A Munich Conference was a meeting organized by representatives of Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and France in September 1938. At this meeting, the leaders of these countries sought to resolve territorial issues involving German interests over the Sudetenland, a region previously belonging to Czechoslovakia. The agreement reached at this conference was part of the appeasement policywhich became known as a failed attempt by the United Kingdom and France to satisfy Adolf Hitler’s expansionist policy to maintain peace on the European continent.
Germanic expansionism and the policy of appeasement
The debate held at the Munich Conference was a consequence of the territorial expansionism defended by Adolf Hitler. This expansionism was one of the main elements of Nazi ideology based on a principle called lebensraumknown in Portuguese as “vital space”.
The idea of this “vital space” had been developed in Germany during the 19th century and argued that the Germans were a “superior people”. Thus, based on this assumption of superiority, the Germans supported their right to conquer a territorial space vital for their development. Hitler took advantage of this concept and applied it to Nazism, defending the construction of Reichan empire that would be formed by Nazi leadership and the annexation of territories historically occupied by people of Germanic origin.
These territories were mainly concentrated in Eastern Europe and were not just limited to the territories lost by Germany at the end of the First World War, but, as was said, to all areas that were populated by the Germanic ethnic group. Adolf Hitler’s two initial targets were Austria and Czechoslovakia.
However, the policy of territorial expansionism advocated by Hitler would only be possible through the military strengthening of Germany. For this to be possible, the Nazi leader needed to break with the impositions of the Treaty of Versailles and thus began to invest in the modernization and growth of the German army.
The stance of France and the United Kingdom upon the growth of German territorial ambitions became known as appeasement policy. With this policy, both countries made a series of territorial concessions to satisfy Hitler’s ambitions. Furthermore, they accepted non-compliance with the Treaty of Versailles. All of this occurred because the French and British were afraid that a new conflict would occur and bring great destruction, as had happened during the First World War.
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Annexation of Austria and Czechoslovakia
Austria was a country that had a large number of Germans (Hitler himself was Austrian). During the 1930s, the Austrian Nazi Party grew considerably, as did Hitler’s pressure on Austrian leaders to accept annexation. The Austrian government, pressured by the actions of the Austrian Nazi Party and by Hitler himself, gave in to German pressure in March 1938.
Germany invaded Austria on Hitler’s orders and called a referendum that overwhelmingly approved the annexation of that country to Germany. This event became known as Anschluss and the Germans’ actions were not objected to by France and the United Kingdom.
Later, Hitler’s interests turned to the Sudetenland, a region of Czechoslovakia populated by large numbers of ethnic Germans. However, this territorial ambition was more explained by the German interest in gaining control over the strong industrial network existing in the region.
Hitler’s intentions regarding the Sudetenland led German, Italian, British and French leaders to meet in Munich in what became known as the Munich Conference. Those present at this meeting were Adolf Hitler, leader of Germany, Benito Mussolini, leader of Italy, Neville Chamberlain, British Prime Minister, and Édouard Daladier, French Prime Minister. In this debate, Daladier and Chamberlain chose to allow the invasion of the Sudetenland if the Germans demonstrated that they were working to maintain peace in Europe.
Furthermore, the Munich agreement forced Czechoslovakia to cede a large part of its coal, iron and electrical energy production to Germany. All these concessions made to Germany morally strengthened the country and Hitler’s ambitions and highlighted the weakness of the French and British leadership in resisting German intentions.
The appeasement policy was a total failure, as Hitler was not willing to maintain peace in Europe and, as was seen, some time later, Hitler’s territorial ambitions turned against Poland, which ended up triggering the war in September 1939, during the invasion of Poland. Austria and Czechoslovakia regained their autonomy only after the end of the war and the German defeat.
By Daniel Neves
Graduated in History