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Friday, September 17, 2004

The lesson of the "scrap of paper"

A reader sent me the following email. I'll quote it in its entirety.

The so-called "Scrap of Paper" was signed by Adolf Hitler and Neville Chamberlain in Munich on September 30th 1938. Its contents are below:

"We, the German Fuhrer and Chancellor and the British Prime Minister, have had a further meeting today and are agreed in recognising that the question of Anglo-German relations is of the first importance for the two countries and for Europe.

We regard the agreement signed last night and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to was with one another again.

We are resolved that the method of consultation shall be the method adopted to deal with any other questions that may concern our two countries, and we are determined to continue our efforts to remove possible sources of difference and thus to contribute to assure the peace of Europe."

This document was read out to the gathered crowd at Croydon Airport by Chamberlain after his return to the United Kingdom. After his return, Chamberlain was celebrated as the man who had brought peace to Europe. The celebration reached its peak when Chamberlain was ‘shown’ to the crowds who had gathered at Buckingham Palace by the king and queen.

One year later the celebration had turned to despair and the above document had been derided by Hitler as a "scrap of paper".

The Nazi invasion of Poland on September 1st 1939, was followed on September 3rd by the British and French declaring war on Nazi Germany.

Apologists for aggression are always, always wrong.


From the last sentence I presume that my reader is comparing the Coalition attack on Iraq in March 2003 as equivalent to Hitler's attack on Poland on the 1st September 1939. If I am wrong in that I apologise, and s/he should email me again. However, since that is my conclusion, and even if it wasn't, here I go and stand on my soap-box again...

I drew a different lesson, a different comparison. At Munich in 1938 France and Britain, to the eternal shame of each country, more or less ensured WW2. The lesson was made brutally clear: one cannot deal with dictators, for their word is not even worth the paper it is printed on. By 1938 the concentration camps were already operating.

The great poet, W H Auden, in his poem September 1st, 1939 described the 1930s as "a low, dishonest decade". There are few more fitting ways to describe the 1930s, and specifically Munich.

Within six months the rest of Czechslovakia had been annexed to Germany, within a year the world was plunged into the most cataclysmic conflict we have ever known.

In the Yugoslavia mess we again witnessed the truth of Munich: the worthlessness of dealing with dictators. Milosevic made, ignored, and broke agreements with facility. He too sheltered behind the UN, and nows he languishes in a jail. Now too does Saddam Hussein, one of the most brutal dictators of our time. He will be tried by those he oppressed. There are few more fitting fates for the dictator.

When Hitler invaded Poland he brought concentration camps and mass-slaugher, and autocratic rule. Already in Iraq power has been handed over. The people in Iraq will soon have a chance to join the league of democratic nations. For the Islamic funadementalists democracy is their death-knell. They will fight it tooth and nail, knowing that they are supported in deed, if not in word, by many millions in the western world who do not recognise the simplicity of their evil.

In 1938 Winston Churchill was mocked for his stance against Nazi Germany. At Fulton in 1946 the US government distanced itself from his "Iron Curtain" speech. On both occasions that great man had forseen a danger and been attacked by those who should have known better, those who created their own illusion and failed to see the truth of what was at issue. He was labelled as a war-monger. It is an evil which we fight in Iraq, and personally I have no qualms at giving the war my support.

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