Sunday 10 May 2009

Enormous Blunders (Part II)

This is the second of a series of stupid acts that have been committed in the world. One would think that people with enormous responsibilities would at least use their brains before they make decisions but alas, that isn’t always the case.

In this post, I will present to you a blunder which occurred in Europe eleven months before the start of World War Two. It is possible that if this blunder had not occurred, the war would never had begun and the lives of almost 50 million people would not have been lost.

Adolf Hitler, the Nazi dictator of Germany had by 1938, already walked into Austria and seized that country by threats alone so that it could be part of the Third Reich of Germany. He then said that he no longer had any further intentions of expanding the Third Reich. History was to show that he lied of course.

Now his eyes were on Czechoslovakia. His pretext was the alleged privations suffered by the ethnic German population living in Czechoslovakia's northern and western border regions, known collectively as the Sudetenland. Their incorporation into Nazi Germany would of course leave the rest of Czechoslovakia powerless to resist subsequent occupation by German forces.

The United Kingdom was set on avoiding war at all costs. The French government also did not wish to face Germany alone, so took its lead from the British government and its Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain. Chamberlain believed that Sudeten German grievances were just and that Hitler's intentions were limited to only the Sudetenland part of Czechoslovakia. Hitler met with Chamberlain and demanded the swift takeover of the Sudetenland by the Third Reich under threat of war. Both Britain and France, therefore, advised Czechoslovakia to concede to Hitler’s demands; something that the government of Czechoslovakia was not too keen to do.

The United Kingdom and France issued an ultimatum, making a previous French commitment to Czechoslovakia contingent upon acceptance. On September 21, the Czechoslovakian government capitulated. The Agreement between all the parties was then signed on September 30th.

The Agreement included a guarantee by Hitler that he would limit his move to only the takeover of the Sudetenland and not the rest of Czechoslovakia. The British and the French also guaranteed the Czechs that it would protect the rest of Czechoslovakia but it was a guarantee that they didn’t intend to honour. As a result, the Nazis later took over all of Czechoslovakia while the British and French governments stood by and did nothing to assist the Czechs.

Both the British and the French were doing everything that they could to avoid any armed conflict with Germany’s armed forces. And if it meant letting Hitler having his own way, then so be it. It wasn’t until Hitler’s armed forces marched into Poland in early September 1939 that the British and French governments finally concluded that it was time to put an end to Hitler’s constant encroaching on other nations in Europe. But by then, it was too late. Poland fell and later so did France and many other countries in Europe.

The enormous blunder in this incident was when Hitler convinced the British and French prime ministers that he wasn’t afraid of them and in so many words, dared them to stop him.

The irony is that had they possessed the intestinal fortitude to stand up to Hitler and tell him in so many words that they would not let him march into Czechoslovakia, he would have backed off with his tail between his legs. It was only after the war was over that all this became known by the Allies, albeit, too late. Hitler had been bluffing.

Field Marshal Wilhem Keitel, who at that time and during the war, was the chief of the German armed forces. He said in part about the so-called proposed invasion of Czechoslovakia when he was giving his testimony during his trial at the International Military Tribunal being held in Nuremberg;

“We were extraordinarily happy that it had not come to a military operation because we had always been of the opinion that our means of attack against the frontier fortification of Czechoslovakia were insufficient. From a purely military point of view, we lacked the means for an attack which involved the piercing of the frontier fortifications.”

Keitel also said at his trial;

“If a war had broken out, neither our western border nor our Polish frontier could really have been effectively defended by us and there is no doubt whatsoever that had Czechoslovakia defended itself, we would have been held up by her fortifications for we did not have the means to break through.”

General Alfred Jodl who was second to Keitel, said at his trial in Nuremberg about the futility of attacking Czechoslovakia;

“It was out of the question. With five fighting divisions and seven reserve divisions in the Western fortifications, which were nothing but a large construction site, to hold against one hundred French divisions, that was militarily impossible.”

Incidentally, both Keitel and Jodl were later hanged as war criminals.

Hitler, in the face of overwhelming strength in France, was in a militarily impossible situation and he knew it and yet he prevailed and like a good poker player, he bluffed his way right into Czechoslovakia with the British and the French too afraid to stand up to him and stare him down.

Both prime ministers feared that if their countries went to war with Germany at that time, the German air force would bomb both London and Paris. They were unduly alarmed. The German air force wasn’t prepared for bombing raids since they didn’t have at that time sufficient fighter planes to protect their bombers.

I blame Nevelle Chamberlain for this enormous blunder. Through his stubborn, fanatical insistence in giving Hitler what he wanted, he strengthened Hitler’s resolve to do whatever he wanted to do knowing that he could do it with impunity.

It takes courage to be the head of a nation. Having courage is the capacity to perform one’s duties even when scared half to death. The two prime ministers were scared but instead of standing up to Hitler, they chose to run away like cowards who run from the first gunshot fired in a battle. Had they stood their ground, it is conceivable that millions of lives would not have been lost to the ravages of war that Hitler had brought onto Europe between 1939 and 1945.

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