When President Bush, before the Knesset, used the word "appeasement" to label those who would negotiate with Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he invoked the most powerful analogy in any debate over war and peace.
No man wishes to be regarded as an "appeaser."
But, as this writer has discovered since my book "Churchill, Hitler and The Unnecessary War: How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World" was launched Memorial Day, there is a deep well of ignorance about what happened that September, 70 years ago.
Why did Neville Chamberlain go to Munich? How did Munich lead to World War II?
The seeds of the crisis were planted at the Paris peace conference of 1919. There, the victorious Allies carved the new nation of Czechoslovakia out of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
But instead of following their principle of self-determination, the Allies placed under the rule of 7 million Czechs 3 million Germans, 3 million Slovaks, 800,000 Hungarians, 150,000 Poles and 500,000 Ruthenians. These foolish decisions spat upon Woodrow Wilson's 14 Points, under the terms of which the Germans, Austrians and Hungarians had laid down their arms.
By 1938, Germany had arisen, re-armed and brought Austria into the Reich, and was demanding the right of self-determination now be granted to the 3 million Germans in Czechoslovakia, who were clamoring to be free of Prague to rejoin their kinsmen.
Britain had no alliance with, and no obligation to fight for, the Czechs. But France did. And Britain feared that if Adolf Hitler used force to bring the Sudeten Germans back to German rule, France might fight. And if France declared war, Britain would be drawn in, and a second bloodbath would ensue as it had in 1914.
Chamberlain went to Munich because he did not believe that keeping 3 million Germans inside a nation to which they had been consigned against their will was worth a world war.
Moreover, Britain was unprepared for war. She had no draft, no Spitfires, no divisions ready to be sent to France. Why should the British Empire commit suicide by declaring war on Germany, to support a Paris peace agreement that he, Chamberlain, believed had been unjustly and dishonorably imposed on a defeated Germany?
Chamberlain believed not -- and, after three trips to Germany that September, he effected the transfer of the Sudeten Germans to Berlin's rule, where they wished to be. He came home in triumph to be hailed as the greatest peacemaker of all time.
Why, then, are "Munich" and "appeasement" terms of obloquy?
The answer lies in what happened next.
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