Monday, October 1, 2012

September 30, 1938 - Talks Implode at Munich

After the successful Anschluss in April of 1938 where Austria "linked-up" with Germany, Hitler began making pushes further eastward.  He ordered Konrad Henlein, leader of the Nazi Party's extension into Czechoslovakia, the Sudeten German Party, to begin rabble-rousing to create a facade for seizing the next area on his list.  President of Czechoslovakia Edvard Beneš refused to roll over and began mobilization of his country for war.  Hitler reacted by ordering his generals to accelerate war-preparations for an invasion no later than October 1.

France and the United Kingdom, meanwhile, were increasingly wary of Hitler.  French Prime Minister Édouard Daladier felt Hitler wanted "a domination of the Continent in comparison with which the ambitions of Napoleon were feeble."  He describe Hitler's policy of expansion, "Today it is the turn of Czechoslovakia. Tomorrow it will be the turn of Poland and Romania. When Germany has obtained the oil and wheat it needs, she will turn on the West. Certainly we must multiply our efforts to avoid war. But that will not be obtained unless Great Britain and France stick together, intervening in Prague for new concessions but declaring at the same time that they will safeguard the independence of Czechoslovakia. If, on the contrary, the Western Powers capitulate again they will only precipitate the war they wish to avoid."

On September 15, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain flew to Hitler's home for a private meeting.  Hitler quickly became antagonistic, accusing Chamberlain of threats.  Chamberlain, in exasperation, asked, "Why did I come over here to waste my time?"  The three-hour negotiations accomplished nothing more than proving Hitler's firm stance that the Sudetenland have self-determination (which, coincidentally, would join it to Germany).

Shortly after Chamberlain returned to London, Daladier met with the British government to create an allied plan.  They eventually decided Hitler was right on the point of self-determination, granting him the lands where ethnic Germans were above 50% of the population, but also promising to secure independence for the rest of the state.  Czechoslovakia initially refused but at last agreed.  Hitler, however, only added new demands upon his first being met.  He announced that he would invade September 28.

Beneš began preparations for war using Czechoslovakia's extensive modern frontier defenses.  The Soviet Union vowed to join in support, but Beneš wanted, and needed, the West.  At last Daladier began to press for a firm stand and prompted Chamberlain (whose policies of peace were clearly breaking down) to hand over the reins of diplomacy on the Sudetenland issue.  In a last-ditch effort to save Europe from another war, the leaders met at Munich for talks that eventually turned into yelling matches as the suddenly aggressive Daladier backed by a resolute Chamberlain refused to be pushed by Hitler's "childishness."  Daladier and Chamberlain returned to their home countries and spoke of the failure of diplomacy.

On October 2, Hitler's forces began to move into the Sudetenland, beginning World War II.  The Germans became embroiled with the Czechoslovakians, and plans to invade France and the Low Countries were postponed.  Poland attempted neutrality but was soon strong-armed by the Franco-Polish and Anglo-Polish alliances established in 1921 as well as a new eastern alliance led by the USSR, already substantially mobilized in preparation for the Winter War with Finland. Hitler quickly declared war on Poland, and Soviet and German armies met in the divided country. There, the Germans turned the Soviets (who were still recovering from Stalin's Great Purge of officers in 1937) and began an invasion of Russia itself.  The sheer numbers of Soviet troops and the will of the people eventually stalled the German invasion through Stalin's government-in-exile in Siberia.

Meanwhile, the West was given some respite to mobilize their countries and contain Germany and its Italian allies.  The Second World War proved brutal, but one could only imagine what Hitler would have done with another year's worth of preparation.  By the end, the expeditionary forces of Britain and France successfully invaded Germany from the west, and the rebuilding of Eastern Europe began in 1944.


In reality, Daladier gave Chamberlain the leading role in negotiations.  Chamberlain returned triumphant after the signing of the Munich Pact and gave his "Peace in Our Time" speech.  Upon Daladier's return to France, he was surprised to be greeted by cheering, about which he muttered, "Oh, the fools."

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