Munich, 70 years ago this September, was a disaster. But it was a direct, if not inevitable, consequence of a Versailles treaty that had consigned 3.5 million Sudeten Germans to Czech rule against their will and in violation of the principle of self-determination.
But the fatal blunder was not Munich.
It was the decision of March 31, 1939, to hand a war guarantee to a neo-fascist regime of Polish colonels who had joined Hitler in the rape of Czechoslovakia.
Britain gave Warsaw a blank check to take her to war over a town, Danzig, the British themselves thought should be restored to Germany. Result: a Hitler-Stalin Pact and a six-year war that left scores of millions dead, Europe in ruins, the British empire bankrupt and breaking, 10 European nations under the barbaric rule of Joseph Stalin and half a century of Cold War. Had there been no war guarantee to Poland, there might have been no war, no Nazi invasion of Western Europe and no Holocaust.
Churchill was the indispensable war leader who held on until Hitler committed his fatal blunders, invading Russia and declaring war on America. He was also the man most responsible for Britain's fall from mistress of the greatest empire since Rome to an island dependency of the United States.
About the character of the Bolshevik regime in 1919 and Nazi regime in 1933, Churchill had been right. About British rearmament, he had been right. But Churchill was also often disastrously wrong.
He led the West down a moral incline to its own barbarism by imposing a starvation blockade on Germany in 1914 and launching air terror against open cities in 1940. These policies brought death to hundreds of thousands of women and children.
He was behind the greatest British military blunders in two wars: the Dardanelles disaster of 1915 and the Norwegian fiasco of 1940 that brought down Chamberlain and vaulted Churchill to power.
While excoriating Chamberlain for appeasing Hitler, Churchill's own appeasement of Stalin lasted longer and was even more egregious and costly, ensuring that the causes for which Britain sacrificed the empire -- the freedom of Poland and preventing a hostile power from dominating Europe -- were lost.
Churchill was, however, surely right when he told FDR in their first meeting after Pearl Harbor that they should call the war they were now in "The Unnecessary War."
He was a Great Man -- at the cost of his country's greatness.