The Gathering Storm (1948)
Theme of the volume
How the English-speaking peoples through their unwisdom, carelessness, and good nature allowed the wicked to rearm
FROM WAR TO WAR
The Tragedy of Munich
There was in Prague at this moment a general of the French Army named Faucher. He had been in Czechoslovakia with the French Military Mission since 1919, and had been its chief since 1926. He now requested the French Government to relieve him of his duties, and placed himself at the disposal of the Czechoslovak Army. He also adopted Czech citizenship. The following French defence has been made, and it cannot be lightly dismissed: If Czechoslovakia had refused to submit, and war had resulted, France would have fulfilled her obligations; but if the Czechs chose to give in under whatever pressures were administered, French honour was saved. We must leave this to the judgment of history.
Stress has also been laid upon Soviet duplicity and bad faith, and the Soviet offer was in effect ignored. They were not brought into the scale against Hitler, and were treated with an indifference — not to say disdain — which left a mark in Stalin’s mind. Events took their course as if Soviet Russia did not exist. For this we afterwards paid dearly.
When the imminence of an attack on Czechoslovakia became clear, Beck demanded an assurance against further military adventures. Here was a crunch. Hitler rejoined that the Army was the instrument of the State, that he was the head of the State, and that the Army and other forces owed unquestioning obedience to his will. On this Beck resigned. His request to be relieved of his post remained unanswered. But the General’s decision was irrevocable. Henceforth he absented himself from the War Ministry. Hitler was, therefore, forced to dismiss him, and appointed Haider as his successor. For Beck there remained only a tragic but honourable fate.
Hitler read this note and signed it without demur.
Closeted with his Italian confederate he must have discussed less amiable solutions. A letter written by Mussolini to Hitler in June, 1940, and lately published, is revealing:
Fuehrer, Rome, 26.VI.40.
Now that the time has come to thrash England, I remind you of what I said to you at Munich about the direct participation of Italy in the assault of the Isle, I am ready to take part in this with land and air forces, and you know how much I desire it. I pray you to reply in order that I can pass into the phase of action. Awaiting this day, I send you my salute of comradeship.
There is no record of any other meeting between Hitler and Mussolini at Munich in the interval.
Chamberlain returned to England. At Heston where he landed, he waved the joint declaration which he had got Hitler to sign, and read it to the crowd of notables and others who welcomed him. As his car drove through cheering crowds from the airport, he said to Halifax^ sitting beside him, “All this will be over in three months”; but from the windows of Downing Street he waved his piece of paper again and used these words, “This is the second time there has come back from Germany to Downing Street peace with honour. I believe it is peace in our time.”
For the French Government to leave her faithful ally, Czechoslovakia, to her fate was a melancholy lapse from which flowed terrible consequences. Not only wise and fair policy, but chivalry, honour, and sympathy for a small threatened people made an overwhelming concentration. Great Britain, who would certainly have fought if bound by treaty obligations, was nevertheless now deeply involved, and it must be recorded with regret that the British Government not only acquiesced but encouraged the French Government in a fatal course.