When Ripka said the Czechs would defend themselves, Churchill waxed emotional: “Tomáš.Masaryk was right,” he cried. “Death is better than slavery.” If war did come, he continued, mopping his eyes, this time they must wage it against the Boche so thoroughly that he wouldn’t recover for generations.... After a while he spoke of “Herr Beans,” as he pronounced the name of Czechoslovakia’s president, Edvard Beneš, Ripka continued: "Churchill called him one of the greatest men of our epoch, and praised the resolution of the Czechs to fight for freedom with such vehemence that he began to cry all over again."
Regardless of whether you like the movie—and Jeremy Irons gives it an authentic, watchable flavor—we know much more about Munich in the light of scholarship since. We know that Soviet Russia was prepared to stand with Czechoslovakia in 1938, and had become a German ally in 1939. We know how—with the help of Czech armaments—Poland was eradicated in three weeks, the Low Countries in eighteen days, France in six weeks. If resisting Hitler was so ludicrous an idea in 1938, what was there about fighting him in 1939-40 that made it preferable? Given what we know, we are obliged to consider Churchill’s opinion—which was, characteristically, far from baseless.
Journalist Leo McKinstry’s Churchill and Attlee is a deft analysis of a political odd couple who led Britain’s Second World War coalition government. Now, eighty years since the death of Neville Chamberlain, he has published an excellent appraisal in The Spectator. Churchill’s predecessor as Prime Minister, Chamberlain negotiated the 1938 Munich agreement. “Peace for our time,” he famously referred to it. In the end, he bought the world peace for a time.
Mr. McKinstry is right to regret that Chamberlain has been roughly handled by history. “The reality is that in the late 1930s Chamberlain’s approach was a rational one,” he writes.…