If ever a politician got a bum rap it's Neville Chamberlain. He has gone down in history as the British prime minster whose policy of appeasement in the 1930s allowed the Nazis to flourish unopposed. He has never been forgiven for ceding part of Czechoslovakia to Hitler in the Munich Agreement of September 1938, and for returning home triumphantly declaring "peace for our time". The very word "appeasement" is now synonymous with him, signifying a craven refusal to stand up to bullies and aggressors. What a contrast to Winston Churchill, the man who took over as prime minister and who has ever since been credited with restoring Britain's backbone.
But is the standard verdict on Chamberlain a fair one? After all, memories of the slaughter of the First World War were still fresh in the minds of the British, who were desperate to avoid another conflagration. And anyway what choice did Chamberlain have in 1938? There's a good case for arguing that the delay in hostilities engineered at Munich allowed time for military and air power to be strengthened.
This video is part of History Lessons, a series dedicated to exploring historical events and examining their meaning in the context of foreign relations today: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLF2F38E5941910270
The Munich Agreement is one of the most criticized diplomatic agreements in history. In 1938, Adolf Hitler turned his sights on absorbing the Sudetenland, the part of Czechoslovakia dominated by ethnic Germans, into Germany. With tensions rising, British prime minister Neville Chamberlain rushed to Germany in September for talks to keep the continent at peace. Without consulting with Czechoslovakian leaders, he agreed to Hitler's demand, a decision that was ultimately formalized when Germany, Britain, France, and Italy signed the Munich Agreement on September 30. Chamberlain returned from Munich proclaiming that he had achieved "peace for our time." He was wrong. Less than a year later, German troops invaded Poland. The Second World War had begun.
James M. Lindsay, CFR's senior vice president and director of studies, highlights the lesson learned from the Munich Agreement: Appeasing an adversary's demands may defuse a crisis, but it can also increase the chances of war by emboldening that adversary to demand more. Chamberlain thought that if Germany gained the Sudetenland that Hitler would finally be satisfied with the status quo in Europe. But Hitler instead viewed Munich as confirming his belief that Britain and France both lacked the will to stop German expansion. Lindsay invites his audience to consider on what issue or conflict the United States might repeat Chamberlain's mistake.
For more analysis from James M. Lindsay, visit The Water's Edge blog: http://blogs.cfr.org/lindsay/
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