Truth or Consequences
By: Wendy Wippel
It was Edmund Burke who observed that “those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it” – an insight whose fulfillment unfortunately, has also been repeated. Our generation, too, must learn from history–particularly from one particularly costly moment. Will we? Let’s hope so. What lesson? Two words: the Sudetenland.
The Sudetenland is the German name for an area comprised of the Sudetes mountain range, a range that runs primarily along the northern border of Czechoslovakia. In the Middle Ages it was part of a country called Bohemia, and both ethnic Germans (who spoke German) and ethnic Czechs (who spoke Bohemian) settled there. The governments and the borders in the area changed frequently over the next 500 years, and Bohemia eventually became a part of the Austrian empire. Austria had becone part of the Austrio-Hungarian empire at the start of WWI.
That empire, aligned with Germany, was defeated in WWI, and was subsequently dismantled by the Treaty of Versailles. Bohemia, including the area known as the Sudetenland, became a part of the newly created Czechoslovakia in 1918. By this time you may wonder: why do we care?
A megalomaniac and tyrant who rode the post-WWI chaos in Germany to the position of absolute dictator, Hitler did so largely by pandering to wounded German pride and promising a return to German power and glory. Hitler nursed in his shriveled little soul no lesser goal that to bring all of Europe (and beyond, i.e. Russia) under German rule.
But he had a problem. Czechoslovakia sat nestled in the very heart of Europe, and to take Eastern Europe (starting with Poland), he had to take Czechoslovakia.
And with Czechoslovakia came a pocketful of problems. Czechoslovakia had constructed one of the strongest armies in Europe (able to field nearly a million men), it had a thriving munitions industry, and the border with Germany consisted of those pesky Sudetes mountains. A formidable mountain range in itself, with lots of fortifications built over hundreds of years of war. To make things worse, that border was addressed in the Treaty of Versailles: should that border be threatened, it would be defended by Western forces. Against any and all attacks.
And it was in that area that the German-speaking Czechs happened to live. As they had for nearly 500 years, when it was Bohemia, and when they had settled in the area because they wanted to live there.
Hitler knew that to have all of Europe he needed to first have Poland, and wanted a battle. His advisors, however, saw the folly in trying to mount an offensive against that seemingly unassailable border. They refused to support it.
So Hitler did what he did best. He launched a propaganda campaign.
The citizens of the Sudetenland are Germans, Hitler said. They’re oppressed. They deserve the right of self-determination, he said. Hitler initiated a Sudeten branch of the Nazi party, who, at Hitler’s direction, rioted in the Sudetenland demanding German rights.
(The ethnic German residents of the newly formed Czechoslovakia. BTW, had, in every respect, rights identical to the ethnic Czechs.)
His propaganda minister, Goebbels, launched a series of “news reports” describing Czech oppression of the German citizens.
And eventually, audaciously, Hitler demanded that Czechoslovakia give the Sudetenland back to its rightful owners. He claimed that the Czechs were “harassing the human race”. He demanded that the land be returned to Germany. This despite the fact that that land had never belonged to Germany.
Surely the world laughed?
No. In fact, despite the treaty at Versailles which demanded that the Western powers defend Czechoslovakia’s border, those powers (and more importantly, the western press), fell right in line with the German propaganda machine. They not only failed to defend Czechoslovakia, but raised their voices together in “consensus”. The oppressed Sudetenland must be returned to Germany.
And history (and truth) were irrelevant under the weight of public opinion. Public opinion born of a very effective German propaganda campaign.
History records the outcome:
September 13, 1938: Hitler demands again that the Sudetenland be returned to Germany, and encourages the leader of the Sudeten Nazis to ratchet up the protests. He obeys. The Czech government is forced to declare martial law.
Hitler threatens to send troops in order to defend his oppressed German brethren.
September 15: Neville Chamberlain meets with the French envoy, Eduoard Diladier; the men agree to give Hitler all the areas of Czechoslovakia where Germans are the majority.
They give Hitler the good news. No dice, Hitler tells them. All of the Sudetenland must be handed over.
September 30: France (Diladier), England (Chamberlain) and Italy (Mussolini) meet with Hitler in Munich. After eleven hours of negotiation, the men finally sign the “Munich Agreement”. (Their big piece of diplomacy? The piece that required eleven hours to reach agreeement?) Convincing Hitler not to go to war, but to just take the Sudetenland. Served up on a platter like Christmas dinner. Hitler, in return, graciously agrees not to go to war with England.
Neville Chamberlain returns to London and boasts that he had achieved “peace in our time”.
The Czech Prime Minister Benes, understandably, saw it a little differently: “We have been basely betrayed,” he said.
So German troops marched in to Czechoslovakia, leaving the Czechs, if they choose not to submit to Germany’s demands, to fight Hitler alone. They and their armies withdrew from the Sudetenland, leaving the fortresses, factories, and munitions industries behind. And it was only 166 days later that Hitler’s troops poured into Czechoslovakia– on their way to nearly total European annihilation.
Including England, which the Munich Agreement and promised would be spared.
And more than 60 million people died because Chamberlain and his cronies achieved “peace in our time”, an appeasement of evil men based on nothing more than a “consensus” of public opinion.
To paraphrase a later English Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, nothing is a bigger enemy of truth than a fashionable “consensus”.
Again, why do we care? You may have missed this in the news this week (like all real news, it tends to be way down on the page), but Google has officially changed the name of Gaza from “Palestinian Territories” to Palestine.
Palestine, a Greek word used from Greek times on (i.e. 500 BC on) to refer to Israel. Used by Roman writers as well, for Israel. A small point, possibly, but one that clearly reflects current consensus: Israel bad, poor, oppressed freedom-fighting Gaza residents, good. Israel stole their land, Israel is the villain in the situation.
Consensus that Israel is harassing the human race (reflected in the preponderance of UN citations against Israel), citing aggression and human rights offenses against those living in, forgive me for saying it, “Palestine”.
A friend of mine once said that a “consensus” means the sense has been conned out of us.
I’m not sure these people had any sense to begin with. Or any understanding of history. But the current “consensus” is clearly reflected in comments by people who have “liked” Google’s facebook page, since announcing the Google change to Gaza’s name:
“At least one IT company stands for justice.”
“Soon Israel will burn to the ground.”
(In response to a pro-Israel comment):
“you fell out of the stupid tree and hit every branch, Israel hasn’t always existed, there where people there before..It’s called Palestine. You should do some quick world history. (Spelling error left intact.)
“Great job, Google! Zionists can go to hell!”
“Get over it, modern-day Nazis”
“F*** the Jews and there whiny…leaders” (spelling error left intact)
“I want news to preface the “jewish settlements” as “the unlawful and contentious Jewish settlements”.
“IsraHell will pay the price for all the atrocities they have done.”
“Israel is a illigal state…it has to be remove from the map for ever.. this stupid zionists need the same treatment. what hitler did with them.” (spelling and grammatical errors left intact)
“I wouldn’t (urinate) on a Jew if they were on fire. ”
I’ve had all I can stomach, but to summarize, the anti-Israel comments (largely much less erudite than the pro-Israel comments), came in at about 100 to one.
It’s consensus. But Michael Chrichton hit the nail on the head when he termed consensus the first refuge of scoundrels, and a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Which seems to go hand in hand with portraying everyone with a differing opinion as stupid, greedy, evil, uninformed, or just less progressively hip than you think you are.
Another English Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, made the observation that a lie can get around the world before the truth can get its pants on. (A truth even more evident in our plugged-in culture, and not very encouraging.)
But Churchill also gave us the flipside:
“The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.”
Until we meet The Truth in the sky…..there it is.