Why Did Britain and France Accept to the Munich Agreement?

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Why did Britain and France accept to the Munich Agreement?

On 29 September 1938, the four leaders of Germany, Italy, Britain and France signed an agreement on the fate of the Sudeten territory in Czechoslovakia, without the Czechoslovak authorities present, which, it would seem at the time, was a guarantee of peace. Such was the premise of the event, but in reality it represented the abandonment of Czechoslovakia (Weinberg, 1988: 165), by France in particular, and the naïve nature of the foreign policy of both Britain and France. It was a failure in upholding basic civil rights, and a manifest of weakness of the two countries to stand against the bully, Hitler. There are a few reasons for this: the inexperience in facing a new enemy, dictatorship, the times were bad for a war, (not many years had passed since the last Great War and the economies still felt the effects of the Great Depression,) the public opinion was against another war; the failure of the League of Nations, and the Locarno Treaty, in making countries work together, instead of following their own, selfish, ambitions, and, most important of all, the policy of appeasement, due to Neville Chamberlain.

Chamberlain's policy of appeasement rested on the theory that the objectives of Hitler were essentially “limited in scope... to reversing the wrongs which... had been done to Germany in 1919” (Thomson, 1990: 737). This fatal assumption that the fascist movement had limited objectives and the removal of nationalist grievances would satisfy it, was followed by years of false talks and sense of achieving peace, when the truth was quite the opposite. Furthermore, Chamberlain was inexperienced in foreign affairs, and he had a desire to reach Anglo-German alliance to follow up with what his father, Joe Chamberlain, had started (Adamthwaite, 1977: 62). By ensuing such an alliance, he would, at least on paper, bring peace, something that would be a major achievement for the Tories in the looming General Election. Perhaps Chamberlain's biggest mistake was his belief in the reasonable nature of both Hitler and Mussolini; again the inexperience in dealing with dictatorships showed itself. Chamberlain believed Hitler “was a man who could be relied upon when he had given his word” (Adamthwaite, 1977: 62), as he wrote after the Berchtesgaden meeting. Whether Chamberlain realised this was far from truth or not, and when exactly, is arguable, however, based on the military advise, that the “war in 1938 would mean an imminent defeat” (Eubank, 1963: 36) it could be argued that it was more of a case of gaining time than following policy. Nonetheless, Munich was received very favourably and Chamberlain was even nominated to a Nobel Peace Prize for it. The mood was, clearly, that of a victory and for this reason Chamberlain's character is the most crucial factor in Britain accepting the Munich Agreement.

On the other hand, France had very little choice other than acceding to the Munich, as it was virtually isolated in its promises to defend Czechoslovakian independence. The League of Nations, or other pacts signed throughout the inter-war period, worked selectively based on the benefits for the members. None of the other countries, like Poland or Romania, would act upon the crisis before any events unfolded; in short, unless Germany attacked France or any of the countries directly, they would not act, since their view on the fate of Czechoslovakia was indifferent, perhaps they could even gain something from it. This was a blow to the French who were seeking support from countries whom they were allied with. The unclear stance of Russia was also worrying; in the official letters to Prague they were dedicated to support the Czechs, but in reality they had no way of getting their troops into Czechoslovakia and in truth Stalin was also interested in acquiring the land himself (Eubank, 1963: 110). Moreover, Russia would only act if the French had acted first, which was not a...
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