With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

There are No Chamberlains Here

In 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain arrived home from a conference in Munich. He and other leaders had met with Hitler; they had agreed to allow the German army to annex a slice of Czechoslovakia; in exchange, Hitler offered more dialogue, and promised not to fight any further. To the cheering crowd that had gathered to welcome his plane, Chamberlain happily declared that the threat of war had passed: He had obtained “peace with honor … peace for our time.”

As it turned out, Hitler was not satisfied with that slice of Czechoslovakia. He wanted all of Czechoslovakia—and then all of Poland, all of Belgium, all of the Netherlands, all of France. In light of the blood, death, and tragedy that followed 1938, Chamberlain’s deal came to be described by an ugly word: appeasement. Chamberlain is remembered not for the peace he negotiated, but for the war that followed.

More than 80 years later, another gathering in Munich tried not to make Chamberlain’s mistake. Americans and Germans dominated this weekend’s Munich Security Conference, as is traditional, but plenty of other prime ministers and foreign ministers—British, Swedish, Finnish, Polish, Estonian—were there too. Instead of conceding to a dictator, all present condemned a dictator and demanded, unanimously, that the Russian troops gathered on the borders of Ukraine go home.

The American vice president made a solid, well-received speech. Kamala Harris declared that although “the foundation of European security is under direct threat in Ukraine,” the alliance would push back: “We, the U.S. and Europe, have come together to demonstrate our strength and our unity.”  Annalena Baerbock, the German foreign minister, sat beside Antony Blinken, the American secretary of state, and said, “What makes me optimistic in these difficult times is the knowledge of the strength of our transatlantic union and the solidity of our alliances.” Blinken responded in kind: “The single greatest source of strength that we have in dealing with this issue, in dealing with this challenge, is the solidarity that Annalena talked about.”

Everyone present agreed that invasion would trigger severe sanctions. The closing of the brand-new, still-unused Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Germany and Russia looks very likely. Export controls and further sanctions will target Russian banks, Russian companies, Russian individuals. Although not everyone will supply weapons to Ukraine, those who have already done so and those who will continue to do so were not shy about it. The consensus created a good mood, an almost cheerful ambience. Instead of dividing us, the Russians have brought us together, lots of people said. I heard versions of this several times too: NATO should put up a plaque to Putin; he’s done so much for alliance unity. The memory of 1938 haunted the room, but it was rejected: At this Munich conference, there will be no appeasement.

Read entire article at The Atlantic