Czechoslovakia felt they couldn’t defend the Sudetenland without British or French help. Germany was a bigger country, with a stronger economy and a bigger millitary, and the Czechs figured that if they fought, they’d lose, and then Germany would take not just the Sudentenland, but take over the country.
The Czechs didn’t have much choice. Britain and France made it clear that they would not go to war over Czechoslovakia. It was either give up the Sudetenland and hope that it was all Germany wanted, or fight Germany. What would you do, particularly if WW I had happened only 20 years ago?
It might have been different for a country like The Netherlands, or Belgium, or Denmark, with years of history and tradition. Czechoslovakia was only 20 years old, a somewhat “manufactured” country out of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Germany, Russia/Poland, etc. They had some of the will to fight, but not enough time to be ready to fight Germany.
In fact, Denmark pretty much did the same thing in 1940.
I don’t find either country at fault. By no means! Britain and France sold Czechoslovakia down the river. Neville Chamberlain infamously said:
“How horrible, fantastic it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing. I am myself a man of peace from the depths of my soul.”
He also purportedly had to have Czechoslovakia pointed out to him on a map.
More “backstory”: Many Brits, including Chamberlain, thought the Treaty of Versailles was unfair to Germany. These people felt that Germany was only getting back territory and privileges it had deserved from the beginning. The French had been the ones to push through the “reduction” of Germany (after 2 devastating wars in the space of 40 years), but in 1938 the French government was unwilling to step up to Hitler.
You can’t imagine this happening now? Nobody can! That’s the whole point. International policies of many nations since WW II have been based on correcting the incredible mistakes of that war. I should write a book!
Czechoslovakia can’t fairly be compared to Denmark or the Netherlands. Because of the terrain, they had more defensible borders, with a substantial army and a fortified defense line. There were voices in Czechoslovakia calling for resistance, in which they would have been joined by the Soviet Union but opposed by Poland and Hungary in addition to Germany. (Poland and Hungary also wanted, and got, pieces of Czechoslovakia.) Conceivably, once the fighting broke out, Britain and France would have reconsidered their neutrality.
In the event, obviously, President Benes decided otherwise. He chose not to order the army to resist the Munich-sanctioned German incursion. He then resigned and went into exile. Certainly, Czechoslovakia would have been facing long odds in a war, and the Soviet Union (as seen in Finland) wouldn’t have been much use as an ally. But compared with the consequences of 50 years of Nazi and Communist occupation, resistance might have been better. We’ll never know.
The Munich agreement, BTW, gave away the defensible borders.
I didn’t mean to say that CZ was unwilling to fight, just that they didn’t see the point of fighting alone. They didn’t trust any of their neighbors, for good reason.
That, I think, is a stretch. The Munich agreement only gave Germany the Sudetenland. Germany then took all of Czechoslovakia. A clear act of war. Britain and France did absolutely zippo. In this case, CZ was probably right on.
No, we won’t. I suspect that in the days before WW II, most Central Europeans would have taken occupation over fighting. My grandmother was in the part of Russia occupied by Germany in WW I. She had much better treatment from the Germans than she ever did from the Russians. So mebbe Benes thought that occupation was safer.
The Poles chose not to ally themselves with the USSR, and instead chose Britain and France. During the Polish invasion, France did nothing. The Poles got the USSR anyway.
The Soviet Union being seperated from Czechoslovakia, of course, by Poland. So, for the Soviets to help, they’d have to declare war on Germany, and Poland as well, as successfully invade Poland. Then, from the Czech standpoint, even if they were successful in stopping Germany, they’d have to deal with the Soviets, now in their country and looking to be paid back for their help.
In addition, the UK was not ready to go to war over Czechoslovakia.
Winston Churchill praised the Munich agreement – and he had no illusions that the Nazis would be satisfied with the Sudetenland. But the British army wasn’t ready to go to war, and the British public would not have supported it. Munich bought time.
The common claim that Chamberlain “betrayed” Czechoslovakia is incorrect. The United Kingdom had no legal obligation to protect Czechoslovakia at the time of the Munich Conference. The UK had never signed any treaty with Czechoslovakia.
When Germany made it clear that they were willing to invade Czechoslovakia in order to conquer the Sudentenland, the United Kingdom, along with other countries, called a conference to try to work things out. When it was clear Germany wasn’t going to turn aside, the UK told Czechoslovakia that it was on its own and shouldn’t count on British military support.
No country is morally obligated to fight on behalf of another country unless there is some actual existing agreement between them.
The UK wasn’t ready to go to war over Czechoslovakia because first the Baldwin and then the Chamberlain government had spent the last couple of years cutting spending on the millitary. It was government policy that Hitler shouldn’t be resisted.
And Little Nemo, while Britain hadn’t signed any treaty with the Czechs, France had. And the conference wasn’t “to work things out”. Chamberlain had already decided to give Germany a free hand in the Sudetenland.
As to your comment that it wasn’t a “betrayal” of the country, this is GQ, not GD, so it’s probably best that we don’t discuss the question.
I don’t believe the evidence supports you on this. From the beginning, the Government urged the Czechs to give into German demands. It was due to British urging at the very beginning of the crisis that the Czechs agreed to Sudeten autonomy (Germany’s original demand). Then, as soon as the Germans upped their demands to Sudeten annexation, you had the BBC censoring Harold Nicholson, and the Times (which was so close to the Government it was almost an official mouthpiece) editorializing in favor of just that. At the same time, you have Chamberlain and Lord Halifax drawing up a timeline for the handover of the Sudeten. As early as the middle of May, Chamberlain was calling for Sudeten independence in off the record conversations with the press.
I’ll go through the whole series of events if you want, but nothing seems to suggest that “if they could have prevented it by non-millitary means they would have.” Nothing seems to suggest that the Government had any interest at all in preventing the annexation. Their attitude seemed to be more “we don’t really care what happens to Czechoslovakia so long as it doesn’t lead to a wider war.”
You can still make the argument that Britain had a moral imperative to help Czechoslovakia. The UK and France were the two preeminent European powers. That very status, you could argue, gave them an obligation to help keep the peace in Europe. What’s more, Czechoslovakia was a democracy, the only one in Eastern Europe. As aggresive proponents of democratic values, you could argue they had an obligation to help a fellow democracy under threat. What’s more, Britain was a leading power in the League of Nations, which had as its very purpose the prevention of aggression by strong states against weaker ones through collective security. Heck, it was the British who drew the borders of Czechoslovakia in the first place. Didn’t they have an obligation to protect their creation?
All this doesn’t even address the practical failures of British appeasement, not the least of which that failing to confront Germany over Czechoslovakia meant that Germany was emboldened to continue their aggression, the world prestige of Britain was damaged, and the Soviets, now fearful that Britain and France would be unreliable against Germany, were starting to consider making a seperate non-aggression pact.
No, the OP was a pretty straightforward question…“Why did the Czechs go along with Munich”, and everyone answered pretty much the same way, i.e. “Because they didn’t feel strong enough to resist Germany alone”. The question of whether Britain acted rightly during the Czech crisis, however, is a GD.
I doubt that the Soviet Union would have lifted a finger to aid the Czechs should they have chosen to resist German occupation of the Suddetenland, and they certainly would not have done so in the absence of French and/or British support. Legally they were under no obligation to do so – their treaty obligations required the Soviets to support Czechoslovakia only if the French did so as well. As has been pointed out, there’s the obvious problem that they didn’t border either Germany or Czechoslovaia, and would have had to receive passage permission from Poland (not likely) or invaded Poland (sorely tempting, but the timing wasn’t right).
Moreover, as diametrically opposed as their ideologies were, the Soviets in this timeframe increasingly saw Nazi Germany as a country they could do business with. Both nations were treated somewhat as paraiahs by the rest of the other Great Powers. Both had historical territorial grieveances to settle, and the concept of carving up Eastern Europe between them wasn’t exactly new. In fact, less than a year after the Munich Agreement, the two would sign the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact pledging mutual non-aggression and agreeing to divide Central and Eastern Europe into Nazi and Soviet spheres of influence.
My answer being “no, countries are not obligated to intercede by a moral imperative.” The United Kingdom was not obligated to fight on behalf of Czechoslovakia. Nor was the United States or Japan or Sweden or Brazil.
Agreed but what I would also like to know is if the Czechs actually were in a position to repel the Germans.
In another forum (that prompted this question) someone made the suggestion that the Sudetenland was well enough defended that they could have stopped the Germans. That just did not seem right to me but I admit I do not know. My sense is they could have given the Germans a hard time but not actually have stopped them. Additionally I read that many of the people in that area were sympathetic to the Germans so not sure how much they could be counted on to fight against them.
The really sad thing was: the czechs had a small, but very well equipped army 9about 10 divisions), they has fairly modern tanks as well. had the British/French made a show of support, the czech army probably could have held off the germans for weeks-of course, the germans would have devasted prague with bomber attacks. So many chances to stand up to Hitler-the Rhineland (a show of force by the French Army would have had the german officer corps overhtrow Hitler), and Munich. Because these chances were lost, the horror that was WWII took place.
Not particularly. Goering made clear to President Hacha that they had a division to every Czech battalion, and made a chilling threat that I’ve always thought had a lot to do with the decision: he told him that if Czechoslovakia did not immediately capituale, he would order the Luftwaffe to bomb Prague. Hacha didn’t want to sacrifice Prague and its inhabitants for a war they couldn’t win. The bombing of Prague would have been a horrific tragedy for the Czechs, both in loss of life and cultural identity. They didn’t really have much choice at all.
To elaborate a little: the decision to hand Czechoslovakia over to the Nazis was essentially President Emil Hacha’s, a 66 year old lawyer with a heart condition. Shirer has an account of his meeting with Hitler and Goering; I can’t find it online, but this is pretty close:
pravnik, you’re discussing something different: the final dismemberment of Czechoslovakia in March 1939. By that time the Sudetenland and its defense line and Skoda works were gone, and the country was already demoralized and falling apart. At that point resistance would have been suicidal. We’re talking about September 1938, when the country was still intact under Benes.
Germany was something of a paper tiger. Hitler and Goering could talk about the might of the German military but it was mostly bluff in 1938. It wasn’t all bluff of course: Czechoslovakia couldn’t have beaten Germany in a one-on-one confrontation. But if Czechoslovakia had fought they could have probably held out for weeks and that might have opened up some possibilities. France, England or the Soviet Union might have decided to intervene after all or the German military might have staged a coup against Hitler (there were plans for this). At the very least, the revelation that Germany was much weaker than it was publically claiming would have changed the events of the next two years. The major powers would have been much more aggressive against Hitler if his army had received a good thumping in Czechoslovakia.