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Betrayal

John Mulqueen
The Bell of Treason: The 1938 Munich Agreement in Czechoslovakia, by PE Caquet, Profile Books, £20, 280 pp, ISBN: 978-1781257104 Neville Chamberlain’s unshakeable belief in 1938 that he had prevented war in Europe – “peace for our time” – is well known. Applauded by a grateful public for handing over a portion of Czechoslovakia to Adolf Hitler at the Munich conference, his French counterpart played a part in a less familiar scene in the Sudetenland tragedy. Expecting to be booed on his arrival home, Édouard Daladier asked his pilot to delay landing while he drank champagne for courage. Greeted by a rejoicing crowd, he muttered: “The fools! If only they knew what they are cheering.” Among the world’s most advanced countries in the interwar period, Pierre Caquet writes in The Bell of Treason, the Munich agreement pushed Czechoslovakia into “a long time in darkness”. In March 1939, less than six months after this betrayal by Britain and France, Nazi Germany annexed the remainder of the Czech lands. Poland was next on Hitler’s list. In 1993 a book warned of impending catastrophe in what had been the federal state of Yugoslavia. When civil war erupted in Bosnia and Serbs besieged Sarajevo, NATO dithered over whether to intervene to help the Bosnian Muslims. President Clinton, it is said, read Robert Kaplan’s Balkan Ghosts – a history of ethnic rivalry in the region – and decided not to respond forcefully. Bosnia’s Muslims were left to their fate: Bosnia became the site of the first concentration camps and systematic civilian massacres in Europe since the Second World War. How a work of political analysis is written can be just as important as what it says, Pierre Cacquet writes. “If two populations are described as having forever been at each other’s throats, a certain fatalism will inform the result. If they are defined as one people divided by a fluctuating linguistic or cultural barrier, and who have only really found themselves driven to strife by demagogues from time to time, the suggested remedy is likely to be different … Balkan Ghosts glides over periods of peace to give the relentless impression of a region seething with age-old and unsolvable hatreds.” The vocabulary of a historical debate is important. “Some historians of Munich or of interwar Czechoslovakia,” writes Cacquet, “have described the Sudeten Germans as ethnic Germans. At the time, few people employed the word ‘ethnic’ for the simple reason that…

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