Saturday, May 17, 2008

Captain Ed Plays History professor - gets it wrong

In a post entitled It was never OK to Carve up Czechoslovakia "Captain Ed" attacks Bruce Ramsey for his "defense" of Chamberlain and the Munich Agreement. Of course, Ramsey in his blog ed cetera doesn't really defend Chamberlain, he simply states we have judged Britain and France too harshly for its actions at Munich and that our criticism based entirely on 20/20 hindsight.

Per "Captain Ed" this is "Hogwash" and further:

"it attempts to rescue Neville Chamberlain by ignoring his greatest crime. No nation has the right to dismember an allied nation without its approval, or even its participation. The ministers of Czechoslovakia were barred from the Munich negotiations by Hitler, and Chamberlain presented them with the loss of the Sudetenland as a fait accompli, warning the Czechoslovakian ministers that Britain and France would break the mutual defense treaty if they refused to sign away their territory."

As Captain Ed would say "Hogwash". The Czech Republic was cobbled together in 1919 by the Allies at Versailles. Neither the German-speakers nor the Slovaks were consulted, simply forced into the new country. And Chamberlain did not "dismember" Czechoslovakia anymore than the Allies "dismembered" Austria in 1919 by giving the Czechs their independence. Further, England had no moral obligation to go to war to prevent 3 million Germans from leaving Czechoslovakia and exercising the right of self-determination.

The Wehrmacht high command was stunned at this turn of events. They knew, as did the British and the French, that they had forcibly removed the one great impediment to German ambitions in the East.

False. Czechoslovakia was NOT a "Great impediment". It was a small country of 15 million people made up of 7.5 Czechs, 3 million Germans who wanted to join Germany, 3 million Slovaks who wanted their own country & a couple million Poles, Hungarians, etc . The country had no modern air force. By comparison Germany had 70 million people and the largest, most modern air force in the world.

The mountains of Moravia and Bohemia presented a formidable natural defense against German invasion, and the Czechoslovakians had added modern military fortifications that would have stopped even a blitzkrieg cold,

False. Look at a map of Czech in 1938. Prague is only 100 miles from the German/Austrian border in 3 directions, north, south, and west. There were little or no fortifications on the Austrian border, which was over 100 miles long. The Czechs had no air force and were cut off from outside aid. The Czechs would have been overrun in a month just like the Poland was in Sept 39.

leaving Germany’s western frontier open to assault from the much larger French Army.l

False. The French had no plans of launching an assault on Germany's western border in Sept 38. They had no plans to do so in Sept 39. Their war plan against Germany in 1938-1939 never changed. The war plan called for France to mobilize, then remain on the defense behind the Maginot line, while Britain built up an Army in France, and the blockade weakened Nazi Germany.

And the French had almost no modern Air Force in Sept 38, they had a few modern planes in Sept 39, and still didn't have a modern air force capable of taking on the Luftwaffe in June 1940. The French Army wasn't "much larger". In any case, it wasn't large enough to have punched through the Siegfried Line in the fact of constant air attacks from the Luftwaffe. Also, note that Germany in fact had twice the manpower of France. 12 million men of military age vs. France's 6 million. In June 1940 Germans had 200 Divisions to the French 100 Divisions.

Any thought of stopping Hitler from within ended at Munich and didn’t seriously reappear until the senior German officers realized the war was lost after Normandy in 1944.

German officers tried several times to kill Hitler prior to July '44, and/or mount coups against him. After the war, the German High Command had every incentive to overplay their willingness to overthrow Hitler and to blame the Allies for their failure to do so. Given their incompetence in the '44 coup attempt, there is no reason they could have overthrown Hitler in Sept 38, or even tried to do so.

They had given the natural defense of eastern Europe away for a promise, thanks to politicians who dreamed of peace at any cost, and who sold Czechoslovakia out to get it. Six months later, the same two nations wouldn’t even lift a finger to protect the rump Czech state as Hitler rolled across it, preparing for his assault on Poland and eastern Europe.

False. Chamberlain allowed the Sudetenland with 2.5 million Germans to leave Czechoslovakia and become part of Germany. Its called self-determination. It corrected the mistake of 1919.
Hitler by conquering the Czechs in March 1939 and breaking his agreement, showed Chamberlain - and everyone else - that he was just another Pan-German imperialist and couldn't be trusted. When UK and France went to war in Sept 1939 they had the moral high ground, since everyone knew -based on Hitlers actions- that he wasn't interested in Danzig but in conquest.


Rollo said...

This is rather a simplistic view.

There were two solutions in 1919. Either the Sudeten Germans (enemy of Britain and France in 1919) will be in a Czech state or the Czechs (allies of Britain and France in 1919) will be in Great Germany or will exist only as a German controlled puppet state (which would strengthen Germany being the enemy of Britain and France in 1919).

If you look on a map you will find out why - truly independent Czech state without the Sudetenland was impossible (defence, economy, transport). Indeed this was proven right after the Sudetenland annexation by Germany in 1938 - Czechoslovakia immediately turned into an artificial state dependent on German mercy and soon was swallowed by Germany in its entirety (partially as the "independent" Slovak fascist state, which militarily supported Germany in its war against Poland and the Soviet Union).

That is why the Allies in 1919 took the rational decision to help to create a Czech state and it was not a mistake. Even though the right of Sudeten Germans to self-determination was indeed violated by that.

Because of the above, it is also not right to compare partition of Austria-Hungary with the partition of Czechoslovakia. Austria-Hungary was an enemy of Britain and France. (In fact Austrians and Hungarians supported Germany in the second world war also.) Czechoslovakia was an ally. In 1938 Britain and France were not "correcting the mistake they made in 1919" but they were betraying their ally who was ready to fight but left completely alone.

(By the way, what do you think happened to Czech weapons after the betrayal? Wehrmacht used them in their Polish and French war campaigns.)

rcocean said...

Thanks for the comment.

As you say Rollo, a truly independent Czech state was impossible without the German Sudetenland. That's why an independent Czech state should never been created unless the goal was to permanently keep Germany in a subordinate position. Of course had the Allies chosen to keep Germany down permanently then it would have been essential to detach the Rhineland & give it to France - as Foch and other French Leaders wanted.

IMO, to keep the peace, great powers should let each great power have its own sphere of influence and not create hostility until the other Great power "crosses the line" and does something that truly injuries the national interest.

From a UK and USA standpoint, once the decision had been made at Versailles to allow Germany to exist as a great power - that is to not detach the Rhineland or break Germany into several smaller state, then Germany should have been granted primacy in Eastern Europe. It was silly to think a resurgent powerful Germany would accept 3 million Germans being ruled by 8 million Czechs.

And sadly, the Czech's with 8 million people and the Poles were simply too small to effect the balance of power. The only way to stop Hitler in 1938-1939 was an alliance between the UK/France and the USSR, the only great power on Germany eastern front.

Rollo said...

Thanks for the reply.

IMO to certain extent you do have a point, Rcocean, even though I disagree with such a 'Realpolitik' approach and believe it is ultimately counterproductive (if one betrays its allies one ends up with no credibility) and, above all, morally wrong. (BTW interwar Czechoslovakia was a much better state than the Third Reich even for the Germans, many of whom emigrated there to escape Hitler.)

I disagree that the Versailles decision was to allow Germany to exist as a great power. IMO exactly the opposite is true. Yes, Germany was not completely humiliated as was Hungary in Trianon but still was subject to severe limitations, territorial losses (including overseas territories) and obligations.

The turning point was the 1922 Rapallo Treaty which violated the Versailles Treaty and marked the return of Germany to power. Which Britain and France allowed.

However, even from the 'Realpolitik' point of view the Munich treaty was wrong. Soviet Union officially confirmed that it will honour its obligation to militarily support Czechoslovakia if France would go to war. (That is, if Britain and France honoured their obligations to Czechoslovakia, Germany would have stand against Britain, France and the Soviet Union - the three great powers you mentioned - and Czechoslovakia and potentially also Yugoslavia.)

But Chamberlain rather thought 'How horrible, fantastic, incredible 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 ... However much we may sympathize with a small nation confronted by a big and powerful neighbour, we cannot in all circumstances undertake to involve the whole British Empire in war simply on her account.'.

And the Soviet Union realised what is the real strength of Britain and France. And it approached Germany and entered into the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. And later on Britain and France were watching from the Maginot line the Blitzkrieg against Poland. And later on France was defeated and Britain stood alone against Hitler.