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The mistakes leading to WWII

September 20, 2008

Re "The mixed lessons, and legacies, of Munich 1938," Opinion, Sept. 14

Ian Buruma raises the issue of the British giving in to Adolf Hitler's demands at Munich in 1938. But he then accepts the conventional wisdom that the British should have fought over the Sudetenland.

This is disappointing: England would have gone to war over 2 million Sudeten Germans who did not want to be part of the new nation of Czechoslovakia. There is no question that the Sudeten Germans would have voted to join Nazi Germany if given the chance.

The mistake of the British government was in failing to respond militarily to Hitler's invasion of the remnant of the Czech state in 1939.

For the first time, Hitler had invaded an area that was not of German nationality and had no desire to be part of the Third Reich. All of the previous annexations could be justified by the Allied principle of the self-determination of nations.

In March 1939, it became apparent that Hitler was a vulgar conqueror who would invade any part of Europe he desired without any fig leaf of national self-determination. Chamberlain and the French showed cowardice in March 1939 -- not in October 1938.

Kenneth Barkin


The writer is a professor of history at UC Riverside.

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