Peace in Our Time: Obama’s Munich, Part 1 by Steven Jonas, MD, MPH

by Steven Jonas, MD, MPH
Featured Writer
Dandelion Salad
crossposted on
December 8, 2010

Wikileaks is all the rage right now — in two senses.  The substantive rage is among those U.S. people who care about the nefarious and sometimes illegal schemes that its government has perpetrated on the U.S. and around the world for so many years; among the peoples of other countries who suffered from those schemes; and the foreign governments who were complicit on the schemes and now stand exposed.  The process rage is on the part of U.S. officials and media who want to totally distract the U.S. people from the content of the leaks onto whether Mr. Assange is a spy, an unsafe modern Casanova, a terrorist, or worse.  (Can’t be treason, folks, because he ain’t a U.S. citizen and likely never will be.)  And they are surely succeeding in the U.S., although hardly abroad.

The British have a civilized approach to the Wikileaks-type projects.  They actually openly publish almost all of their secret government papers.  The only difference is that under The Official Secrets Act, the publication comes 50 years or so after the fact.  And so we come to “Munich.” On September 30, 1938, at a conference held in Munich, Germany, along with the French and the Italians the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain gave the German Chancellor Adolf Hitler “permission” to invade the nation of Czechoslovakia which, by the way, was not invited to the conference. The ostensible issue was the “rights” of the German minority that lived in the Western part of the country in what in German was called the “Sudetenland.” The Germans took over about a third of its territory, including 70% of its iron and steel capacity, 70% of its electrical power, 3.5 million citizens, and the famous Skoda Works, as well as a number of its major banks, all supplying much needed capital to the Nazis.  Hitler proceeded to occupy most of the rest of the country about six months later (bits and pieces having been chopped off by the Poles and the Hungarians) without making any further deals with anyone.

Descending from his airplane upon his return to London, waving a piece of paper, Chamberlain uttered four of the most famous words in modern European history: “Peace in Our Time.”  Since that time, Chamberlain’s apparent capitulation to Hitler, at the total expense of another country of course, has been described as “appeasement.”  (To my knowledge, no Western capitalist observer has ever referred to the contemporaneous total abandonment by the Western Democracies, including the United States, of the elected Republican government in Spain, under assault from fascist rebels receiving full support from the beginning of their revolt from Nazi Germany and fascist Italy as “appeasement,” but that’s another story.)  But now we know that that was not what Chamberlain was about.  He wasn’t attempting to appease Hitler.  He was attempting to make a deal with him to have him point his guns in one particular direction, to include as targets neither the United Kingdom Home Islands nor the British Empire at large.

In 1995, Clement Leibovitz and Alvin Finkel published a book entitled In Our Time: The Chamberlain-Hitler Collusion (New York: Monthly Review Press).  Based on both official sources that became available under The Official Secrets Act and other correspondence and dispatches, the authors tell us what was really going on between the British and German governments of the time.  It turns out that what Chamberlain was really trying to achieve at Munich had nothing to do with “appeasement” of Hitler.  It had everything to do with: A) trying to keep Hitler focused on his much-touted “Drang Nach Osten” (“Drive to the East”) in order to achieve the destruction of the Soviet Union and B) preventing the Red Army of that nation from taking up a prominent place in Central Europe.  For the Soviet Union had pledged to the Czechs, who had a well-equipped and trained army of their own ready to fight the Wehrmacht, full ground and air military support.  As the deadline for the threatened German invasion approached, the Red Air Force had many planes warming up ready to attack the Nazis.  But, under enormous pressure from the British and French governments, the final “go” never came from the Czech government to the Soviets.  The Red Air Force stayed on its runways and the Czechs were left to the tender mercies of the Nazis, the first non-German territory seized by them in the run-up to World  War II.

Chamberlain thought that he had a long-term deal.  As for the event the following March, well, wasn’t Hitler just continuing the desired Drang Nach Osten?  But then, in the summer of 1939, Hitler raised the ante by threatening to invade Poland over what was called the “Polish Corridor” that separated Germany from its long-held slice (pie-shaped, actually) of old Poland and Russia called “East Prussia.”  Again, the Soviet Union, which by this time was getting very concerned with German expansionism accompanied by increasingly virulent anti-Soviet propaganda, offered to protect Poland militarily.  However, the last thing that the right-wing Polish government wanted was the Red Army in its living room.  When the Soviet Union finally gave up trying to make an anti-fascist alliance with the Western powers and concluded the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact on August 25, 1939, the Poles suddenly found the Wehrmacht in their living room and the Red Army in their backyard.

It has become clear from the British government papers and related documents that Chamberlain, as mentioned, had hoped to reach a deal with Hitler that would allow/coax him to destroy the Soviet Union, which Chamberlain hated only slightly less ardently than did Hitler.  The deal would be not to contest his drive to the East militarily in return for a pledge to leave Great Britain and the British Empire intact.  However, he never did get that deal.  He got a good deal more, in fact, than any of his British Conservative political and economic supporters had bargained for.  On September 3, 1939 the British and the French were forced to go to war with the Germans over the invasion of Poland because of a mutual aid pact that they had with the Poles.  Poland, sending horse cavalry out to fight Hitler’s Panzer tanks, fell quickly.  A front was opened in the West, but nothing much happened on it until the Nazis launched their surprise “Blitzkrieg” invasion of France on May 10, 1940.  World War II was truly underway.

Nevertheless, during the winter of 1940, with his nation ostensibly at war, Chamberlain continued, secretly, to attempt to negotiate with Hitler to achieve his joint aims.  The way Hitler negotiated with Chamberlain on the Czech situation and why Hitler refused to seriously negotiate with him on the proffered deal, except to get a complete capitulation as Hitler did at Munich, speaks volumes about what is going now between Obama and his DLC/Right and McConnell/Boehner and their GOP/Far-Right over fiscal and economic policy.    To me there is not too much mystery here.  Nevertheless, I will be considering it in Part II of this little series, next week on BuzzFlash.   Hint: the much-touted “compromise” that Obama achieved with the GOP on taxes and unemployment insurance has about as much value for the majority of the people of the United States as the “Peace in Our Time” that Chamberlain achieved with Hitler had for either peace in their time or the Czechs.

Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor of 30 books. In addition to being a columnist for Truthout/BuzzFlash (,, Dr. Jonas is also Managing Editor and a Contributing Author for TPJmagazine; a Featured Writer for Dandelion Salad; a Senior Columnist for The Greanville POST; a Contributor to Op-Ed; a Contributor to TheHarderStuff newsletter; and a Contributor to The Planetary Movement.


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3 thoughts on “Peace in Our Time: Obama’s Munich, Part 1 by Steven Jonas, MD, MPH

  1. Pingback: Peace in Our Time: Obama’s Munich, Part III by Steven Jonas, MD, MPH « Dandelion Salad

  2. Pingback: Peace in Our Time: Obama’s Munich, Part II by Steven Jonas, MD, MPH « Dandelion Salad

  3. Very interesting information on appeasement in WWII. I hadn’t thought of viewing the failure of the West to support Republican Spain as appeasement, but it might be an apt way to describe it. Good article.

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