President Obama has been awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, not for any actual accomplishments, but for wishful thinking on the part of the Nobel community.
Yesterday I read a multitude of not-so-congratulatory comments about the award. Myself, I wonder if he was given the award because of his apparent mind-set about appeasement. He seems to be in favor of it.
That made me think about Neville Chamberlain’s same mind-set, and his “peace for our time” statement in 1938. Not being alive at that time, I researched the subject online.
The phrase “peace for our time” was spoken on 30 September 1938 by British prime minister Neville Chamberlain in his speech concerning the Munich Agreement. It is primarily remembered for its ironic value. In this photo, he is holding the paper containing the resolution to commit to peaceful methods signed by both Hitler and himself on his return from Munich. He is showing the paper to a crowd at Heston Aerodrome on 30 September 1938.
The agreement was negotiated and signed by Germany, France, Britain, and Italy, at a conference held in Munich, Germany, without the presence of Czechoslovakia. It was an act of appeasement. *(see section about appeasement below)
The Munich Agreement gave the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia to Adolf Hitler in an attempt to satisfy his desire for “living space” for Germany. The German occupation of the Sudetenland began on the next day, 1 October. Less than a year after the agreement, following continued aggression from Germany and its invasion of Poland, Europe was plunged into World War II.
The Munich Agreement permitted German annexation of Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland, areas along borders of Czechoslovakia, mainly inhabited by Czech Germans. The Sudetenland was of immense strategic importance to Czechoslovakia as most of its border defenses were situated there, and many of its banks were located there as well.
In Chamberlain’s speech of September 30 he said, “My good friends, this is the second time in our history that there has come back from Germany to Downing Street, peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time.” (emphasis added)
In another speech regarding the agreement, he said “The real triumph is that it has shown that representatives of four great Powers can find it possible to agree on a way of carrying out a difficult and delicate operation by discussion instead of by force of arms (emphasis added), and thereby they have averted a catastrophe which would have ended civilisation as we have known it.”
He was wrong.
Chamberlain was forced to resign the premiership on 10 May 1940, after Germany invaded the Netherlands, Belgium and France. He was succeeded by Winston Churchill but remained very well regarded in Parliament. Before ill health forced him to resign, he was an important member of Churchill’s War Cabinet. He had a key role in the formation of the Special Operations Executive. Chamberlain died of cancer six months after leaving the premiership.
* Appeasement: “the policy of settling international quarrels by admitting and satisfying grievances through rational negotiation and compromise, thereby avoiding the resort to an armed conflict which would be expensive, bloody, and possibly dangerous.” The term is most often applied to the foreign policy of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain towards Nazi Germany between 1937 and 1939.
Appeasement has been the subject of debate for eighty years among academics and politicians. The historian’s assessment of Chamberlain has ranged from condemnation to the judgment that he had no alternative and acted in Britain’s best interests. At the time, these concessions were widely seen as positive, and the Munich Pact among Germany, Great Britain, France and Italy prompted Chamberlain to announce that he had secured “peace for our time”. The word “appeasement” has been used as a synonym for cowardice since the 1930s and it is still used in that sense today, as a justification for firm, often armed, action in international relations.
In recent years, a revisionist school of history has emerged to challenge many assumptions about appeasement, arguing that it was a reasonable policy given the limitations of British arms available, the scattering of British forces across the world, and the reluctance of Dominion governments to go to war…
The production of aircraft was greatly increased at the time of the Munich agreement. Had war begun (at that time) instead, the Battle of Britain might have had a much different dynamic, with biplanes instead of Spitfires meeting the Germans.
A generally unrecognised aspect of Chamberlain is his role in the inception of and drawing up of a remit for the Special Operations Executive. His eagerness to avoid another Great War was, once war was a fact, matched by the ferocity of the SOE (Special Operations Executive) charter, which he drew up. (emphasis added)
The Special Operations Executive (SOE) (sometimes referred to as “the Baker Street Irregulars”) was a World War II organisation of the United Kingdom. It was initiated by Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Minister of Economic Warfare Hugh Dalton on July 22, 1940, to conduct warfare by means other than direct military engagement. Its mission was to encourage and facilitate espionage and sabotage behind enemy lines.
The organisation was formed from the merger of three existing secret departments… (1) a Foreign Office propaganda organisation known as Department EH (after Electra House, its headquarters), (2) the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, also known as MI6) Section D, which investigated the use of sabotage, propaganda and other irregular means to weaken an enemy… and (3) the War Office department that researched guerrilla warfare, known initially as GS (R) and renamed MI R in early 1939.
It was also known as “Churchill’s Secret Army” or “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” and was charged by Churchill to “set Europe ablaze.” The SOE directly employed or controlled just over 13,000 people. It is estimated that SOE supported or supplied about 1,000,000 operatives worldwide.
SOE was dissolved officially on 15 January, 1946. Most of its personnel reverted to their peacetime occupations (or regular service in the armed forces), but 280 personnel were taken into the “Special Operations Branch” of MI6. Some of these had served as agents in the field, but MI6 was most interested in SOE’s training and research staff.
For details about the creation, operation, success and failures of this remarkable organization, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_Operations_Executive.
It seems that in the end, Chamberlain learned a hard lesson about appeasement: it doesn’t work when you’re dealing with a madman like Hitler – and it won’t work with current madmen (and religious fanatics) like Ahmadinejad and his allies.
I hope President Obama doesn’t have to learn this hard lesson the same way Chamberlain did.