on 29 May 2009
This is an absorbing, detailed, if somewhat lengthy account of the period leading upto and after the Munich Crisis of 1938.
Sadly, it exposes the weakness and vascilation of the then European leaders, led mainly by Britain's Neville Champerlain. These sincere but weak men spent much of their time by partly squabbling amongst themsleves or acting behind each others backs, thus allowing Adolf Hitler to absorb territories that he coveted, without his armies hardly firing a shot.
It is understandable that they wished to avoid another carnage like WW1 which was then so recent in time, but it makes one wonder what might have been if between them they has shown just a little defiance in the face of Hitler's bluster.
on 7 July 2009
Firstly the book was easy to read and very informative on all aspects that took place in 1938. I have studied this area in brief before, so had some prior knowledge on the main events but never really understood the in depth political side, which in turn has enhanced my knowledge, especially form a British perspective with the difference in opinions over Chamberlains appeasement policies. The book is written in a way that does not confuse and because of its easy reading nature, I never wanted to put the book down. This book would be ideal and informative for anybody who has no prior knowledge on the appeasement year of 1938 and the many events such as the Munich Conference. Excellent.
on 19 August 2012
"The foreign policy of Mr. Chamberlain ...is based not upon fear or upon weakness, but upon realism." The Evening Standard newspaper 19th Nov 1937
Although I've seen the odd documentary on the History Channel and have read about WWII in general, I have to confess I've not read anything about this year in particular, at least not a whole book. So I'm unable to judge what new bits of information the author, David Faber, has brought to light (which the critics have praised). So this book was my introduction, and considering it is so well known, it was still a riveting read if slightly long.
The book in fact starts in Nov 1937 with a meeting in which Hitler lays out his plans for the Reich's expansion Eastwards to the stunned heads of the army, navy and the Luftwaffe. We then enter the appeasement crisis documenting the fracas that ensued between the notorious Neville Chamberlain, who wished to instigate negotiations between Britain and the Third Reich, and the British Foreign Office and its head, Anthony Eden, who saw things in rather a different light. Then there is a sex scandal which could, quite possibly, have been the impetus for Hitler's annexation of Austria. The rejection of the Roosevelt administration's overtures to Britain - the powerful ally seeking to become involved in European diplomacy; and that is all before we get onto the dastardly actions of Chamberlain's government whilst presiding over negotiations between the Czechs and the Sudeten Germans.
Like a puzzle forming or a chess game, you watch the pieces slowly move into position and come together as the various officials take note, and decide accordingly. Right from the start Faber makes us aware of public opinion, giving this historical drama an added connection to the period. We live the diplomatic lives of several British, German, Czech and French officials as they essentially do nothing while Germany builds up to the invasion of Austria, then Czechoslovakia.
As you'd expect, Faber uses a variety of sources including the minutes from meetings but also diaries as well as letters from Chamberlain to his sister, who for much of the time seemed enthralled by her host, il Duce himself, Benito Mussolini (no need to worry about state secrets leaking out, eh Neville?).
You almost cringe at the smug, self-satisfaction with which the PM and his loyalists are totally focused on achieving meaningless concessions rather than seeing the overall picture. It's the classic example of refusing to deal with an issue in the long term, only to pay an almighty price just a little while later.
For me, things became really interesting once Hitler had annexed Austria and set his sights on Czechoslovakia. The continual demands made by Hitler and the continuous, cowardly withdrawal of Chamberlain's negotiators is one of the most wicked and shameful diplomatic acts. The Nazi propaganda machine twisted and squirmed its way out of making any sort of concessions with the Czechs, all the while the British not really giving a damn and only wanting a speedy end to it all, with as little bother as possible, is captured brilliantly, if infuriatingly by Faber.
Only one voice in the British camp explicitly lays everything out correctly, Secretary of State for War, Leslie Hore-Belisha at one point warns that Hitler's manoeuvring all seemed to be part of what Hitler had already laid out in Mein Kampf, and that the Chamberlain government should immediately intensify the rearmament program.
While this is a perfectly doable intro into this pre-WWII year, with quite a detailed diplomatic account, it provides no background on any of the countries or characters and nothing about the inter-war years. It remains solely focused on the Appeasement Crisis.
Lastly, as a little trivia it is worth mentioning the film The Remains of the Day which uses a (fictional) appeasement era as part of the backdrop to the film's main plot. But still, the atmosphere of the period is captured brilliantly.
on 8 June 2010
David Faber: Munich
The Munich agreement of 1938 is generally regarded as the nadir of British foreign policy. More than seventy years on, its memory still exerts a giant emotional influence over British politics. Munich and appeasement (the policy which produced it) have become permanent terms of abuse.
The central narrative of Munich is simple: its motivation is still in dispute. The British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, attempted to purchase peace with Hitler at the expense of Czechoslovakia, a small, democratic state in alliance with Britain's main ally, France. He pursued this policy with increasing desperation but two personal meetings with Hitler failed to produce a settlement and it seemed certain that Britain and France would go to war in September 1938. With last-minute melodrama (carefully manipulated by Chamberlain to influence Parliamentary and public opinion) the Munich conference averted war by dismembering Czechoslovakia, which was not even invited. Chamberlain's only resistance to Hitler's demands came over the loss of Czech farmers' cows, and even this was soon abandoned. Chamberlain then privately secured Hitler's signature (for all the world like an autograph hunter seeking out a movie star) to a meaningless declaration - hyped up for British voters as "peace in our time."
Some defenders of Chamberlain suggest that his policy was chosen from reluctant necessity. Britain was desperately weak in 1938: Munich bought a year of precious time for rearmament.
David Faber suggests otherwise. His lucid and compelling narrative Munich uses a wealth of British sources to show that Chamberlain believed totally in his policy - and in himself. In the run-up to the Iraq war, Tony Blair used the name of Neville Chamberlain to attack his critics. In fact, Blair's conduct of policy on Iraq presented many echoes of Chamberlain were intensely self-righteous, both men preferred cronies to experts, both men used spin doctors to plant propaganda on friendly journalists and put pressure on unfriendly ones, both men bypassed their Cabinets - pointlessly, since these Cabinets displayed little independence. By coincidence, each man suffered one resignation.
Munich still has the power to excite passion. David Faber's family history is closely linked with Munich: his grandfather Harold Macmillan and his great-uncle (by marriage) Leopold Amery were among the rare Conservative politicians who resisted Chamberlain's policy. He might have been tempted into refighting their battles. Instead, he lets the facts speak for themselves and the effect is to make Chamberlain seem far more dislikeable, and his policy far more misguided and disastrous.
David Faber only hints at the scale of that disaster and it is a pity that he denies himself any speculation about the alternative scenario for 1938. The British Prime Minister resists Hitler's demands and makes clear that he will stand by France over Czechoslovakia. Hitler is faced with the prospect of war with them and with Russia. Does he back down and endure humiliation? Does he fight? Does he get overthrown by conspirators? Whatever happens, it looks a better prospect than confronting Hitler in September 1939 - after losing the Czech army and its huge arsenal and armaments factories and turning Russia into an unfriendly neutral.
Munich is essential reading not just for students of the 1930s but as a case study in what can happen to the British state when it falls into the hands of an all-powerful Prime Minister with a deluded policy.
on 1 March 2011
David Faber has crammed in lots of information but somehow has managed to tie it all together to make the story of this grey period of our history riveting. It paints a clear picture of the individuals concerned, particularly Hitler and Chamberlain and you see how people in power can make momentous decisions, which can affect the whole world, and are sometimes made against the advice of those around them for reasons of personal glorification. It has parallels with the Blair days but at least Chamberlain was shoved out of the way instead of going on make millions in further self promotion. I was sorry that the story finished in 1938 and hope that Faber covers the rest of the story up to the outbreak of war. Wonderful.
on 5 May 2012
I musts say I loved this book and found it very hard to put down. I actually found myself agreeing with the appeasement policy or indeed any policy to avoid the war I knew was coming.
However I have only given it four stars because there were a few nitty gritty points which irked - the book is extremely anglocentric and gives little coverage of the position in Paris, Prague or elsewhere and indeed I would have liked to know more of what was happening in Berlin. I would have appreciated a good map of Czechoslovakia and there were times when it would have been more helpful had the narrative been divided by date or even sub headings by date.
Nevertheless it is a gripping narrative, obviously well researched and certainly well worth reading.
on 1 July 2011
Faber's forensic analysis of the 1938 Munich Crisis is the best since On Borrowed Time. Although I have studied this period and arrogantly believed myself to be well versed in the machinations involved in appeasing Hitler, I found something new on almost every page. Faber writes well too, creating a rarity - a page-turner with authority. I would recommend this book to amateur historians, students, and anybody who enjoys a good read written with skill and authority by a man with the connections which lend authenticity.
on 29 May 2009
David Faber has meticulously researched one of the most tragic years on the eve of the Second World War,namely:1938.This period is better known as the Munich crisis although some other mini- crises have preceded it.September 30 1938 was to be one of those infamous days in history because it was when Neville Chamberlain flew back to London holding aloft a piece a paper announcing to the world that" Peace for our time" was achieved at Munich.This was,of course,rubbish and there were many who knew and believed that not only was the new state of Czechoslovakia sacrificed but that this piece of paper signified the beginning of Hitler's demonic plan to subjugate all the other European countries east of the dismantled state of the Czechs.Even Chamberlain himself acknowledged that war was to follow -a war which would not spare his country.Three days before the Munich conference none other than Chamberlain uttered the following words:"How horrible, fantastic,incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on masks here because of a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing"(Chapter 13).Indeed,Chamberlain suffered from political myopia and as a Prime Minister did not have a minimal understanding about dictators and their minds.His dealings with Hitler were extremely naive and he did not care a bunch whether people opposed his views or not, although he respected their views.We get a very long and comprehensive description about the whole process of how Hitler managed to incorporate Austria in his Reich.There is a very detailed chapter on the scandal of Blomberg's marriage to a prostitute and Fritsch's trial following the discovery that he was a homosexual,and theses two episodes were just the prelude to the Fuhrer's dismissal of his opponents in the army.
In contrast to Chamberlain there were other wiser politicians who knew-already in March 1938-that after Austria Czechoslovakia would follow. One of them was the French Foreign Minister Joseph Paul- Boncour who said that "Europe,like an artichoke,was to be eaten leaf by leaf"(Chapter 5).It was not only Chamberlain who was duped by the Fuhrer.There were many others such as Lords Rothmere and Beaverbrook who fell into the same trap.The first one,Lord Rothmere,had been visiting Germany regularly since 1930 praising Hitler and his minions.Another excellent chapter is devoted to the Runciman mission.Runciman was the mediator sent by Lord Halifax but he failed,too.Chapter 14 gives an excellent account of the Munich conference and Faber makes it clear how confusingly the parties taking place in that conference were behaving.There were technical problems with the translation of texts and memoranda.What followed was the sellout of Czechoslovakia and the the beginning of the most horrible catastrophe in Europe.
The book makes it clear that there is no room for appeasement when blood-seeking monsters and dictators such as Hitler are concerned.Brutes like him cannot be offered any compromises.Let this dark era -and this superbly-researched and long book- be a warning to the leaders of today who haven't yet learnt the lessons of 1938.
Faber's Munich: the 1938 Appeasement Crisis, is the best general-reader account of Munich as well as being the more recent to date. Both well informed and lively, it tells the engrossing story of what must rate as one of the greatest diplomatic blunders of all time. We all know how Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister, surrendered the Sudetenland and with it Czechoslovakia to Hitler, not realising that far from buying peace he was making a major strategic contribution to the totalitarian camp. At least, we think we know, but there is always more to tell of this morbidly fascinating tale. Faber concentrates particularly on the British side of things and excels at showing British policy in all its nuances - Chamberlain's arrogant obstinacy, the sycophancy of his followers, the despair of anti-appeasers such as Eden, Duff Cooper, or Churchill, but also the surprise, last-minute reversal of Halifax - and in its twists and turns. His book is colourful, good at captivating the atmosphere of the time, and it contains more than a few telling anecdotes. It is highly recommended reading, even if you already have some familiarity with the subject.
Faber's book also makes a valuable academic contribution, tapping into a number of British manuscript archives from second-tier protagonists. For students, however, the major work on Munich remains Telford Taylor's Munich: the Price of Peace, a more analytical work that is also better rounded in terms of coverage of French, German, and Czechoslovak aspects as well as such issues as the military balance. Though Taylor is no revisionist, it is also worth pointing out that academic historians have recently tended to be kinder to Chamberlain than used to be the case, and to find mitigating circumstances in Britain's poor state of war-readiness and in public opinion. Frankly I find all that dubious, and Faber is a very good reminder why.
on 3 January 2013
This is a good account of the 1938 Munich crisis. After 70 years one would have hoped that we can have some perspective on the events of 1938. Certainly this book gives a valuable insight into the chronology and the character of the main players and how they thought. It is good on detail such as the weather etc which helps give context to the crisis.
Chamberlain was not weak but his main concern was the British Empire, the economy and winning the next election. He did not care about Germany, save that he did not want German domination of Europe and recognised that Germany had suffered from the First World but so had everyone else. The key failure was with Italy. The diplomacy with that country was fatally undermined, as the book reveals , by the interventions of Chamberlain's sister then resident in Rome. Nor was British diplomatic represention in Berlin terribly good.It cannot have helped that Halifax on his visit to Germany initially mistook Hitler for a servant and was about to give him his coat.
The passion that Munich has provoked has much to do with misunderstanding the problems under which the statesmen laboured. War was expected and the joy that greeted Munich was for the possibility that war could be avoided. Within six months the chances for peace were effectively gone with the occupation of Prague and the guarantee to Poland. Chamberlain was a broken man and would be dead by the end of 1940. Whatever Chamberlain had done there would have been war as that was Hitler's destiny and I think it hard to misjudge Chamberlain for seeking peace. On the other hand he did make many mistakes in his mission.
In summary a good book to learn about the facts around Munich And to make one own mind. One quibble is that it does go on a bit.