The narrative we’re given about Munich is entirely in hindsight. We know what kind of man Hitler was, and that he started World War II in Europe. From the view of 1938, what Hitler was demanding at Munich was not unreasonable, according to the prevailing idea of the nation-state. His claim was that the German-speaking areas of Europe — and ones that thought of themselves as German — be under German authority. He had just annexed Austria, which was German-speaking, without bloodshed. There were two more small pieces of Germanic territory: the free city of Danzig and the Sudetenland, a border area of what is now the Czech Republic.
We live in an era when you do not change national borders for these sorts of reasons. We have learned the hazards of it. But 1938 was only 19 years since Germany’s borders had been redrawn, and not to its benefit. In the democracies there was some sense of guilt with how Germany had been treated after World War I. Certainly there was a memory of the “Great War.” In 2008, we have entirely forgotten World War I, and how utterly unlike any conception of “The Good War” it was. When the British let Hitler have a slice of Czechoslovakia, they were following the historical lesson they had learned 1914-1918: avoid war. War produces results far more horrible than you expected. War is a bad investment. It is not glorious. Don’t give anyone an excuse to start one.
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