The Czech Crisis & Munich Agreement: How Peace Was Twisted Into Anti-German Propaganda
By John Wear
The Czechoslovakia Crisis and the Munich Agreement

At the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, 3.25 million German inhabitants of Bohemia and Moravia were transferred to the new Czechoslovakia in a flagrant disregard of Woodrow Wilson’s ideal of self-determination. The new Czechoslovakia was a multiethnic, multilingual, Catholic-Protestant conglomerate that had never existed before. From 1920 to 1938, repeated petitions had been sent to the League of Nations by the repressed minorities of Czechoslovakia. By 1938, the Sudeten Germans were eager to be rid of Czech rule and become part of Germany. In a fair plebiscite, a minimum of 80% of Sudeten Germans would have voted to become part of the new Reich.[1]

It was clear to Czech leaders that the excitement among the Sudeten Germans after the Anschluss would soon force the resolution of the Sudeten question. The Czech cabinet and military leaders decided on May 20, 1938, to order a partial mobilization of the Czech armed forces. This partial mobilization was based on the false accusation that German troops were concentrating on the Czech frontiers. Czech leaders hoped that the resulting confusion would commit the British and French to the Czech position before a policy favoring concessions to the Sudeten Germans could be implemented. Although the plot failed, Czech leaders granted interviews in which they claimed that Czechoslovakia had scored a great victory over Germany. An international press campaign representing that Czechoslovakia had forced Hitler to back down from his planned aggression reverberated around the world.[2]

British Ambassador to Germany Nevile Henderson believed that the Czech mobilization of its army, and the ridicule heaped upon Hitler by the world press, led directly to the Munich Agreement:

The defiant gesture of the Czechs in mobilizing some 170,000 troops and then proclaiming to the world that it was their action which had turned Hitler away from his purpose was… regrettable. But what Hitler could not stomach was the exultation of the press…Every newspaper in America and Europe joined in the chorus. “No” had been said and Hitler had been forced to yield. The democratic powers had brought the totalitarian states to heel, etc.

It was, above all, this jubilation which gave Hitler the excuse for his…worst brain storm of the year, and pushed him definitely over the border line from peaceful negotiation to the use of force. From May 23rd to May 28th his fit of sulks and fury lasted, and on the later date he gave orders for a gradual mobilization of the Army, which should be prepared for all eventualities in the autumn.[3]

By the 1930s, the majority of the British people believed that Germany had been wronged at Versailles. The British people now broadly supported the appeasement of Germany in regaining her lost territories. If appeasement meant granting self-determination to the Sudetenland Germans, the British people approved.[4]

Lord Halifax informed French leaders on July 20, 1938, that a special fact-finding mission under Lord Runciman would be sent to Czechoslovakia. President Beneš of Czechoslovakia was disturbed by this news. It was a definite indication that the British might adopt a compromising policy toward Germany in the crisis. The British mission completed its study in September 1938, and it reported that the main difficulty in the Sudeten area had been the disinclination of the Czechs to grant reforms. This British report was accompanied by the final rupture of negotiations between the Sudeten Germans and the Czech leaders. The Czech crisis was coming to a climax.[5]

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain flew to Hitler’s mountain retreat at Berchtesgaden to discuss the Czech problem directly with Hitler. At their meeting Hitler consented to refrain from military action while Chamberlain would discuss with his cabinet the means of applying the principle of self-determination to the Sudeten Germans. The result was a decision to transfer to Germany areas in which the Sudeten Germans occupied more than 50% of the population. President Beneš of Czechoslovakia reluctantly accepted this proposal.[6]

A problem developed in the negotiations when Chamberlain met with Hitler a second time. Hitler insisted on an immediate German military occupation of regions where the Sudeten Germans were more than half of the population. Hitler also insisted that the claims of the Polish and Hungarian minorities be satisfied before participating in the proposed international guarantee of the new Czechoslovakia frontier. Several days of extreme tension followed. Chamberlain announced on September 28, 1938, to the House of Commons that Hitler had invited him, together with Daladier and Mussolini, to a conference in Munich the following afternoon. The House erupted in an outburst of tremendous enthusiasm.[7]

The parties signed the Munich Agreement in the early hours of September 30, 1938. Hitler got substantially everything he wanted. The Sudeten Germans had become a part of Germany. Chamberlain and Hitler signed a joint declaration that the Munich Agreement and the Anglo-German naval accord symbolized “the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with each other again.” Chamberlain told the cheering crowd in London that welcomed him home, “I believe it is peace in our time.”[8] War had been averted in Europe.

The British war enthusiasts lost no time in launching their effort to spoil the celebration of the Munich Agreement. On October 1, 1938, First Lord of the Admiralty, Alfred Duff Cooper, announced that he was resigning from the British cabinet. In a speech delivered on October 3, 1938, Duff Cooper criticized the British government for not assuming a definite commitment during the Czech crisis. He asserted that Great Britain would not have been fighting for the Czechs, but rather for the balance of power, which was precious to some British hearts. Duff Cooper believed that it was his mission and that of his country to prevent Germany from achieving a dominant position on the continent.[9]

Clement Attlee, the new Labor Party leader, spoke of the Munich Agreement as a huge victory for Hitler and an “annihilating defeat for democracy.” Of course, Attlee in his speech included the Soviet Union as a democracy. Anthony Eden gave a speech in which he criticized Chamberlain on detailed points, and expressed doubt that Britain would fulfill her promised guarantee to the Czech state. Eden advised the House to regard the current situation as a mere pause before the next crisis. He claimed that the British armament campaign was proceeding too slowly.[10]

In his speech on October 5, 1938, Winston Churchill stated that Hitler had extracted British concessions at pistol point, and he loved to use the image of Hitler as a gangster. Churchill used flowery rhetoric and elegant phrases to describe the allegedly mournful Czechs slipping away into darkness. Churchill wanted to convince his countrymen that National Socialist Germany was governed by an insatiable desire for world conquest. The simple and stark purpose of the speech was to convince the British people to eventually accept a war of annihilation against Germany. Churchill was a useful instrument in building up British prejudice against Germany.[11]

The debate on the Munich Agreement surpassed all other parliamentary debates on British foreign policy since World War I. Other Conservatives who refused to accept the Munich Agreement include Harold Macmillan, Duncan Sandys, Leopold Amery, Harold Nicolson, Roger Keyes, Sidney Herbert, and Gen. Edward Spears. These men were joined by a score of lesser figures in the House of Commons, and they were supported by such prominent people as Lord Cranborne and Lord Wolmer in the House of Lords. Chamberlain won the vote of confidence, but he did not possess the confidence of the British Conservative Party.[12]

The warmongering that led to World War II was increasing in Great Britain. Hitler was dismayed at the steady stream of hate propaganda directed at Germany. In a speech given in Saarbrücken on October 9, 1938, Hitler said:

…All it would take would be for Mr. Duff Cooper or Mr. Eden or Mr. Churchill to come to power in England instead of Chamberlain, and we know very well that it would be the goal of these men to immediately start a new world war. They do not even try to disguise their intents, they state them openly….”[13]

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Discover more in Germany’s War

Suggested reading:

How Britain & Poland Started WWII & Blamed Hitler

The Unprecendented Vengence of the Versailles Treaty


ImageSudeten Germans cheering the arrival of the German Army

Image: Cartoon Mocking Chamberlain for Appeasement

Image: Cartoon Mocking Stalin’s Absence at Munich Conference

[1] Buchanan, Patrick J., Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War, New York: Crown Publishers, 2008, pp. 213-215.

[2] Hoggan, David L., The Forced War: When Peaceful Revision Failed, Costa Mesa, CA: Institute for Historical Review, 1989, pp. 106-107.

[3] Henderson, Sir Nevile, Failure of a Mission, New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1940, pp. 142-143.

[4] Buchanan, Patrick J., Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War, New York: Crown Publishers, 2008, pp. 213-227.

[5] Hoggan, David L., The Forced War: When Peaceful Revision Failed, Costa Mesa, CA: Institute for Historical Review, 1989, p. 108.

[6] Chamberlain, William Henry, America’s Second Crusade, Chicago: Regnery, 1950, pp. 53-54.

[7] Ibid., p. 54.

[8] Ibid., p. 55.

[9] Hoggan, David L., The Forced War: When Peaceful Revision Failed, Costa Mesa, CA: Institute for Historical Review, 1989, pp. 180-181.

[10] Ibid., p. 188.

[11] Ibid., p. 190.

[12] Ibid., p. 191.

[13] Bradberry, Benton L., The Myth of German Villainy, Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2012, p. 324.


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