The British Parliamentary Debate on the Munich Agreement

From Parliamentary Debates, 5th series, vol.339 (1938), cols 30, 31-34, 39, 40, 47-52, 54, 56-58, 62-63, 150-154, 162, 360-369, 373, 548-553.


I have always been a student of foreign politics. I have served 10 years in the Foreign Office, and I have studied the history of this and of other countries, and I have always believed that one of the most important principles in foreign policy and the conduct of foreign policy should be to make your policy plain to other countries, to let them know where you stand and what in certain circumstances you are prepared to do....

I believe that the great defect in our foreign policy during recent months and recent weeks has been that we have failed to do so. During the last four weeks we have been drifting, day by day, nearer into war with Germany, and we have never said, until the last moment, and

then in most uncertain terms, that we were prepared to fight. We knew that information to the opposite effect was being poured into the ears of the head of the German State. He had been assured, reassured, and fortified in the opinion that in no case would Great Britain fight....

I had urged . . . after the rape of Austria, that Great Britain should make a firm declaration of what her foreign policy was, and then and later I was met with this, that the people of this country are not prepared to fight for Czechoslovakia…

I besought my colleagues not to see this problem always in terms of Czechoslovakia, not to review it always from the difficult strategic position of that small country, but rather to say to themselves, "A moment may come when, owing to the invasion of Czechoslovakia, a European war will begin, and when that moment comes we must take part in that war, we cannot keep out of it, and there is no doubt upon which side we shall fight. Let the world know that and it will give those who are prepared to disturb the peace reason to hold their hand." It is perfectly true that after the assault on Austria the Prime Minister made a speech in this House--an excellent speech with every word of which I was in complete agreement--and what he said then was repeated and supported by the Chancellor of the Exchequer at Lanark. It was, however, a guarded statement. It was a statement to the effect that if there were such a war it would be unwise for anybody to count upon the possibility of our staying out.

That is not the language which the dictators understand. Together with new methods and a new morality they have introduced also a new vocabulary into Europe. They have discarded the old diplomatic methods of correspondence….

I had hoped that it might be possible to make a statement to Herr Hitler before he made his speech at Nuremberg. On all sides we were being urged to do so by people in this country, by Members in this House, by Leaders of the Opposition, by the Press, by the beads of foreign States, even by Germans who were supporters of the regime and did not wish to see it plunged into a war which might destroy it. But we were always told that on no account must we irritate Herr Hitler; it was particularly dangerous to irritate him before he made a public speech, because if he were so irritated he might say some terrible things from which afterwards there would be no retreat. It seems to me that Herr Hitler never makes a speech save under the influence of considerable irritation, and the addition of one more irritant would not, I should have thought, have made a great difference, whereas the communication of a solemn fact would have produced a sobering effect.

After the chance of Nuremberg was missed I had hoped that the Prime Minister at his first interview with Herr Hitler at Berchtesgaden would make the position plain, but he did not do so. Again, at Godesberg I had hoped that that statement would be made in unequivocal language. Again I was disappointed. Hitler had another speech to make in Berlin. Again an opportunity occurred of telling him exactly where we stood before he made that speech, but again the opportunity was missed, and it was only after the speech that he was informed....

Then came the last appeal from the Prime Minister on Wednesday morning. For the first time from the beginning to the end of the four weeks of negotiations Herr Hitler was prepared to yield an inch, an ell perhaps, but to yield some measure to the representations of Great Britain. But I would remind the House that the message from the Prime Minister was not the first news that he had received that morning. At dawn he had learned of the mobilisation of the British Fleet. It is impossible to know what are the motives of man and we shall probably never be satisfied as to which of these two sources of inspiration moved him most when he agreed to go to Munich, but we do know that never before had he given in and that then he did. I had been urging the mobilisation of the Fleet for many days. I had thought that this was the kind of language which would be easier for Herr Hitler to understand than the guarded language of diplomacy or the conditional clauses of the Civil Service. I had urged that something in that direction might be done at the end of August and before the Prime Minister went to Berchtesgaden. I had suggested that it should accompany the mission of Sir Horace Wilson. I remember the Prime Minister stating it was the one thing that would ruin that mission, and I said it was the one thing that would lead it to success.

That is the deep difference between the Prime Minister and myself throughout these days. The Prime Minister has believed in addressing Herr Hitler through the language of sweet reasonableness. I have believed that he was more open to the language of the mailed fist....

The Prime Minister has confidence in the good will and in the word of Herr Hitler, although when Herr Hitler broke the Treaty of Versailles he undertook to keep the Treaty of Locarno, and when he broke the Treaty of Locarno he undertook not to interfere further, or to have further territorial aims, in Europe. When he entered Austria by force he authorised his henchmen to give an authoritative assurance that he would not interfere with Czechoslovakia. That was less than six months ago. Still, the Prime Minister believes that he can rely upon the good faith of Hitler; he believes that Hitler is interested only in Germany, as the Prime Minister was assured....

The Prime Minister may be right. I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, with the deepest sincerity, that I hope and pray that he is right, but I cannot believe what he believes. I wish I could. . . . I remember when we were discussing the Godesberg ultimatum that I said that if I were a party to persuading, or even to suggesting to, the Czechoslovak Government that they should accept that ultimatum, I should never be able to hold up my head again. . . . I have ruined, perhaps, my political career. But that is a little matter; I have retained something which is to me of great value--I can still walk about the world with my head erect.


In my view the strongest force of all, one which grew and took fresh shapes and forms every day was the force not of any one individual, but was that unmistakable sense of unanimity among the peoples of the world that war somehow must be averted. The peoples of the British Empire were at one with those of Germany, of France and of Italy, and their anxiety, their intense desire for peace, pervaded the whole atmosphere of the conference, and I believe that that, and not threats, made possible the Concessions that were made....

Ever since I assumed my present office my main purpose has been to work for the pacification of Europe, for the removal of those suspicions and those animosities which have so long poisoned the air. The path which leads to appeasement is long and bristles with obstacles. The question of Czechoslovakia is the latest and perhaps the most dangerous. Now that we have got past it, I feel that it may be possible to make further progress along the road to sanity.

My right hon. Friend [Duff Cooper] has alluded in somewhat bitter terms to my conversation last Friday morning with Herr Hitler. I do not know why that conversation should give rise to suspicion, still less to criticism. I entered into no pact. I made no new commitments. There is no secret understanding. Our conversation was hostile to no other nation. The objects of that conversation, for which I asked, was to try to extend a little further the personal Contact which I had established with Herr Hitler and which I believe to be essential in modern diplomacy. We had a friendly and entirely non-committal conversation, carried on, on my part, largely with a view to seeing whether there could be points in common between the head of a democratic Government and the ruler of a totalitarian State. We see the result in the declaration which has been published, in which my right hon. Friend finds so much ground for suspicion....

I believe there are many who will feel with me that such a declaration, signed by the German Chancellor and myself, is something more than a pious expression of opinion. In our relations with other countries everything depends upon there being sincerity and good will on both sides. I believe that there is sincerity and good will on both sides in this declaration. That is why to me its significance goes far beyond its actual words. If there is one lesson which we should learn from the events of these last weeks it is this, that lasting peace is not to be obtained by sitting still and waiting for it to come. It requires active, positive efforts to achieve it. No doubt I shall have plenty of critics who will say that I am guilty of facile optimism, and that I should disbelieve every word that is uttered by rulers of other great States in Europe. I am too much of a realist to believe that we are going to achieve our paradise in a day. We have only laid the foundations of peace. The superstructure is not even begun....

While we must renew our determination to fill up the deficiencies that yet remain in our armaments and in our defensive precautions, so that we may be ready to defend ourselves and make our diplomacy effective--[Interruption]--yes I am a realist--nevertheless I say with an equal sense of reality that I do see fresh opportunities of approaching this subject of disarmament opening up before us, and I believe that they are at least as hopeful to-day as they have been at any previous time. It is to such tasks--the winning back of confidence, the gradual removal of hostility between nations until they feel that they can safely discard their weapons, one by one, that I would wish to devote what energy and time may be left to me before I hand over my office to younger men.


We all feel relief that war has not come this time. Every one of us has been passing through days of anxiety; we cannot, however, feel that peace has been established, but that we have nothing but an armistice in a state of war. We have been unable to go in for carefree rejoicing. We have felt that we are in the midst of a tragedy. We have felt humiliation. This has not been a victory for reason and humanity. It has been a victory for brute force. At every stage of the proceedings there have been time limits laid down by the owner and ruler of armed force. The terms have not been terms negotiated; they have been terms laid down as ultimata. We have seen today a gallant, civilised and democratic people betrayed and handed over to a ruthless despotism. We have seen something more. We have seen the cause of democracy, which is, in our view, the cause of civilisation and humanity, receive a terrible defeat.

I think that in the mind of every thoughtful person in this Country when he heard that this settlement had been arrived at at Munich, there was a conflict. On the one hand there was enormous relief that war had been averted, at all events for the time being; on the other, there was a sense of humiliation and foreboding for the future....

The events of these last few days constitute one of the greatest diplomatic defeats that this country and France have ever sustained. There can be no doubt that it is a tremendous victory for Herr Hitler. Without firing a shot, by the mere display of military force, he has achieved a dominating position in Europe which Germany failed to win after four years of war. He has overturned the balance of power in Europe. He has destroyed the last fortress of democracy in Eastern Europe which stood in the way of his ambition. He has opened his way to the food, the oil and the resources which he requires in order to consolidate his military power, and he has successfully defeated and reduced to impotence the forces that might have stood against the rule of violence.

The Prime Minister has given us an account of his actions. Everybody recognises the great exertions he has made in the cause of peace. When the captain of a ship by disregarding all rules of navigation has gone right off his course and run the ship into great danger, watchers from the shore, naturally impressed with the captain's frantic efforts to try to save something from the shipwreck, cheer him when he comes ashore and even want to give him a testimonial, but there follows an inquiry, an inquest, on the victims, and the question will be asked how the vessel got so far off its course, how and why it was so hazarded? All the faults of seamanship and errors of judgment must be brought to light, and no amount of devotion at the eleventh hour will save that captain from the verdict that he has hazarded his ship through bad seamanship. Parliament is the grand inquest of the British nation, and it is our duty to inquire not alone into the actions of the Prime Minister during the last few days or the last few weeks, but into the whole course of policy which has brought this country into such great danger and such great anxiety....

I want to turn now to the cause of the crisis which we have undergone. The cause was not the existence of minorities in Czechoslovakia; it was not that the position of the Sudeten Germans had become intolerable. It was not the wonderful principle of self-determination. It was because Herr Hitler had decided that the time was ripe for another step forward in his design to dominate Europe. I think it is necessary to be clear on this, because the Prime Minister seems to me to be laying a great deal too much stress on the anxiety of Herr Hitler for his fellow-Germans in Czechoslovakia. I have no doubt that has been so, but it did not become intense until about two years ago. It was quite a minor matter, and I fear that the Prime Minister is deceived if he thinks that the cause of this trouble has been the woes of the Sudeten Germans. I say that the question of the Sudeten Germans has been used as a counter in the game of politics, and in other conditions Herr Hitler might just as well have used the people of Memel, the people of South Denmark, the people in the Trentino or the Germans in South Tyrol….

The history of the last seven years is the background of this crisis, and the first point I must make to the Government is this. This crisis did not come unexpectedly. It was obvious to any intelligent student of foreign affairs that this attack would Come. The immediate signal was given by the Prime Minister himself on 7th March of this year when he said: "What country in Europe today if threatened by a larger Power can rely upon the League for protection? None." It was at once an invitation to Herr Hitler and a confession of the failure of the Government. The invitation was accepted a few days later by the Anschluss in Austria. Then our Government and the French Government could have faced the consequences. They could have told Czechoslovakia "We cannot any longer defend you. You had better now make the best terms you can with Germany, enter her political orbit and give her anything to escape before the wrath comes upon you." But they did nothing of the sort. Czechoslovakia continued under the supposed shelter of these treaties. True, it was urged that something should be done for the Sudeten Germans but there was no attempt made to take early steps to prevent this aggression….

I heard a suggestion from the benches opposite. "What about the U.S.S.R.?" Throughout the whole of these proceedings the U.S.S.R. has stood by its pledges and its declarations and there has been some pretty hard lying about it, too. There have been lies told, and people knew they were lies, about alleged conversations between M. Litvinoff and the French Foreign Minister. At no time has there been any difficulty in knowing where the U.S.S.R. stood. At no time has there been any consultation. I am aware that the Prime Minister may say that we were not the prime factor in this problem and that we were only concerned after France had been brought into it. But we have had very close collaboration with France, and in the order of commitment the U.S.S.R. comes before this country, and it has been a very great weakness that throughout there has been this cold-shouldering of the U.S.S.R....

When the National Government overthrew the whole policy of collective security and abandoned it and the League, we told this House over and over again that we were entering on a very dangerous course. We realised that we were back in 1914 with all its dangers, and we knew that sooner or later a challenge would come to this country; and that is what has happened. The real pith of it is that, having decided to leave the League system which we practised and in which we believed, and to embark on a policy of alliances and power politics, instead of strengthening the people whose natural interests were with ours, we have had nothing but constant flirtations with this and that dictator. The Prime Minister has been the dupe of the dictators, and I say that to-day we are in a dangerous position.


….A week ago we were on the verge of a terrible abyss. The Hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), who has just sat down, seemed to have forgotten the position in which we were then placed. The speech that he has just made seemed to take little account of the fact that a few days ago we were within a hair's breadth of the greatest catastrophe that the world has ever seen. Did we shrink from it in fear, or did we feel that there was some hope still of finding a path round it to more solid ground? I am fully aware that there are some hon. Members, and some people in the Country, who believe that no peace is possible in Europe as long as the dictatorships exist, who hold, quite sincerely, the view--I think the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down does--that as long as the dictatorships exist, war is inevitable, and that it may be better to have war now, when we have an issue that may be supposed to appeal to the whole world, rather than to put it off to some future date when our position may be more difficult and dangerous. ...

The conclusion of such a view is to me so appalling that I could not accept it if I thought there was still some glimmer of hope that the catastrophe might yet be averted. What is more important, the Prime Minister had that settled conviction. It was on that account that he made his superhuman efforts at great risk to himself, at great risk to the Government of which he is a member--but these things do not count in moments of this gravity--to take upon himself the responsibility of trying at the last moment to prevent this catastrophe coming upon us.

The Prime Minister acted not alone as the head of the Government of which I am a member. He acted rather as the spokesman of the millions of men and women from one end of the world to the other who were determined that we should still try to keep a controlling hand upon the course of events and avoid an appalling calamity that would undoubtedly have ended in the extinction of civilisation as we have known it. . . I claim that, having undertaken the responsibility of mediation, it would have been courting certain failure if at one and the same time when he was attempting to mediate he engaged himself upon a policy of threats and ultimatums.

That is the answer to the main charge of my right Hon. Friend the Member for St. George's, Westminster (Mr. Cooper). I claim that it would have met certain failure if at the very time when we were attempting to mediate and to obtain a peaceful settlement, we had accepted the advice of those who said you must face Herr Hitler with a public ultimatum. I go further, and I say that if we had made an ultimatum in the days immediately before the Nuremberg speech Europe would to-day have been plunged into a world war….

The hon. Gentleman opposite asked me specifically about Russia. He asked me why there was not closer consultation in these critical weeks with the Government of the Soviet Republic. That Government was under a Treaty obligation similar to that of France, and dependent upon it, to go to the assistance of Czechoslovakia in certain circumstances. The Russian guarantee was only to come into operation when the French guarantee was already operating. M. Litvinoff indicated, indeed he made a public declaration at Geneva on 21st September, that the Soviet Government was ready to give all possible help if France came to the assistance of Czechoslovakia. As I have explained, that is all that Russia was under Treaty bound to do. Her action would have been consequent upon that of France, and it was therefore natural that there should have been consultation, as in fact there was, between France and the Soviet Republic and His Majesty's Government, in view of their different positions. We were content to let the French Government take the lead in consulting with the Russian Government, whose position was analogous to theirs. To say, as the hon. Gentleman said, that the Soviet Republic was cold-shouldered is a complete exaggeration of the position. The Foreign Secretary had an exchange of views with the Soviet Ambassador before the latter left, and at Geneva the British delegates maintained the contact. The Soviet Ambassador was received again, quite recently, at the Foreign Office, after his return to London. So much for the hon. Member's question about our attitude towards the Soviet Republic.

War has been averted; has the price paid been too high? I frankly admit that Czechoslovakia has received a staggering blow....

I say with all deliberation that, when once Germany rearmed and became powerful, and when once the Anschluss took place, the strategic frontier of the republic was turned. The Sudeten Germans looked to reunion with the Reich. [HON. MEMBERS: 'Reunion?"] To union with the Reich. It was reunion with a German State. Union with the Reich was the ideal that they were determined to achieve. Further than that, we faced the fact that owing to the geographical position of Czechoslovakia it mattered not who might win or lose the war, Czechoslovakia would almost inevitably be destroyed. Some said it would be a matter of days and others said a matter of weeks, but all were agreed who had studied the strategic position that it could not be a matter of more than a month or two. In the meanwhile, the republic would have been destroyed; immense slaughter would have taken place within its boundaries; devastation would have run riot. Supposing that at the end of the war we emerged the victors--and I have always believed, as every Member in this House believes, that in the final result we should emerge the victors--then we should be confronted with a position in which Czechoslovakia as we know it to-day would have been destroyed, and I do not believe that the negotiators of the peace treaty in any conditions would ever recreate its old frontiers….

The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, in a picturesque passage, spoke of the Prime Minister as the captain who had saved the ship which his bad seamanship had driven almost on to the rocks. When the time comes for the verdict to be given upon the Prime Minister's conduct, let me tell the right hon. Gentleman that none of us here fears that verdict. I believe that the criticisms to which we have listened in the House to-day very little represent the great body of feeling. I believe the great body of our fellow-citizens not only in this country but in the Dominions and in the whole Empire, are grateful to the Prime Minister for the efforts that he has made. They are grateful to the Prime Minister for having persistently sustained the policy of peace and mediation. They do not take the view that war is inevitable. They believe that under his wise guidance we may succeed in creating a new Europe in which men and women can go about their business in peace and security.


Having thus fortified myself by the example of others, I will proceed to emulate them. I will, therefore, begin by saying the most unpopular and most unwelcome thing. I will begin by saying what everybody would like to ignore or forget but which must nevertheless be stated, namely, that we have sustained a total and unmitigated defeat, and that France has suffered even more than we have.


MR. CHURCHILL: When the Noble Lady cries "Nonsense," she could not have heard the Chancellor of the Exchequer [Sir John Simon] admit in his illuminating and comprehensive speech just now that Herr Hitler had gained in this particular leap forward in substance all he set out to gain. The utmost my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been able to secure by all his immense exertions, by all the great efforts and mobilisation which took place in this country, and by all the anguish and strain through which we have passed in this country, the utmost he has been able to gain--[HON. MEMBERS: "Is peace."]. I thought I might be allowed to make that point in its due place, and I propose to deal with it. The utmost he has been able to gain for Czechoslovakia and in the matters which were in dispute has been that the German dictator, instead of snatching his victuals from the table, has been content to have them served to him course by course.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer said it was the first time Herr Hitler had been made to retract-I think that was the word-in any degree. We really must not waste time, after all this long Debate, upon the difference between the positions reached at Berchtesgaden, at Godesberg and at Munich. They can be very simply epitomised, if the House will permit me to vary the metaphor. 1 was demanded at the pistol's point. When it was given, 2 were demanded at the pistol's point. Finally, the dictator consented to take 1 17s. 6d. and the rest in promises of good will for the future.

Now I come to the point, which was mentioned to me just now from some quarters of the House, about the saving of peace. No one has been a more resolute and uncompromising struggler for peace than the Prime Minister. Everyone knows that. Never has there been such intense and undaunted determination to maintain and to secure peace. That is quite true. Nevertheless, I am not quite clear why there was so much danger of Great Britain or France being involved in a war with Germany at this juncture if, in fact, they were ready all along to sacrifice Czechoslovakia. The terms which the Prime Minister brought back with him--I quite agree at the last moment; everything had got off the rails and nothing but his intervention could have saved the peace, but I am talking of the events of the summer--could easily have been agreed, I believe, through the ordinary diplomatic channels at any time during the summer. And I will say this, that I believe the Czechs, left to themselves and told they were going to get no help from the Western Powers, would have been able to make better terms than they have got--they could hardly have worse--after all this tremendous perturbation.

There never can be any absolute certainty that there will be a fight if one side is determined that it will give way completely. When one reads the Munich terms, when one sees what is happening in Czechoslovakia from hour to hour, when one is sure, I will not say of Parliamentary approval but of Parliamentary acquiescence, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer makes a speech which at any rate tries to put in a very powerful and persuasive manner the fact that, after all, it was inevitable and indeed righteous--right--when we saw all this, and everyone on this side of the House, including many Members of the Conservative Party who are supposed to be vigilant and careful guardians of the national interest, it is quite clear that nothing vitally affecting us was at stake, it seems to me that one must ask, What was all the trouble and fuss about? ...

We are asked to vote for this Motion which has been put upon the Paper, and it is certainly a Motion couched in very uncontroversial terms, as, indeed, is the Amendment moved from the Opposition side. I cannot myself express my agreement with the steps which have been taken, and as the Chancellor of the Exchequer has put his side of the case with so much ability I will attempt, if I may be permitted, to put the case from a different angle. I have always held the view that the maintenance of peace depends upon the accumulation of deterrents against the aggressor, coupled with a sincere effort to redress grievances. Herr Hitler's victory, like so many of the famous struggles that have governed the fate of the world, was won upon the narrowest of margins. After the seizure of Austria in March we faced this problem in our Debates. I ventured to appeal to the Government to go a little further than the Prime Minister went, and to give a pledge that in conjunction with France and other Powers they would guarantee the security of Czechoslovakia while the Sudeten-Deutsch question was being examined either by a League of Nations Commission or some other impartial body, and I still believe that if that Course had been followed events would not have fallen into this disastrous state. I agree very much with my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) when he said on that occasion--I cannot remember his actual words--"Do one thing or the other; either say you will disinterest yourself in the matter altogether or take the step of giving a guarantee which will have the greatest chance of securing protection for that country."

France and Great Britain together, especially if they had maintained a close contact with Russia, which certainly was not done, would have been able in those days in the summer, when they had the prestige, to influence many of the smaller States of Europe, and I believe they could have determined the attitude of Poland. Such a combination, prepared at a time when the German dictator was not deeply and irrevocably committed to his new adventure, would, I believe, have given strength to all those forces in Germany which resisted this departure, this new design. They were varying forces, those of a military character which declared that Germany was not ready to undertake a world war, and all that mass of moderate opinion and popular opinion which dreaded war, and some elements of which still have some influence upon the German Government. Such action would have given strength to all that intense desire for peace which the helpless German masses share with their British and French fellow men, and which, as we have been reminded, found a passionate and rarely permitted vent in the joyous manifestations with which the Prime Minister was acclaimed in Munich.

All these forces, added to the other deterrents which combinations of Powers, great and small, ready to stand firm upon the front of law and for the ordered remedy of grievances, would have formed, might well have been effective. Of course you cannot say for certain that they would. [Interruption.] I try to argue fairly with the House. At the same time I do not think it is fair to charge those who wished to see this course followed, and followed consistently and resolutely, with having wished for an immediate war. Between submission and immediate war there was this third alternative, which gave a hope not only of peace but of justice. It is quite true that such a policy in order to succeed demanded that Britain should declare straight out and a long time beforehand that she would, with others, join to defend Czechoslovakia against an unprovoked aggression. His Majesty's Government refused to give that guarantee when it would have saved the situation, yet in the end they gave it when it was too late, and now, for the future, they renew it when they have not the slightest power to make it good.

All is over. Silent, mournful, abandoned, broken, Czechoslovakia recedes into the darkness. . . . No one has a right to say that the plebiscite which is to be taken in areas under Saar conditions, and the clean-cut of the 50 per cent. areas-that those two operations together amount in the slightest degree to a verdict of self-determination. It is a fraud and a farce to invoke that name….

We in this country, as in other Liberal and democratic countries, have a perfect right to exalt the principle of self-determination, but it comes ill out of the mouths of those in totalitarian States who deny even the smallest element of toleration to every section and creed within their bounds. But, however you put it, this particular block of land, this mass of human beings to be handed over, has never expressed the desire to go into the Nazi rule. I do not believe that even now--if their opinion could be asked, they would exercise such an option….

I venture to think that in future the Czechoslovak State cannot be maintained as an independent entity. You will find that in a period of time which may be measured by years, but may be measured only by months, Czechoslovakia will be engulfed in the Nazi regime. Perhaps they may join it in despair or in revenge. At any rate, that story is over and told. But we cannot consider the abandonment and ruin of Czechoslovakia in the light only of what happened only last month. It is the most grievous consequence which we have yet experienced of what we have done and of what we have left undone in the last five years-five years of futile good intention, five years of eager search for the line of least resistance, five years of uninterrupted retreat of British power, five years of neglect of our air defences. Those are the features which I stand here to declare and which marked an improvident stewardship for which Great Britain and France have dearly to pay. We have been reduced in those five years from a position of security so overwhelming and so unchallengeable that we never cared to think about it. We have been reduced from a position where the very word "war" was considered one which would be used only by persons qualifying for a lunatic asylum. We have been reduced from a position of safety and power--power to do good, power to be generous to a beaten foe, power to make terms with Germany, power to give her proper redress for her grievances, power to stop her arming if we chose, power to take any step in strength or mercy or justice which we thought right-reduced in five years from a position safe and unchallenged to where we stand now....

We are in the presence of a disaster of the first magnitude which has befallen Great Britain and France. Do not let us blind ourselves to that. It must now be accepted that all the countries of Central and Eastern Europe will make the best terms they can with the triumphant Nazi Power. The system of alliances in Central Europe upon which France has relied for her safety has been swept away, and I can see no means by which it can be reconstituted. The road down the Danube Valley to the Black Sea, the resources of corn and oil, the road which leads as far as Turkey, has been opened. In fact, if not in form, it seems to me that all those countries of Middle Europe, all those Danubian countries, will, one after another, be drawn into this vast system of power politics--not only power military politics but power economic politics--radiating from Berlin, and I believe this can be achieved quite smoothly and swiftly and will not necessarily entail the firing of a single shot. If you wish to survey the havoc of the foreign policy of Britain and France, look at what is happening and is recorded each day in the columns of the "Times…

We are talking about countries which are a long way off and of which, as the Prime Minister might say, we know nothing. [Interruption.] The noble Lady says that that very harmless allusion is--


MR. CHURCHILL: She must very recently have been receiving her finishing course in manners. What will be the position, I want to know, of France and England this year and the year afterwards? What will be the position of that Western front of which we are in full authority the guarantors? The German army at the present time is more numerous than that of France, though not nearly so matured or perfected. Next year it will grow much larger, and its maturity will be more complete. Relieved from all anxiety in the East, and having secured resources which will greatly diminish, if not entirely remove, the deterrent of a naval blockade, the rulers of Nazi Germany will have a free choice open to them in what direction they will turn their eyes. If the Nazi dictator should choose to look westward, as he may, bitterly will France and England regret the loss of that fine army of ancient Bohemia which Was estimated last week to require not fewer than 30 German divisions for its destruction.

Can we blind ourselves to the great change which has taken place in the military situation, and to the dangers we have to meet?.

This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.


As regards future policy, it seems to me that there are really only two possible alternatives. One of them is to base yourself upon the view that any sort of friendly relation, or possible relations, shall I say, with totalitarian States are impossible, that the assurances which have been given to me personally are worthless, that they have sinister designs and that they are bent upon the domination of Europe and the gradual destruction of democracies. Of course, on that hypothesis, was has got to come, and that is the view--a perfectly intelligible view--of a certain number of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen in this House….

If that is hon. Members' conviction, there is no future hope for civilisation or for any of the things that make life worth living. Does the experience of the Great War and of the years that followed it give us reasonable hope that if some new war started that would end war any more than the last one did? No. I do not believe that war is inevitable. Someone put into my hand a remark made by the great Pitt about 1787, when he said:

It seems to me that the strongest argument against the inevitability of war is to be found in something that everyone has recognized in every part of the House. That is the universal aversion from war of the people, their hatred of the notion of starting to kill one another again….

What is the alternative to this bleak and barren policy of the inevitability of war? In my view it is that we should seek by all means in our power to avoid war, by analysing possible causes, by trying to remove them, by discussion in a spirit of collaboration and good will. I cannot believe that such a programme would be rejected by the people of this country, even if it does mean the establishment of personal contact with dictators, and of talks man to man on the basis that each, while maintaining his own ideas of the internal government of his country, is willing to allow that other systems may suit better other peoples. The party opposite surely have the same idea in mind even if they put it in a different way. They want a world conference. Well, I have had some experiences of conferences, and one thing I do feel certain of is that it better to have no conference at all than a conference which is a failure. The corollary to that is that before you enter a conference you must have laid out very clearly the lines on which you are going to proceed, if you are at least to have in front of you’re a reasonable prospect that you may obtain success. I am not saying that a conference would not have its place in due course. But I say it is no use to call a conference of the world, including these totalitarian Powers, until you are sure they are going to attend, and not only that they are going to attend, but that they are going to attend with the intention of aiding you in the policy on which you have set your heart.

I am told that the policy which I have tried to describe is inconsistent with the continuance, and much more inconsistent with the acceleration of our present programme of arms. I am asked how I can reconcile an appeal to the country to support the continuance of this programme with the words which I used when I came back from Munich the other day and spoke of my belief that we might have peace in our time. I hope hon. Members will not be disposed to read into words used in a moment of some emotion, after a long and exhausting day, after I had driven through miles of excited, enthusiastic, cheering people--I hope they will not read into those words more than they were intended to convey.

I do indeed believe that we may yet secure peace for our time, but I never meant to suggest that we should do that by disarmament, until we can induce others to disarm too. Our past experience has shown us only too clearly that weakness in armed strength means weakness in diplomacy, and if we want to secure a lasting peace, I realise that diplomacy cannot be effective unless the Consciousness exists, not here alone, but elsewhere, that behind the diplomacy is the strength to give effect ........

I cannot help feeling that if, after all, war had come upon us, the people of this Country would have lost their spiritual faith altogether. As it turned out the other way, I think we have all seen something like a new spiritual revival, and I know that everywhere there is a strong desire among the people to record their readiness to serve their Country, where-ever or however their services could be most useful. I would like to take advantage of that strong feeling if it is possible, and although I must frankly say that at this moment I do not myself clearly see my way to any particular scheme, yet I want also to say that I am ready to consider any suggestion that may be made to me, in a very sympathetic spirit.

Finally, I would like to repeat what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said yesterday in his great speech. Our policy of appeasement does not mean that we are going to seek new friends at the expense of old ones, or, in-deed, at the expense of any other nations at all. I do not think that at any time there has been a more complete identity of views between the French Government and ourselves than there is at the present time. Their objective is the same as ours--to obtain the collaboration of all nations, not excluding the totalitarian States, in building up a lasting peace for Europe. That seems to me to be a policy which would answer my hon. Friends' appeal, a policy which should command the support of all who believe in the power of human will to control human destiny. If we cannot here this afternoon emulate the patriotic unanimity of the French Chamber, this House can by a decisive majority show its approval of the Government's determination to pursue it.

[The vote which followed supported the government 369 to 150.]

Source:  Munich: Blunder, Plot, or Tragic Necessity? edited with and introduction by Dwight E. Lee (Lexington, MA; D.C. Heath and Company, 1970), pp. 1-12

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