Chamberlain & Hitler sign the Munich Agreement
The 29th of September 1938 AD
As in 1938 Hitler began at last to flex his military muscles, desperate for a conflict to begin his expected conquests, Britain and France had a choice to make: stand firm, and in all likelihood face a devastating war; or bow to German pressure in the hope that appeasement and concessions would satisfy the Nazi dictator. The country at the immediate focus of this situation was Czechoslovakia.
Czechoslovakia was the creation of the post- WWI settlement, with Czechs and Slovaks pushed together along with minorities like Poles, Hungarians, and most fatefully, Germans. In Sudetenland, Czech territory on the borders with Germany, the majority of the population were ethnic Germans. The Sudeten Germans gave Hitler an excuse for his aggression: there had undoubtedly been inconsiderate handling of the region by Prague; and most of the German-speakers in the Sudeten wished to join with Germany and Austria.
The military situation prior to Munich was confused, and open to debate, but it is probable that Hitler over-estimated his national strength, and France and Britain underestimated theirs. In terms of national morale, Germany was keen to see some of the slights and injustices (as she saw them) of post-WWI Europe reversed, and the French and British were still traumatised by the lengthy and bloody 1914-18 conflict which they were hell-bent on not repeating.
Germany issued an ultimatum on September 22 that her army would invade Sudetenland at the end of September, giving the Czechs there until September 28 to evacuate. On September 24 France began to mobilise. It appeared war was increasingly inevitable.
In a last ditch effort to prevent this war a summit of the leaders of France, Britain, Italy and Germany was called at Neville Chamberlain 's request. Incredibly the Czechs were not allowed to participate in an active sense, and the USSR, guarantor of Czech territory, was not included at all.
Deladier, the French premier, had rightly predicted earlier that year that Germany would not be satisfied by one minor victory, but at Chamberlain's insistence and with his military unprepared - or so he was led to believe - agreed to the terms of an agreement supposedly drafted by Mussolini, but in fact merely a slight rewording of what Hitler had thrown at the allies shortly before. The agreement was made and dated on September 29, although only signed after midnight that day.
The central terms of the Munich agreement were that Sudetenland would be annexed by Germany, though plebiscites would be held to determine various areas where the German-speakers were not in the majority; and an international commission would examine other areas claimed by both Germany and the Czechs, and determine their fate.
The Czech Foreign Minister, told of the agreement, prophetically said: "Today it is our turn; tomorrow it will be that of others."
Inevitably the Germans failed to honour the agreement, no referendums ever being held in the territories they seized, guarantees being flouted, and land beyond that the Czechs had agreed to sacrifice being grabbed by Hitler's stormtroopers. Within months Poland had taken control of an ethnically Polish part of Czechoslovakia, and the Germans marched into other areas with spurious excuses of historical ties and the potential threat of Germany being surrounded by the Western Powers with the borders as they stood post-Munich.
Though the Munich agreement is now a byword for craven cowardice, at the time it was greeted with enormous relief and enthusiasm in both Britain and France. Chamberlain was welcomed by cheering crowds as he alighted from his plane, and bigger crowds roared their approval as he joined the royal family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace . Ironically the last pleased of the Munich protagonists was Hitler, who was itching for war. He would get his wish soon enough
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