitler moved on rump Czechoslovakia and then
on September 1, 1939, World War II was officially underway
with the invasion of Poland.

Henry Kissinger has written that “Munich was not a single act,
but the culmination of an attitude which began in the 1920s and
accelerated with each new concession,” while “The destruction
of Czechoslovakia made no geopolitical sense whatsoever; it
showed that Hitler was beyond rational calculation and bent on
war.”

And so as the world ponders what to do with both Iraq and North
Korea today, the above should have supplied you with more than
a few examples of the dangers of appeasement, while experts I
have come across on the pre-World War II years are in
agreement; Hitler could have been stopped in his tracks if he
hadn’t been appeased at Munich.

For starters, the coup plotters inside the military may have
succeeded in arresting the Nazi leadership, but just as
importantly, in September 1938, if Britain and France had
backed up Czechoslovakia, militarily they would have smashed
Hitler’s forces. The Nazis just weren’t that strong at this point.
[The Czechs had a very capable military in 1938, but it was
forced to stand down.] It wasn’t until the following year that
Hitler’s war machine kicked it into high gear and the Nazis
began spending up to 80% of public expenditures on it.

These are the lessons. What have we learned?

Sources:

“Diplomacy” Henry Kissinger
“The Dark Valley” Piers Brendon
“The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” William L. Shirer

Brian Trumbore