MARCH 15, 2019, marks 80 years since Winston Churchill was proved right on the biggest issue in European affairs – that Adolf Hitler was a tyrant who could not be reasoned with.
Hitler was gifted the Sudetenland by Neville Chamberlain via the 1938 Munich Agreement and a few months later the Nazis rolled into the rest of Czechoslovakia to complete the job. Chamberlain’s scrap of paper and his declaration of ‘peace for our time’ proved no match for Hitler. What Churchill had warned about repeatedly for at least five years became a reality.
Today, Churchill has been slandered by the usual suspects, but then attacking Churchill is nothing new. He was relentlessly attacked as a warmonger during his entire life, as someone who hated peace, as someone who got the big issues wrong. But Churchill didn’t get the biggest issue of all wrong – he was one of the few who saw Hitler coming and because of him Western Europe was saved from Nazism. His many critics were wrong then, and they are wrong now.
For most of the 1930s the weak British government appeased Hitler time and again, culminating in the now pathetic sight of Chamberlain returning from Munich waving a scrap of paper that he thought would restrain Hitler.
The House of Commons debated the Munich Agreement and supported Chamberlain, reflecting the overwhelming public mood. This was no less than Chamberlain’s third visit to the Fuhrer, who played him for the fool he was. The surrender of the Sudetenland under the terms of the Munich Agreement was the result.
Churchill was one of the few to speak out against this surrender in the House of Commons (another was Duff Cooper, the First Lord of the Admiralty, who resigned in disgust). It is difficult to understand today what a minority position opposition to appeasement was – those who spoke out against it were condemned as ‘hardliners’ and extreme.
On October 5, 1938, Churchill said: ‘The terms which the Prime Minister brought back with him could easily have been agreed, I believe, through the ordinary diplomatic channels at any time during the summer. And I will say this, that I believe the Czechs, left to themselves and told they were going to get no help from the Western Powers, would have been able to make better terms than they have got after all this tremendous perturbation; they could hardly have had worse.’
It is worth remembering that the surrender of the Sudetenland came at a real price for the Jews of that region. About 20,000 fled to safety; the rest were imprisoned in concentration camps. By the end of the war, more than a quarter of a million Jews had perished under the Nazi occupation of the Czechoslovakian Republic.
Churchill was outraged that these people had been abandoned. ‘But, however you put it, this particular block of land, this mass of human beings to be handed over, has never expressed the desire to go into the Nazi rule. I do not believe that even now, if their opinion could be asked, they would exercise such an opinion.’
He also prophetically declared: ‘I venture to think that in future the Czechoslovak State cannot be maintained as an independent entity. I think you will find that in a period of time which may be measured by years, but may be measured only by months, Czechoslovakia will be engulfed in the Nazi regime.’
They were indeed engulfed five months later on March 15, 1939, and there was nothing Chamberlain could do about it. The hardliner, the warmonger, was proved right, when nearly everyone around him had declared him wrong for so long.
On September 1, 1939, Poland was next to fall to the Nazis and finally, finally, the appeasers knew the gig was up. Britain declared war two days later.
Remember this the next time you hear some idiot slandering Churchill. There were plenty such people around in the 30s. Thankfully Churchill took no notice. Neither should we.