Churchill, Munich and the origins of the Grand Alliance
in The Munich Crisis, politics and the people
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This chapter places Churchill’s description of the Munich Agreement as ‘a total and unmitigated defeat’ within the context of his evolving attitudes to diplomacy over the course of the 1930s. In particular, it investigates his understanding of what he referred to as ‘the European system’. As a young man, he had adhered to a brutally realist view of Great Power politics, but in the interwar years this was somewhat tempered by his promotion of ideas of collective security. Such rhetoric had an opportunistic aspect, as he sought to court progressive opinion in Britain; and it was well said of him that he only became enthusiastic about the League of Nations when he thought it might lead to a war. Nevertheless, his views did undergo a genuine evolution. Notably, his approach to the USSR changed, as can be demonstrated by reference to newspaper articles that he published that have up to now escaped notice by scholars. He was never less than strongly anti-communist, but he was perhaps above all anti-Trotskyist; thus, whereas at the start of the decade he highlighted the threat of Soviet rearmament, by the mid-1930s he had become convinced that Stalin’s policy of ‘socialism in one country’ meant that Russia could potentially be trusted to act as a Great Power within the system on traditional tsarist lines. Churchill’s belief that the Soviet Union would behave selfishly but rationally and predictably therefore constituted a key element of his approach to the Munich Crisis.

The Munich Crisis, politics and the people

International, transnational and comparative perspectives

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