Skip to comments.Dangers Of Appeasement: Eerie Similarities Between 1938, 2008
Posted on 11/25/2008 9:57:12 AM PST by jazusamo
We are in danger of letting the strong strain of appeasement and pacifism now abroad in the land prevent us from taking early steps now that will prevent unspeakable calamities later.
The classic case of history is the appeasement of Adolf Hitler leading up to World War II. The West finally woke up to the need to stop Hitler, but by then, instead of a relatively small police operation we had World War II that cost 72 million lives and untold other casualties, property damage, and international disruption.
The issue now is whether we are displaying the same moral blindness and political weakness that let Hitler become ever more powerful, ever more aggressive in his conquests, and ever more difficult to defeat.
With that in mind, I think it is useful and important to study the appeasement of Hitler for a better understanding of the reasons for and the dangers of appeasement, then and now, in 1938 and in 2008.
When Neville Chamberlain went to Berchesgaden to meet Hitler, he had to take a three-hour train ride from the Munich airport to Berchesgaden. During that train ride, William L. Shirer, in his classic work, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, writes, "He [Chamberlain] did not fail to notice train after train of German troops and artillery passing on the opposite track." So while Hitler was incessantly talking peace, he was constantly preparing for war. But in the blindness of the appeasement mode, Chamberlain and most of Europe could not see the obvious.
There was another striking revelation in Shirer's account. Chamberlain, like the appeasing fools of our time, rushed into negotiations without preparation and without knowing the issues.
For example, Hitler's key point at the negotiation was that 3 million Germans in the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia must "return" to the Reich. Both in his talk with Hitler and in his report to the British House of Commons, Chamberlain accepted the word "return." But the Sudetenland had never belonged to Germany, and had been part of Austria. So Hitler's demand was based on a false historical premise, which Chamberlain and apparently Chamberlain's staff accepted out of pure ignorance of German and European history.
There are more killer revelations in Shirer's work. First, had it not been for Chamberlain's surrender at Munich, shortly thereafter Hitler would have attacked Czechoslovakia on Oct. 1, 1938. And all of the German generals close to Hitler who survived agree that Britain, France and Russia would have been drawn into the war. Shirer writes, "And - what is most important to history at this point - the German generals agree unanimously that Germany would have lost the war, and in short order."
So the Franco-British surrender at Munich was unnecessary and Hitler was bluffing. Wilhelm Keitel, one of Hitler's most fanatical supporters, testified at the Nuremberg trial about the attitude of the German generals was to Munich.
He said, "We were extraordinarily happy that it had not come to a military operation because ... we had always been of the opinion that our means of attack against the frontier fortifications of Czechoslovakia were insufficient. From a purely military point of view we lacked the means for an attack which involved the piercing of the frontier fortifications."
There's one more killer revelation in Shirer's work. Munich was a total disaster for France and sealed its doom in the eventual war. France could not match Germany by itself because Germany had twice the population and twice the army. So it had to depend on a series of alliances with Czechoslovakia, Poland, Yugoslavia, and Rumania. But when Britain and France sold out Czechoslovakia, they could no longer rely on that country that had 35 well-trained divisions that were entrenched behind mountain fortifications.
So France not only lost Czechoslovakia but also lost its other allies, as they knew they could place no reliance on France's word. And Munich had one other disastrous consequence. Russia was excluded from Munich, so Stalin took that as a snub. This turned Russia against its former allies, France and Czechoslovakia, and turned it more favorably toward Germany. That led to the German-Russian alliance, which divided Poland, all leading to World War II.
No matter what account of Munich you read, you come away with the same conclusion and the same question: How could world leaders and world public opinion fail to see where Hitler was heading when he was practically beating his evil intentions and his false promises of peace into their consciousness?
Another account of Munich, with lessons loaded into every paragraph, by Dr. Ervin Birnbaum, an Israeli professor with broad experience, is titled "Munich: 1938: The Fuse is Lit." It appeared in the Jewish Press (Oct. 3) to mark the 70th anniversary of the Munich conference. That refers to the four-power conference with Britain, France, Germany and Italy present, which handed the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia to Germany.
Mr. Birnbaum writes, "For five years prior to Munich, in their desperate yearning for a peaceful world, men acted as blind mice, unwilling to see reality. They thereby hastened the demise of the very peace they so hoped to sustain, and brought upon themselves and the world a deluge of steel and fire."
"The wishful thinking of a genuine desire for immediate peace would cost the world 72 million dead and an uncountable number of wounded. It would also prematurely open the atomic age."
This account of Munich had special impact, because it presents the five years leading up to the Great Appeasement in chronological order, and what emerges is the same constant theme and refrain. At each of his steps of aggression and conquest, Hitler would strike two notes: First, Germany and Hitler only want peace.
Second, this will be Hitler's last territorial demand. And finally, history now shows if the western allies had only shown some resistance, Hitler could have been stopped early or perhaps have been overthrown by his own generals. They, perhaps better than any others, knew they were dealing with a madman who would likely get Germany onto a disastrous track, as he finally did.
Here is the sequence leading up to Munich, the final step in a long series when it became impossible to stop Hitler without the cost of 72 million lives and a worldwide conflagration.
1. Hitler's first of many illegal moves came as part of a plan for a takeover of Austria. Hitler had SS troopers dressed in Austrian army uniforms break into the office of Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss and shoot him dead. This Nazi putsch backfired. Austrian government forces quickly regained control and apprehended the perpetrators. They were arrested and 13 were hanged. Hitler denied any involvement in the matter. Then he went on to sing a refrain from his favorite song that Germany wants only peace and there will be no war.
He said, "Germany's problems cannot be settled by war" and that as far as he was concerned, "war will not come again." That occurred in July 1934, Hitler's first step toward an attempt at world conquest after becoming chancellor of Germany on Jan. 30, 1933. This established a clear pattern. After brief intervals, Hitler would take another step in his aggression and accompany that with his usually lullaby about peace.
2. After a plebiscite in the oil-rich Sahr territory, which had been ceded to France in lieu of reparations under the Versailles Treaty, the territory was returned to Germany. Hitler announced he had no further territorial claims on France. That was Jan. 13, 1935. Only two months later, Hitler decreed universal military service and announced the formation of an army of 500,000.
This rearmament was contrary to treaty obligations, but Britain and France made only a feeble protest, the same kind of feeble protest they would make to the subsequent illegal acts of Hitler. But Hitler was already preparing for his next aggression. He had already secretly ordered plans for the illegal invasion of the demilitarized Rhineland. Seven European powers had pledged by the Locarno Treaty to maintain this demilitarized zone to maintain a cushion against aggression between Germany and France.
3. On March 2, 1936, the Germans marched into the Rhineland. At the same time Hitler notified signatories of the Locarno Treaty that he would no longer be bound by it, and called for new plans for peace. This particular aggression initiated the pattern that would be largely followed thereafter: It violated international law, it was accompanied by the usual talk of peace, and it could have been repelled at the slightest show of resistance to the aggression. It was later learned that the Germans carried sealed orders to withdraw if they met resistance. There was no resistance.
4. In 1937, it became obvious that Hitler was preparing for a major war. Germany was spending on armaments more than twice what Britain and France were spending combined. But what did world leaders and the international media focus on? Answer: Hitler's declaration of peace and that "the period of so-called surprises is at an end."
They apparently liked this refrain, as they had heard it before at each previous step of Hitler's aggression and treaty-breaking. While the peace music filled the background, Hitler continued and accelerated his preparation for war.
5. Hitler was now ready for Austria. He invited the Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg for a meeting at Berchesgaden. The Austrian assumed he was being invited merely to cement good relations between Austria and Germany. The poor soul apparently hadn't been paying attention on to what Hitler had been doing for about the last five years. The meeting ended with Hitler demanding total submission to Nazi rule.
The alternative was an immediate invasion by the German army. As a special concession to Austria, Hitler showed his kind heart and good intentions, by extending the deadline by three days. When Schuschnigg returned to Vienna, Austria, he found that the European reaction was limited to a sharp denunciation. Apparently they believed, like too many do today, that the answer to aggression, invasion, and treaty breaking should be limited to talking. Lacking support from European powers and allies, Schuschnigg appointed Austrian Nazi Arthur Seyss-Inquart as prime minister. This set the stage and for the Anschluss with Austria. By mid-March the Anschluss was completed and Austria became a part of Germany. Needless to say, Hitler had previously said in a solemn speech before the Reichstag that no Anschluss with Austria would ever be attempted.
6. No wonder Hitler proceeded so quickly with further aggression. He was met with the same lack of resistance each time. So he kept talking about his deepest yearnings of peace and harmony and avoidance of war...and prepared for the conquest of Czechoslovakia. But he also said that all would understand Germany's desire to protect its kin in Czechoslovakia from discrimination and mistreatment. So to establish the pretense for his next aggression, he had his Nazi party in Czechoslovakia start fabricating and documenting abuse of the three million so-called Sudeten Germans living in a wide strip of land bordering the German border. Of course, long before, in his usual pattern. Hitler had ordered a plan for a surprise attack on Czechoslovakia.
7. If nothing else, this is the prime example of the moral, political and intellectual bankruptcy of the appeasement mentality. Despite all that had happened in previous years, Britain and France accepted Germany's complaints about their kin in Czechoslovakia as genuine, and decided that Germany simply wanted to protect the Sudeten Germans.
8. And if you can believe it, it gets worse. The German generals were convinced that they might get short-run victories, but in the long-run, Germany would be defeated by the alliance of Britain, France and others that would form against them if Germany invaded Czechoslovakia. So some generals started to conspire to stop what they saw as a mistake that would lead to defeat for Germany and disaster for the world. The German generals sent an emissary to London to say if Britain and France made it clear they would stand by Czechoslovakia, that the German generals would scuttle the war. But Chamberlain apparently trusted Hitler more than his generals and instead chose to meet with Hitler. According to this account, world opinion sided with Chamberlain in the view that it was better to yield to Hitler than risk a war. Here is another of the most important lessons of Munich: don't bet your life on world opinion or assume its verdict must be accepted. Look at some of the views of world opinion now ... such as the view of world opinion toward the U.S. and the war in Iraq. I personally am afraid that President-elect Barack Obama and the Democratic Party are in love with world opinion now, which may be as erroneous as it was when it thought Hitler should be appeased instead of opposed.
9. And the mainstream media of its day was just as irrational and foolish as the mainstream media of our day. The Times of London actually editorialized that the advantages of Czechoslovakia becoming more homogeneous (by giving up the Sudetenland) might outweigh the disadvantages of Czechoslovakia giving up the Sudenland. I would expect to find that kind of editorial idiocy on the opinion page of the Philadelphia Inquirer or the New York Times. Of course, the newspapers of the day and the politicians did not bother to realize that the Sudetenland contained the formidable "Little Maginot" line of Czechoslovakia, built into a mountain fortress, and yielding that land would make them defenseless. There is a perfect comparison here to the politicians and pundits that think Israel should return to its defenseless 1967 borders to achieve peace. It's quite easy for editorial writers to advise nations to become defenseless in the pursuit of a false peace.
10. It keeps getting worse if you can bear to stomach this whole tale of infamy, insanity, and surrender on the part of Chamberlain, Britain and France. The conspiring German generals made two more attempts to have Britain and France standup to Hitler, so they could take action to stop the war. One high-ranking German officer informed the British military that Hitler planned on an invasion by the end of September and urged the allies to indicate right away that they would stand with Czechoslovakia. Britain ignored the communication. The German generals then made another offer to abort the war if Britain and France would stand up. The British instead decided to betray Czechoslovakia and ignored the German generals. That may have been the last great chance to stop Hitler. After that the skids were set to carry us into World War II.
11. Chamberlain agreed to meet with Hitler. Hitler at the meeting in Berchesgaden persuaded Chamberlain that there was only one more problem needing solving - the return of Sudetenland to Germany. Have you been counting the number of one-more-problems needing solving? And of course, Hitler played his usual refrains: "This is the last territorial claims I shall make in Europe." Then there was the four-power conference, which handed the Sudetenland over to Germany, making Czechoslovakia defenseless and sealing its fate to be completely taken over by Germany.
12. We will end on a note of comedy. After the four-power conference, Britain and France guaranteed the new Czech frontier. What could be more ridiculous of a guarantee after that long trail of betrayal. That guarantee was called on only four months later when the Germans marched into Prague and took over all of Czechoslovakia. The guarantee was not honored. So much for the value of guarantees.
13. I have to admit I'm fascinated by the tale of Munich, because I can never comprehend the extent of the world's blindness to the evil of Hitler. But I'm even more fascinated by the tale of Munich now, as I sense the moral, intellectual and political blindness and bankruptcy associated with Munich now infects our consideration of Iran and its nuclear threat. I also sense that the president-elect and the Democratic Party seem to be on the same track as Chamberlain, too often valuing peace at any price, too often putting stock in words rather than action, and too often favoring international agreements and world opinion rather than military and economic power and American national interests.
Herb Denenberg is a former Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner, Pennsylvania Public Utility Commissioner, and professor at the Wharton School. He is a longtime Philadelphia journalist and consumer advocate. He is also a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of the Sciences. His column appears daily in The Bulletin. You can reach him at advocate@ thebulletin.us.
After the election of Obama, I felt like a Jew after Hitler was elected. Knowing what’s coming, even thought no new laws have been instituted.
I am not however going to wait until I’m in the boxcar to try to escape.
Good historical article but...who exactly are we supposedly appeasing now?
The question isn’t whether BHO will appease our enemies. The question is whether BHO is one of them. Has anyone bothered to do a genealogical chart or obtain a legitimate birth certificate?
We as whites have appeased the black community one demand after another. Just recently be made the biggest concession: the power over our country, everyone in it.
So yes, I would say that it’s going to be at a high cost that we get rid of Obama.
I don't think we have a Churchill.
Well, we do have a Palin.
You make a good point, our country needs one.
On a visit to the Czech Republic in 2007, my brother took me to see some of the areas which were fortified in preparation for German attack. I was very impressed with how much remained after so many years. This little nation was prepared to fight. My father has told me many times how upset he and his peers were when they were told to stand down.
Thank you for your post. It is good your parents were able to escape but very sad that they had to.
The majority of our population now have no idea what the first half of the last century was like.
I really wish Duncan Hunter were heading for the White House. He’s as close to Churchill as we’re going to come. I mean, I like Gov. Palin as much as anyone, but it’s asking a lot to see her as Churchill or Thatcher.
I agree...It’s not that Gov. Palin couldn’t become a Churchill because I believe she could after time but Duncan Hunter already is as close as anyone could be to him.
A small news source with a long-loved history in Philadelphia. Back when Philadelphia was a three-newspaper town, the evening Philadelphia Bulletin was the largest-circulation daily with its own building near the main post office and the Penn Station major train terminal. The morning Philadelphia Inquirer and the afternoon tabloid Philadelphia Daily News were jointly owned by Walter Annenberg until '69, then sold to Knight Ridder, and became a big liberal mess. The Bulletin declined out of business in 1982. The Inquirer had not always been left-leaning; at one time it was known as "the Republican Bible", and just lately it has had a Republican editor, Brian P. Tierney, who is trying to bring the Inky back off the edge of extinction, but Philadelphia has long been a union-heavy Democrat stronghold, with its large population of working-class ethnics of many kinds, and non-working persons of color.
Herb Denenberg had been Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner, Pennsylvania Public Utility Commissioner, and Professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and for many years had a pro-consumer radio broadcast about insurance and consumer matters. He is someone whom you would expect to be a Democrat; perhaps he has been registered Dem (he is probably a little older than Ed Rendell, the Dem Governor of PA and former Mayor and DA of Philly, and like Rendell, Denenberg is Jewish). But his stunning biography indicates a brilliant and independent mind -- almost a modern-day Benjamin Franklin. Perhaps the fate of Israel has informed his ardent editorials like the one above. Whatever the case, he is a mensch who has been loved in PA for a long time. Here is his web site: The Denenberg Report
Pinging Kid Shelleen — would your Delaware valley ping list be interested in this Herb Denenberg article?
Actually, it's the author whose ignorance of history is showing.
The Sudetenland had been part of the (mostly) German Holy Roman Empire for many centuries. After it collapsed, it was part of the German Confederation from 1815 to 1866, which included essentially all German lands and some which were inhabited mostly by non-Germans.
The Sudetenland stopped being part of "Germany" only when the German Confederation collapsed in 1866 and Germany was reconstituted as the "North German Confederation," followed by the German Empire in 1871.
In any case, Hitler's (not completely unreasonable) claim was that the Sudeten was part of Germany because mostly Germans lived there. This claim was one of self-determination of national groups and had been considered just and proper when made by Italians, Yugoslavs, Poles and others.
If the same principle was to be applied as in these cases, the Sudeten Germans had just as much right to self-determination as the Poles or Italians. Which mostly goes to show the flaws of stretching a principle too far.
Thanks for posting some history on The Bulletin and Herb Denenberg, AW.
A couple of FReepers have commented about remembering The Bulletin and Herb from years back and I do recall one saying he used to be a Dem. I guess he’s just too intelligent to have remained one. :)
1. Saar not Sahr.
2. It was not ceded to France, it was occupied and administered by France while legally remaining part of Germany.
3. The area is rich in coal, not oil.
Too many factual errors in this one for me.
Yeah, that’s what I wondered, too. Every time some crackpot dictator is in our bad graces, he suddenly becomes a cross between Hitler and Satan. Can we have a little sanity, please? Not every one of these losers is in a position to seriously threaten our country.
Right now, we ought to be looking at the drug mafia on our border. They pose more of a threat to our country than some nut on the other side of the world. Our first move should be to stop bringing a bunch of Muslims into our country and having porous borders. Just a thought...
Our enemy is within....how do you negotiate with THAT!!???