Why did Western democracies sign the Munich Agreement?

Why did Western democracies sign the Munich Agreement?

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Why did Western democracies sign the Munich Agreement with Nazi Germany when they knew the nature of Nazi regime? What did they want to obtain by signing this agreement?

In 1938/1939, two pacts/agreements shocked the world and disappointed many European countries:

  1. the Munich Agreement with Western democracies that's to say, England and France in 1938, and;
  2. Molotov_Ribbentrop non aggression pact with Stalin in 1939.

The motive of the pact with Stalin is easy to understand, because they wanted to share Eastern Europe, but I cannot understand the reason behind France's and England's concessions to Hitler. Especially when we know that this agreement was signed after the annexation of Austria and Hitler's expansionist ambitions were revealed.

Naivety vs realpolitik

First of all, don't fall into modern trap of idolizing democracy. Remember that for example Plato consider it second worst regime, slightly better than tyranny, and actually precursor to tyranny. Also, original meaning of demos-kratos is simply rule of the people, not necessarily parliamentary democracy. For example, Hitler considered Third Reich as a from of direct democracy, where German Volk rules directly trough their Fuhrer. USSR of course considered itself democratic, much more then liberal bourgeois democracies of the West.

And even if you have parliamentary democracy, things are far from ideal. As we could see in modern times, much depends on who has more money, media support, support of big business and finally who counts the votes. And even if you have democratic government in one country, that does not mean it is obliged to defend or spread democracy in other parts of the world. For example, US and UK gladly cooperate with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies and are enemies of much more democratic Iran.

Therefore, things in international arena are decided much more by interests and realpolitik than by some imagined ideals. Let's examine country by country:

  • Britain : British longstanding policy towards continent is that it should not not allow single continental power that could unite whole of Europe against it, possibly even challenging it on high seas. In that sense, they could accept Germany as dominant in Central Europe if they block USSR and spread of communism, but not much more than that. Or, in our case, they were OK with Germany getting parts of Czechoslovakia (latter whole of Czechia and Slovakia as puppet state) . But, they could not accept demise of Poland because by then Germany would become that dominant power in Europe and British could not allow this.

  • France: France was afraid of German territorial ambitions on itself (Alsace-Lorraine) , and considered that it would have very though time defending against it alone. French leftist government was against caving in to the Germans, but they could do precious little alone, plus that same government was not really popular among certain parts of French society and in French army. Therefore, they finally consented to Munich.

  • Poland: Poland at that time deluded itself that Germans were lesser evil than USSR, and even dreamed about alliance with them against USSR. They also had some designs on Czech territory, and could be said that they participated in partition of Czechoslovakia. Anyway, they didn't want to let Soviet troops to pass trough their territory to Czechoslovakia and essentially that doomed any effort of relief.

  • Soviet Union: USSR was at that time still engaged against Germany and Italy in Spain, and all of that was before Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. At that time they were willing to go to war in Czechoslovakia but they had their beef with Poland because of lost territory in Western Ukraine and Belarus in Polish-Soviet war. Therefore, they could not intervene.

  • Other players: Among other smaller players in Europe, countries like Romania and Yugoslavia were not amused with what was happening, but they mostly wanted to keep status quo and privately hoped that Germans would be satisfied. Countries like Italy, Hungary and Bulgaria wanted revanche foe what happened in WW1 and they supported Germany. US public opinion on the other hand was mostly isolationist at the time, and wanted to leave European businesses to Europeans and to avoid another bloody war.

Overall, while today Third Reich is presented as an evil incarnate in popular media, in 1930's it was not perceived as such. Germany was just another player on international scene, certainly dangerous, but not something unheard of . And, simply saying, other countries were willing to deal with them.

The agreement was the climax of the appeasement politics of Britain and France. The core intention was clear: Avoid a war as far as possible, even if bad compromises are required.

Further on: The Munich Agreement was about the Sudetenland crisis and was declared as some internal German territory related issue (see historical background of Sudeten Germans). So there was a somehow not totally irrelevant entangled component persistent to this crisis in terms of ethnics. In order to stay consistent to former similar decisions like the appeasement to the annexation of Austria, they granted access for Hitler here again.

There were a number of factors:

Hitler's demands seemed somewhat legitimate. Hitler demanded that those areas of Bohemia and Moravia that had a German-speaking majority population join with Germany, after a referendum. The principle that areas with a population majority of nationality X would become part of country X had been applied in the opposite direction to German border areas with Poland, Denmark and Belgium after WWI, so Hitler's demand that this principle be applied to Czech border areas did not seem entirely unreasonable.

Chamberlain expected Hitler to play by the rules. Hitler had promised to leave the rest of Czechoslovakia alone and Chamberlain seems to have believed him. See his (in)famous remarks re. "peace for our time". In real life the Germans occupied the rest of Bohemia and Moravia a mere six months later, on March 15th 1939.

Neither France nor Britain were really ready to go to war over Czechoslovakia. The population of both countries still remembered WWI (as did the Germans btw) and were not really keen on repeating the experience.

The British were wilfully ignorant of important details. Chamberlain famously spoke of a "quarrel in a far away country, between people of whom we know nothing". This was a widespread attitude in Britain at the time. In such an atmosphere it is easy to overlook that Czechoslovakia would lose its equivalent of the Maginot line or that the German-speaking minority in Germany's ally Italy had it much worse than the German minority in Czechoslovakia.

There were also allegations that the British conservatives hoped to be able to use Hitler to check Stalin, in an echo of what German conservatives had hoped to accomplish in 1933. Not really sure how much of an influence that was in Munich.

Until the annexation of Czechoslovakia, German expansionism had the "fig leaf" of claiming only to unite all German-speaking people into one country.

This was apparently the case with Austria, whose name Osterreich means "eastern kingdom" in Germany. The claim was that Austria, who was occupied elsewhere, had been left out of German unification in 1871, and the so-called Anschluss was made only to rectify all of this oversight.

With regard to Czechoslovakia, Hitler's initial claim was that he only wanted the mountainous Sudetenland, where most of Czechoslovakia's 3.5 million Germans (one quarter of the country's population) lived. Of course, the lie was given to this claim when Hitler annexed non-German parts of the Sudetenland (the most defendible parts of Czechoslovakia in 1938, then all of what we later called the Czech Republic in 1939.

Watch the video: Proč je demokracie špatnou formou vlády? (July 2022).


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