Chamberlain Lives

I feel a certain sympathy for Neville Chamberlain. He has been made a scapegoat for a whole generation in Europe and the USA who supported appeasement wholeheartedly. The churches, much more influential in the land eighty years ago, extolled, worked and prayed for appeasement. The only people to advocate re-armament in the face of the Nazis were a handful of derided fringe right-wingers like Churchill, Eden and their chums.
A Decent Man Duped

A Decent Man Duped

Mainly I sympathise because Chamberlain was out of his depth. As a creature of his class he was ill-equipped to deal with Hitler, who after all was no gentleman who could be trusted to keep his word. So Chamberlain was duped and waved his piece of paper and declared “Peace in our time.” At least he had an excuse.

Trying to bully an ally into giving up land to those who want that ally’s destruction is not a recipe for peace. This is what Chamberlain and the others did to Czechoslovakia 73 years ago. It is what Obama and Cameron are trying to do to Israel today.

Czechoslovakia was formed after WW I. The new nation quickly developed a stable cultural life and government, economy and military, unlike its chaotic neighbour Weimar and then Nazi Germany. Unfortunately along its border with Germany lay the Sudetenland containing many ethnic Germans, who were mostly content to live in Czechoslovakia.

In April 1938 Hitler demanded the Sudetenland be made autonomous and allied with Germany. As most of Czechoslovakia’s defences were in this region such an act would leave it largely defenceless., The Czech government declined to commit national suicide.

Knowing the UK and France wanted to avoid war at any cost Hitler stepped up his demands. The governments of both the UK and France advised the Czechs to give in to Hitler and said that in the event of war Czechoslovakia would be on its own.

There followed a propaganda war, unrest was fomented and the Czechs sent their army in to restore order. Hitler claimed the Czechs were slaughtering Sudeten Germans, and demanded the UK and France allow Germany to restore peace to the region. The Czechs were given an ultimatum which made their commitment to Czechoslovakia’s continued existence depended on acceptance of Hitler’s demands. The Czechs gave in.

The result was that Hitler stepped up his demands. Now the claims of ethnic Germans in Poland and Hungary must be met. As Poland lay to the north and Hungary to the south this would mean Czechoslovakia would be totally unprotected.

The Czech government could not meet these demands and mobilised its army. Chamberlin arranged a conference with Hitler along with France and Italy to resolve the situation.  Czechoslovakia was not invited.

A deal was reached. Germany would occupy the Sudetenland and an international commission would adjudicate the other disputed areas. Hitler solemnly declared he had no other territorial demands. The allies agreed to guarantee the survival of the rump of Czechoslovakia. The Czechs capitulated. Chamberlain returned to Croydon aerodrome and waved his piece of paper “Peace in our time.”

Within six months Czechoslovakia ceased to exist. Hitler, his bullying tactics
confirmed, set his sights on Poland and we entered a cruel and devastating war.

Many of the immigrants who built the new state of Israel were survivors of that war and its horrific consequences for the Jews. They remember the cost of appeasing tyrants, and  they have taught their children and grandchildren what happened.

The parallels are too obvious to need restating. For Sudetenland read Gaza and West Bank. Israel is surrounded by Arab countries and armed Islamo-Facist groups who hold it as a central tenet of their programme that Israel must cease to exist as a nation state. Ultimately no less is acceptable.

Speaking to the US Congress recently Benjamin Netanyahu said: “Now the threat to my country cannot be overstated. Those who dismiss it are sticking their heads in the sand. Less than seven decades after six million Jews were murdered, Iran’s leaders deny the Holocaust of the Jewish people, while calling for the annihilation of the Jewish state.

“Leaders who spew such venom, should be banned from every respectable forum on the planet. But there is something that makes the outrage even greater: The lack of outrage. In much of the international community, the calls for our destruction are met with utter silence. It is even worse because there are many who rush to condemn Israel for defending itself against Iran’s terror proxies.”

Appeasement today is no less culpable than appeasement yesterday. It is worse, we have the lessons of history to draw on or ignore.

Netanyahu has been roundly criticised in the American media for the way in which he lectured Obama in the White House. Perhaps the brightest President in American history, as he has been described, needed a simple lesson in history. Just as ex-PR man David Cameron and the conviction free zone that is Foreign Secretary William Hague. The lesson is that appeasment leads to destruction.

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About Campbell

Now retired but once upon a time a parish minister in Glasgow, before that the South West and initially the Black Isle. Been a prison chaplain and lecturer. Still am constantly bemused by the weird world around me.
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