Philip Coben

At the Munich Conference

(August 1948)

From The New International, Vol. XIV No. 6, August 1948, p. 184.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The documents from the German Foreign Office recently published by the Russian government [1], dealing with the Munich Conference of 1938, permit a brief vignette of what went on as the four statesmen talked over the corpse of the Czech republic. Hitler and Mussolini, Chamberlain and Daladier – what did they have to say, face to face behind closed doors?

The minutes of the actual discussions, taken down for the German foreign ministry, recreate the same unmistakable impression that all men have today: the “democratic” leaders cringing and scraping before the dictators like a couple of butlers who would like very much to make a point but are afraid of arousing the temper of their choleric master.

Hitler opened the conference without mincing words. “The problem” had to be “settled within a few days.” At the “request” of Mussolini, “he, the Führer, had expressed his willingness to postpone mobilization in Germany for twenty-four hours.” His remarks continue (reported in the third person like all the rest):

“He had declared in his speech in the Sportpalast that on the first of October he would march in whatever happened. To this it was replied that such procedure would bear the character of an act of violence. The task, consequently, was to deprive the act of this character.”

He was being gracious enough, therefore, to let the democratic butlers deprive the act of its violent character by ... blessing it themselves. The role of Chamberlain and Daladier was to guarantee acceptance of this now “peaceful” act by the Czechs.

This raised the only point at which the butlers coughed discreetly. “As to the guarantee which was being asked of Britain, he [Chamberlain] would be glad if a representative of the Czech government were present,” to give assurances. Hitler’s reply was brutal:

“The Führer replied to this that. he was not interested in assurances from the Czech government, for it was precisely this government that was doing the destruction.”

Daladier hastened to assure him that the French government would under no circumstances tolerate dilatory conduct on the part of the Czech government,” but still “he was of the opinion that the presence of a Czech representative who could be consulted if necessary would be useful.” Hitler thereupon spat out another expression of disinterest in Czech assurances of capitulation.

Chamberlain then lowered his sights: he would “welcome it if a representative of the Prague government were present in the next room from whom he could receive assurances.” No use. Hitler merely ranted about the Czechs destroying 247 bridges, Mussolini pointed out their “moral duty,” and Daladier torpedoed Chamberlain’s ludicrous last stand by declaring that he “had already taken upon himself the responsibility in London, when, without asking the Czech government, he had given his consent in principle to the cession of the German areas [of Czechoslovakia]. He had taken this stand even though France had a treaty of alliance with Czechoslovakia.” Finis.

The rest of the conference was spent in drawing lines on maps, except for a “lengthy discussion of the different meanings of the word ‘guarantee’ in England and on the continent.”

Thus the old world ended, without even a Czech in the next room. A couple of Czech delegates flew in later that evening, while the parleys were still going on. Hubert Masaryk’s report to Prague, published in 1939, is included in the documents before us, even though it has been public for nine years. He describes how he and Mastny were informed of the decision:

“At 1:30 a. m. we were taken into the hall where the conference had been held. [Only the British and French were there.] ... The atmosphere was oppressive; sentence was about to be passed. The French, obviously embarrassed, appeared to be aware of the consequences for French prestige. Mr. Chamberlain, in a short introduction, referred to the agreement which had just been concluded and gave the text to Dr. Mastny to read out ...

“While M. Mastny was speaking with Mr. Chamberlain about matters of perhaps secondary importance (Mr. Chamberlain yawned without ceasing and with no show of embarrassment), I asked M. Daladier and Leger whether they expected a declaration or answer to the agreement from our government. M. Daladier, obviously embarrassed, did not reply. M. Leger replied that the four statesmen had not much time ... The atmosphere was becoming oppressive for everyone present ...

“Mr. Chamberlain did not conceal his fatigue. After the text had been read, we were given a second slightly corrected map. We said good-by and left.”

Good-by to Munich? Not quite. After an interlude called a “war for democracy,” there was ... Yalta. But that is another story about a couple of other “democratic” statesmen.


1. See last month’s NI, page 154.

Last updated on 6 July 2017