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1. The Voters and the Politicans' Responsibility for the War
3. Hitler was an Opportunist

The Origins of the Second World War - after A. J. P. Taylor

2. The Treaty of Versailles and the Munich Settlement

The Entente won victory in the first World War, thanks to the Americans arrival on the battlefield with fresh troops. Therefore the Americans could make a conclusive impact on the peace negotiations in Versailles. The treaty of Versailles was based on Wilson's fourteen points.

The Versailles Treaty's  European map
Map of Europe as result of the Versailles Treaty.

However, President Woodrow Wilson did not get the peace treaty approved by the U.S. Senate. The Americans withdraw to their traditional isolationist policy and took thereafter no part in European politics.

The Munich settlement was a moral victory for the principle of national self -determination, more than it was a forthcoming to Hitler's demands. But Hitler chose to interpret the settlement as a manifestation of fear and could not resist the temptation to boast of his strength.

France and England became the only powers upholding the Versailles Treaty.

In terms of population and industry Germany was slightly larger than France and England combined.

Russia, another European power, was sidelined by the communist revolution. They did not participate in European policy. In Italy, Mussolini came to power. He hesitated between the Western Powers and Germany before he finally allied with Adolf Hitler.

England had problems in the Far East, where the empire was threatened by Japan. France was on the brink of civil war in the struggle between the People's Front and Right Wing. Spain was in open civil war.

The U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt
The U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt makes a speech.

It is often argued that the Western powers should have overthrown Hitler's regime, while it was in its infancy. But as Taylor writes: "can any sane man suppose, for instance, that other countries could have intervened by armed force in 1933 to overthrow Hitler, when he had come to power by constitutional means and was apparently supported by a large majority of the German people." (Taylor s. 25)

When the Czechoslovak crises was developing, the American president Roosevelt told his press conference on the 9. of September 1938: "that it was 100 % incorrect to associate the United States with France and Great Britain in a front of resistance to Hitler." (Taylor s. 215)

On the height of the crises the president declared: "The government of United States - will assume no obligations in the conducts of the present negotiations." (Taylor s. 237)

Taylor repeats again and again that especially the British foreign policy was motivated by moral principles, more than it was motivated by real politics.

Language Distribution in Czechoslovakia in 1911 when it still belonged to Austria-Hungary
Language Distribution in Czechoslovakia in 1911 when it still belonged to Austria-Hungary.

He writes about the British positions on the crisis of Czechoslovakia:

"With the british on the other hand, morality counted for a great deal. The british statesmen used practical arguments: the danger from air attack; the backwardness of their rearmamament; the impossibility, even if adequately armed, of helping Czechoslovakia. But these arguments were used to reinforce morality, not to silence it. British policy over Czechoslovakia originated in the belief that Germany had a moral right to the Sudeten Germany Territory; on grounds of national principle; and it drew the further corollary that this victory for self-determination would provide a stabler, more permanent peace in Europe. The British government were not driven to acknowledge the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia solely from fear of war. They deliberately set out to impose this cession of territory on the Czechs, before the threat of war raised its head. The settlement at Munich was a triumph for British policy, which had worked precisely to this end; not a triumph for Hitler, who had started with no such clear intention..

Nor was it merely a a triumph for selfish and cynical British statesmen, indifferent for the fate of far-off peoples or calculating that Hitler might be lainched into a war against Soviet Russia. It was a triumph for all that was best and most enlightened in British life." (Taylor s. 234-235)

However, Neville Chamberlain and the overwhelming majority of British politicians were contradicted by a small but resolute group, led by Winston Churchill and Lloyd George. They were supporters of real policy and wanted an alliance with their enemy's enemy.

The opposition wanted to create such a coalition of smaller powers that could hold the great power in check. As it had always been the case in European history.

The Western powers, led by Chamberlain and Daladier, declined to ally with the Soviet Union, presumably also on moral reasons. Among the voters, there was a significant opposition to the socialist idea and the Soviet Union. Further, it was known that Stalin commited countless atrocities against his own people. It was therefore more politically acceptable to make a settlement with his enemy, Adolf Hitler.

They also rejected to press their allies in the east to accept cooperation with the Russians. On their part the young nations in Eastern Europe, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Romania also seemed to prefere Hitler rather than Stalin.

Neville  Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler in Munich Piece in our time - Neville Chamberlain returning from Munich
Left: Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler in Munich.
Right: Piece in our time - Neville Chamberlain returning from Munich.

On the 23. of September 1938, Hitler, Mussolini, Chamberlain and Daladier met in Munich and agreed, that the German army would pass the Czechoslovakian border on the 1. October 1938 and take the areas, that had German majority, in their possession. In addition, a joint peace declaration were signed by Germany and Britain. That was the document, which Chamberlain held up, when he stepped out of the airplane at his return from Munich.

In contrast to the Western Powers' statesmen the Russians took Hitler's talk seriously. They believed that it was his intention to destroy socialism not only in Germany but also in Russia, and they feared that most Western statesmen would applaud this. They were convinced that Hitler's intention was to take possession of Ukraine, in accordance with his vision of "lebensraum in East", which he had written about in "Mein Kampf". They had a genuine interest in cooperating with the Western Powers.

German  troops move into the Sudetenland
German troops move into the Sudetenland.

"Soviet backing of Czechoslovakia was unequivocal on paper. On 23 April Stalin discussed the question with his principal colleagues. The Czechs were told: "If requested U.S.S.R. is prepared - in agreement with France and Czechoslovakia - to take all necessary meassures relating to the security of Czechoslovakia. She disposes of all necessary means for doing so... Voroshilov [the commander-in-Chief] is very optimistic." (Taylor s. 205)

On 12. of May Litvinov, the foreign policy secretary, raised the Czech issue with Bonnet (French foreign minister) during a meeting in the League of Nations in Geneva.

Bonnet asked how the Soviet Union could come to help of Czechoslovakia in light of the Polish and Romanian refusals to allow the passage of Soviet troops. Litvinov replied that France had to obtain permission for this, since these nations were France's allies. - Bonnet only sighed and "this", according to Litvinov "ended the conversation." (Taylor s. 205)

Hitler on his part, believed that the Western powers had concluded the Settlement in Munich because of fear. He had met Chamberlain both in Berchtesgaden and Bad Godesberg, where he did not agree to the German wishes regarding Czechoslovakia. He had made a speech in Berlin on 26. of September, where he expressed the German determination. Three days later the western powers accepted in Munich.

Dusseldorf welcomes the German troops at the occupation of  Rhineland, on 10. March 1936
Dusseldorf welcomes the German troops at the occupation of Rhineland, on 10. March 1936.

Thus it had been every time Germany rebelled against one of the paragraphs in the Versailles Treaty, in the beginning protests, but later tacit acceptance.

When he occupied the Rhineland, England and France merely send a protest note. France was occupied with elections and the leading politicians believed that the voters would not accept a mobilization. Prime Minister Baldwin in England also did not believe that case was worth a war, and besides the voters would not accept it.

When Germany introduced compulsory military service, they also confined themselves to send a protest note.

"Anschluss" with Austria proceeded in the same way. In the beginning the Western powers said no, no. But after they were presented with a fact, they accepted.

"Hitler drew the lesson that threats were his most potent weapon. The temptation to brag about Munich as a triumph of force was too great to be resisted. Hitler no longer expected to make gains parading his grievances against Versailles. He expected to make them by playing on British and French fears. (Taylor s. 236)

Hitler thought he had won in Munich by using threats
Hitler thought he had won in Munich by using threats.

The following year on 22 August 1939 Adolf Hitler made a speech for his generals, where he referred to Munich. It was a week before the invasion of Poland. He said: "The enemy did not expect my great determination. Our enemies are little worms, I saw them at Munich - Now Poland is in the situation, that I wanted. - I am only afraid that some bastards in the last minute will present me for a negotiation plan."

It was very important for Hitler to be a strong man in the eyes of his generals. He knew that they had little confidence in him.

See the full text of: The Munchen Settlement - Avalon Project - Yale University

Literatur: "The Origins of The Second World War" af A. J. P. Taylor - Penguin Books.


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