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Subject: Was Chamberlain right? rss

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Mark Johnson
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Ok, I've read the article, but what I'd really like to read are the opinions of the smart wargamers here. Does this piece provide important context & understanding of a different time & place, or is it just revisionism with a provocative title?


http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/foreigners/2...
 
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Jim F
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Publically proclaiming peace in our time was a mistake. I think Chamberlain thought he could do business with Hitler, seeing Munich as part of a wider detente with Germany - again a mistake.

If Chamberlain had reluctantly agreed to this Agreement as he tried to delay the outbreak of war so the military were ready for it then I would have a great deal more respect for him.
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Colin Parkin
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It seems to assume that the British army would have been an important factor, when it was the French army that really counted. The French wouldn't confront Hitler without British support, but it would have been France and the Czechs doing the fighting.
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Oh my God They Banned Kenny
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Well, based on hindsight, one has to conclude that Chamberlain was wrong. To be fair, the piece does provide an explanation for the thinking at the time. However, that does not mean that the thinking was right. It simply explains how / why the decisions were made as they were. It is important to understand the reasons, rather than just dismissing Chamberlain as an "idiot", if one seeks a deeper understand of the history.

The piece underlines Britain's lack of preparedness for war in 1938, however, that rather misses the point that the key combatants would have been the French and Czechs. The Munich Agreement crippled the Czechs, so that was a huge loss. The French were much weaker relatively compared to the Germans in Sept. 1939 than they were in Oct. 1938. The fact that they British could send 4 divisions, rather than just 2, when war broke out about 1 year later hardly mattered.

Perhaps the biggest difference between the strategic situation in '38 vs. '39 was that before Munich the Soviet Union had a defensive pact with the Czechs (one that was conditional on the French honouring their treaty with the Czechs). So if Germany had attacked Czechoslovakia in Oct. '38, and if the French had gone to war against Germany, as their treaty with the Czechs required, the Soviets would have been at war with Germany. In 1939, the Soviets had a pact with Germany to partition Poland (and other parts of Eastern Europe). While it was questionable to what extent the Soviets could have intervened militarily in Czechoslovakia, the difference between even nominally being at war with Germany vs. collaborating with them, supplying raw materials etc. as they were in 1939 would have been huge.

The piece explains Chamberlains thinking at the time. Fair enough. However, it was still a serious error, based on erroneous assumptions and missing or wrong information.
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Enrico Viglino
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And the Czech terrain might well have spelled a much harder job.

The real issue is that Hitler was WRONG. He couldn't afford
to risk a war when he did - either in '38 or '39. Once the
Czech crisis took place though, the die was cast and the Allies
were building up. The only real chance was to proceed with the
Z-Plan (and you know, avoid invading Russia). But, Hitler was
constrained as well - he needed to provide greater glories to
justify the military I guess.
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Ted Torgerson
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The article ignores the fact that Britain and France helped create Hitler's mindset that he could foment a crisis, make outrageous demands and get what he wanted. Germany violated the arms limitations of Versailles, remilitarized the Rhineland, violated the naval accords and Britain did nothing. If the democracies had "drawn a red line" at some point earlier, particularly in the Rhineland, Hitler would have backed down and the ultimatum by Hitler at Munich would not have been made.
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Severus Snape
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From the standpoint of practical, military preparation, maybe--maybe--he was "right." From a moral standpoint, he sold the Czechs out. I read the article over the weekend. Politics triumphed over morality, as it so often does.

goo
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Gotthard Heinrici (prev. Graf Strachwitz)
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I agree with the Ted's post.
Regardless the strategic situation, the diplomatic weakness of the Allies paved the highway for Hitler's annexation of Czechoslovakia. I wonder what would have happened if Churchill was In Munich.
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Enrico Viglino
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bentlarsen wrote:
Politics triumphed over morality, as it so often does.


This is how it should (and maybe must) be, IMO.

Sure, one may be secure in their knowledge that they are
able to see the 'right' path at all times, but history is
full of societies which followed such fanatics. Some were
right perhaps - but nearly all of the great blemishes of
humanity were led by people with just that view.

I think the molasses of politics helps a lot more than it harmed.
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Robb Minneman
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Remember, also, that we're operating with a lot more information than any of the participants at Munich had.

This whole setup just seems ripe for a well-designed and implemented wargame system. I'm hoping that someone, somewhere designs something that models that historical era and the constraints of the various parties well.

(I'm also looking ahead a few years, when we're going to have to teach our kids about the historical time period. And games are wonderful teaching tools.)
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Enrico Viglino
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robbbbbb wrote:
Remember, also, that we're operating with a lot more information than any of the participants at Munich had.

This whole setup just seems ripe for a well-designed and implemented wargame system.


I'd rather see something with a political focus, and any military
aspects either very abstracted, or a separate game (as Days of Decision
is to WiF essentially - indeed, there's a pretty good sandbox to play
with these choices).
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Wendell
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I'm just glad I wasn't in Chamberlain's shoes.
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Dan The Man
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I have no doubt Chamberlain was essentially correct, given the knowledge of the time. Bluster would not really have had much effect except perhaps a slight delay, and action was out of the question.

A year later, when the 'Allies' had much more time to prepare, France did not move when they had Germany in an untenable position: engaged in Poland and the frontier stripped of manpower. There is no reason to believe they would have done anything at this earlier, more uncertain, juncture, and I'm pretty sure they informed Chamberlain of that fact.

JMNSHO, YMMV.
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Matt & Laurel
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One has to look at Chamberlain's actions in the context of the time. The interwar period was in many respects a struggle between the rival ideologies of fascism and socialism (in its broadest sense), and Chamberlain and many in the British Government at that time were actually quite admiring of Hitler and the other Fascist governments. Certainly the British had hung the Spanish Republican government out to dry in favour of Franco during the Civil War there, so they were unlikely to stick their necks out for Czechoslovakia.
 
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Colin Raitt
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I think Chamberlain was wrong in the way he presented it. He should have declared " A good chance for peace as long as Mr Hitler gains only german speaking areas that choose to join his reich, but we must beware of this man." Instead he came out with " My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Go home and get a nice quiet sleep" when he knew better and was actively preparing for it. These words were what the British public wanted to hear and chose to believe, he certainly wasn't fooling young Adolph. The signs were there for those who wanted to see, the way he treated internal opponents, the press, unions, the way he spoke about slavs and lebensraum.

Sure the army was unprepared in 1938 but so was Germany's. Britain had 2 motorised divisions at full strength in the UK rising to 5 by 1939. France had 37 infantry/mechanised/cavalry divisions and 6 armoured brigades rising to 71 infantry and still 6 armoured brigades. Germany had 3 panzer and 36 infantry divisions in 1938. A year later Germany had 6 panzer and 98 infantry divisions. So the odds fell from 42:39 in favour of the allies to 79:104 against them. They weren't mobilising as fast as the germans so the situation was getting worse. It's often the way that we see our own problems but not the enemies. So militarily he was wrong too but he couldn't have gone to war anyway because of public opinion.

Diplomatically the USA, Italy, Japan and the USSR could be discounted, they weren't keen for war yet either. Poland and Hungary were minor powers but gained from the dismemberment of their neighbour.

Politically the British people wouldn't fight for the Sudetenland, it was German speaking after all. If they'd known Germany would take all of Czechoslovakia it might have been different but Hitler didn't directly forewarn us. Afterwards the public mood in Britain and France hardened enough to make a declaration of war possible. So he was right to broker the agreement but wrong to label it peace for our time and waving the treaty in the air vastly over rated the worth of Hitler's signature.

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Andy Daglish
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Quote:
We now see Hitler's actions during the early and mid-1930s as part of an implacable march toward war.

Then, on Sept. 3, some 11 months after Munich, [Chamberlain] took his country to war.


For the author its make-your-mind-up time.

Quote:
Chamberlain's story is of a man who fought for peace as long as possible, and went to war only when it was the last available option.


The last three words represent failed expression -- clearly not going to war was also an option, both literally and practically -- but what the author may be struggling to admit, or more likely comprehend, is that waging aggressive war is the last stage of an appeasement policy. A very major problem with the "Nazis bad, Allies good" mindset which always fails, in game design as it did in this piece, is that Hitler not only didn't want war with the British Empire and always refused to prosecute it ferociously, but a peace treaty ending an existing war would have effectively confirmed the rightness of his cause with a de facto Nazi victory.

This is why the Allies had to pursue unconditional surrender by fighting until Germany was occupied by ground units. They couldn't afford any other result. Indeed after the Soviets invaded Poland too, uncertain Britain wasn't fighting for any easily definable reason, although after the fighting was over there was a pressing requirement to grab any excuse they could find. Hitler asked, on more than one occasion, as to why they were fighting him. Clearly he didn't know.

There's a political scientific 'proof' that possession of weapons in quantity implies their use in the near future. I wonder if the opposite is the case. The actual declaration of war on Nazi Germany led to the 'Phony War' period, which suggests a degree of miscalculation, not just in terms of preparedness. No post-war criticism stems from this. The Germans used the time to get their tanks right, especially the running gear, and engines, always a Nazi technological weak point. The road to Prague in 1938 was marked with lots of broken-down ones.

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Severus Snape
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wifwendell wrote:
I'm just glad I wasn't in Chamberlain's shoes.


Or had his balls, for that matter.

goo
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calandale wrote:
bentlarsen wrote:
Politics triumphed over morality, as it so often does.


This is how it should (and maybe must) be, IMO.

Sure, one may be secure in their knowledge that they are
able to see the 'right' path at all times, but history is
full of societies which followed such fanatics. Some were
right perhaps - but nearly all of the great blemishes of
humanity were led by people with just that view.

I think the molasses of politics helps a lot more than it harmed.


Words of comfort to the memory of the Czechs, and the fanatics, in this instance, were on the side of evil. I'm sure folks in Syria know they can count on the democracies to stand up to evil.

goo
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Andy Daglish
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polate wrote:
Politically the British people wouldn't fight for the Sudetenland


at that time everyone knew what would happen eventually.
 
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Was the British soldier right?
British soldier allegedly spares the life of an injured Adolf Hitler
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bentlarsen wrote:
calandale wrote:
bentlarsen wrote:
Politics triumphed over morality, as it so often does.


This is how it should (and maybe must) be, IMO.

Sure, one may be secure in their knowledge that they are
able to see the 'right' path at all times, but history is
full of societies which followed such fanatics. Some were
right perhaps - but nearly all of the great blemishes of
humanity were led by people with just that view.

I think the molasses of politics helps a lot more than it harmed.


Words of comfort to the memory of the Czechs, and the fanatics, in this instance, were on the side of evil. I'm sure folks in Syria know they can count on the democracies to stand up to evil.

goo


No doubt the fanatics were in Germany - after having been able
to subvert the democratic processes which were 'gumming up' their
plans. I don't disagree that the pause for reflection, making war
the last possible choice, has caused additional suffering - BUT, the
alternative, gung-ho willingness to jump in is precisely what caused the
horrors of the prior war. The European community still remembered, and
that made it harder to commit. Because, the self-interest of a populace
is to avoid warfare.

I think it is better that England had that self-interest in mind, than
that they might have followed the example of pushing democracy aside
as Hitler did. In the long run, it is probably better for everyone -
even the descendants of those Czechs.
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At Versailles, in 1919, it was impossible to draw central European borders which (a) completely surrounded identifiable linguistic groups, (b) created militarily defensible frontiers, and (c) did not slice apart coherent industrial sectors. (The reparations agreement didn't make the Allies look like heroes, either.) If you want to try to sympathize with Chamberlain, look at it this way: Czechoslovakia did not exist in 1913 and does not exist in 2013. Czechoslovakia was a political compromise that Wilson, Clemenceau, and Lloyd George could stand behind, and part of a big bundle of compromises that no one liked very much. Since Britain had backed the original Czechoslovakian border out of expedience and severity, how could it be a betrayal to redraw the border in the name of expedience and compromise? So there was not much political will in Britain to start a war over the Sudetenland.

Also: it's all very well to say that France would have done most of the fighting, but surely the British believed the exact same thing in 1914. Now, in the end it was true that the French did "most of the fighting" - cold comfort to those British soldiers who were still alive in 1920, I'm sure. And again, in 1939, while the French may have planned to do "most of the fighting", events gave the United Kingdom an unforeseen starring role. So I have trouble with the idea that Chamberlain was supposed to order a Franco-czechoslovak preemptive attack on Germany without taking into account Britain's own war preparations.
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Mike Welker
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My mom was Czech. She would say... hmmm... Chamberlain was the devil. He was wrong in every way... her homeland was sold out. Her ties to relatives completely severed with the annexation.
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Michael Dorosh
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sullafelix wrote:


Hitler was a regimental runner. Given his longevity in military service on the Western Front, and the fact he received the Eisernes Kreuz I Klasse despite only holding the rank of Gefreiter, it has been suggested he probably spent most of his time at regimental headquarters rather than in the front line trenches. The rationale here is that soldiers in direct contact with the staff officers were more likely to be recommended for the E.K. I. In Hitler's case, according to Ian Kershaw (Vol. I, Hitler: Hubris), he was recommended directly by the regimental deputy commander Freiherr von Godin on 31 July 1918 for delivering messages when telephone communications were down. Kershaw also confirms his posting as a regimental orderly (Ordonnanz) who was assigned in November 1914 to the group of 8 to 10 dispatch runners (Meldegänger) who carried messages from regimental headquarters on foot or bicycle to battalion and/or company leaders in forward positions.

(Incidentally, this was not an uncommon thing to be decorated for - a soldier in my own (Canadian) regiment received the Victoria Cross (one of just two awarded the battalion during 1914-1918) for delivering a message under shellfire).

Kershaw unfortunately does not go into detail about Hitler's detailed battlefield experiences (other than to debunk the myth from German schoolbooks that Hitler earned the E.K. I for capturing 15 Frenchmen at bayonet-point). He points out that Regiment List, Hitler's unit, moved to Cambrai in mid-August to fight the British, but late that month Hitler personally went to Nuremberg on leave for training on telephones (seemingly consistent with headquarters duty?) then on 10 September 1918 began a period of 18 days leave in Berlin. Returning to the front at the end of September 1918, the Regiment List came under pressure by British attacks near Comines, and on the night of 13-14 October, Hitler along with some comrades were forced from a dugout by mustard gas. Hitler was treated in Flanders, then transported on 21 October 1918 to the army hospital at Pasewalk in eastern Germany near Stettin, ending his front-line experience.

Now, as to what happened on 28 September 1918, Kershaw is agonizingly silent. Was he carrying a message forward on 28 September? Did the British penetrate the lines of the Regiment List on that day? An interesting question.
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Everyone can plead imperfect information, but Chamberlain deserves to be castigated for limited vision as well. The article barely dignifies the failures of British (and French) foreign policy in Central and Eastern Europe in the '30s with much more than some hand-waving, not least where the Soviet Union was concerned, but also with Czechoslovakia and Poland.

And while German airpower might have made a splash in Spain, its armor decidedly had not, whereas the Soviet Union's had, providing the T-26 its brief moment of AFV celebrity.
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