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The Infamous 1938 Munich Agreement That Led To WWII Has Lessons For Today’s Pusillanimous Leaders

Forbes logo Forbes 8/2/2022 Steve Forbes, Forbes Staff

The Bell of Treason—by P.E. Caquet (Other Press, $27.99). This book should—but won’t—be read by Joe Biden’s national security team, not to mention the pusillanimous leaders of Germany and France. Its lesson: Appeasement of determined adversaries is a deadly dangerous game.

©2015 Stephen Webster © Provided by Forbes ©2015 Stephen Webster

Take the example of the Munich Agreement. In the fall of 1938, Britain and France needlessly betrayed a crucial ally, Czechoslovakia, to Adolf Hitler. The ghastly consequence of this was the Second World War. Czechoslovakia—today split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia—was created from the remnants of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after WWI. About 20% of the population were German-speaking Sudetens. The country, firmly and formally aligned with France, was a thriving democracy. Hitler wanted to destroy and occupy it, so he cooked up a pretext that Prague was cruelly suppressing the Sudetens, who, he claimed, desperately desired to be part of the Third Reich. This was nonsense, but the Nazis were experts at stirring up trouble, and Hitler was threatening war.

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain dragged the war-reluctant French to Munich, where, along with Italy, they agreed to give Hitler the German-speaking chunk of Czechoslovakia, which contained the country’s sophisticated system of fortifications. “Peace for our time,” proudly proclaimed the prime minister. Within months Hitler gobbled up the rest of the now-defenseless country, and a few months after that he invaded Poland, which triggered World War II.

Czechoslovakia’s strategic location and the hundreds of thousands of German troops it tied down before Munich made its bloodless loss a catastrophic blow to France’s security. Worse, the Czechoslovaks had one of the world’s best armament works, which immensely aided Berlin’s rearmament. One-third of the advanced tanks Germany used against France in 1940 came from those captured facilities.

In 1938, France and Czechoslovakia would have defeated Germany, as Berlin’s rearmament was woefully incomplete.

Of course, no two periods in time are exactly alike. But China, Russia, Iran and others have made their aggressive designs clear. The initial response to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine seemed to belie their perception of Western weakness, but the resolve of the U.S., France and Germany appears to be wilting. “We must not humiliate Putin,” squeals French President Emmanuel Macron, as he and others push for a Munich-like deal with the Monster of Moscow.

As in 1938, it appears democratic leaders are woefully not up to the task.


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