|Anna M. Cienciala (firstname.lastname@example.org)||
History 557 Lecture Notes
Spring 2002 (Revised Fall 2003, and 2007)
hist557 by anna m.cienciala is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at web.ku.edu.
The word Appeasement used to have a positive meaning, that of conciliation. It was only after the Munich Conference of late September 1938, when French and British statesmen agreed, along with Mussolini,to the cession of the Czech Sudetenland to Nazi Germany, that the word acquired a pejorative meaning: that of giving in to a bully. At this time, appeasement was intended to prevent further German aggressive expansion and war - but because of Hitler's aim of dominating Europe, it led to both.
However, the appeasement of Germany was not born in 1938. It had its roots in the preceding twenty years of peace.
I. Basic Problems:
1. After WW I, Germany was weakened, but remained a great European power. She retained her industrial might and large population. German coal production was 7 times and steel production 4 times larger than that of France. Also, German industry was more modern than that of Britain. Finally, in 1920, the German population was 59,200,000, the French 39,200,000, and British 37,900,00.*
*[ Rand McNally Atlas of World History, edited by R.R.Palmer, New York, 1957, p.193].
2. France had experienced two German invasions in the period 1870-1914, with great loss of life and great war damage in the north, industrial part of the country in 1914-18. Therefore, France needed security. However, the Anglo-American guarantee of automatic aid to France in case of German aggression, given in 1919, depended on the ratification of the Versailles Treaty and the League of Nations Covenant by the U.S. and Britain. The U.S. Senate refused to ratify the Covenant and thus the Versailles Treaty, so Britain was not bound to help France alone and the guarantee fell through. Thus, the key guarantee of French security was lost in 1919, and the U.S. retired from active political participation in European affairs, altjough it played an important role in loans, investments and trade. In particular, American experts helped negotiate reductions in German war reparations.
3. Differences in British and French attitudes toward Germany in the early 1920s..
(a) France aimed at a maximum weakening of Germany so as to prevent, or at least delay the recovery of German military power, and thus the threat of a renewed attack on itself. Therefore, after the loss of the Anglo-American guarantee of aid against Germany, France concluded an alliance and a secret military convention with Poland in March 1921, and an an alliance with Czechoslovakia in 1924. France did not have a military convention with Czechoslovakia, but a French general headed the Czechoslovak General Staff. France tried to secure British guarantees of her alliances with Poland and Czechoslovakia in the early 1920s, but the British government refused. In 1926-27, France also concluded friendship treaties with Romania and Yugoslavia, and supported the "Little Entente" of Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia. However, the Little Entente was not directed at Germany; it was to guard against Hungarian revisionism at the expense of the these countries
(b) Britain. British statesmen and politicians had policy aims that were very different from France. They were based on key goals and assumptions that were shared by majority British public opinion. These can be summarized as follows:
(1) the primary aim of British policy was to maintain and defend the overseas Empire; therefore
(2) peace was to be secured in Europe so that Britain could focus her resources on the Empire;
(3) military spending was to be reduced to a minimum so as not to interfere with foreign trade, which was the lifeblood of Britain. Indeed, beginning in 1922, military budgets were based on the assumption that there would be no major war for the next 10 years. This assumption was only partially abandoned in the early 1930s.
(4) There was no British standing army and no military conscription (the last applied only during WW I).
(5) Vital British interests in Europe were limited to ensuring:
(a) the security of France, Belgium and Holland, whence
attacks could be launched against the British Isles by sea or by air.
In view of the above, East Central Europe and the Balkans were never considered a sphere of British vital interests. Indeed, the whole region was seen as a natural sphere of German interests - except for Greece, because of its location on the Mediterranean. Britain was also interested in Turkish security, because of the Straits.
Britain did show interest in Poland during the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 and again during the Polish-Soviet War, 1920. But this interest was motivated in 1919 by the goal of preventing excessive territorial losses by Germany in the east, for Germany was seen as Britainís best customer - and a necessary check on Franch power.
Regarding Russia, the British supported the Whites (anti-communists) against the Reds (communists) in the Civil War (1918-21), hoping the former would win and provide a great Russian market for British goods. Later, when the Whites were almost finished in Russia and the Red Army was advancing on Warsaw in July 1920, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George negotiated a trade treaty with Bolshevik emissaries in London. The proposed Curzon (armistice) Line between the Polish and Soviet armies of July 6 1920), left territory east of the Bug-San rivers on the Russian side of the line (See Lec. Notes 11 on The Rebirth of Poland), but the Poles regained it after their victory over the Red Army in summer 1920.
(6) The British had a "guilt complex," believing
that the Versailles Treaty was unjust to Germany. There was a strong
feeling in the British Delegation to the Paris Peace Conference that the war
had been fought "to end all wars" and that peace should be concluded without
territorial losses and reparations by Germany. Therefore, they saw the Versailles
Treaty as an unjust peace, bound to be revised in Germanyís favor. Reparations
were a particular target of criticism, and the short pamphlet attacking them
written by the British economist John Maynard Keynes,went through some
20 printings in the interwar period, as well as some after WW II.
It was answered very ably by a young Frenchman, Etienne Mantoux, who was killed on the last day of World War II. * But this was many years later and the book never acquired the popularity of the work it criticized. Harold Nicolson, a member of the British Delegation, also expressed negative views on the Treaty.
The negative views of the Versailles Treaty, shared by most members of the British Delegation, were to permeate British thinking about the Treaty and Germany throughout the intewar period, and are still echoed in "conventional wisdom" about the peace settlements today. However, some historians express the view that the Versailles Treaty was probably the best that could be done under the circumstances of 1919 and the losses of the western allies. (See Lec.Notes 10D: The Versailles Treaty and Germany).
*[John Maynard Keynes, The Economic Consequences of the Peace, London, 1919 and reprints; Etienne Mantoux, The Carthaginian Peace or the Economic Consequences of Mr. Keynes, Pittsburgh, 1952; Harold Nicolson, Peacemaking 1919, London, 1933, revised eds. London, 1943 and 1964. On the British guilt complex over the Versailles Treaty, see: Martin Gilbert, The Roots of Appeasement, London, 1966, and A. Lentin, Lloyd George, Woodrow Wilson and the Guilt of Germany. An Essay in the pre-history of Appeasement, Leicester,England, 1984. Gilbertís book was written before the opening of the British archives for this period, but was based on accessible private papers; Lentinís book is based on archival sources and private papers].
(7) British distrust of France. This was based on the assumption that France wanted to dominate Europe. British ambassadors in Paris constantly emphasized the fact that France was bled white by the war and desperately needed security, but was unable to have it without British support. In London, however, British statesmen saw the "French alliance system" in E. Europe as furthering the aim of French hegemony over all of Europe. The British military leadership routinely drew up defense plans against a French attack on the British Isles simply because French armed forces were stronger than that those of any other country - until Hitler remilitarized Germany.
II.The Impact of criticism of the Versailles Treaty on British policy.
The British view that the Versailles Treaty was unjust to Germany stemmed partly from wartime propaganda slogans on peace without annexations and reparations, a slogan first used in Bolshevik propaganda preceding the Peace of Brest-Litovsk, March 2, 1918, between Bolshevik Russia and the Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary, in which Russia lost a great deal of territory and was saddled with heavy reparations). This slogan was taken up by Woodrow Wilson, and was very popular in the United States. In the 1920s, British policy makers continued to believe that the treaty had to be revised in Germanyís favor in order to preserve peace and prosperity in Europe.Also, Germany had been an important trading partern before WW I. This view helped pave the way for the later appeasement of Nazi Germany.
British and American critics of the Versailles Treaty overlooked certain important facts, and this is also true of the conventional wisdom today about the "bad" treaty.
First, as far as reparations were concerned. the war had caused great loss of life and enormous damage to certain allied countries, especially Belgium and France by German armies, and to Italy by Austro-Hungarian armies. These governments had to rebuild destroyed industry and towns, as well as pay pensions to invalids and families of the deceased. Last but not least, they - as well as Gt.Britain - had to repay war loans to the United States.
Furthermore, not only the enemy powers: Germany, Austria, Hungary and Bulgaria were to pay reparations; the friends of the western powers, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Romania, were also burdened with reparation payments for the territories they had inherited from the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires. Although Polish territories had suffered greatly in the war, the allied powers decided that Poland was not entitled to any reparations from Germany. However, all these payments proved uncollectible, so they were allowed to lapse.
Secondly, as far as German loss of territory was concerned, it was mostly territory taken by Prussia, then Germany, by force, and most of it was inhabited by non-Germans, that is, Prussian Poland (Poles) and Schleswig (Danes), while Alsace-Lorraine had a mixed French and German population.
Thirdly, as far as the Versailles Treaty restrictions on armaments were concerned, they failed to prevent German rearmament because the victorious powers did not have the will to enforce them. That will was lacking especially in Britain, which was most critical of the Versailles Treaty.
Finally, Germany paid very little by way of reparations; they were reduced and rescheduled in 1924, again in 1929, there was a moratorium in 1931, and finally Hitler cancelled them in 1933. (See pt. III below).
III. French attempts to extract Reparations by occupying German territory; British Conciliation of Germany in the 1920s and French acceptance of British leadership in policy toward Germany.
(a) When Germany failed to deliver sufficient reparations in kind (timber and coal) to France and Belgium, their forces occupied the Ruhr in January 1923. This caused a deep rift between France and Britain, which feared that France was killing the goose that could lay golden eggs.
In fact, the Franco-Belgian occupation of the Ruhr was very
costly to these two countries because the German workers offered passive resistance.
It was also very costly to the German people because the German government
printed paper money to pay the German Ruhr workers not to work for the French
and Belgians. This in turn the postwar inflaction into a runaway inflation in Germany, ruining the
middle class but enriching great industrialists (e.g. Krupp) who paid off their
debts in depreciated currency. [NOTE: There was also a runaway
inflation in Poland, whose currency was tied to the German mark].
French statesmen soon concluded that their policy did not work. They also abandoned attempts to foment separatism in the Rhineland in order to create a separate German Rhineland state.
(b) A direct result of the failed Ruhr occupation was
American financial intervention, supported by British Prime Minister
Stanley Baldwin (1867-1947, Prime Minister 1923-29, 1936-37). American
bankers told the French government that they would loan no more money to France
unless German reparations were reduced.
Charles G. Dawes (1865-1951) an American lawyer and financier, headed the Dawes Committee which convened in Paris in Spring 1924 to study German ability to pay reparations. It produced the "Dawes Plan" which was accepted by Germany in April and by all parties at a conference held in London in August that year. The plan scaled down German reparations; offered loans to Germany - secured by German state assets - to restore her economy, and stipulated that the first year of normal payments was to be 1929. The estimated time by which Germany would pay off reparations was 40-45 years (1969-75).
Also in 1924, Hjalmar Schacht (1877-1970), the
head of the German National Bank, established a new currency, the "Rentenmark,"
which ended German inflation. German economic recovery began immediately.
German reparations were again scaled down at the Hague Conference, July
1929. At the same time, the wartime allies agreed on the early evacuation of
the western part of the Rhineland Demilitarized Zone, and this was done in June
1930. The German Foreign Minister, Gustav Stresemann worked
had for this - in order to have a free hand against Poland.
In the end, Germany paid very little in reparations, and Hitler cancelled them in 1933.*
*[On reparations, see: Sally Marks, "The Myths of Reparations,"
Central European History, vol. 11, 1997, see also her analytical survey of the period, The Illusion of Peace: Internatonal Relations in Europe, 1918-1939,Basingstoke, Hampshire and New York, 2003.For a detailed study of the reparations question,
see: Bruce Kent, The Spoils of War. The Politics, Economics, and Diplomacy
of Reparations, 1918-1932, Oxford, 1989, corrected pb. edition, 1991; see also Zara Steiner, The Lights that Failed...Oxford, 2006-07, pp. 199-200].
(c) The attempt to establish a European security
system failed because of British opposition. Edvard
Benes (pron. Benesh), the Czechoslovak Foreign Minister, and Nikolaos S. Politis
(1872-1942) then Greek minister to London and Paris, drafted the Geneva Protocol,
which provided a general guarantee and an alliance system for League of Nations
members. The core of the Protocol was compulsory arbitration of disputes,
and the nation refusing arbitration would be defined as an aggressor with automatic
aid to the victim. It was proposed officially by British Prime Minister, the
Labour Party leader James Ramsay MacDonald (1866-1937, Prime Minister
January 1924, 1929-31), and received unanimous support from all League of Nations
However, a new, Conservative Party government came into power in Britain in fall 1924, and its opposition doomed the Protocol that provided for automatic aid to victims of aggression. The conservative British Cabinet rejected it because it rejected automatic involvement in a European war, particularly one arising over East Central Europe.
The new British government's attitude tied in with German Foreign Minister Gustav Stresemann's policy to calm French fears of Germany in order to facilitate the revision of the Polish-German frontier, which was a constant goal of German foreign policy. Therefore, in early 1925, he proposed a Western Security Pact to France and Britain. This offer produced two different views in the British Foreign Office: one which accepted the revision of the German-Polish frontier, and one which rejected it.
Harold Nicolson (1886-1968) who had been a member of the British Delegation to the Paris Peace Conference as an expert on Persia, was very critical of the Versailles Treaty and supported revision in Germany's favor. He wrote:
it may be confidently asserted that as soon as Germany recovers, there will be a steady movement towards the righting of what are, for a German, the two most objectionable provisions of the Peace Settlement, namely, the Polish Corridor and the partition of Upper Silesia...It is conceivable, especially if Germany, with French goodwill, becomes a member of the League of Nations, and obtains a permanent seat in the Council, that it may be possible eventually to revise by European agreement the dangerous conditions involved in the Silesian partition and the Polish Corridor.
The opposite view was expressed by the Historical Adviser to the Foreign Office,James Headlam-Morley (1863-1929), who had been an expert on Germany in the British Delegation to the Paris Peace Conference. He had drafted the Versailles Treaty articles on the Free City of Danzig (articles 100-108), and participated in drafting other articles on German frontiers. In his memorandum "The History of British Foreign Policy and the Geneva Protocol," he agreed with Harold Nicolson that the danger point in Europe lay in Poland, but his conclusions were very different. In his view: "We cannot be indifferent if Germany breaks through upon the east and there begins to acquire a new accession of territory and strength which would inevitably in the future be brought to bear upon the Rhine." Then he wrote:
Thus, Headlam-Morley realized that German acquisition of territory and resources in the East would allow her to threaten France and Britain in the West and warned against a new partition of Poland. Indeed, as is clear from the quotes above, his views were proved right by the Austrian and Czechoslovak crises of 1938. However, in 1925 the then Foreign Secretary Sir Austen Chamberlain (1863-1937, elder half-brother of Neville, Foreign Secretary 1924-29) and most British statesmen agreed with the view expounded by Harold Nicolson, that is, that Germany should regain part of the territories she had lost to Poland (the Corridor and part of Upper Silesia), and that Britain had no direct or vital interests in Eastern and Central Europe. Austen Chamberlain gave up this belief only after Hitler came to power (1933), but he died in 1936.
*[ For quotations from Harold Nicolson and Headlam-Morley, also Austen Chamberlain, see Anna M.Cienciala and Titus Komarnicki, From Versailles to Locarno. Keys to British Foreign Policy Lawrence, KS., 1984, pp. 232-234. By "Eastern Europe" Headlam-Moreley probably meant the Balkans, although the term was used often to cover both regions].
Stresemannís proposal of a western security pact finally led to the conclusion of the Locarno Treaties on October 16, 1925. They consisted of three parts:
(a) The Rhine Pact, in which Germany recognized her postwar frontiers with France and Belgium; these frontiers were guaranteed by Britain and Italy. They obligated themselves to come to the aid of whoever was the victim of aggression in this region;
(b) German-Polish and German-Czechoslovak Arbitration Treaties - but Germany excluded border disputes from arbitration and continued her refusal to recognize her postwar border with Poland;
(c) Franco-Polish and Franco-Czechoslovak Treaties of Mutual Assistance. These were to compensate Poland and Czechoslovakia for the lack of international guarantees of their frontiers with Germany. However, the new treaties undermined the existing alliances between France and these two states because the League of Nations Council was first to examine and declare who was the aggressor, and only if there was no agreement could France proceed to give aid to her allies. By that time, of course, they might be overrun by German armies. For that matter, even the Rhine Pact was an illusion, for how could Britain and Italy make military plans to aid either Germany, or France and Belgium? In fact, no such British plans are known to exist, so the Locarno Treaties can be called "Locarney Blarney."*
*[See Martin Gilbert, The Roots of Appeasement, ch. 12. Locarney-Blarney].
One positive result of the Locarno Treaties was the agreement that Germany enter the League of Nations as a permanent member of the League Council, which she did in 1926. However, Stresemann was able to secure a clause that German aid to victims of aggression would depend on Germany's possibilities. This reservation was drafted with an eye to German relations with the USSR, with which it had political and economic treaties -- and specifically to exclude any possible aid to Poland if the latter were attacked by the USSR.
The chief architects of the Locarno Treaties, French Prime Minister Aristide Briand, British Foreign Secretary Sir Austen Chamberlain, and German Foreign Minister Gustav Stresemann, received the Nobel Prize for Peace.
[picture from: Felix Gilbert, The End of the European Era,
1890- to the Present,
2nd ed., New York, 1979].
This was a dubious award for Stresemann who aimed at the revision of the Polish-German frontier in Germany's favor and a German union with Austria. He also supported the circumvention o the Versailles Treaty prohibition of German possession of offensive weapons by allowing secret German-Soviet military cooperation in the USSR. In the years 1922-33, this involved the testing of German military aircraft, the training of German pilots, the development of tanks, etc. Indeed, the cadres of Hitlerís air force, the Luftwaffe, were trained in the USSR in the 1920s and early 1930s.*
*[On German policy toward Danzig and Poland in the pre-Nazi period, see: Christoph M. Kimmich, The Free City. Danzig and German Foreign Policy 1919-1934, (New Haven and London, 1968), also Harald von Riekhoff, German-Polish Relations, 1918-1933, (Baltimore and London, 1971). On German propaganda for the revision of the Polish-German frontier and positive reaction in Britain, see Anna M. Cienciala, "German Propaganda for the Revision of the Polish-German Frontier in Danzig and the Corridor: Its Effects on British Opinion and the British Policy-Making Elite in the Years 1919-1933," Antemurale, Rome 1976, vol. XX, pp. 77-129. On German-Soviet military cooperation, see Yuri Dyakov & Tatyana Bushueva, The Red Army and the Wehrmacht. How the Soviets Militarized Germany in 1922-33 and Paved the Way for Fascism. From the Secret Archives of the Soviet Union, (New York, 1995).
Conclusions on the 1919-1932/33 Period.
After a period of recovery from the war, there was growing prosperity and the development of a network of treaties to prevent renewed war. However, these positive developments could not continue in the face of the Great Depression and its consequences, especially Adolf Hitler's rise to power in Germany in early 1933. *
*[For a recent, detailed political-diplomatic study of the period see Zara Steiner, The Lights That Failed: European International History, 1919-1933, Oxford, 2005 (papaerback 2007); review by Paul W. Schroeder, International History Review, vol. XXVIII, March 2006, pp. 119-126;).
IV. International developments in 1932-33.
(a) The Disarmament Conference, 1932-33.
This was one more effort to provide security for Europe. The governments of pre-Nazi Germany demanded "equality of armaments." The British government agreed, as did France -- but the French opposed any significant German rearmament. In fall 1933, the conference reached a stalemate and in October Hitler pulled Germany out of the conference, then out of the League of Nations.
(b) The Great Depression.
It was the Great Depression that brought Hitler to power
in Germany. The country had experienced an economic boom in 1925-29, so
the Nazi Party found few supporters in those years. However, when the Depression
hit in early 1930, resulting in some 6 million unemployed, the Nazis became more popular.
Hitler promised to deliver full employment and restore a strong, respected Germany.
His only rival was the German Communist Party, but Stalin ordered the German communists not to form a bloc with the strong German Social Democratic Party against the Nazis. Ruth Fischer, a German party member at the time, later wrote about this order. She stated that Stalin expected Hitler to win, then fail to deliver on his promises and this would bring the Communists to power. The existence of Stalin's order was confirmed later by the famous German Orientalist, Carl August Wittfogel. He told a Polish Socialist and specialist in labor relations, Feliks Gross - when they were both living in New York during the World War II - that as a young communist in Berlin he had tried to create a united front with Social Democrats and Catholics against Hitler. Wittfogel said that, with the Soviet Ambassador's support, he traveled to Moscow to put this project personally before Stalin. A somewhat embarrased Karl Radek (who had much input into Soviet policy toward Germany), brought Wittfogel the answer a few days later. Stalin said it was not in the [German] communist party's interests to defeat Hitler [in elections]. "The worse it is, the better. After their victory, we will take over," said Stalin of the Nazis. *
*[Ruth Fischer, Stalin and German Communism: A Study in the Origins of the State Party, Cambridge Mass., and London, 1948; Feliks Gross (Polish language) memoirs, pt. 5, "West Side, 1942;" Przeglad Polski [Polish Review], New York, March 16, 2001, p. 2].
Thus, the lack of Communist - Socialist cooperation
allowed the Nazis to win the largest bloc of votes, 39% of the total vote, in
the elections of 5 March 1933. The Nazis were helped by the fact that President Paul von Hindenburg (1847-1934) had
appointed Hitler Chancellor of Germany in January 1933. He did this on the advice
of conservative German politicians who thought they could tame Hitler and use
him to support their own policies.
However, after the Reichstag Fire of 23 Feb,1933 (for which the Communists were blamed, but which was either set by the Nazis or by a mentally disturbed Dutch communist, unopposed by the Nazis because the fire suited their goals) Hitler received full powers from the legislature on 23 March. He proceeded to prohibit all political parties except the Nazis. He imprisoned German communists and stopped military cooperation with the USSR. He also took Germany out of the Disarmament Conference and the League of Nations and began to persecute the Jews in Germany.
V. British and French policies toward Hitler, 1933-37.
(1) Britain sought a "general settlement" with Germany
that is: a disarmament convention, and Germanyís return to the League of Nations.
The British government was also interested in exploring the possibilities for
a peaceful revision of frontiers in East Central Europe along with a possible colonial
settlement in Africa. This policy was based on the same assumptions as before,
plus the British military view that Britain could not by herself fight Germany, Italy and Japan all at the same time.
This military view seems reasonable except for the fact that the British government would not have stood alone in Europe if it had allied itself with France and guaranteed Franceís East Central European allies, Poland and Czechoslovakia. Such measures might well have contained Germany, but British governments rejected this option until spring 1939. They justified their policy of avoiding military commitments by the desire to keep a "free hand" in Europe.
British statesmen also had to take into account a strong Pacifist movement at home, as expressed by the resolution of the Oxford Union in 1933 that its members would not fight for King and Country. (Most of the students who voted for the resolution did to document their left-wing opposition to the government. They volunteered for the British armed forces when WWII broke out in September 1939).
There was, too, a widespread belief by the British public that the League of Nations could by itself keep the peace in Europe without any British military involvement, and the latter was opposed by the Dominions as well.
Finally, among businessmen and most government mmbers there was the belief that rearmament would choke off the lifeblood of the economy: foreign trade.
However, The bottom line was the British assumption that East Central Europe and the Balkans were not spheres of British vital interests, but were natural spheres of German interest.
(2) France. Military leaders knew that after 1933, France would face "the hollow years," that is, a great reduction in the number of army conscripts because the men lost in the war of 1914-18 could not father sons. Therefore, French military strategy evolved into a defensive one based on the heavily fortified Maginot Line, whose construction began in 1929. (It was named after General Andre Maginot, 1877-1932, who pushed through the project). The line covered the French frontier with Germany from the Vosges mountains to the frontier with Belgium. No fortifications we built on the French-Belgian frontier because (a) Belgium proclaimed neutrality so (b) it was assumed French forces would enter Belgium once it was invaded by Germany and called for French help. Therefore, the Maginot Line could be easily outflanked - as it was in May 1940. Finally, the Maginot Line was not supposed to exclude a French offensive against Germany, but it had this effect.
(3) Diplomatic maneuvers 1933-37.
(a) In March 1933, Mussolini proposed a Four Power Pact between Britain, France, Germany, and Italy, with the goal of carrying out a peaceful revision of the peace treaties in favor of Germany and Italy. The British were for it and the French reluctantly agreed, but they could not give up their East Central European allies. Therefore, although the pact was signed in July, it was not implemented.
(b) In March 1935, Hitler openly violated the Versailles Treaty by introducing military conscription in Germany. The French reacted by signing an alliance with the USSR in early May, followed a few days later by the signing of a Czechoslovak-Soviet alliance. However, neither alliance included a military convention.
(c) The British, for their part, negotiated with Germany on naval armaments without consulting the French. Thus, in June 1935, an Anglo-German Naval Agreement was signed allowing Germany to build up to 35% of British surface tonnage and also to build submarines. The British believed they could not prevent Hitler from rearming except by going to war, and they did not want to do that. Therefore, they assumed it was better to allow limited German naval rearmament which, they thought, would take years to challenge their own naval strength. They also believed that Hitler would stand by his word. This agreement showed British readiness to dismantle the Versailles Treaty
(d) British-Italian relations suffered a setback with the League of Nations sanctions against Italy after Mussoliniís invasion of Abyssinia in October 1935. However, the British negotiated with the French to find a a way to appease Mussolini, and so keep him on their side in case of war with Germany. This led to the secret Hoare-Laval Pact concluded in late 1935 by British Foreign Secretary Samuel Hoare (1880-1959, later Lord Templewood), and French Foreign Minister Pierre Laval (1883-1945, later the head of the French "Vichy" government that collaborated with Germany in 1942-45, tried and shot for treason in 1945). The Pact specified that Italy would keep Abyssinia under a League of Nations mandate. However, someone in the French Foreign Ministry leaked the pact to the press and there was a public outcry, especially in Britain, where opinion had been outraged by the Italian use of air power and gas against the Abyssinians. Hoare was forced to resign and Mussolini moved closer to Hitler, but the British did not abandon the hope of keeping Italy on their side, or at least neutral in a war with Germany.
(e) Hitlerís reoccupation of the western Rhineland Demilitarized Zone, March 6, 1936.
Hitlerís pretext for this move was the French ratification of the Franco-Soviet alliance (signed May 1935). Furthermore, in early 1936, France was torn by unrest in view of imminent elections. The French asked for British support in case of war with Germany, but the British government made it clear that it would not support French military action to resist a German reoccupation of the part of the Rhineland Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that was on German territory. In fact, Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden (1897-1977, Foreign Secretary 1936-38, also during WW II and Prime Minister after it ) wrote in a Cabinet memo of February 1936, that the DMZ was not essential for the defense of France, Belgium and Britain, although it was essential for French help to Poland and Czechoslovakia. But he believed that East Central Europe was bound to fall under German or Soviet domination anyway. Therefore, he proposed that the DMZ be used to bargain for some unspecified German concessions* (probably limitation of armaments). It is worth noting that British public opinion sympathized with Germany at this time.
*[ Memorandum by Mr. Eden on the Rhineland Demilitarized Zone, Foreign Office, 14 February 1936, Documents on British Foreign Policy, 2nd series, vol. XV, London, 1976, no. 522].
German remilitarization of the Rhineland DMZ on German territory meant that if Poland or Czechoslovakia was attacked by Germany and France acted to help them, she would risk war with Germany. However, French statesmen believed France could not do this without British support - which was unlikely if war broke out in East Central Europe. If the British had committed themselves to support France in a limited military action against Germany in March 1936, it might have been the end of Hitler -- who told his generals that if the French resisted, that is, if there was war, he would resign or commit suicide.
Hitlerís success influenced Mussolini to move closer to Berlin. On October 25 1936, Italy and Germany formed the "Axis." Stalin, too, soon made his own, secret proposals to Hitler concerning a non-aggression pact (see Lec.Notes 16).
(f). We should also note, that the Spanish Civil War broke out in July 1936. Germany helped General Francisco Franco (1892-1975), the leader of the "rebels" against the Spanish Republic, who were known as the Nationalists. Germany loaned Franco Junker transport planes to ferry his Moroccan troops to Spain and sent a Luftwaffe (Air Force) squadron to northern Spain, while Mussolini sent soldiers and tanks. Stalin sent arms, planes and pilots to aid the Republican Government -- whose gold was sent to Moscow for "safe-keeping" and never came back to Spain. The Soviet Union and communists in general became very popular at this time with idealistic people in the West because they supported the Spanish Republic against the Fascists.
However, the real Soviet aim was to take control of the Spanish Republican government and of the International Brigades, which consisted of Communists and idealistic western volunteers, who fought for the Republi, while Stalin watned to make Spain a communist state like the USSR. Sometime in 1938, however, Stalin decided to stop supporting the Republicans, or Loyalists, while France and Britain pursued a "neutral policy." Thus Hitler and Mussolini were free to help Franco, who won the civil war in March 1939.
(g) Britain, France, and the pursuit of a "general settlement" with Germany, 1936-37.
After the Rhineland crisis (March 1936), the British government set out to find out what Hitler would want to get in a general settlement. However, all efforts to elicit a "shopping list" from him failed. Finally, Lord Halifax went to Berlin in November 1937, ostensibly to attend the opening of a hunting exhibition by Hermann Goering (1893-1946), the head of the German Luftwaffe (Air Force). From there, Halifax proceeded to visit Hitler in the latter's "eagle's nest," Berchtesgaden, where he arrived on November 19. (The tall Halifax almost mistook Hitler for a footman and was about to give him his hat, when he realized who he was). Halifax was then a member of the Cabinet without a portfolio, but he was close to Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940), who had become British Prime Minister in May, and was determined to preserve peace in Europe.
Halifax had a long conversation with Hitler, in which he tried to sound him out on whether he was interested in obtaining some colonies. When Hitler avoided the topic and asked what else Halifax wanted to discuss, the latter wrote in his report:
This was clearly an invitation for Hitler to lay his cards on the table, but Hitler would not be drawn on Danzig (Polish: Gdansk). As for Czechoslovakia, he said he hoped that something could be done for the Sudeten Germans to let them safeguard their position, while on Austria he said that German-Austrian relations were regulated by treaties.
Halifax would have been horrified to learn what Hitler had told his closest officers and officials a few days earlier. On November 5, he said that Germanyís goal was to expand her "Lebensraum"(Living Space). Her chief enemies were Britain and France. Though he did not expect war for some time, he said Germany must use the first available opportunity to overrun Czechoslovakia and Austria, and thus secure her southern flanks. He thought France had already written off Czechoslovakia and was unlikely to do anything anyway without British support. Once Austria and Czechoslovakia were overrun, Germanyís economic power would be greatly increased and 12 more (Austrian) divisions would join her army.*
*[Documents on German Foreign Policy, ser. D, vol. I., doc. no. 19]
Hitler must have been very pleased to hear Halifax say Britain was not concerned with maintaining existing frontiers in Central Europe!
15.B. Appeasement carried out: Austria and Czechoslovakia 1938.
1. Austria. British statesmen and educated British people had long disapproved of the peace settlement prohibition of a German-Austrian union (Treaties of Versailles and St.Germain), which the Germans of both states had wanted in 1919. The British thought that Austria could only benefit economically from such a union. They failed to heed Headlam-Morley's warning of 1925 that German expansion in East Central Europe would lead to chaos and allow Germany to threaten western Europe. French statesmen did realize that an Austro-German union would outflank their ally Czechoslovakia, and had opposed it earlier, but they would not risk war with Germany without British support and this was lacking.
Benito Mussolini, the fascist dictator of Italy, had also opposed a German-Austrian union. Mussolini did not want a Nazi Austria as the German gateway to the western Balkans, which he regarded as an Italian sphere of influence. So, when Austrian Nazis assassinated the Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss (1892-1934) in July 1934, and it looked as if there would be a Nazi takeover of Austria, Mussolini - who was hosting Dollfussís wife and children on holiday in Italy - was furious. He moved Italian troops to the Brenner Pass, the passage through the mountains from Italy to Austria, but did not go further. To understand this, some background is needed. *
* In April 1935, France, Britain and Italy had guaranteed Austrian independence at the Stresa Conference, and it was obvious that Italy was to provide the armed force to do this if necessary. But in October of that year, Mussolini invaded Abyssinia (Ethiopia). He claimed that he had been given to understand France and Britain would not oppose him in return for his readiness to defent Austria. Indeed, French Foreign Minister Pierre Laval had clearly implied this in January 1935, and the secret Hoare-Laval Pact confirmed the deal in December - but it was "leaked" to the press by a French official and never came to fruition. League Sanctions pushed Mussolini even closer to Hitler, and so the western powers lost the help of the only armed force on the spot that might have saved Austria from Germany.
In early 1938, Hitler planned to install a Nazi-dominated government in Vienna, as the first step in the plan he had secretly announced to his key closest officials and military officers on 5 November 1937. In February 1938, he summoned Austrian Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg. (1897-1977) to Berchtesgaden and tried to bully him into accepting his demands. However, Schuschnigg stood firm and even proclaimed a plebiscite on Austrian independence to be held on March 12. Hitler was furious and decided to march into Austria -- which he did on that very day.
German troops were welcomed by most Austrians who believed that union with Germany would provide full employment. Many also shared Nazi anti-Semitism. Hitler,who seems to have thought only of installing a Nazi government, now decided to unite Austria with Germany. The French were shocked, but the British viewed the union as an exercise in self-determination by two German-speaking peoples, so western protests were weak. Thus, Hitler achieved the first stage of his plan to build a great Germany and dominate Central Europe.**
**[For a brief survey of the Austrian crisis, see: Gerhard L.
Weinberg, Germany, Hitler, and World War II. Essays in Modern German and
World History, Cambridge, England, 1995, ch.7, German Foreign Policy and
Austria, pp. 95-108. For a detailed study, see same, The Foreign Policy of
Hitlerís Germany. Starting World War II, Chicago, 1980).
Hitler said that Czechoslovakia was a knife pointed at Germanyís heart, or a Soviet aircraft carrier ready to launch air attacks on Berlin. In fact, this was far from being the case. Although a Czechoslovak-Soviet alliance was signed in May 1935 and some reciprocal military visits took place, there was no military convention, just as there was none in the earlier Czechoslovak-French alliance. Furthermore, the USSR was not bound to help Czechoslovakia unless France helped her first. (This was a condition put in by Czechoslovak President Edvard Benes, but it suited Stalin very well too).
Hitler found his "Trojan Horse" in Konrad Henlein, the
leader of the Sudeten German Party which scored a great victory in the
elections of 1935. His party was subsidized secretly from Berlin. If anyone
in Britain was aware of this fact, it was kept out of the British press. When
Henlein visited Britain that year, he made a good impression, and was judged
a moderate Nazi who was worth cultivating.
[picture from: Vera Olivova, The Doomed Republic]
It is also worth noting that the British Minister in Prague, Sir
Joseph Addison, disliked the Czechs and believed Germany
was bound to swallow Czechoslovakia; he said it was only a matter of time.
The new British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, who came to power in May 1937, believed his mission was to reach a settlement with Germany and thus save the world from another war. He did not believe Czechoslovakia worth a war and rejected Winton Churchillís call for a "Grand Alliance" on the lines of World War I. (Britain, France, Germany and Russia, now the USSR).
Chamberlain and Halifax, believed that Hitlerís aims were "racial" and therefore limited. They thought Hitler only wanted to include in the "Fatherland" Germans living just outside German borders. However, the bottom line was the traditional British view that East Central Europe was not a sphere of vital British interests, but a natural sphere of German interests.
Also, British military leaders argued that Britain could not fight Germany, Italy, and Japan all at once and all by herself . They rejected the option of alliance with France and guarantees for her eastern allies, which might have contained Germany, at least for a time, by allowing the western powers to rearm.
Some Britons tried to wake up their countrymen to the danger of German expansion, and none more so than Winston Churchill. However, he was treated as a maverick, mostly because he supported King Edward VIII in the latter's determination to marry an American divorcee, Wallis Simpson, and make her Queen of England. (Edward gave up the crown to marry Mrs. Simpson; he was succeeded by his younger brother, who became George VI who reigned 1937-52).
David Low, the cartoonist for Lord Beaverbrook's popular paper, the Daily Express, warned against British lack of interest in East Central Europe, but to no avail. [Beaverbrook, a Canadian, was a strong supporter of Churchill].
David Low Cartoon, 1938.
After annexing Austria in mid-March 1938, Hitler gave Henlein his orders: he was to make increasing demands for the Sudeten Germans until the Czechs refused, and then if war came, it would be blamed on them. He also ordered Henlein to go to England again and try to ensure the British would not intervene. Henlein went and again made a good impression.
The Czechoslovak crisis broke out in mid-May 1938, when rumors of German military concentration on the borders of Czechoslovakia led to Czech mobilization. As it turned out, there was no German concentration aimed at Czechoslovakia. Hitler was furious at the Czechs and decided to crush them by the fall of that year. Therefore, all of Benesí attempts at negotiation with Henlein were bound to fail, while the German propaganda machine cranked out contrived stories of the Czech persecution of Sudeten Germans and tension in Europe steadily increased .
In July 1938, Chamberlain decided to act. He forced President Benes to accept British mediation in the person of Lord Runciman, a British shipping magnate with a good record of arbitrating British labor disputes but little if any knowledge of Czechoslovakia.
[pictures from Vera Olivova, The Doomed Republic].
At the same time,Georges Bonnet (1889-1973, French Foreign Minister 1938-39) told the Czechoslovak Minister in Paris in July that France would never go to war with Germany over the Sudetenland. This was in keeping with British views. France continued to make public declarations of support for Czechoslovakia, but only to strengthen the Czech bargaining position..
Runciman returned to England in early September. He advised
Chamberlain that the areas of Sudeten German territory, where Germans made up
60% of the population, should go to Germany.
As the crisis grew more dangerous, Chamberlain decided to see Hitler. He flew to Munich on September 15, and traveled thence by train to Berchtesgaden. There, Hitler told him he must have the Sudetenland, and Chamberlain told the British Cabinet that this must be done, although by negotiation. The Czechs were told that they must accept Hitler's demands.
On September 22, after consultations with the French,
Chamberlain flew again to see Hitler. This time he arrived in Cologne, and talks
took place at Bad Godesberg (now a suburb of Bonn).
Hitler told Chamberlain that this was not good enough; he must have the Sudetenland by October 1,
and would agree to a plebiscite only after German troops were already there.
Chamberlain returned to London and told the Cabinet he thought Hitlerís demands must be met. However, Lord Halifax opposed this. He realized that such a "cave in" would be unacceptable to British opinion. Therefore, the British fleet mobilized, the French army mobilized, and so did the Czechs. Chamberlain spoke on the radio saying it was horrible to be digging trenches and thinking of war over "a far away country and people of whom we know nothing." At the same time, he offered a conference to Hitler and pressed Mussolini to do the same.
The British people feared war, especially bombing. They had seen newsreels of the bombing of towns in the Spanish Civil War, and assumed that in case of war the Germans would bomb London to bits. In fact, as both British and German air force specialists knew, German bombers taking off from the Rhineland could not carry heavy bombs to London for they would not have enough fuel to return home. But when a British air force instructor mentioned this in a lecture, he was told to drop it, and this fact was not allowed to reach the media. It was in the governmentís interest that people should fear war, so they would support peace.
Hitler wanted a limited war, but realized that if he waged it after being offered what he wanted by the western powers, this might spark a European war. He also knew that the German people did not want a such a war. Therefore, he accepted the proposals made by Chamberlain and Mussolini and the Munich Conference met on September 29, 1938.
At Munich, the French and British leaders agreed to the cession of the whole Sudetenland to Germany. A commission made up of British and French ambassadors and German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop (1893-1946, Foreign Minister 1938-1945, hanged as a war criminal at Nuremberg,1946), was to supervise the takeover, but in fact, it did nothing. The British and French offered to guarantee rump Czechoslovakia if Germany and Italy did so as well - but they did not.
Polish and Hungarian demands were shelved for three months. (The Poles demanded the preponderantly Polish-speaking Western Teschen, while the Hungarians demanded part of Slovakia and Subcarpathian Ruthenia; on Polish policy in 1938, see below).
[pictures from Olivova, The Doomed Republic]
Chamberlain returned to London to a heroís welcome. He waved a piece of paper signed by himself and Hitler agreeing to consult together in the future, and declared that he had brought back "peace in our time."
People rejoiced everywhere that peace had been saved - everywhere that is, except for the Czech part of Czechoslovakia. Czech officers returned their French decorations to the French Legation. The Czech people wanted to fight and the army had been mobilized, but President Benes persuaded Czech politicians and military leaders to accept the Munich decision rather than put up a hopeless fight against Germany. He resigned and went into exile. A new government was formed under President Emil Hacha (1872-1945) and rump Czechoslovakia took the name of the Second Republic. *
*[Much has been written on the Czechoslovak crisis and appeasement. The best works on German policy are by G.L.Weinberg, cited above. On Chamberlain, the old biography by Keith Feiling, published in 1948, is still worth reading for it was based on the Chamberlain papers. They are in the University of Manchester library, but most of those for 1938-39 are closed until the year 2037 (?!). For articles on all countries concerned, see The Fascist Challenge and the Policy of Appeasement, edited by Wolfgang J. Mommsen and Lothar Kettenacker, (London, 1983). For a discussion of books on British appeasement published through the mid-1990s, see Wesley K. Wark, "Appeasement Revisited," The International History Review, vol. XVII, no. 3, 1995, pp. 545-562). For a recent interpretation favorable to Chamberlain, see Peter Neville, Hitler and Appeasement: The British Attempt to Prevent the Second World War, London and New York, 2006; review by Neville Thompson, International History Review, vol. XXIX, Jan. 2007, pp. 412-414). For an anti-Nazi Sudeten German author's book condemning British policy,see J.W. Bruegel, Czechoslovakia before Munich. The German Minority Problem and British Appeasement, (Cambridge, England, 1972)].
The Munich settlement caused deep divisions among British politicians, as well as in many British families. The debate in the House of Commons in early October 1938 was acrimonious, and the Conservative Party was split more than ever between the majority led by Chamberlain and a small group of dissidents led by Churchill. Opinion polls taken after the Munich Conference in both France and Britain showed that most people believed the cession of the Sudetenland to Germany was inevitable. At the same time, however, they believed that no more concessions should be made to Hitler.
3. Polish policy during the Czechoslovak Crisis.
Polish governments had been interested in an alliance with Czechoslovakia in the late 1920s and in a military agreement in 1929-32, but neither Masaryk nor Benes ever considered an alliance with Poland. On the contrary, they believed that a revision of Polandís western and eastern frontiers was bound to take place to the advantage of Germany and the USSR, so they did not want to involve Czechoslovakia in conflict with either of these two great powers.
Despite showing interest in alliance and military cooperation with Czechoslovakia before 1932, Jozef Pilsudski (1867- 1935) and Foreign Minister Jozef Beck (1894-1944, For. Min. 1932-39) came to believe that Austria and Czechoslovakia would not survive unless the western powers were ready to defend them, and they did not think this would happen. Furthermore, Polish governments resented Czech pressure on the Poles of western Teschen to assimilate, that is, become Czechs. They also resented the Czechoslovak-Soviet alliance of May 1935.
Polish policy in 1938 toward Austria and Czechoslovakia is often condemned by historians, but it should be understood within the context Polish doubt that the western powers would go to war over either country, while at the same time believing that Poland could not side with Germany in a European war.
In 1938, the Polish government adopted a position of wait and see. Assuming that the western powers would not back Austria against Germany, Beck negotiated with Germany to safeguard Polish trade with Austria. As for Czechoslovakia, he asked for and received an assurance from Prague (1937) that whatever concessions would be made to the German minority, the Polish minority in western Teschen would receive the same.
When the Czechoslovak crisis began in May 1938, Beck assumed that France and Britain would abandon the Czechs while the USSR would only make noises. In this situation, he believed that Poland should secure her interests, that is, in return for her "neutrality" in case of war (which he did not believe would break out), she would obtain German recognition of the Polish-German frontier and the continued existence of the Free City of Danzig. She would also secure from the Czechs the return of western Teschen to Poland, and he also wished to avoid the whole of Czechoslovakia falling under German domination. Therefore, he envisaged an autonomous Slovakia in Hungary and tried to secure a Polish-Hungarian frontier in Subcarpathian Ruthenia.. However, if France and Britain decided to stand by Czechoslovakia, Beck believed that Polish policy would have to make a 180 degree turn beceause Poland could not be on the German side in a European war.
In order to avoid provoking Germany, Beck refused to support French appeals to Hitler for a peaceful solution of the crisis - but at the same time, he tried to sound out London and Paris on their taking a joint stand with Poland against Germany. He made his thinking very clear in June 1938 to the U.S. Ambassador to Poland, Anthony J. Drexel Biddle, who was also a personal friend. (Beck clearly expected Biddleís report to be passed on to U.S. ambassadors in Paris and London, who would inform the French and British governments). When this sounding yielded no results, he tried to obtain from Hitler assurances of German official recognition of the Polish-German frontier and the Free City of Danzig. However, French and British agreement to the German annexation of the Sudetenland at Munich deprived Beck of any leverage in Berlin. The Polish government also pressed the Czechoslovak government to negotiate an agreement to returne Western Teschen to Poland, but to no avail.
In late September, a small Polish military force was concentrated on the Teschen segment of the Polish-Czechoslovak frontier to occupy the area if circumstances allowed. Furthermore, when the Germans showed an interest in part of western Teschen, half-baked plans were put into action to foment an uprising by Poles there, but the results were negligible because of leaks and strong Czech military units in the area. At the same time, the Polish envoy in Prague was instructed that in case of war - that is, if France and Britain went to over with Germany over Czechoslovakia - he was to remain with the Czechoslovak government. It is clear that in such a case, Poland would not attack Czechoslovakia but join the Western Powers.
Indeed, when news reached Warsaw of the Munich decision early in the morning of September 30, Beck consulted with the commander-in-chief, Marshal Edward Smigly-Rydz (1886-1941) and the chief of the Polish General Staff, General Waclaw Stachiewicz (1894-1973), on whether Polish armed forces should prepare for war in case Czechoslovakia refused to accept the Munich agreement. The decision was to wait and see, although a Czech rejection of the Munich agreement was thought unlikely.
When news of Benesís acceptance of the Munich terms arrived
in Warsaw in the early afternoon of Sept. 30 (he had accepted at noon), the "Castle Council" (Polish decision-makers)
met with President Ignacy Moscicki in his rooms at the Royal Castle, and approved Beckís proposal to send an ultimatum to the
Czechs demanding the return of Western Teschen. This method was chosen on the
assumption that Czechoslovakia would collapse and the Germans would seize this
preponderantly Polish and economically rich area (coking coal and a large
steel mill) of western Teschen. (See Cienciala, "The Foreign Policy of Jozef Pilsudski and Jozef Beck,")
Indeed, plans were afoot in Berlin to seize the area, but the Polish Ambassador was instructed to warn the Germans that there might be a Polish-German conflict over part of the region if the Germans tried to take it (Bohumin) - and Hitler backed off.
The Polish ultimatum was delivered in Prague by the Polish envoy at 11.30 p.m., that is, almost 12 hours after the Czechoslovak government had accepted the Munich dictate. It was only after the Polish envoy in Prague had been instructed to deliver the ultimatum that the British Ambassador in Warsaw delivered an offer of mediation by Neville Chamberlain, but it came too late.
The Czechs asked the Poles for a dayís delay, which was granted, so Polish troops entered Western Teschen on October 2. Later, negotiations took place over other disputed fragments of the frontier, including mountain passes in Slovakia, which were ceded to Poland.
The Czechs condemned the Polish move as a "stab in the back."
The Poles replied that the Czechs had done the same to them when they seized
Western Teschen in January 1919, at a time when Poland was fighting the Ukrainians
over Lwow (now Líviv, Ukraine).
They also reminded the Czechs that the latter had refused to allow the transit of French arms to the Poles when they were fighting the Red Army in summer 1920, and that the Czechs secured the Conference of Ambassadorsí decision to award the area to Czechoslovakia in late July, when it looked as if Warsaw as about to fall to the Red Army.
Western opinion condemned the Polish action. Winston Churchill wrote of the Poles: "...in 1938, over a question as minor as Teschen, they sundered themselves from ...friends in France and Britain and the United States... We see them hurrying, while the might of Germany glowered up against them, to grasp their share of the pillage and ruin of Czechoslovakia." *
*[Winston S. Churchill, The Gathering Storm. War Memoirs, I, Boston, London, 1948, reprint 1983, p. 323]
Of course, it would have been much better for Poland to negotiate with Czechoslovakia, when the latter was finally ready to do so after accepting the Munich decision. However, while this might have improved Polandís standing in world opinion, it would not have saved Czechoslovakia from dismemberment because Britain would not fight, while Polandís ally France was only too glad to avoid a war with Germany. *
*[On Polish policy in the Czechoslovak crisis, see: Anna M.Cienciala, "The View from Warsaw," in: Reappraising the Munich Pact. Continental Perspectives, edited by Maya Latynski with an Introduction by John R.Lampe, Washington, Baltimore and London, 1992. (on p. 97, the last five lines of the article should read: "Either way, the developments of 1939 clearly demonstrate that negotiations over Zaolzie could not have saved Czechoslovakia. Nor, indeed, could Poland have been preserved from the avalanche that would begin, ostensibly over Danzig, a year later." For a more recent study, see same: " The Munich Crisis of 1938 Plans and Strategy in Warsaw against the Background of Western Appeasement of Germany," a special issue of Diplomacy & Statecraft, vol. 10, no. 2, July 1999, and in a book titled The Munich Crisis, 1938, Prelude to World War II, edited by Igor Lukes and Eric Goldstein, published by Frank Cass, London and Portland, OR, 1999, pp. 48-84. See also, Cienciala, "The Foreign Policy of Jozef Pilsudski and Jozef Beck," click here for text. For a recent analysis of Polish policy in the crisis, see Cienciala review of a volume of Polish diplomatic documents for 1938 edited by Polish historian Marek Kornat, The Polish Review, vol. LIV, 2009, no. 2, pp.243-262; click here for text.]
4. Soviet policy during the Czechoslovak Crisis.
The Soviet-Czechoslovak alliance of May 1935, made Soviet aid conditional on France first giving help to Czechoslovakia. This was actually a condition put in by Benes so that Czechoslovakia would not depend primarily on Soviet aid.
During the crisis, which began in May 1938, the Soviet government proclaimed its support for Czechoslovakia -- but were these declarations genuine? Documents long closed in Czech archives show seem to indicate that in spring 1938 the Comintern [Communist International controlled by Stalin] encouraged the Czechoslovak communist party to press for resistance to Germany because a war would help Communists come to power. Furthermore, according to an unconfirmed Czech police report, Andrei A. Zhdanov (1896-1945), a member of the Soviet Politburo, paid a secret visit to Prague in August 1938. He told the Czech communist leaders that war was needed to establish a communist society in Czechoslovakia and create favorable conditions for a communist offensive in Europe. He added that the Czech communists would receive assistance in following this policy from the Red Army, which would "represent a great political factor in this conflict."*
*[see: Igor Lukes, Czechoslovakia between Stalin and Hitler. The Diplomacy of Edvard Benes in the 1930s, Oxford, New York, 1996, pp. 198-199.]
Some historians doubt that Zhdanov ever went to Prague and think the Czech police report on his visit is a fake. Whatever the case may be, it seems that the Soviet goal in mobilizing forces in the western military districts of the USSR in late September 1938 was to show support for Czechoslovakia without actually marching to her aid and thus risking war with Germany. Or perhaps Stalin figured that if a European war broke out over Czechoslovakia, he could annex part of eastern Poland on the pretext of going to help the Czechs? No Russian documents have surfaced so far to show what Stalin was really thinking at this time, but there is no evidence that he would have risked a war with Hitler in 1938 any more than he did in 1939.
We should also note that contrary to charges that Poland refused Soviet proposals for the passage of Soviet forces to Czechoslovakia, there are no Polish or Soviet records of such a proposal ever being made by the Soviets to the Polish government. It is possible that the Romanian government or military informed the Soviets that they would allow such transit throught their country in case of war, but historians disagree on this issue.**
** [See letter of September 24 1938 by Romanian Foreign Minister Petrescu Comnene to Soviet Foreign Commissar Maxim M. Litvinov (in French) stating the Romanian governmentís agreement to and conditions for the transit of Soviet troops over land and overflight by Soviet planes in case of war, Jiri Hochman, The Soviet Union and the Failure of Collective Security in Europe, Ithaca and London, 1984, app. C, pp. 194-201. Some historians believe the letter is not genuine because of mistakes in French which the French-speaking Comnene was unlikely to have made - but he might have dictated it to an assistant or secretary, whose French was not as good as his own].
In any case, it is most unlikely that Stalin would have gone to war with Hitler in 1938 over Czechoslovakia. Indeed, he had decapitated the Red Army officer corps in 1937-38 by having four of the five Soviet marshals murdered and killing off or imprisoning most officers above the rank of captain. British and French military experts did not believe that the Red Army could undertake offensive action outside the Soviet borders. The arrested marshals and other high officers were accused of working for Nazi Germany or Japan, but Stalin's real aim seems to have been to eliminate popular military figures who might challenge his power.
In fact, the Soviet attitude toward Czechoslovakia was ambivalent at best. When Benes asked the Soviet minister in Prague, Sergei Alexandrovsky, in late September whether the USSR would help Czechoslovakia in case of a German attack, Alexandrovsky brought the reply that it would - but only if France helped first. When Benes asked the second time, Alexandrovsky said yes - if the League of Nations declared Germany the aggressor, though he then said the Soviets would help anyway. When Benes asked for help the third time on September 30, when he had to decide whether to accept or reject the Munich agreement, Alexandrovsky did not send the cable to Moscow for a while, and the answer - yes -came in early October, when it no longer had any value.*
Finally, no Red Army plans to go to the aid of Czechoslovakia in 1938 have been discovered to date.
*[for details, see Lukes, Czechoslovakia between Stalin and Hitler, ch.7, September 1938, pp. 209-276, and Lukes & Goldstein, The Munich Crisis, 1938, pp. 13-47].
At Munich, Hitler gained the most highly industrialized region of Czechoslovakia, the Sudetenland. France and Britain lost the potential support of a good Czechoslovak army against Germany, and France lost the remnants of her prestige in Central and South-Eastern Europe.
Neville Chamberlain was convinced that he had saved Czechoslovakia for a better fate in the future. Edvard Benes came to believe he had done the right thing by accepting the Munich decision. He knew - though he did not say so publicly - that in case of war, the French army planned to man the Maginot Line, which would be of no help to Czechoslovakia when the German airforce battered her cities and the German army overran the country. Nor could he count on Soviet help.
Czech historians are divided to this day in their judgement of Benesís decision; some praise him for saving the country from physical destruction, while others condemn him for pusillanimity when the people was ready to fight, and when such a fight would have brought France and Britain into the war. It is impossible to say whether the French and British would have come into the war if the Czechs resisted the Germans, but if they had, it is very likely that they would have been as little help to the Czechs as they were to be to the Poles in September 1939.
Hitler became more popular than ever with the German people, but he was furious at being bilked of a small, victorious war. He had utter contempt for the British and French statesmen who had handed him the Sudetenland, and made plans to seize the rest of Czechoslovakia when opportunity arose.
Polish Foreign Minister Jozef Beck concentrated on securing British friendship and support, while Hungary and the Balkan states concluded they must come to terms with Germany.
Stalinís thoughts are unknown, because no Russian documents showing his decision making are as yet accessible to historians. The fact that Maxim M. Litvinov continued as Foreign Commissar until forced to resign in early May 1939, may indicate that Stalin still favored exploring the possibility of cooperation with the Western Powers to contain Germany. However, it is known that Stalin's distrust of Britain and France, especially of Britain, was great; also that a constant factor in Soviet policy was the belief that a war between "capitalist" powers in Europe was needed for communists to take over in the aftermath. Therefore, Stalin may have allowed Litvinov to continue the policy of seeking cooperation with France and Britain as a means of pressing Hitler to conclude an agreement with the USSR. He, had after all, sought a rapprochment with Germany in 1935-36 and, as will be seen later, he began to seek it actively after Litvinovís resignation.*
*[for Soviet policy toward Germany, see Lec.Notes no.16].