Out of Torment-Peace
"It does not matter whether Hitler did well or not out of the Munich conference. What does matter is the introduction of conference and consultation instead of sabre rattling and midnight mobilizations"
Wednesday, September 14.
L AST Saturday morning, after a calm but foggy crossing, the Empress of Australia stole into Southampton. We had enjoyed nearly a full week’s sanctuary from the world, where the only discordant notes were an occasional overbid of one’s partner and the constant blowing of the ship’s siren in the fog. True, A. Beverley Boiter, M.P. the loud-speaker relayed the news twice a day from the B.B.C. in London, but the reception was usually bad and, besides, when one is doing nothing on a ship, there is simply no time to get to the lounge to hear the wireless.
As for the ship’s daily newspaper, the reports were so short and so calm in tone that no one’s pulse even fluttered.
But all good things come to an end, and as the gangplank went down at Southampton the London newspapers were rushed on board.
It w'as like being hit by a tank. The Nuremberg Nazi rally was reaching its climax, and the issue of peace or war hung in the balance. Hitler was shrieking menaces, troops were massing, Goering was snorting like a bulland on Monday Hitler would probably declare that Germany would march into Czechoslovakia.
At London’s Waterloo there was an unusual welcome from our two little children. Their nanny, with a disturbing sense of the dramatic, had dressed seven-year-old Clive in some sort of hussar’s uniform, while five-year-old Meribah was dressed more quietly as a squaw! R. B. Bennett, who had crossed with us. was obviously impressed. He gave Clive a half crown, which brought a blush of delight to the hussar’s face.
Driving home through St. James's Park, the banks of flowers were almost intoxicating in their riot and color. A golden sunshine fell softly on the ancient streets. We turned up by Buckingham Palace and the proud sweep of the Mall.
Was it possible that a maniac in Berlin could dare to unleash his airplanes on all this?
“Strange, Exciting, Absurd”
THERE was no question of lunch. Instead, I drove at once to my newspaper office to find out the facts behind the news. My colleagues were cordial and willing, but they load Sunday papers to get out and their information was disjointed.
Had I heard about the leader in the Times two or three days ago? No? Well, the Times had unexpectedly come out and advocated, or at any rate condoned, the idea that Czechoslovakia should give up the Sudeten area with its three and a half million Germanic people.
“But the Times must be mad.”
“So most of its readers seemed to think.”
“What was behind it? Surely not the Government?”
“Not the Government as a whole, but there are rumors that a section of the Cabinet were trying this out to test public opinion.”
This was too much for a political journalist just home from holiday. The Times wasn’t the only paper in Britain. Lord Kemsley, I knew, would never support such a policy unless it was part of a general European settlement, but he was unavailable on the telephone. I saw the editor of the Sunday Graphic and asked him if he could clear my usual page and give it to me. He said it was impossible but he would nevertheless do it. (All editors are alike.)
So without lunch but fortified by a glass of milk, I added my voice to those who were at last telling Hitler that Britain was sick to death of his brawling, and that his frantic sympathy for the Sudeten Germans, who were never part of Germany in their history but had lived for 800 years with the Czechs, was nothing but an indefensible racket.
I don’t suppose it made the slightest difference, but every voice counted in the chorus that was warning Hitler that the British nation was not going to stand any more bullying.
Then came Monday night. With another glass of milk and a sandwich to sustain me, I fastened the earphones to my head at the Daily Sketch offices and waited to hear Hitler’s speech. The whole business was a strange, exciting and slightly absurd experience.
There was a terrific cheer and then an instantaneous silence as Der Fuehrer began his exhortation. As usual, he commenced mildly.
His baritone notes seemed a little husky, and his review of the Nazi movement was so prosaic that for nearly ten minutes the battalions of the faithful had no chance even to applaud.
But then the orator got to work. It was difficult to believe that there were any orators left who tore emotions to tatters like that. His voice roared higher and higher. There were moments when his words broke into the cry of a haunted soul; only to be followed by a peremptory ejaculation, which showed that he was the master of his emotions as well as master of Germany.
One could feel the electric excitement of the audience as he lashed out at one enemy after another. His method was most effective: a taunt, a defiance, a boast. It was a triple technique, and each time brought a storm of cheers.
There can seldom have been a speech in all history where the mixture was so thick. Sneers, dignity, reproaches, insults and idealism followed each other at a dazzling speed and with no attempt to prepare the change of mood. No one can say that the speech was insincere. It may, in its disjointed form, have expressed the exact feelings of the German leader.
Such a speech simply could not be delivered in America or anywhere in the British Empire. Its style is outdated. Hitler still belongs to the “ham actors” of the old days, who almost chewed the scenery in their emotional extravagance. When it came to Czechoslovakia, the German leader shrieked like an opera tenor in pain. The Czechs.
according to him, were liars, cheats and oppressors. He said they lied about the German troop movements on May 21, wrhen not an extra German soldier joined the colors and not a division moved toward the frontier.
“It was a mean lie,” he cried, and the angry roar of the crowd drowned his words in a cry of rage. “The Germans in Czechoslovakia are God’s creatures. If these creatures cannot help themselves, they will have my help.”
Then with a sharp guttural command he told the democracies to stand aside.
That night riots started in the Sudeten districts. Within an hour there were men in Czechoslovakia who had listened to that speech and were lying dead. The situation which wre all had foreseen had come to pass. It was the Austrian technique over again. The Sudeten Germans were to ask Hitler to come to save them. And once Hitler came, he would stay.
“There Seemed No Way Out”
THE next day I went to a conference at the Foreign Office and saw Lord Halifax. He was calm and dignified, but showed the strain of the intolerable summer which he had spent. From other sources I learned that the British Cabinet had made up its mind. No longer would it reserve its decision for eventualities, but would enter the war immediately if France marched.
The riotings and the shootings went on in Czechoslovakia. Hitler was ominously silent. There can be no
question that his plan was being faithfully carried out by his puppets in the Sudeten districts. But where were the marching legions? What had gone wrong with the Berlin part of the plan?
The answer is not difficult to find. The Nazi leaders looked out on a world which had ranged itself against them. They saw the truth at last, if they had not seen it before. If they went to war, the doom of Germany was sealed.
There can hardly have been one responsible man in Berlin who thought that Germany could be victorious. Yet how could she withdraw? Above all, how could Hitler explain his failure to honor the speech which he had given at Nuremberg?
There seemed no way out. In even' country, military chiefs were in conference. Like a fire fanned by the wind, the Sudeten area was completely out of hand.
Wednesday night I went home to dinner utterly pessimistic. Those who are reading this letter must forgive me if I describe my own reactions. 1 only do so in order to tell you how events were reacting on those of us who live on this side of the Atlantic.
Then at nine o’clock my telephone rang. It was Alan Sinclair, the editor of the Daily Sketch, who had worked the dock round every day this week.
“Have you heard the news?” His voice was trembling with excitement. “Chamberlain is flying to Germany tomorrow to see Hitler.”
“Chamberlain Shamed Us All”
T HAVE spent nearly all my life in the midst of the thrill
and stress of journalism, but I can never remember receiving any news so overpoweringly dramatic, so electrifying and so moving.
Here was the head of the most powerful Empire in the world, supported by allies and world opinion, a Prime Minister who knew that once again Britain would be victorious if war broke out. Two days before, Herr Hitler had sneered at his Government and ridiculed it, to the jeers of his supporters.
Yet this Prime Minister of good heart and chivalrous spirit had thrust all that aside, and had sent word asking if Hitler would see him.
In the long history of the nations there has been nothing more human, more imaginative and more brave. The news of his action flashed around the globe, and everywhere men looked up and hoped again.
More than that, it had reproached those of us who had thought that nothing more could be done. Neville Chamberlain had shamed us all by his refusal to accept the seemingly inevitable.
Knowing him as I do, I doubt that he saw anything dramatic about it. What he did see was that the world was staggering drunkenly to the abyss, and that there was no time left for the cumbersome machinery of diplomacy.
I think I know what was in his mind. He has never believed that Hitler wanted war or that he was merely a gangster. With his knowledge of politics, he could see that Hitler had engineered himself into a position from which it was almost impossible for him to withdraw.
So the message was sent to I lerr Hitler. I agree that a rebuff was unlikely, although in the strained atmosphere of the time 1 litler might have asked lor further details or even delayed to gain a valuable respite. Instead, he met Chamberlain’s generous gesture with dignity and courtesy. In a flash the responsibility of statesmanship had replaced the brawling clamor of the bull ring.
None of us knew what Mr. Chamberlain would say or what I lerr I litler would reply, but was there one of us who dared believe now that this war would happen? That single act of humanity had o|*?ned our dull eyes to the horror and degradation of the fate that has been hanging over Europe.
The logical mind might quibble and ask what could be said that could not have been sent in a note. Contemporary historians may recall what happened when Sir Samuel lloare went to set? M. Laval, or even hint at the dire fate of I lerr Schuschnigg when he ventured into the lion’s den.
All this is beside the point. Mr. Chamberlain did not go to Germany as the head of a threatened state or as the instigator of a bargain. I íe went rather as representing humanity—the wives who would lose their husbands, the mothers who would give their sons, and youth that would give its immortality. He did not go to plead or reproach but to say the words that God in his Heaven would have him say.
And, above all, he brought to the crisis of humanity the human touch.
Only history can deliver the final verdict on the results of that great gesture. All I can say is that men who have never shown emotion before have been moved openly and unashamed by the Prime Minister's action. When he reached the aerodrome, news was received of difficult weather ahead. Not all the storms in the heavens would have stopped him from going.
The World Listened
WEDNESDAY, September 28 (By cable): Today, like others, I drove to Westminster through a London which was feverishly preparing for bombardment from the air. In every park, in every place where there was the good earth to give safety, men were digging trenches.
Just before the Speaker's entrance, the debating chamber of the House of Commons was packed to suffocation. The chaplain read the prayers as usual. It w'as a moving moment w'hen the Members monotoned the familiar w;ords of the Lord's Prayer, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us,” while the armies of Europe w'ere mobilizing and children were being rushed to safety zones. There were cheers for the Premier when prayers were over. Mr. Chamberlain entered quietly and took his place between Sir John Simon and Captain Margesson, the chief whip. Government supporters sprang to their feet and cheered for over a minute, waving order papers in the air. 'The Opposition neither cheered nor showed unfriendliness. As was their right, they sat like a jury waiting to hear evidence.
When Chamberlain rose there were more cheers; but there was no frenzy. Perhaps there was a feeling that Nuremberg had given the world enough of that commodity.
Who can explain Neville Chamberlain? I have never seen him more composed, 1 have never seen him look so well. I have never heard his voice stronger; yet he had endured such days and nights, such agony of spirit and weariness of body, that beggars the imagination. His manner was so precise, his voice so calm, that he might have been introducing the first part of one of his budgets. He had to account for his stewardship, and he wished it to be an honest accounting.
It did not matter that the world was hanging on his words. Nor was he stampeded by the audience before his eyes. From the Speaker’s Gallery, Queen Mary, seated beside Mrs. Chamberlain, looked down on the historic scene. In the Peers’ Gallery, Lord Baldwin sat next to the Duke of Kent and gazed at the setting of his former perplexities and triumphs.
Down in the arena, facing Chamberlain, sat Lloyd George, one of the Versailles begetters of Czechoslovakia. Winston Churchill, man of climax and anticlimax, leaned across the gangway that divides Ministers from the rest. Behind Churchill was Eden, who had as his escort faithful Viscount Cranbome who had followed him into exile.
What a setting for triumph and what a setting for failure!
Hardly seeming to glance at his notes, Chamberlain began the story. In regard to Czechoslovakia, he said, there had been only three courses open to us from the beginning of the crisis. One, to threaten war; two. to stand aside; three, to try to secure peace by mediation, with scrupulous fairness both to the Sudeten Germans and to the Czechs. He showed why he had not hesitated to choose the third.
Relentlessly the Premier traced the change in Henlein’s attitude as he came more and more under Hitler’s influence. With equal relentlessness but with no direct condemnation, he traced Hitler’s own change over the course of years.
As early as July, he had been disturbed by news of German troop movements. Representations were made to Berlin, and when that availed nothing, Lord Halifax liad written to Herr von Ribbentrop, warning him of the danger of Germany’s tactics.
Here, for the first time, a definite harshness came into the Premier’s voice. Von Ribbentrop had replied that he must refuse to discuss military movements, had said that the fault lay in our encouragement to Prague.
There was an angry murmur from the crowded benches. The feeling that Von Ribbentrop is an enemy of Great Britain is widely held at Westminster. From that moment the speech that had been like the report of a company chairman, altered to sheer drama.
Although Chamberlain avoided every slightest suspicion of the theatrical, his very moderation made the inevitability of events stand out more vividly, more cruelly.
Nuremberg, Nuremberg, Nuremberg, that was the motif of it all. Everything had been a prelude to Hitler’s speech at his Nazi ixirty rally. The intensive military preparations, the campaign of hatred
against the Czechs, the frenzy of the Nazi hordes, all pointed to some fateful pronouncement by the German Chancellor.
By every means available, Britain had warned those w'ho had access to Hitler that on no account was the British attitude to be misunderstood, or underestimated. Then came Hitler’s Nuremberg speech. The Sudeten territory was inflamed. There were twenty-one killed and seventy-five wounded in those riots, said Mr. Chamberlain, and most of them w ere Czechs.
Speaking now more quickly, the Premier revealed how he had planned for some time to make a desperate last-minute intervention, if it were necessary.
“So I made my first flight.” And Chamberlain almost blushed, as the House cheered him. ‘T knew very well that in taking such an unprecedented course I was laying myself open to criticism . . . if I failed to bring back a satisfactory agreement.” The smile left his face, as with a sweep of his hands, he snapped, “But considerations of that kind could not be allowed to prevail.”
' I 'HEN began the story of the faee-toface negotiations with Hitler, one of the strangest stories of all time. One felt that the Englishman had found merit as well as fault in the strange, mystic ruler of Germany. One also sensed that Hitler had felt a deep respect for this statesman who had come from the skies to demand peace.
The conversations had gone well at first. Then Hitler had revealed his determination to take the Sudeten problem into his own hands. Chamberlain warned him that course might precipitate a world war.
“I am prepared to risk a world war rather than wait,” said the Chancellor.
It must have been a strange scene. Hitler, the dictator, the man of wrath, the god among mortals, was suddenly faced by an angry, though soft-spoken, elderly gentleman who said to him, with a peremptoriness that must have taken Hitler back to the days when he was just an army corporal :
“Why did you allow me to travel all this way since I am evidently wasting my time?”
Again and again the Premier demanded an answer to that question. So at last assurances were given that the German troops would not march until the Hitler plan had been accepted.
Chamberlain paused. He looked straight across at the Opposition. “I have no doubt now, looking back, that my visit alone prevented an invasion,” he said.
Government supporters cheered loudly. The rest made no demonstration, for or against.
The story moved quickly toward its end. Chamberlain told how he had induced the Czechs to accept the terms offered for the sake of European peace (the entire House cheered for the Czechs), told how he had gone back to Germany, to Godesberg, only to find that the terms had been raised. A time limit, cruel and inadequate, had been introduced.
”1 bitterly reproached the Chancellor on his failure to respond in any way to the efforts which I had made to secure peace.” Those were strong words for the Premier to use. His tongue can sting like a scorpion if he chooses, and he must have given I litter its full sting.
Yet the Chancellor had remained friendly and courteous. “He repeated to me with great earnestness that this was the last of his territorial ambitions in Europe.” It was easy to see that Chamberlain felt the Chancellor to be serious in that assertion. “Hitler did say.” went on Chamberlain, “that the question of colonies would arise some day, but that would not be a question of mobilizing armies.”
A few Opposition Members laughed. The Premier turned on them swiftly. “This is no time for laughter,” he chided.
Then he brought the story up to Tuesday night, when to most of us all seemed lost—but not to him. He had started out to capture Hitler’s soul, and he would not let him go. No priest has ever fought so hard for a heretic’s salvation.
“I sent a last note to Hitler. No”—he smiled self-consciously—“a last last note.” But the threat of German mobilization did not recede. Then he wrote to Mussolini, and the Italian dictator had sent a restraining message to Hitler. Eden nodded in agreement as Chamberlain praised the actions of the Italian dictator.
And at that moment occurred the most dramatic event of many decades in Parliamentary history.
Lord Halifax, in his seat in the Peers’ Gallery, had received a note. Reading it, his face flushed with excitement. He hurried out. Downstairs the note was passed along the Front Bench. Sir John Simon plucked the Premier’s sleeve. Chamberlain looked startled, then took the slip of paper and read it.
“I have something further to say to the House,” he said quietly, and his face shone with joy. “I have now been informed by Herr Hitler that he invites me to meet him at Munich tomorrow morning. He has also invited Signor Mussolini and M. Daladier.”
There was a roar of excitement. Members leaped to their feet and waved their arms, a scene against all precedent, for only one Member is permitted to stand at a time. Tears streamed down the faces of many of them. The Cabinet surrounded the Premier, trying to reach his hand, cheering him, patting him on the back.
Chamberlain looked around at the sea of excited faces. He tried to speak, but words did not come easily. At last, with a smile none of us will ever forget, he pointed to the note and said;
“I need not say what my answer will be.”
We went to Westminster like men who had expected Death. We went from Westminster with the feeling that we had seen the dawn of a new and cleaner world, built by the gentleness, the faith and the courage of one frail man who had placed himself between the world and disaster.
The Price of Peace
"V/fONDAY, October 3 (By cable): Now that the shouting is over, Britain and Europe are sitting up and wondering what really happened. The first overwhelming sense of relief being ended, everyone is asking: “At what cost did we purchase peace?”
This afternoon Chamberlain will face Parliament again, and this time his critics will give tongue. The resignation of Alfred Duff Cooper, First Lord of the Admiralty, will not embarrass the Premier, however. The husband of the lovely Lady Diana was not a success at the War Office, and his appointment to the Admiralty was regarded by many as being little more than a way out of an awkward situation.
The most embarrassing factor for Mr. Chamberlain is the distress of the Sudeten refugees, who are pouring into Prague as if their nation had been conquered. In addition, there is the despondent retirement of the brave Czech army, which has been beaten without firing a shot. Finally, there is the regrettable decision of Hitler to visit Sudetenland at once. Perhaps this was necessary for his prestige as a dictator, but all this inflames the passions of those whose sympathies for the Czechs and hatred of dictatorships obscure the larger and more prosaic issue of European peace.
Mr. Chamberlain, however, holds the whip hand over his opponents. IÍ they call for a vote of censure he will reply that not only Parliament but the whole nation should vote on the issue. In other words, this would mean an immediate general election, in which the Socialists would be overwhelmingly defeated. On the other hand, if the Socialists and Liberals do not press the debate to a vote of censure, they may be charged with insincerity by their own followers.
While all this is going on in Britain, the French are looking at the collapse of their post-War policy of encircling Germany, and wondering what their future holds. Their only alliance now is with Russia, and that is shaky at both ends. It is true that Britain still guarantees the security of France against aggression, but since the Anglo-German declaration never again to go to war, France regards the British guarantee as an insurance policy which carries a serious cancellation clause.
Thus does the uneasy peace follow the avoidance of war.
Was Munich a blunder? Would it not have been better to stand up to Hitler and either force him to withdraw, or else fight him when the whole world was on our side?
For what my opinion is worth. I think that the moment Hitler asked for the Munich conference, after previously declaring he had uttered his last word, marked the turning point in the post-War history of Europe. We saw the spectacle of the two dictators, with their millions of men ready for war, suggesting instead that
arbitration should take the place of force in determining an international dispute.
It does not matter whether Hitler did well or not out of the Munich conference. What does matter is the introduction of conference and consultation instead of sabre rattling and midnight mobilizations.
There are only two courses open to Great Britain: Either accept the inevitability of war with Germany and strain every sinew to prepare for it—or believe that the German and British nations can work side by side without enmity or clash of fundamental interests.
I believe that a real understanding can be achieved with Germany. This belief may prove to be wrong, but, at any rate. I suggest that we remember two things -economically Britain is no weaker, and Germany is no stronger, than before Munich.
The future is not easy to forecast, but if we cannot make more out of a world with peace than we can out of a world engaged in a debasing and senseless war, then we had better hand over civilization to the yellow and black races.
Tuesday, October 4 (By cable): Mr.
Chamberlain has met the onslaught of his critics. His reply is to demand a vote of confidence tomorrow.
The battle of the peace has begun.
Editor’s Note: The House of Commons on October 6 endorsed Mr. Chamberlain’s policy by a vote of 366 to 144.