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Highlands Ranch High School - Mr. Sedivy
Highlands Ranch, Colorado

Modern European History

- Modern European History -

Peace At Any Cost
By David Sedivy

At the center of Europe was Czechoslovakia, not only a military obstacle to Nazi expansion, but a political obstacle as well. Czechoslovakia was not a natural state but a manufactured state, consisting of many minorities. At the time, Czechoslovakia was politically and economically the most advanced of the successor states. It was democratic and had a standard of living comparable to Switzerland's. It maintained a large army, much of whose excellent equipment was of domestic Czech design and manufacture. Czechoslovakia had military alliances with France and the Soviet Union. Therefore, it was no easy matter to abandon Czechoslovakia. In terms of "self-determination," it was equally difficult to defend Czechoslovakia. From the start, Britain opted for appeasement. Britain's sole security frontier was at the boarders of France. France was told by Britain, that if their security concerns extended any further, specifically, if it tried to defend Czechoslovakia, it would be on its own. The year of 1938 in Europe would be full of stress, tension and constant negotiation.

Before annexing Austria, Hitler had called for the "return to the Reich" of the ten million Germans beyond its boarders. In swallowing Austria, Germany had taken in approximately three quarters of the "Germans" with the remaining in Czechoslovakia and Poland. These Czech's were called the Sudetens, after the Sudeten Mountains, and they lived mostly on the northwest and southwest fringes of the Bohemian plain. A little less than a quarter of the country's total population. The Sudetens were the best treated minority in Central Europe but they did have some legitimate grievances which the Czech government had been slow to remedy. Hitler was using "self-determination" to incite internal unrest so that Nazi troops could intervene to "restore order."

Hitler wanted to make the differences appear to be between the Sudeten German Party and Prague, but both the party and its leader, Konrad Henlein, were on Germany's payroll. A few weeks following Anschluss, Hitler instructed Henlein to begin talks with Czech President Edward Benes; he was to make demands that under no circumstances the Czech's could come to terms with. On April 24, Henlein proposed an eight-point program of demands that were so extreme that Benes had to reject them. This was termed the "Karlsbad Program" and called for an autonomy which would have made the Sudetens a Trojan Horse inside the walls of Czechoslovakian democracy. It also demanded that Czech foreign policy be made to conform with Germany's. There was no way Prague could accept this- and they did not.

As tensions increased, the Nazi propaganda machine went into high gear, grinding out charges of terror and atrocities against the Sudetens. The German army conducted "maneuvers" near Czech borders. On May 20, the Czechs ordered partial mobilization. In an unprecedented display of unity, the French declared they would fulfill their mutual-aid pact with the Czechs, if Czechoslovakia should be attacked. The Soviets followed suit, and the British stood behind France. This unity forced Hitler to back down for a while. Hitler denied that there were any troop movements, and told the Czech Ambassador that he had no aggressive designs on Czechoslovakia. Henlein was sent back to renew negotiations with Prague.

Hitler was furious and ordered the army to prepare to invade Czechoslovakia on October 1. The German General Staff was concerned about the prospect of a two front war and felt that this time, the Allies would fight. They warned Hitler that the German army was not yet ready. The Czechs had a powerful, mechanized army of almost two million men, which were supported by a well organized industry, and the second largest munitions factory in Europe-the Skoda and Tatra ordnance works. To force the Czech defense would require some thirty-five divisions; which left only thirteen divisions to guard the Western Front against the sixty or seventy divisions the French could muster (some sources cite as many as one-hundred French divisions). Hitler stood firm on his plans. The invasion plan called "Operation Green," would go into effect on October 1. German Generals, among them Von Beck, Stulpnagel, and Witzleben, began to plot Hitler's overthrow if "Operation Green," went into effect.

During June and July, Hitler built up the Siegfried Line (the Western Front) while strengthening the army and the Luftwaffe. By mid-August German reserves were called up, their terms of service extended, and the requisition of civilian goods and services authorized. Large-scale military maneuvers began in Saxony and Silesia. Nazi propaganda was rampant in Czechoslovakia.

The Allies were now becoming nervous. By August, they too were putting pressure on Prague to conciliate the Sudetens. Britain sent Lord Runciman to Czechoslovakia to see if some sort of compromise could be worked out. Benes felt backed up to a wall by his own allies. Finally, he offered Henlein everything he had demanded in the Karlsbad Program. However, it seems neither Henlein nor Hitler wanted ciliation; instead they provoked a revolt in the Sudetenland on September 7. The Czechs declared marshall law and stamped out the uprising. Henlein fled to Germany. This appeared, no longer as the Sudeten minority against Prague but Germany against Czechoslovakia.

In Germany, the Nazi Party held a rally at Nuremberg, on September 12. Hitler addressed the people, renewing his demands for the Sudetenland- "self- determination." There seemed no grey area. The Poles and Hungarians joined the wolf pack and called for "self determination" for their minorities inside Czechoslovakia as well. Italy and Japan bluntly warned they would side with Germany. The French reinforced the Maginot Line. The British notified Germany that the British fleet would be going on maneuvers in the North Sea. Europe was once more on the brink of war.

On September 15, British Prime Minister Chamberlain flew to Berchtesgaden to see "whether there was any hope yet of saving peace." Hitler promised, "this is the last territorial claim I have to make in Europe." He warned that unless Sudeten rights of "self-determination" and "return to the Reich" were accepted, Germany would invade Czechoslovakia even at the risk of a world war. Chamberlain left Berchtesgaden, convinced that Hitler was deadly serious but he felt he could still negotiate a peace for the world.

Chamberlain flew back to London the following day for a cabinet meeting with Runciman, who was recalled from Prague for the occasion. In a meeting that lasted a week, they hammered out an Anglo-French proposal with French Premier Edouard Daladier and Foreign Minister Georges Bonnet. Up to this point no one had officially talked about annexation. These proposals called for the Czechs to cede all boarder areas with more than fifty percent "Germans" to the Reich. The new boundaries of amputated Czechoslovakia would then be guaranteed by a Four Power Pact- Germany, Italy, France, and Britain; provided that the Czechs gave up protection of their military treaties with France and the Soviet Union.

On September 19, the offer was transmitted to Prague where Benes stalled. The British and French urged for acceptance, warning that rejection might mean war. If it did mean war, they would refuse to come to the aid of the Czechs. Dr. Benes turned to the Soviet Union, which promised to stand against the Nazis even if the British and French would not. But the Czechoslovakia Agrarian Party was absolutely opposed to Russian troops entering the country and civil war might result if they did. Dr. Benes was in a hell of a spot. Not wanting to be responsible for either a civil war or a world war, Benes had no choice but to capitulate.

On September 21, he submitted to the Anglo-French terms "under extreme pressure" and "in spite of the failure to consult the Prague government in advance." Benes insisted on two conditions: there was to be no German invasion and the new boundaries were to be guaranteed by Britain.

The following day, Chamberlain flew to Germany with Benes' capitulation but Hitler decided to raise the ante. Hitler presented Chamberlain with the Godesberg Memorandum which demanded all the Sudetenlands be annexed immediately to the Reich, with all installations and property left intact. In addition, the German troops would occupy the Sudetenland on October 1, and he wanted satisfaction of other minority claims as well. Chamberlain rejected the Godesberg Memorandum as an ultimatum not a memorandum and flew back home to Britain.

The Czechs mobilized. Britain and France declared their support and the next day the Soviet Union warned Hitler not to attack Czechoslovakia. Once more the Allies were united and once more Europe was on the brink of war. On September 26, Franklin D. Roosevelt intervened and sent a personal appeal to all the countries involved to use reason, not the use of force to solve their differences.

But, as it turned out, the British and French were determined not to fight for Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain made the comment, we are being asked to go to war for a far away country about which he knew nothing-this from the leader of a country which had fought for centuries on the approaches to India without blinking.

Mussolini intervened and a new Four-Power conference excluding Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union was set for the next day, September 28, in Munich. In attendance was, Daladier, Chamberlain, Hitler and Mussolini. What is interesting is there seems that no close confidential consultations took place between Paris and London. Chamberlain was drafting letters to Hitler and Mussolini, and Daladier knew nothing about them. The French were content to take a back seat to the British during these negotiations. Chamberlain and Daladier made a halfhearted attempt to return to their original proposal; Mussolini pulled out the Godesberg Proposal; and Hitler said take it or leave it. Chamberlain and Daladier's actions over the previous months gave them no real choice but to accept Mussolini's draft. Czech representatives were left languishing in the anterooms while their country was being dismembered.

On Friday, September 30, 1938 the Munich Agreement was signed giving Hitler everything he wanted, and then the terms were sent to the Czechs. France and Britain assuaged their guilty consciences by promising to guarantee the remaining fragment of disarmed Czechoslovakia- a preposterous gesture coming from the nations which had refused to honor the guarantee of an intact, well-armed fellow democracy just three days before. It's clear the sole purpose for the conference was to accept Hitler's terms peacefully before he went to war to impose them. When Chamberlain returned to England, he said "I believe it is peace in our time." He was greeted with cheers and relief.

One Russian view of why they were not invited to Munich is quite interesting. By handing over Czechoslovakia to Germany, the ruling circles of England and France hoped that Hitler had received sufficient payment to renounce aggression in Western Europe; now Hitler would most surely start a war against the Soviet Union.

The mass of the Czech people were in favor of a decisive rejection of the German claims and forced the government to take defensive measures. The Soviet Union now raised its voice in defense of the independence of Czechoslovakia and peace in Europe. They informed the Czechs that the Soviet Union was ready to go beyond the terms of the Soviet-Czechoslovak agreement and help the Czechs, without France, should a request be made (the 1935 agreement between the Soviet Union , Czechoslovakia, and France stipulated that Russian aid could only come if France came to their aid as well). The Russian government prepared to help the Czechs by moving a large number of infantry and cavalry divisions, tank corps, armored brigades and aircraft formations.

I have read that some say it would have been geographically impossible for Russia to send troops into Czechoslovakia. However, there were two railroads from Russia into Czechoslovakia that according to Churchill, would have supported Russian armies of thirty divisions. As a counter balance for keeping the peace these Russian divisions would have been a substantial deterrent upon Hitler and would have added another dimension to the talks at Munich. Russia was not brought into the scale against Hitler, and they were treated with indifference. Events took place as though the Soviet Union did not exist. They were ignored-which left its mark on Stalin's mind.

Others saw it differently. Dr. Benes said, "Freedom will never belong to those who will not die for it." In Prague there were mass demonstrations against Munich and the capitulatation to the Nazis. Winston Churchill, while addressing the House of Commons, said:

We really must not waste time after all this long debate upon the difference between the positions reached at Berchtesgaden, at Godesberg, and at Munich. They can be very simply epitomised, if the House will permit me to vary the metaphor. One pound was demanded at pistol's point. When it was given, two pounds were demanded at the pistol's point. Finally, the dictator consented to take 1L 17s. 6d. and the rest in promise of good will for the future.

Czech writer, Karel Capek, who wrote a statesman's guide saying:

Treaties are made to be kept by weaker nations. The efforts of statesmen have succeeded in completely maintaining collective insecurity. In the interests of peace, energetic measures against the victims of aggressions must be taken. Localizing a conflict: leaving the victim to his fate. Liquidating a conflict: amputating his legs in addition. No sacrifice made by others is too much for the cause of peace. The Czechs have not been sold out-just given away for nothing.

Munich was a great triumph for Hitler. The Fuhrer was able to put "Operation Green" into action on schedule; German armies marched into a non-resisting Czechoslovakia. The German Generals couldn't believe Hitler had pulled off another bloodless victory, they called off their plot against him.

The new boundaries gave Germany 11,000 square miles of Czech land, and almost 3,000,000 Sudetens and 800,000 Czechs. The Czech fortress line was bypassed without blood. Czech communications were made a shambles, and a large portion of Czech industry and natural resources fell into German hands. The Poles invaded Teschen on October 2, and annexed 400 square miles and 240,000 people, two-thirds which were not Poles. In November, Ciano and Ribbentrop gave Hungary its fair share of the spoils in the Vienna Award, 5000 square miles and 1,000,000 people, a quarter of them Slovaks and Ruthenes. In December, Slovakia and Ruthenia were also given autonomy. Only a truncated Czechoslovakia was left.

Munich was also a great diplomatic victory for Hitler. The Western democracies had permitted Hitler to occupy the Rhineland, given Mussolini a free hand in Ethiopia, invoked a non-intervention farce against Loyalist Spain, and had not lifted a finger for Austria. For the first time at Munich, Hitler made them do his dirty work for him. The democracies dismembered their own ally. Handing Czechoslovakia over on a silver platter.

It should be pointed out that Chamberlain's diplomacy involved French military considerations. British historian, John Charmley wrote:

...Chamberlain had knowledge both of what passed for the French war-plan and of the latest report of the British Chiefs of Staff. After a "squib offensive (to bring us in)", the French plan was to wait behind the Maginot Line until the British had expanded their army and the economic blockade began to bite; this was not a strategy which promised speedy relief to the Czechs (as the Poles were to discover a year later)... The Chiefs were adamant that there was nothing either Power could do to "prevent Germany from overrunning Bohemia and inflicting a decisive defeat on Czechoslovakia."

With this information, Chamberlain did not feel that an Allied victory was highly probable. In addition, Chamberlain honestly felt that the war with Germany was not inevitable. But in my opinion, Chamberlain should have spent more time communicating with the Czechs, French and Russians before negotiating with Hitler.

Munich had excluded the Russians and set the stage for a deal between the Nazis and the Soviets. Germany now dominated the Balkans and outflanked Poland. In explaining the Munich Agreement many have said that Chamberlain was buying time to strengthen arms; he may have had this in mind, but if he did, I don't see how it worked to anyones advantage but the Germans. Winston Churchill pointed out that the Allies lost thirty-five Czech divisions, a system of fortifications which required at least thirty German divisions deployed against it, and a immeasurable amount of morale. Even more the Nazis got the Skoda Works which in the year between Munich and the war produced as much as all the British arms industry in the same period.

On October 21, Hitler disregarded Munich, and ordered the German General Staff to prepare to occupy what was left of Czechoslovakia. Four months later, using the same tactics Bohemia, Moravia, and Slovakia were turned over to him. The Hungarians took Ruthenia and Czechoslovakia was history. Not a shot was fired.

Chvalkovsky the Czech Foreign Minister went to see Hitler and Ribbentrop on January 21; he found himself confronted with a long list of grievances. Hitler was lofty, aloof, and spoke "more in sorrow than anger." Chvalkovsky was told the Czechs were still grasping at straws, failing to realize the overwhelming strength of Germany. Hitler wanted to know why Czechoslovakia was still full of Jews. Why did it still maintain an army of 120,000 men? Why was the Czech press filled with hostile articles towards Germany?

Czech president Benes had resigned and moved to Britain; and was replaced by Hacha, who was old and sick. Hacha was asked if he'd like to come to Berlin and meet with Hitler- an offer he couldn't refuse. In attendance in Berlin with Hacha was Chvalkovsky. Hacha knew he could do nothing but appeal to what might laughingly be called Hitler's better nature. He knew already that German troops, in force, had crossed into what was left of Czechoslovakia. Hitler heard him out, then launched into a tirade.

Hacha would have four hours to arrange things so the Czechs would offer no resistance. If there was any resistance Czechoslovakia would be annihilated. Hacha was then told by Goering, he would be sorry to have to bomb Prague, that beautiful city. I guess, he forgot Prague's fifty thousand German inhabitants and Hitler's own claim that it had been a German city for a thousand years. When Hacha heard this, he fainted, or had a mild heart attack. Hacha was revived and finally consented to sign the agreement which stated: Hacha confidently placed the fate of the Czech people and country into the hands of the Fuhrer. It was four in the morning, when Chvalkovsky said " our people will curse us but we have saved their existence. We have preserved them from a horrible massacre." As the Czechs left, Hitler burst into the room, where his private secretaries sat; he pulled them to their feet and said, "Children, this is the greatest day of my life. I shall enter history as the greatest German of them all."

March 1939, Czech independence came to an end. In Prague, Hitler sat in the Hradcany Castle, the ancestral seat of the Kings of Bohemia, and wrote, "Czechoslovakia has ceased to exist."

Munich and appeasement is not just one act. It was an attitude which began in the early 1920's and became worse as it went along. For over a decade, Germany had been getting rid of the restrictions of the Treaty of Versailles one by one.

Starting with the end of war reparations, the end of the Allied Control Commission, and the allied occupation in the Rhineland, Germany was systematically dismantling the Treaty of Versailles. Hitler then denounced the restrictions on German armaments, the limits on conscription, and the demilitarization provisions of Locarno. Germany had never accepted the Eastern boarders and the Allies never insisted that they accept them. A snow flake turned into a snow ball and the momentum continued.

By conceding that the Treaty of Versailles was unfair, the Allies lost faith in trying to defend it. The victors of the Naploeonic Wars had made a generous peace, but they had also organized the Quadruple Alliance in order to leave no ambiguity about their intention to defend it. The victors of World War I, made the mistake of dismantling their own treaty. What they failed to see was Hitler wanted war.

Winston Churchill wrote:
The Soviet Union's undoubted willingness to join the Western Powers and go to all lengths to save Czechoslovakia was ignored. The services of thirty-five Czech divisions against the still unripened German army were cast away, when Britain could only supply two divisions to strengthen the front in France... There was sense in fighting for Czechoslovakia in 1938 when the German army could scarcely put together half a dozen trained divisions on the Western Front, when the French with nearly sixty or seventy divisions could have most certainly have rolled forward across the Rhine or into the Rhur.

But this had been judged unreasonable, rash, below the level of modern intellectual thought and morality.

For two decades, the balance of power had been rejected by the leaders of the democracies; from now on, the world order would be based on a higher morality. Then when the challenge to the new world order finally came ... the democracies had no recourse but to demonstrate to their peoples that Hitler could not in fact be appeased.

Hitler following Munich, had the feeling he had been cheated.Who knows maybe he was; the people of France and Britain didn't want a war; and with modern war the sacrifices are great; you can't win without the people's support. In the same vain, up until Munich, Hitler could always count on the Allies having guilt about Versailles, with the guilt gone, he would have to earn every victory with force. When Hitler incorporated non-Germans into the Third Reich, he violated the principle of "self-determination," and the age of appeasement was over.

It is now commonly held, the Cold War began with Munich and the Korean and Vietnam wars, came from an over reaction to Munich. Well, that may be true, but the fact of the matter is the world hasn't given into a dictator since Munich, and there hasn't been another World War.


Bibliography is available by email request.

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Peace At Any Cost

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Habsburgs and French Overstretch
German WWI & WWII Overstretch
History of Hitler
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United States Entry Into WWI

Mr. Sedivy no longer teaches geography, or Modern European History (non AP), but we've decided to leave his web contribution to these classes up anyway. The AP classes cover the same material, but in more detail.

Advanced Placement Modern European History



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