Once again and again and even again, the term “Munich appeasement” is being used by people who should know better, using the phrase as a vulgar tool to attack any American effort to achieve an agreement with Iran on its nuclear enrichment program. Unfortunately, much of the popular understanding of Munich Agreement is entirely mistaken. “Munich appeasement” is a merely label plastered on a bottle that had in most cases never been opened much less tasted.
In the late 1930s, Germany had clearly rearmed, its intentions were clearly aggressive, and clearly, the British, like the French, had not. Their countries had no heart for rearmament. But before the meeting with Hitler, Prime Minister Chamberlin in fact had set in motion a secret policy to confront Hitler, the object of which was to “inject resisting power” into those states neighboring Germany that Hitler clearly wanted to turn into “vassals.”
Chamberlin’s design was to increase financial and economic aid into possible “vassal states” that would make them less dependent on Germany aims. Its goal was to “ensure that Germany’s style was “cramped in every way possible, with a minimum of any provocation” that might be a cause for war. This secret intent to increase anti-German resistance would be buttressed by the public declaration that the French and British were united in resisting Hitler’s designs.
This of course was false posturing. The French generals were muddled ad confused and wanted to avoid war at all costs, and the British were basically unarmed.
The secret British policy was to secretly play for time. It is to Chamberlin’s credit that he did this. Why then all this footwork? At his meeting with Hitler on Sept. 29, Chamberlin permitted the German reoccupation of the Sudetenland, and the agreement enabled Chamberlin to return to London and announce he had secured “peace in our time.”
But the reality was far different. Chamberlin had secured peace for 12 months, just in time for the British Air Ministry to introduce the fast, eight-gun Spitfire fighter into squadron service. A biographer of British intelligence said, “That stay of war proved to be decisive in the defense of the United Kingdom –the Battle of Britain which took place in the summer of 1940 and which resulted not only in victory but ended Hitler’s plan for an invasion.
The lesson of course, was to stall in the face of military weakness until you had gained some position of strength. John Kennedy took that lesson to heart – that without military strength you could do little in foreign policy.
Last year I read a biography of Lincoln by his law partner, William Hearndon, and I would say without hesitation that Hearndon’s book is a work of startling genius. It is a masterpiece of American English.
Hearndon makes clear that Lincoln was an odd and melancholy man. He radiated warmth and kindliness, yet his great reactor was cool at its core. Life approached him through his brain, his principles, and his calm exact and cold perceptions, not his feelings.
It must said that Herndon, who is certainly the most acute of Lincoln’s admiring a biographers, saw his partner clearly and observed that while Lincoln could be tender and considerate, yes, he was not warmhearted. Hearndon said that if a warmhearted man was one who “goes out of himself and reaches for others spontaneously, seeking to correct some abuse to mankind because of his deep love of humanity, and he does what he does for love’s sake, then Lincoln was a cold man.”
He adds that Lincoln acted consistently from his head, not his heart. He was gentle, but he hardly ever used terms of endearment. Hearndon also remarks that while Lincoln saw himself as the emancipator of the black man, when Lincoln “freed the slaves, there was no heart in his act.” Hearndon added that while Lincoln could be tender and gentle, he acted chiefly from principled calculation. “In general terms, his life was cold – at least characterized by what many persons would deem great indifference.”
Hearndon then adds, “He gave the keynote to his own character when he said, ‘With malice toward none, with charity for all. In proportion to his want of deep, intense love, (Lincoln) had not hate and bore no malice.”
It is Hearndon who recounts how Lincoln wrote a paper about Jesus and Christianity, and gave it to a friend to read. Knowing that Lincoln desired a political career, the man read it and then shoved the work into a stove.