Chamberlain returned from Munich to a rapturous reception, waving a paper he and Hitler had signed, and declared: "For the second time in 60 years, a British prime minister has returned from Germany with peace with honor. I believe it is peace for our time."
This was palpable nonsense. Hitler had already turned to the next item on his menu, Danzig, a city of 350,000 Germans, detached from the Reich at Versailles and made a Free City to give the new Poland an outlet to the sea. Hitler did not want war with Poland. Indeed, he wanted the kind of alliance with Poland he had with Italy. But, first, Danzig must be resolved.
Here, too, the British Government agreed: Danzig should be returned. For of all the amputations of German lands and peoples at Versailles, European statesmen, even Winston Churchill, regarded Danzig and the Polish Corridor that sliced Germany in two as the most outrageous. The problem was the Poles, who refused to discuss Danzig.
Then, in March, Czechoslovakia suddenly began to fall apart. The Sudetenland had been annexed by Germany. Hungary had taken back its lost lands, and Poland had annexed the disputed region of Teschen. Slovakia and Ruthenia now moved to declare independence, and Prague began to march on the provinces.
Hitler intervened to guarantee the independence of Slovakia and gave Hungary a green light to re-annex Ruthenia. Czech President Hacha then asked to see Hitler, who bullied him for three hours into signing away Czech sovereignty and making his nation the German Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.
Chamberlain, now humiliated, mocked by Tory back-benchers, panicking over wild false rumors of German attacks on Romania and Poland, made the greatest blunder in British history. Unasked, he issued a war guarantee to Poland, empowering a Polish dictatorship of colonels that had joined Hitler in dismembering Czechoslovakia to drag the British Empire into war with Germany over a city, Danzig, the British thought should be returned to Germany.
It was not Munich. It was the war guarantee that guaranteed the war that brought down the Empire, and gave us the Holocaust, 50 million dead and the Stalinization of half of Europe.
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