Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Chamberlain and Hitler: Actual History

Sometimes it helps to know the actual history, rather than to repeat catchwords. Here's the very short course from PJB:

...By 1938, Germany had arisen, re-armed and brought Austria into the Reich, and was demanding the right of self-determination now be granted to the 3 million Germans in Czechoslovakia, who were clamoring to be free of Prague to rejoin their kinsmen.

Britain had no alliance with, and no obligation to fight for, the Czechs. But France did. And Britain feared that if Adolf Hitler used force to bring the Sudeten Germans back to German rule, France might fight. And if France declared war, Britain would be drawn in, and a second bloodbath would ensue as it had in 1914.

Chamberlain went to Munich because he did not believe that keeping 3 million Germans inside a nation to which they had been consigned against their will was worth a world war.

...after three trips to Germany that September, he effected the transfer of the Sudeten Germans to Berlin's rule, where they wished to be. He came home in triumph to be hailed as the greatest peacemaker of all time

So far, so good. The flaws of Versailles had been remedied.

Next up: Danzig.

...the British government agreed: Danzig should be returned. For of all the amputations of German lands and peoples at Versailles, European statesmen, even Winston Churchill, regarded Danzig and the Polish Corridor that sliced Germany in two as the most outrageous. The problem was the Poles, who refused to discuss Danzig.

Umnnnhhh...the Poles are a stubborn lot, and never really liked the Germans anyway.

Then, in March, Czechoslovakia suddenly began to fall apart. The Sudetenland had been annexed by Germany. Hungary had taken back its lost lands, and Poland had annexed the disputed region of Teschen. Slovakia and Ruthenia now moved to declare independence, and Prague began to march on the provinces.

Hitler intervened to guarantee the independence of Slovakia and gave Hungary a green light to re-annex Ruthenia. Czech President Hacha then asked to see Hitler, who bullied him for three hours into signing away Czech sovereignty and making his nation the German Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.

Now the conflict takes shape...and Chamberlain screwed up:

Chamberlain, now humiliated, mocked by Tory back-benchers, panicking over wild false rumors of German attacks on Romania and Poland, made the greatest blunder in British history. Unasked, he issued a war guarantee to Poland, empowering a Polish dictatorship of colonels that had joined Hitler in dismembering Czechoslovakia to drag the British Empire into war with Germany over a city, Danzig, the British thought should be returned to Germany.
It was not Munich. It was the war guarantee that guaranteed the war that brought down the Empire, and gave us the Holocaust, 50 million dead and the Stalinization of half of Europe.

One could argue, legitimately, that Hitler would have invaded Poland regardless--or found some other time and place to effect the Reich. And, of course, one could also argue that Hitler was determined to do just that: effect the Reich--no matter what Chamberlain and others did. Most likely that was the case.

But Munich was not "appeasement." It was justice for the Sudetens.

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