British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain resolved to meet with Adolf Hitler, the German Fuehrer, to peacefully resolve the latest Nazi-created crisis.
Having conquered Austria, the German dictator now wanted Czechoslovakia.
And Chamberlain was determined to grant his every demand–so long as this meant avoiding a second world war.
The two European leaders met in Berchtesgaden on September 15, 1938.
During their talks, Chamberlain said he had come to discuss German grievances. But, he added, it was necessary in all circumstances to exclude the use of force.
Hitler appeared to be shocked that he could be accused of such intentions: “Force? Who speaks of force?“
Then, without warning, he switched to an aggressive mode. He accused the Czechs of having mobilized their army in May. They had mobilized—in response to the mobilization of the German army.
“I shall not put up with this any longer,” shouted Hitler. “I shall settle this question in one way or another. I shall take matters in my own hands!”
Suddenly, Chamberlain seemed alarmed—and possibly angry: “If I understood you right, you are determined to proceed against Czechoslovakia in any case. If this is so, why did you let me come to Berchtesgaden?
“In the circumstances, it is best for me to return at once. Anything else now seems pointless.”
Hitler was taken aback by the unexpected show of defiance. He realized he was about to lose his chance to bully the British into accepting his latest demands.
So he softened his tone and said they should consider the Sudetenland according to the principle of self-determination.
Chamberlain said he must immediately return to England to consult with his colleagues. Hitler appeared uneasy. But then the German translator finished the sentence: “…and then meet you again.” Hitler realized he still had a chance to attain victory without going to war.
Chamberlain agreed to the cession of the Sudetenland. Three days later, French Prime Minister Edouard Daladier did the same. No Czechoslovak representative was invited to these discussions.
Chamberlain met Hitler again in Godesberg, Germany, on September 22 to confirm the agreements. But Hitler aimed to use the crisis as a pretext for war.
He now demanded not only the annexation of the Sudetenland but the immediate military occupation of the territories. This would give the Czechoslovak army no time to adapt their defense measures to the new borders.
To achieve a solution, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini suggested a conference of the major powers in Munich.
On September 29, Hitler, Daladier and Chamberlain met and agreed to Mussolini’s proposal. They signed the Munich Agreement, which accepted the immediate occupation of the Sudetenland.
The Czechoslovak government had not been a party to the talks. Nevertheless, it promised to abide by the agreement on September 30.
It actually had no choice. It faced the threat of an immediate German invasion after being deserted by its pledged allies: Britain, France and the Soviet Union.
Chamberlain returned to England a hero. Holding aloft a copy of the worthless agreement he had signed with Hitler, he told cheering crowds in London: “I believe it is peace for our time.”
Winston Churchill knew better, predicting: “Britain and France had to choose between war and dishonor. They chose dishonor. They will have war.”
Hitler—still planning more conquests—also knew better. In March, 1939, the German army occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia.
Chamberlain would soon be seen as a naive weakling–even before bombs started falling on London.
Hitler next turned his attention–and demands–to Poland.
When his generals balked, warning that an invasion would trigger a war with France and Britain, Hitler quickly brushed aside their fears: “Our enemies are little worms. I saw them at Munich.”
Hitler ordered the invasion of Poland on September 1–unintentionally triggering World War II.
In time, historians and statesmen would regard Munich as an object lesson in the futility—and danger—in appeasing evil and aggression.
But for the postwar Republican party, Hitler’s my-way-or-else “negotiating” methods would become standard operating procedure.
During the summer of 2011, Republicans refused to raise the debt ceiling unless Democrats agreed to massively cut social programs for the elderly, poor and disabled.
If Congress failed to raise the borrowing limit of the federal government by August 2, the date when the U.S. reached the limit of its borrowing abilities, it would have begun defaulting on its loans.
As Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, explained the looming economic catastrophe:
“If you don’t send out Social Security checks, I would hate to think about the credit meeting at S&P and Moody’s the next morning.
“If you’re not paying millions and millions and millions of people that range in age from 65 on up, money you promised them, you’re not a AAA,” said Buffett.
A triple-A credit rating is the highest possible rating that can be received.
And while Republicans demanded that the disadvantaged tighten their belts, they rejected any raising of taxes on their foremost constituency–the wealthiest 1%.