The Charlotte News

Tuesday, October 4, 1938


Site Ed. Note: "A Fiddler To Be Paid" sums the story, from the view of its effect on the common man and woman and child, as to what the cession to Hitler of the Sudetenland ultimately portended, not only for Czechs, but the French, and all the rest of Europe. And, of course, Cash had it completely right.

The statements on October 3 before Parliament by Neville Chamberlain, of which both "Omen" and "A House on Sand" remark, had begun in response to words of national remorse over Munich offered by Duff Cooper, First Lord of the Admiralty who resigned in protest of the Pact, but who would later serve in the Churchill coalition government:

...The Prime Minister has confidence in the good will and in the word of Herr Hitler, although when Herr Hitler broke the Treaty of Versailles he undertook to keep the Treaty of Locarno, and when he broke the Treaty of Locarno he undertook not to interfere further, or to have further territorial aims, in Europe. When he entered Austria by force he authorised his henchmen to give an authoritative assurance that he would not interfere with Czechoslovakia. That was less than six months ago. Still, the Prime Minister believes that he can rely upon the good faith of Hitler; he believes that Hitler is interested only in Germany, as the Prime Minister was assured...

The Prime Minister may be right. I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, with the deepest sincerity, that I hope and pray that he is right, but I cannot believe what he believes. I wish I could. . . I remember when we were discussing the Godesberg ultimatum that I said that if I were a party to persuading, or even to suggesting to, the Czechoslovak Government that they should accept that ultimatum, I should never be able to hold up my head again. . . I have ruined, perhaps, my political career. But that is a little matter; I have retained something which is to me of great value--I can still walk about the world with my head erect.

Then Chamberlain:

In my view the strongest force of all, one which grew and took fresh shapes and forms every day was the force not of any one individual, but was that unmistakable sense of unanimity among the peoples of the world that war somehow must be averted. The peoples of the British Empire were at one with those of Germany, of France and of Italy, and their anxiety, their intense desire for peace, pervaded the whole atmosphere of the conference, and I believe that that, and not threats, made possible the Concessions that were made...

Ever since I assumed my present office my main purpose has been to work for the pacification of Europe, for the removal of those suspicions and those animosities which have so long poisoned the air. The path which leads to appeasement is long and bristles with obstacles. The question of Czechoslovakia is the latest and perhaps the most dangerous. Now that we have got past it, I feel that it may be possible to make further progress along the road to sanity.

My right honorable friend has alluded in somewhat bitter terms to my conversation last Friday morning with Herr Hitler. I do not know why that conversation should give rise to suspicion, still less to criticism. I entered into no pact. I made no new commitments. There is no secret understanding. Our conversation was hostile to no other nation. The objects of that conversation, for which I asked, was to try to extend a little further the personal contact which I had established with Herr Hitler and which I believe to be essential in modern diplomacy. We had a friendly and entirely non-committal conversation, carried on, on my part, largely with a view to seeing whether there could be points in common between the head of a democratic Government and the ruler of a totalitarian State. We see the result in the declaration which has been published, in which my right honorable friend finds so much ground for suspicion...

I believe there are many who will feel with me that such a declaration, signed by the German Chancellor and myself, is something more than a pious expression of opinion. In our relations with other countries everything depends upon there being sincerity and good will on both sides. I believe that there is sincerity and good will on both sides in this declaration. That is why to me its significance goes far beyond its actual words. If there is one lesson which we should learn from the events of these last weeks it is this, that lasting peace is not to be obtained by sitting still and waiting for it to come. It requires active, positive efforts to achieve it. No doubt I shall have plenty of critics who will say that I am guilty of facile optimism, and that I should disbelieve every word that is uttered by rulers of other great States in Europe. I am too much of a realist to believe that we are going to achieve our paradise in a day. We have only laid the foundations of peace. The superstructure is not even begun...

While we must renew our determination to fill up the deficiencies that yet remain in our armaments and in our defensive precautions, so that we may be ready to defend ourselves and make our diplomacy effective--[Interruption]--yes I am a realist--nevertheless I say with an equal sense of reality that I do see fresh opportunities of approaching this subject of disarmament opening up before us, and I believe that they are at least as hopeful to-day as they have been at any previous time. It is to such tasks--the winning back of confidence, the gradual removal of hostility between nations until they feel that they can safely discard their weapons, one by one, that I would wish to devote what energy and time may be left to me before I hand over my office to younger men.

Clement Attlee, leader of the Labour Party, outspoken critic of both Stanley Baldwin's and Chamberlain's Conservative government policies, later a member of Churchill's coalition Cabinet from 1940 until 1945 when, on Churchill's defeat, he became Prime Minister, had rejoindered, inter alia:

I want to turn now to the cause of the crisis which we have undergone. The cause was not the existence of minorities in Czechoslovakia; it was not that the position of the Sudeten Germans had become intolerable. It was not the wonderful principle of self-determination. It was because Herr Hitler had decided that the time was ripe for another step forward in his design to dominate Europe. I think it is necessary to be clear on this, because the Prime Minister seems to me to be laying a great deal too much stress on the anxiety of Herr Hitler for his fellow-Germans in Czechoslovakia. I have no doubt that has been so, but it did not become intense until about two years ago. It was quite a minor matter, and I fear that the Prime Minister is deceived if he thinks that the cause of this trouble has been the woes of the Sudeten Germans. I say that the question of the Sudeten Germans has been used as a counter in the game of politics, and in other conditions Herr Hitler might just as well have used the people of Memel, the people of South Denmark, the people in the Trentino or the Germans in South Tyrol...

The history of the last seven years is the background of this crisis, and the first point I must make to the Government is this. This crisis did not come unexpectedly. It was obvious to any intelligent student of foreign affairs that this attack would come. The immediate signal was given by the Prime Minister himself on 7th March of this year when he said: "What country in Europe today if threatened by a larger power can rely upon the League for protection? None." It was at once an invitation to Herr Hitler and a confession of the failure of the Government. The invitation was accepted a few days later by the Anschluss in Austria. Then our Government and the French Government could have faced the consequences. They could have told Czechoslovakia, "We cannot any longer defend you. You had better now make the best terms you can with Germany, enter her political orbit and give her anything to escape before the wrath comes upon you." But they did nothing of the sort. Czechoslovakia continued under the supposed shelter of these treaties. True, it was urged that something should be done for the Sudeten Germans but there was no attempt made to take early steps to prevent this aggression...

When the National Government overthrew the whole policy of collective security and abandoned it and the League, we told this House over and over again that we were entering on a very dangerous course. We realised that we were back in 1914 with all its dangers, and we knew that sooner or later a challenge would come to this country; and that is what has happened. The real pith of it is that, having decided to leave the League system which we practised and in which we believed, and to embark on a policy of alliances and power politics, instead of strengthening the people whose natural interests were with ours, we have had nothing but constant flirtations with this and that dictator. The Prime Minister has been the dupe of the dictators, and I say that to-day we are in a dangerous position.

Samuel Hoare, Home Secretary, who had in December, 1935 signed a secret accord with Pierre Laval of France to cede to Mussolini a large part of Ethiopia, a plan abandoned and leading to his resignation as Foreign Secretary when it made the press, had, with great foresight and wisdom so typical of Chamberlain and his allies in appeasement, stood to proclaim:

...A week ago we were on the verge of a terrible abyss. The Honorable Member for Bishop Auckland [Mr. Dalton], who has just sat down, seemed to have forgotten the position in which we were then placed. The speech that he has just made seemed to take little account of the fact that a few days ago we were within a hair's breadth of the greatest catastrophe that the world has ever seen. Did we shrink from it in fear, or did we feel that there was some hope still of finding a path round it to more solid ground? I am fully aware that there are some honorable members, and some people in the country, who believe that no peace is possible in Europe as long as the dictatorships exist, who hold, quite sincerely, the view--I think the honorable gentleman who has just sat down does--that as long as the dictatorships exist, war is inevitable, and that it may be better to have war now, when we have an issue that may be supposed to appeal to the whole world, rather than to put it off to some future date when our position may be more difficult and dangerous...

The conclusion of such a view is to me so appalling that I could not accept it if I thought there was still some glimmer of hope that the catastrophe might yet be averted. What is more important, the Prime Minister had that settled conviction. It was on that account that he made his superhuman efforts at great risk to himself, at great risk to the Government of which he is a member--but these things do not count in moments of this gravity--to take upon himself the responsibility of trying at the last moment to prevent this catastrophe coming upon us.

The Prime Minister acted not alone as the head of the Government of which I am a member. He acted rather as the spokesman of the millions of men and women from one end of the world to the other who were determined that we should still try to keep a controlling hand upon the course of events and avoid an appalling calamity that would undoubtedly have ended in the extinction of civilisation as we have known it. . . I claim that, having undertaken the responsibility of mediation, it would have been courting certain failure if at one and the same time when he was attempting to mediate he engaged himself upon a policy of threats and ultimatums.

That is the answer to the main charge of my right Hon. Friend the Member for St. George's, Westminster [Mr. Cooper]. I claim that it would have met certain failure if at the very time when we were attempting to mediate and to obtain a peaceful settlement, we had accepted the advice of those who said you must face Herr Hitler with a public ultimatum. I go further, and I say that if we had made an ultimatum in the days immediately before the Nuremberg speech Europe would to-day have been plunged into a world war...


Six hours ahead of the schedule fixed by the international commission, German troops yesterday swung into the Sudeten town of Falkenau and seized 300 Czechoslovak soldiers. Without the shadow of right they stripped them of their weapons and equipment, and for three hours held them prisoner, continually threatening to stand them up in front of machine guns and murder them in cold blood. And when finally, under stern protest from Prague, they released them, they kept their arms, in flat defiance of all agreements, and gave them just ten minutes to clear the town.

It is a measure of the "good faith" of Adolf Hitler which Mr. Chamberlain was yesterday so warmly praising to Parliament. And it is an ominous portent as to how safe the new Czechoslovak State is going to be under Adolf Hitler's guarantee.

A House on Sand

Mr. Chamberlain yesterday claimed exactly what everybody expected him to claim, that he had permanently averted war and saved civilization, as well as "saving Czechoslovakia." He got support, too, from Mr. Sumner Welles, our own Undersecretary of State, who last night told a Washington audience:

"Today, perhaps more than at any time in the last two decades, there is presented the opportunity for the establishment by the nations of the world of a new world order, based upon justice and upon the law."

Well, it may all be so. Only time can really tell about that. But somehow it seems a little dubious. Certainly the Czechs do not seem to feel that they have been graciously "saved," as witness the bitter action of the Czech Legion, which once fought most bravely and well for France and England, in returning the medals given its members by the British and French Governments. And Mr. Chamberlain's own hurried eagerness to come through with a loan for lesser Czechoslovakia, whose existence is too precarious to be a good financial risk, indicates pretty clearly that his own conscience is more than a little uneasy about the visitors--as his almost hysterical insistence upon the "good will" of Hitler, perhaps testifies to very grave inner doubts on that score.

Nobody, in truth, can really believe that just what has just been done was done on a basis of "law and justice." It was done purely under the threat of force. And the next step promises to be the handing over of Spain to Mussolini under threat of force--in flat defiance, not only of "law and justice" but also of that very "right of self-determination" in the name of which the partition of Czechoslovakia has just been accomplished! And, surely, it is a curious doctrine that a world order "based upon law and justice" can be created by yielding to lawlessness and injustice.

On Swapping Horses*

This country had a foretaste last week, in a tumbling stock market and the suspension of industrial plans, of what even a foreign war scare could do to our business structure. If a foreign war scare could set us back so violently, then actual war, it stands to reason, would be far worse, for awhile at least, and a war involving the United States would be--well, we prefer not to think of it.

And it would catch us in foul shape. Not in armed preparation, for the Navy has been built up and the army could be put on a wartime basis more promptly than in 1917. Not fiscally. The New Deal has spent money hand over fist, justifying it with the argument that it was far more beneficial and humane to make war on depression than on people. To be sure, it is; but in five and a half years there has been no discharge from that war, and the effect on the national debt has been to send it sky high.

On top of that, the effect of a real war, whether for principle or self-preservation, would be, in all likelihood, cataclysmic. Hence, it follows that the first preparation the Government ought to make is to put its fiscal house in order. That, of course, as has been amply demonstrated by now, would take a new Administration, so that if anybody cares to make the statement that our best defense for war would be a new Administration, we should have to concede the logic of it.

A Fiddler To Be Paid

Sur le pont
On y danse
On y danse

But the old bridge is broken, now and nobody dances there or anywhere else in France today. The French are reckoning up the cost of the bargain into which they were dragged headlong by Mr. Bumble of Downing Street. They see themselves stripped to the last shred of influence in Central Europe, deprived of all support from angry Russia, confronted with the rising German colossus which soon or late is likely to turn back from the east to resurrect "the right of German minorities" in Alsace-Lorraine, being pulled headlong toward agreeing to let Mussolini have Spain and so putting an enemy on the southern border, and being pulled, too, into a four-power pact whereunder their sole role will be humbly to echo Albion perfide. And so their feet are heavy, and their songs are silent.

But in Sudetenland--there they dance today, to be sure. Not all of them, no. Not the Jews, and not those thousands of Germans who want last of everything to become Nazis. These run, as fast as they can go. But for the rest, they dance, Bohemian mountaineers in the bright costume of that country for 500 years. Pink-cheeked girls with their yellow hair in two braids down their backs, as their mothers before them have worn it for centuries. In the streets of all the towns and villages of Sudetenland they dance and sing and shout for joy and cast flowers to carpet the way. For Lord Hitler, the Deliverer has come.

And their dancing is sadder than the silence and the heaviness of Gaul. For it is the very last time they shall dance for a great while to come, save as marionettes dance upon the strings of the master of a puppet-show. For what, indeed, is this Deliverance that has come to them? It is this.

Yesterday they were free men. They could and openly did speak sedition against the Prague Government without having their heads chopped off. But now they must be joyful, however bitter their hearts grow within them. Now they must take good care not to think but only incessantly to cry "Heil Hitler!" lest a club descend upon their skulls and they, with their families, be dragged off to a concentration camp.

Yesterday that peasant, dancing so joyously now, owned the land upon which he dwells, as his fathers had owned it before him for centuries. He could and did grow what and as much as he pleased, sell where and when and for what price he pleased, and no man could tell him no, or deprive him of his own. But tomorrow a Nazi committee will begin to tell him what, and how much he must grow, and where, when, and for what price he must sell it. And tomorrow a good half of what he makes must begin to go for the support of the Nazi armies. And if he balks, or fails to measure up to the demands upon him? Then he will be adjudged unfit to be a farmer and his lands will be sold away from him at a price fixed by the Nazi committee.

So with that fat manufacturer roaring his delight as he cavorts. Free yesterday, he too must begin tomorrow to make what and as much as he is ordered, to hire whom he is told, to pay them what he is told, to turn over the half of what his masters estimate his profits ought to be, for the Nazi armies. And if he fails or balks, he will suffer the same fate as the farmer.

And that Sudeten laborer so full of good Pilsen brew and gladness? Yesterday, he was the best paid working man in Central Europe. He had his unions and could strike when he did not like the terms of his work. Tomorrow his pay will be sharply cut, his hours lengthened, his unions abolished. Tomorrow he will begin to hand over somewhat more than half of his pay for the support of the Nazi armies. And if he balks? He will be beaten within an inch of his life and clapped into a forced labor battalion, to work for bare bread.

Yesterday all these people were the best fed people on the Continent, as their red cheeks and stout, well-formed bodies plainly proclaimed. Tomorrow, the eggs and meat and milk and butter will begin to be carted away from the farms and to vanish from the marketplaces--to go for the feeding of the armies and an accumulation of supplies for future wars. Tomorrow, all these people begin to learn the joys of Ersatz foods--which is to say in essence, of sawdust.

Such are the things, precisely, which Lord Hitler brings. Such is the Deliverance for which they dance today, as the yellow October sun strains over the old kingdom of Bohemia, conquered at last, after a thousand years, without a fight.

Further Note: Reminiscent of a square dance in round, first all skipping to the left holding hands, then reversing directions to the right, the rest of the little French children's song goes:

Sur le pont
On y danse,
Tous en rond

Les jeunes filles font comme ci
[Les jeunes filles to the center and curtsy]
Les garcons font comme ca
[Les garcons to the center and bow]
Les poupees font comme ce
[Les poupee to the center and back out as stiff poupee]
Les soldats font comme ca
[Les soldats march to the center and salute, then back out]
Les grenouilles font comme ci
[Les grenouilles hop to the center and back, (maybe croaking)]
Les gorilles font comme ca
[Les gorilles thump chests as they move to the center and back]

Sur le pont
On y danse
On y danse


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