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France and Munich Before and After the Surrender | Foreign Affairs
Issue Section:. You do not currently have access to this article. Download all figures. Sign in. You could not be signed in. Sign In Forgot password? Just before Christmas, , in a thick fog that protected his tanks from Allied aircraft, Hitler gambled by launching a sudden counterattack in eastern Belgium, in difficult country, and brought off a tactical coup.
His troops overwhelmed the surprised defenders, and it looked as if he would cut them off and reach the Allies' big supply port at Antwerp. But an American general famously said "Nuts" when called upon to surrender, and the fog lifted. The last German offensive in the West speedily crumbled, and from then on, though there was tough fighting in some places, the British and the Americans were able in many others just to walk forward, accepting the surrender of hundreds of thousands of Germans who were grateful to be giving up to the Western powers and not to the Soviets.
Anglo-American captivity was not comfortable, particularly in the first few weeks, but at least the prisoners in the main could survive. Soviet captivity was a different matter. Of the 90, men who surrendered at Stalingrad in January of , only 6, made it back to Germany, more than ten years later. The Soviets were not in a forgiving mood. The Fall of Berlin makes this very—perhaps excessively—plain.
The final Western land campaign against Nazi Germany may have been something of an anticlimax. But on the Eastern Front the war came to an end apocalyptically, and Antony Beevor, a veteran military historian, has a first-rate subject for his talents. To Central Europeans with a historical sense, it must have seemed as cataclysmic as the Mongol invasions, seven centuries before.
Millions of Red Army soldiers, thousands of tanks and aircraft, had lined up on the River Vistula, which bisects Poland from north to south. On January 12, , they struck, with great howls of artillery and multiple-rocket launchers—"Stalin Organs," the Germans called them. Already, the preceding summer, a whole German army group had been ground down by this massive weight, and the local commanders were desperate to be allowed to retreat, to show some flexibility in defense. Hitler, by now madly obstinate, told them that they must hold on; he even had generals shot for treachery and defeatism if they disobeyed.
The outcome was foreseeable: the German defense disintegrated. On January 27 came a melancholy capture: Auschwitz. Most of its surviving prisoners had been evacuated by the Nazis in a death march a week or two before, and were now moving, a column of pajama-clad scarecrows, toward concentration camps in Germany.
By the time the Red Army had outrun its supply lines and needed to refit its tanks, it stood at the River Oder, at most fifty miles from Berlin. An argument ensued. Should the army push straight on to Berlin, as its outstanding commander, Marshal G.
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Zhukov, wanted? With this there were problems, which Beevor outlines well. In the first place, Soviet generals were even more given to personal rivalry than Western generals, and some of them were not at all keen for Zhukov—by far, and justly, the best known and best respected of them—to achieve the renown for taking Berlin.
Additionally, as ever in wartime, there were powerful arguments for prudence. Even as the German army was clearly on the run, the Soviets feared it. German soldiers remained formidable to the end, and as the Ardennes offensive had shown, they were quite capable of pulling surprises. Malinovsky's army group. In Courland, in Latvia, a considerable contingent was still impregnably fortified, and supplied by sea.
Suppose that these forces all counterattacked simultaneously, with the "wonder weapons" that the Nazis were supposed to be producing: would this not spell a Soviet disaster? After all, in the early summer of Stalin had assumed that after his victory at Moscow, when the initial German onslaught had been stopped, the way was open for a grand counterattack. Instead he had run into a trap, and had faced a triple defeat—in Kharkov, in the Crimea, and in Leningrad—that allowed the Germans to attack again, this time across the great plains of southern Russia.
He believed the crisis could have been solved without the transfer of territory by the exchange of populations. He suggested that the Sudetens who wanted to join the Reich would be exchanged for the non-Aryans or those with political or religious disagreements with Nazi Germany. The opposition to the great movement towards appeasement viewed the controversy in a much different light.
They saw the Czechoslovaks as the victims of naked German aggression. In the Fortnightly , Elizabeth Wiskemann wrote of her admiration of the democratic Czechs because of their determination in overcoming many obstacles. She believed the greatest danger to the Czechs was German economic pressure that could have strangled their small nation. Mary N. Hawes wrote in the Contemporary Review that she believed that the question of the Sudeten Germans had been replaced by the question of whether Hitler's aggressive expansionist dreams would be pampered or opposed.
She saw the Sudetens as a convenient excuse for German aggression against a weaker neighbor and claimed that the German propaganda attack began two years earlier spreading false accusations that Czechoslovakia was a base for subversive Soviet activities. Grant Duff, writing in the Contemporary Review , questioned H.
Powys Greenwood's argument that British policy concerning the controversy should be the same as German policy. He also questioned why Britain was putting additional pressure on the Czechs if Germany was five times stronger than Czechoslovakia. Arthur Willert, in the Contemporary Review , stated that if Hitler were successful, he would gain domination of Central and South- Eastern Europe through his ruthless and ambitious diplomacy.
He believed that Czechoslovakia was just the latest offensive of the Axis Powers' Germany, Italy and Japan plan for world conquest. The appeasement antagonists also believed that the Sudeten Nazi Party leader Konrad Henlein was merely an opportunist puppet of Hitler. In the Contemporary Review , Gerhard Schacher stated that Henlein's party claimed minority rights for itself but did not recognize these fights for democrats, socialists, Czechs or Jews living in the Sudetenland. Hawes stated that Henlein's goal of attaining minority fights was secondary to his ideological and nationalistic aim.
Seton-Watson, in the Fortnightly , argued that Henlein, encouraged by Berlin, was no longer working for a settlement but for total secession. The opposition also viewed Czechoslovakia British Reaction British Reaction as extremely important in preventing German expansion.
Arthur Willert believed that the weakening of Czechoslovakia would mean another victory for Germany in their quest to be predominant in Central Europe. In the Fortnightly , C. Melville stated that the Sudeten minority was treated well in comparison to German minorities in Poland or the Italian South Tyrol. Since the best treated German minority was the main focus of Nazi interest, he concluded that Hitler was not interested in German minorities per se, but was interested in them only as a tool in achieving German expansion.
The adversaries to appeasement regarded the Anglo-French Proposals agreed upon at Berchtesgaden and at Godesberg as a betrayal to the Czechs. An editorial in The New Statesman and Nation expressed hope that Britain would awaken from the illusion of relief brought by Chamberlain from Berchtesgaden and described the proposals goal as establishing a peace without security or honor. The writer of the editorial also held the Prime Minister responsible for sacrificing the Czechs to appease Nazi aggression. It severely criticized the agreement that it viewed as a surrender because the British and French governments agreed to Hitler's demands without consulting the Czechs.
Seton-Watson claimed that Chamberlain and Daladier presented the vague Anglo-French plan like a pistol at the head of the Czechs. Christopher Hobhouse writing in The Spectator , also saw the agreements as a surrender. He viewed Britain's position as strong before the agreements; it had the support of the world while the German populace was agitating for peace.
Hobhouse viewed the leadership as having lost their nerve -- fearing that victory would have cost too many lives and strongly stated that his generation, those under thirty, would have to pay the price for this humiliating surrender. Hobhouse viewed the situation as one worth fighting for and believed that his generation was prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice in war, as many other generations had done before. Those who opposed giving in to Hitler criticized The Times for its vocal suggestions of appeasement and the partition of Czechoslovakia.
In an editorial letter to The Times , Nigel Law voiced his opposition in which he claimed that the editorial of 7 September advocating partition affected public opinion abroad. Foreigners believed that The Times would never print views that were against those of the British Government.
This article, Law argued, convinced public opinion abroad that the British Government advocated territorial revision. Godfray, in another editorial letter, described his horror of The Times editorial in which he argued that Hitler could not be trusted due to the fact he had already broken the Versailles Treaty. Godfray also referred to Mein Kampf , in which he claimed that the recovery of the Sudetenland would be an open invitation for further German conquest in South Eastern Europe.
He added that it would be suicide to allow Hitler to have the barriers designed to prevent the repetition of German aggression that started World War I. The enemies of appeasement argued that Britain should have regarded the preservation of Czechoslovakia as in their best interests. They insisted that the democracies should have made a stand for Czechoslovakia to prevent future German aggression. Hawes hoped that Britain would have realized that Hitler was just using the Sudetens as a cloak for his plans for domination of Central Europe.
She advocated that Britain should have stood against obvious German aggression to deter the invasion of Czechoslovakia.
The Nazis' Last Stand
Schacher believed that Czechoslovakia was of vital strategic and military importance to Britain. He insisted the collapse of Czechoslovakia would leave the road open for German expansion not only in the south-east, but also towards the Mediterranean, Poland and eventually towards Russia.
Willert advocated that Britain must make it clear to Germany that it would make a stand for Czechoslovakia if there was to be any real chance for establishing lasting peace. He advised the democracies to unite against the brute force of the dictators and defend, by force if necessary, what they believe in. Duff argued that Britain should direct a clear intimation to Germany that any attempt to use the Sudeten Germans against Czechoslovak independence would lead to a world war in which Britain would fight at the side of its allies.
In an editorial letter to The Times , H. Wansey Bayly stated that Britain should take an open stand with Czechoslovakia, Russia, France and Romania against the aggressive ambitions of Germany and Italy. Prime Minister Chamberlain, the greatest proponent of peace, presented his post-Munich view of appeasement in his speech on 3 October before Parliament. He claimed that he went to Munich to determine the method and conditions of the transfer of territory that had already been agreed upon through the Anglo-French Proposals.
Chamberlain believed that he succeeded in implementing an agreed upon plan in a peaceful manner rather than by violence. The Prime Minister called the Munich Agreement a triumph since the four great powers were able to carry out a difficult operation by negotiation instead of by fighting. Chamberlain claimed victory because he felt this agreement was more favorable to the Czechs than Hitler's ultimatum. He stated that Britain should have felt sympathy for the Czechs but claimed that with a new system of guarantees, Czechoslovakia would enjoy greater security than before.
Chamberlain also pledged a 10,, pound loan to the Czechs to help them in their difficult transition. The Prime Minister praised Hitler for "swallowing his pride" by taking back his declarations and consented at the last moment to negotiate the dispute. He claimed that the worldwide desire for peace, not threats, made the peaceful agreement possible. Chamberlain believed that this agreement had laid the foundations for peace and opened up new opportunities for disarmament. The advocates of peace viewed the Munich Agreement as a great victory and praised Prime Minister Chamberlain for preserving the peace.
Lord Elton claimed in the Fortnightly that the British populace was grateful for the Munich Agreement that saved them from the specter of war. He insisted that the agreement was a success even if it only postponed war. On 1 October , The Times reported enthusiastically about Chamberlain's return from the successful Munich Conference by printing many pictures of huge crowds around 10 Downing Street who cheered the Prime Minister and voiced their appreciation.
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Arthur Bryant of the Illustrated London News praised Chamberlain for preserving the peace and saving the world from destruction. Spender of the Contemporary Review applauded Chamberlain's initiative that brought back the world from the brink of disaster at the last possible moment. The appeasement proponents regarded Munich as the correction of past mistakes and the beginning of a new era of lasting peace.
Spender declared that the Agreement was a peaceful and orderly alteration of the Versailles treaty and should not be called a surrender. The peace supporters attacked the opposition to appeasement by calling them bloodthirsty war mongers. Elton fiercely criticized the Labour party the former party of peace for their attempt to push Britain into a worthless war. In the Fortnightly , John Armitage argued that the opposition was foolish to have believed that Chamberlain was guided by craven fear into accepting surrender for the sake of peace at any price.
He noted that answering force by force would have ignored the people's desire for peace. Armitage went on to criticize Conservative backbencher Winston Churchill because he advocated the bringing of peace with the sword. He claimed that this method had been tried and resulted in World War I. Powys Greenwood in the Contemporary Review criticized both Churchill and Duff Cooper for their attempt to discredit German intentions and Hitler's honesty. Powys Greenwood was the main proponent of peaceful coexistence with Germany who viewed German expansion as natural and inevitable.
He claimed that Germany sought to economically and politically lead, not conquer, Eastern and Central Europe. In the Contemporary Review, Greenwood accused partitioned Czechoslovakia of attempting to pursue an anti-German policy by acting as a barrier against Germany.
He claimed that if the Czechs gave up their French and Russian alliances sooner and moved under German influence, they would have probably avoided territorial loss. Greenwood believed that the German aim was not to revise territorial claims and would have offered the Czechs a favorable commercial treaty if they were willing to make terms. He pointed out that the Germans were planning to establish their equivalent of the Monroe Doctrine in Central and Eastern Europe to protect their newly acquired dominance. It would have regarded any alliance between outside Powers and states in the area as an unfriendly act.
Greenwood admired the German plan as the logical response to the economic depression that gripped the world. With their planned and controlled economy Germany solved the problem of unemployment but to keep their economy healthy they needed to solve the problem of foreign trade by securing the export of German goods. Their controlled economy was unsuited for normal trade and the fluctuating world trade was out of German control.