On September 30, 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain triumphantly returned home to tumultuous praise, having signed the Munich Agreement with Germany’s Adolf Hitler. The accord, which acknowledged Hitler’s territorial demands in German Czechoslovakia, was, in Chamberlain’s words, “a symbol of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war again… to ensure the peace of Europe.” Six years later, as World War Two drew to a close, 40-60 million people were dead—approximately 2.5% of the global population. Neville Chamberlain and the Munich Agreement, which many historians argue gave Hitler carte blanche to launch total war, became synonyms for ill-considered appeasement and timid passivity.
Chamberlain’s folly—easily apparent in retrospect—was that he believed that conflict could be avoided. In a parliamentary debate before the war he espoused that the accord “averted a catastrophe which would have ended civilization as we have known it.” Almost a year later, a bitter Chamberlain realized that not all conflict is avoidable. As Great Britain prepared for the second massive war in two decades, the British prime minister extolled, “[Hitler’s invasion of Poland] shows convincingly that there is no chance of expecting that this man will ever give up his practice of using force to gain his will. He can only be stopped by force.”
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