The New Liliput’s Warlord The Arts of Diplomacy [III]
The Munich Conference of 1938 marked a turning point in World War II. Leading European politicians in Britain and France then succumbed to the demands of the Nazi regime in Germany, while offering them resources to engage in a possible war.
From caricatural politics…
After Nazi Germany annexed Austria in early 1938, the Sudetenland, which was inhabited mainly by ethnic Germans, was added to its territorial claims. The pretext for the desire to annex this region was the “reunion of Germans”. The annexation would have been even more likely, as the people of the Sudetenland had the same desire for unification. But, being in the minority in the Czechoslovak state, they were not the only decision-makers in this matter.
The President of Czechoslovakia at the time, Edvard Beneš, and the rest of the Czechoslovak citizenry strongly opposed this Nazi desire. Based on the good relations they had with Western partners, they hoped for support on the annexation issue.
However, Czechoslovakia's Western partners – French Prime Minister, Edouard Daladier, and British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain – decided to take a messianic stance by choosing to pursue a pacifist policy toward the Nazi leader, who had vocally assured them that this was the last territorial claim he had to make on Europe. To Czechoslovakia’s disillusion, the two of them, alongside Mussolini and Hitler, met in Munich in September 1938 to negotiate and later sign the peaceful surrender of the Sudetenland. Those listed above did not even bother to invite Czechoslovakia’s representatives. The latter were forced to accept the agreement due to the lack of an alternative option.
Thus, after the Germans rearmed the demilitarized region of the Rhine (in violation of the Treaty of Versailles) and annexed Austria, the British decided to make another concession in the name of peace. Leaving Germany to annex Austria and dismember Czechoslovakia, they abandoned the world order built at the end of the First World War.
This agreement was seen as a win-win deal for Neville Chamberlain. He had won “peace in our time”, one which lasted less than a year. He was at that time the man praised by the British press for “his success” in negotiations with Germany.
The Sudetenland was of great strategic importance to Czechoslovakia, as it was home to most of the border defence, as were many of its banks. Therefore, when Britain and France gave Sudetenland to Germany, they implicitly weakened that state and made it even easier for Germany to occupy the whole of Czechoslovakia, which later happened.
The Allies’ error in 1938 was fatal as it decisively changed, on the one hand, the geostrategic situation in Central Europe and, on the other hand, the relationship of military forces with Germany. Historians consider that, at the Munich Conference in September 1938, Germany would have failed had it faced also Czechoslovakia, in addition to England and France. But, following that moment, the balance of power had changed.
In the end, the annexation of Austria and the Czechoslovak state to Germany had a domino effect that also led to the war that the Allies wanted to avoid, but this happened a year later, in worse conditions for Western democracies.
…To political caricature
The greatest failure in the history of British and French diplomacy was portrayed in a caricature by two Jewish cartoonists of Hungarian nationality – Derso Alois (1888-1964) and Kelen Emery (1896-1978). Sharing similar biographical backgrounds, they became friends in 1922 and collaborated for the next 30 years.
This masterpiece is one of the last political cartoons drawn by Kelen and Derso, shortly before leaving Europe in December 1938. The two left Europe with the help of friends who foresaw the imminent dangers they would face, both because they are Jews and because of their past public criticism of Hitler's rise to power.
The cartoon depicts Adolf Hitler as Gulliver, as well as other European leaders of the time – Mussolini and statesmen from France, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Hungary, Greece, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Luxembourg, Romania and Yugoslavia – as Lilliputians, and was inspired by Jonathan Swift's novel Gulliver's Travels. In the novel, the main character, the adventurer Gulliver, accidentally arrives on the island of Lilliputians. Throughout the novel, the character goes through four phases, moments that were also found in the historical entourage of the central character of the cartoon – Adolf Hitler:
- The giant is a danger to the inhabitants of the island;
- The giant gains the trust of the Lilliputians;
- The giant gains power and influence among the Lilliputians;
- The giant becomes the enemy of the Lilliputians because he does not obey their orders.
Contrary to our analogized reality, however, he peacefully withdraws from the island of Lilliputians, which is not the case for the Nazi leader.
The cartoon was published in the American magazine Ken in June 1938, a short-lived and controversial anti-fascist magazine, issued between April 1938 and August 1939, hosting among other signatures the one of Ernest Hemingway, with a number of articles on the Spanish Civil War.
Another detail of the cartoon is a phrase from a dialogue between Lord Halifax, British Foreign Secretary, and British Prime Minister Chamberlain, in which the former says: “Don’t be afraid, I know him personally... He is a vegetarian!”, referring to the vegetarian diets of the Nazi leader and the clichés about the empathy and kindness of vegetarians.
It is curious that although the Munich Treaty was signed in September 1938, the two authors were able to anticipate the actions that would follow, according to the analysis of the portraits of the characters.
The hidden message: naivete has no place in international relations, especially when the future of mankind is at stake, and a dictator makes up the rules of this game.
- Munich Agreement: Between Germany, Great Britain, France, and Italy, Concluded in Munich on September 29, 1938, World Affairs journal;
- As to the Munich Agreement Hug the Facts, World Affairs journal, December 1938;
- The Ghosts of Appeasement: Britain and the Legacy of the Munich Agreement, Journal of Contemporary History, 2013;
- Ken (magazine), June Edition 1938;
- Derso and Kelen (1950). United Nations Sketchbook, a Cartoon History of the United Nations;
- News portal https://www.paraentender.com.br/.