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Friday, July 26, 2013

Neville Chamberlain: The Munich Agreement

Neville Chamberlain gave this speech in the House of Commons defending his position in signing the Munich Agreement in 1938.

When the House met last Wednesday we were all under the shadow of an imminent menace. A war more stark and terrible than had ever taken place before seemed to be staring us in the face. Before I had sat down, a message had come which gave us new hope that peace might yet be saved. That day, or a few days later, we joined in. joy and thankfulness that the prayers of millions had been answered.  

Our anxiety has been lifted from our hearts. On the members of the Cabinet the strain of responsibility has been for weeks almost overwhelming. Some of us, I have no doubt, will carry the marks of it for the rest of our days.

Hard things have been said about the German Chancellor today and in the past, but I do feel that the House ought to recognize the difficulty for a man in that position to take back such an emphatic declaration as he had already made and to recognize that in consenting, even though it were only at the last minute, to discuss with the representatives of other powers those things which he had declared he had already decided once and for all, was a real contribution on his part.

As regards Signor Mussolini, his contribution was certainly notable, and perhaps decisive. It was on his suggestion that the final stages of mobilization were postponed for twenty-four hours, to give us an opportunity of discussing the situation, and I wish to say that at the conference itself both he and the Italian Foreign Secretary, Count Ciano, were most helpful in the discussion.  

It was they who, very early in the proceeding, produced a memorandum which Daladier and I were able to accept as a basis of discussion.

I think Europe and the world have reason to be grateful to the head of the Italian government for contributing to a peaceful solution.

Mr. Duff Cooper has alluded in somewhat bitter terms to my conversation last Friday morning with Herr Hitler. I do not know why that conversation should give rise to suspicion, still less to criticism.

I ended it with no pact. I made no new commitments. There is no secret understanding. Our conversation was hostile to no other nations.

The object of that conversation for which I asked was to try to extend a little further the personal contact which I had established with Herr Hitler, which I believed to be essential to modern diplomacy.

Finally, there are the noncommittal conversations carried on on my part with a view to seeing whether there could he points in common between the head of a democratic government and the ruler of a totalitarian state. You see the result.

A declaration has been published, in which Mr. Duff Cooper finds so much ground for suspicion. What does it say?

The first paragraph says, "That we agree in recognizing that the question of Anglo-German relations is of first importance to the two countries and to Europe."

Will any one deny that?

The second is an expression of opinion only. It says we regard the agreement signed and the Anglo-German naval agreement as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again.

Does any one doubt that that is the desire of the people?

[The Prime Minister then read the last paragraph of the declaration suggesting that Germany and Britain might continue their efforts to remove all possible sources of differences.]

Is there any one who will stand up and condemn that sentence? I believe there are many who will feel with me that in this declaration signed by the German Chancellor and myself there is something more than a pious expression of opinion.

In our relations with other countries everything depends upon there being sincerity and goodwill on both sides. I believe there is sincerity and goodwill on both sides. That is why the significance goes far beyond its actual words.

Ever since I assumed my present office my main purpose has been to work for the pacification of Europe, for the removal of those suspicions and animosities which have so long poisoned the air.

The path that leads to peace is a long one and bristles with obstacles. This question of Czechoslovakia is the latest and perhaps the most dangerous. Now that we have got past it I feel that it may be possible to make further progress along the road to sanity.

If there is one lesson which I think we have to learn from the events of this last week, it is this: Peace is not to be obtained by sitting still and waiting for it to come; It requires active and positive effort.

I know I shall have plenty of critics who will say I have been guilty of facile optimism and that the better plan would have been to disbelieve every word by rulers of other great states of Europe.

I am too much of a realist to believe that we are going to achieve our purpose in a day. We have only laid the foundations of peace. The superstructure is not even begun.

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