By Robert Kee
In September 1938, Britain and France signed the Munich Agreement, allowing Nazi Germany to occupy parts of Czechoslovakia. This agreement would become the most controversial in modern European history.
While many at the time felt the agreement ensured peace in Europe, it would in fact contribute to the outbreak of the deadliest conflict in history within a year. Had Neville Chamberlain not tried to avoid a war in Munich that September, it’s possible that World War II may not have happened; at the very least, the world would have almost certainly been spared the worst of its horrors. Chamberlain’s supporters, however, argue that the agreement allowed Britain crucial time to prepare before the war eventually did come.
Robert Kee describes Munich as a ‘grotesque’ event for which in fact the need to find a historical explanation transcends in interest all argument and special pleading. Threading his way, detective-like, through the preceding history of Germany, Czechoslovakia and above all the strained relations between Britain and France in the 1930s, he finds a disturbing inevitability in the final tragedy which he narrates with consummate clarity and drama.
Robert Kee, 1919 – 2013, gained an Oxford History degree and wrote ever since he left the RAF, in which he was a bomber pilot, in 1946. He worked for Picture Post, the Observer and the Sunday Times, and was a literary editor of the Spectator. His other titles include 1939, The World We Left Behind, 1945, The World We Fought For and Trial and Error, about the Guildford Pub bombings.