IG’s Peace Blog

Peace and its many aspects

A Peace Irony

I thought it would be interesting to consider, from time to time, some of the more memorable failures to achieve peace and to ask why.  Looking back, some of these have an element of irony, hence my subject heading.   I think the mother of all peace ironies, at least in recent history has to be the famous “peace for our time” speech of the then British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain on September 30, 1938.  As the Wikipedia article explains:

“The phrase “peace for our time” was spoken on 30 September 1938 by British prime minister Neville Chamberlain in his speech concerning the Munich Agreement.[1] It is primarily remembered for its ironic value. The Munich Agreement gave the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia to Adolf Hitler in an attempt to satisfy his desire for Lebensraum or “living space” for Germany. The German occupation of the Sudetenland began on the next day, 1 October.”  (you can learn more about the Munich Agreement here ) .

In light of subsequent events (which as everybody knows certainly did not bring peace for our/their time), this declaration and the policy of “appeasement” which produced it, is usually invoked as a warning of what happens when you don’t “stand up to” dictators.  There may be some truth to that, however, in context it might also be seen to indicate that at the time Britain, who had a world wide trading (ie captilalist) empire to protect, probably felt it more prudent to come to an arrangement with Hitler about Central and Eastern Europe, than take sides with the Bolsheviks in Russia (who were dedicated to overthrowing capitalism, after all).

However, there are other aspects of this series of events which are more directly related to peace.  Remember that at that time the League of Nations was in existence, and the League, for all its shortcomings was the first time that something like a permanent world parliamentary forum had ever existed on this planet.  Before that, international issues were settled among the great powers:  either through diplomacy or war. However, in the League even the small powers, at least in theory, had a role.  Unfortunately,when the crises that led to World War II began to emerge, you will note that Britain and France went back to the old style of Great Power diplomacy, redrawing borders of smaller countries as they saw fit.  This was most dramatically demonstrated by the fact that Czechoslovakia, the country whose land (the Sudetenland) was being given away, was not even represented at the Munich conference.

This approach to diplomacy it will be noted, did not (to say the least) work, the war happened, empires fell,and we now have another world organization which, though still limited,seems to be here to stay.  To me, therefore, the “peace for our time” speech is much more than a sign that dictators must be met with firmness and resolve.  It represents a turning point in the evolution of world order, where a diplomacy based solely on the Great Powers began to give way to a more hybrid system in which even the Great Powers have to take other states’ concerns more into consideration, and are obliged to work through the existing network of international organizations.

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February 5, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , ,

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