Essay, Research Paper
There is a great controversy surrounding the Munich Pact and the appeasement of Hitler. Some historians argue that Neville Chamberlain s appeasement of Germany s fuhrer was a great mistake; while others suggest that the British Prime Minister made the right decision in a difficult situation. Looking at the Munich Conference from an historical point of view, it is clear that the best solution would have been British military intervention in Czechoslovakia. However it is unfair to judge Chamberlain s decision without putting ourselves in his place. Perhaps with his limited knowledge (limited in the sense of not knowing everything about the German situation) and the state of Britain, he did not make a mistake in signing the Munich Pact.
In September of 1938, the four powers of Western Europe (Britain, France, Germany, and Italy) met at Munich to decide the fate of Czechoslovakia. Hitler wanted the annexation of the Sudetenland (west end of Czechoslovakia, bordering Germany), arguing that the three million Germans living in this area desired to live in their native country. On September 30, Chamberlain, Daladier, Hitler, and Mussolini signed the Munich Pact, allowing the Sudetenland to come under German rule, with Hitler s promise that this would be the last of his territorial conquests. Chamberlain went back home declaring peace in our time . He was widely praised for avoiding a war with Germany, although Winston Churchill thought differently: We have suffered a total and unmitigated defeat. All is over, he proclaimed to the House of Commons. He went on to say that it is better to fight a war sooner than later if war is unavoidable. In Germany, Hitler received similar praise, for his people were against fighting another war as well. Was it possible for both countries to walk away from Munich as victors? Was Chamberlain correct in thinking the agreement was, symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again ? History shows us that he was not.
The problem with this appeasement is that it had to be conducted from a position of strength. Neither Britain nor France had the resources to do this. They did not pose a military threat to Germany and therefore Hitler knew ahead of time that Britain and France would most likely do nothing. Not one person in the world wanted another war and Germany (having already begun the rearmament process) was ahead of the other countries in preparing for war. With trouble at home and in the Commonwealth, Chamberlain felt that he had to buy some time and appeasement was the way to do this. As well, up to this point there was no reason for Chamberlain to distrust Hitler in his promise to stop the conquest of an empire. What Chamberlain did not know is that most likely Germany never would have attacked Czechoslovakia in 1938. She was not yet powerful enough militarily to face Czechoslovakia s strong defenses. By refusing to take a small risk and stand up to Hitler, Chamberlain made war inevitable. He had no idea what he was dealing with and refused to look beyond Hitler s quest to unify the German people. Churchill all along knew that Hitler had to be stopped; it seems that he was right in believing Chamberlain was more concerned with Communism than the immediate threat, Germany.
As a politician, Chamberlain always had to keep in mind what his people wanted and British interests. For the short term that is exactly what he did by signing the Munich Pact. At the time of the conference, Britain had scarcely begun to rearm and was in no position to fight a single battle let alone a war. Appeasement gave the British time for rearmament and to prepare herself for war. Looking at the situation in another way, Britain did not even care that much about the status of Czechoslovakia. Why would the British concern themselves with a non-English speaking country east of Germany? Even if Britain had an army ready for war, Chamberlain probably would not have sent it into battle over the Sudetenland. In actual fact, The British Prime Minister felt that the three million German people living there should be a part of Germany anyway. It was only the French who were trying to keep a grasp on the ludicrous Versailles Treaty which moved those three million people out of Germany in the first place. The bottom line was: the Sudetenland was a German/Czech issue, not a British one. Chamberlain did not have the time to worry about Germany wanting to unite with fellow Germans. He did step in only to ensure Hitler would stop at the Sudetenland, and received a written promise from him of this. There is no reason why Chamberlain would not trust Hitler s word and in fact the Pact persuaded Chamberlain to believe that a general settlement between the countries was not out of reach.
It is so easy to ridicule decisions made in the past. We have at our fingertips volumes of information that the likes of Chamberlain never had access to. It cannot be disputed that Britain (and the world) would have been better off having stopped Hitler at the Czech border rather than appeasing him and giving him the opportunity to continue his conquest of a great German empire. However, at the time, keeping British interests in mind, it appears that Chamberlain may have made the right decision. What would historians today say if British troops were sent to protect the Sudetenland and came home in coffins? This was a scenario Chamberlain had to consider. With it and other British interests in mind, he made the right decision at the time.