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By Anonymous Mike, pseudonymously.

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Monday, September 22, 2008
Whither Munich?

Two pieces of personal information....

First, as a guilty pleasure, I enjoy reading alternate history especially that written by Henry Turtledove. Ranks right up there with Basha's cream-filled donuts, in fact both pleasures can be enjoyed together.

Second, I share my birthday with the Munich Agreement

Of such straws a post is born.

The Munich Agreement offers a certain symbolism within American political debate. Everytime this country deals with a tyrant or foreign aggressor, the ghost of Munich is invoked to illustrate the folly of appeasement and the necessity of a foreceful stance. The cry "If only Chamberlain stood fast at Munich, Hitler could have been stopped, and WW II averted" is often uttered in one of many forms. To offer anything but the strongest of stances against the like of Saddam, the Ayatollahs, or Milosevic is to betray the victims of Hitler and those who fought him.

We believe that if Chamberlain stood fast 70 years ago WW II would have been averted, but if he did stand fast what would have happened and how would he be remembered?

First, I believe there would have been war. It might have been brief, but I think Hitler would have had to pull the string or face removal from power. With Britain and France now supporting the Czechs, the Germans would have had to dilute their attack by keeping some of their forces in the West. As is, I think the Germans would have faced tough going; when the Germans toured the Czech border fortifications after the Munich Agreement ceded them without a shot, they were shocked at their strength.

That difficulty would not have stopped the war but it would have kept it short or at least inconclusive. However even a short, inconclusive war can be devastating with thousands of military casualties and more than likely Czech population centers bombed.

Second, Hitler would not have remained in power. While there was a plot by certain German generals to overthrow Hitler in case of the outbreak of war, I doubt that the coup would have been initiated given the docile state of the German high command. However if the Czech war was inconclusive and British and French action would have raised the specter of a two-front war, a war that the Germans would lose, then the generals might be prompted to strike. Keep in mind that the German military of 1938 was far weaker than the one that invaded Poland in 1939.

So the if Chamberlain somehow stood fast at Munich, the result most likely would have been a war that caused tens of thousands of casualties, the removal of Hitler, and the resulting descent of Germany into chaos. Chamberlain would then be remembered as a.... butcher.

Why? Why would Chamberlain be remembered as blood-thirsty instead of a hero? As someone who drove Europe into, rather than saved from, catastrophe?

Because the costs of a pre-emptive war in 1938 were known, but the benefits were unknown. Hitler did not yet suffer the universal reputation as the world's greatest mass murderer, Kristallnacht was still two months into the future. Furthermore much of Hitler's foreign policy was still viewed as legitimate by many in the West, as the man who would break Germany from the unjust chains of Versailles and therefore create the basis for a lasting peace in Europe. On the domestic front, Hitler had seemingly created an economic miracle, rescuing Germany from the evils of unemployment and hyper-inflation.

At the time of Munich, Hitler's demands contained an element of legitimacy, the annexation of ethnic Germans left on the wrong side of a political boundary by the evils of the Versailles Treaty. After all if Wilson's 14 Points and all of that was to support the wishes of the former subjects of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, on what basis did the Allies have in denying the Sudeten Germans the right to join Germany proper?

So Chamberlain would have fought a war that would have killed thousands, denied the right of self-determination of an ethnic group, denied the seemingly legitimate claims of Germany, and thrust that country and probably all of Europe into a chaos all on the principle of an arbitrary boundary that was not yet 20 years old.

Oh yes, the war would have been unpopular in France and Britain the moment it was declared with all the resultant domestic turmoil.

Chamberlain the villain, Hitler the victim. Where all the costs are known, but few of the benefits. That's what pre-emptive warfare looks like. Do you think Chamberlain could have made a case 70 years ago that if Hitler wasn't stopped at the Czech border Europe would soon be in flames from the Channel to Moscow, that large swaths of London would lay in ruins, that most of Europe's Jews would be turned into smoke and ash, and that American and Soviet troops would face each other over the ruins of the inter-German frontier?

Yeah right.

Keep that in mind when you read stories like this when everyone would be totaling up the costs of war.