Sleep Quietly in Your Beds

“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” (Sir Winston Churchill)

For those who consider Russia’s relentless and unprovoked attack on the citizens of Ukraine as an unfortunate humanitarian crisis from which we are securely insulated in the scheme of things, it may serve well to remember what Neville Chamberlain learned too late—tyranny allows no room for isolation.

“On September 30, 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain received a rowdy homecoming after signing a peace pact with Nazi Germany. For days, dread had blanketed London like a fog. Only a generation removed from the horrors of World War I, which had claimed nearly one million of its people, Britain was once again on the brink of armed conflict with Germany. Hitler, who had annexed Austria earlier in the year, had vowed to invade Czechoslovakia on October 1, 1938, to occupy the German-speaking Sudetenland region, a move toward the creation of a ‘greater Germany’ that could potentially ignite another conflagration among the great European powers.

Just two days before the deadline, Hitler agreed to meet in Munich with Chamberlain, Italian leader Benito Mussolini and French premier Edouard Daladier to discuss a diplomatic resolution to the crisis. The four leaders, without any input from Czechoslovakia in the negotiation, agreed to cede the Sudetenland to Hitler. Chamberlain also separately drafted a non-aggression pact between Britain and Germany that Hitler signed.

On a rainy autumn evening, thousands awaited the prime minister’s return at London’s Heston Aerodrome, and the thankful crowd cheered wildly as the door to his British Airways airplane opened. As raindrops fell on Chamberlain’s silver hair, he stepped onto the airport tarmac. He held aloft the nonaggression pact that had been inked by him and Hitler only hours before, and the flimsy piece of paper flapped in the breeze. The prime minister read to the nation the brief agreement that reaffirmed ‘the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again.’

Summoned to Buckingham Palace to give a first-hand report to King George VI, Chamberlain was cheered on by thousands who lined the five-mile route from the airport. After his royal audience, Chamberlain returned to his official residence at No. 10 Downing Street. There a jubilant crowd shouted ‘Good old Neville’ and sang ‘For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.’ From a second-floor window, Chamberlain addressed the crowd and invoked Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli’s famous statement upon returning home from the Berlin Congress of 1878, ‘My good friends, this is the second time in our history that there has come back from Germany to Downing Street peace with honor. I believe it is peace for our time.’

Then he added, ‘Now I recommend you to go home and sleep quietly in your beds.’ As Britain slept, the German army marched into Czechoslovakia in ‘peaceful conquest’ of the Sudetenland. The bombers did not roar over London that night, but they would come. In March 1939, Hitler annexed the rest of Czechoslovakia, and two days after the Nazis crossed into Poland on September 1, 1939, the prime minister again spoke to the nation, but this time to solemnly call for a British declaration of war against Germany and the launch of World War II.

(From an article by Christopher Klein, Jan 3, 2020: https://www.history.com/news/chamberlain-declares-peace-for-our-time-75-years-ago)

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