Sunday, September 28, 2008

Commemoration of 70 Years From the Signing of the Munich Agreement

This afternoon my husband and I attended a program sponsored by the marking the 70th anniversary of the Munich Agreement that is generally blamed for leading to World War II.

For those of you who aren’t immersed in the history of World War II, here’s the basic rundown:

Hitler became chancellor of Germany in January of 1933. (The concentration camp Dachau was opened in March of 1933 as a political prison camp.) In contradiction of the peace treaty ending World War I, Germany annexed the Rhineland (the area between Germany and France) in 1936 without the European powers of France and Britain saying anything. (The United States was busy pursuing an isolationist policy at the time.)

Then, in March of 1938, Hitler annexed Austria, which ceased to exist as an independent country. Soon Hitler wanted the Sudentenland, the western part of Czechoslovakia that was predominately populated by ethnic Germans. The Czechs wanted to resist this plan, but were told they had to go along with the policy of Britain and France, which was appeasement.

And at the end of September 1938, based on the Munich Agreement, the Sudentenland of Czechoslovakia was handed over to the Germans, to be followed in 1939 by Nazi Germany’s takeover of the rest of Czechoslovakia.

The British prime minister at that time, Neville Chamberlain, is infamous for the statement “peace in our time” that sealed the fate of millions of Jews, Gypsies, clergy, homosexuals, mentally handicapped and anyone else the Third Reich declared should be exterminated.

At the program that we attended, the German and French consul generals tried to put appeasement in the context of the time – only 20 years after what was then known as the Great War, no one wanted war. (Nobody, that is, except the Germans, who apparently drank so much beer that they forgot the horrors of the World War I trenches.)

But there was also a video from a former Czech prime minister who presented the Czechoslovak side of the story: desertion by the West even though the Czech military were willing to sacrifice their lives to fight the Germans at the Czech border.

The reason for the importance of remembering the Munich agreement was mentioned – to ensure that the free world does not again bow under to appeasement rather than facing head on the horror of tyranny.

I understand the tendency of humans to wish for the best – burying their heads in the sand in hopes that the worst will not overcome them. But I fear that politicians, wishing to remain popular to achieve or stay in office, will repeat the mistakes that the British and French politicians made in appeasing Hitler rather than choosing to emulate Winston Churchill, who refused (though vastly unpopular) to knuckle under to appeasement.

And if our leaders choose to knuckle under, will democracy survive?

Technorati Tags:
, , , , , , , , ,

No comments: