After knocking together The Scareship Age, I started working on turning my Sudeten crisis posts into an e-book version. I knew there'd be a fair amount of work, but I underestimated the value of 'fair'. Finding and cleaning up formatting errors is a very slow and tedious business, as is creating an index (though it helped to have done a PDF version already). Anyway, the EPUB and MOBI versions of Post-blogging the Sudeten Crisis: The British Press, August-October 1938 are now available from the downloads page.
I've put the series of posts I did a couple of years ago on the Sudeten crisis into one big PDF file called, rather grandiosely, Post-blogging the Sudeten Crisis: The British Press, August-October 1938 (147 pages, 5.6 Mb). It's freely available for download under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. It's very bloggy in style, but I've also added a basic index and put in internal links between the chapters (posts). My Sudeten posts are probably the best thing I've done with this blog, and they've been linked to from a few educational sites as well as Wikipedia. So by putting them into this format I hope they'll be made accessible to a wider audience. (I've been inspired in this by the work Evangeline Holland has been doing over at Edwardian Promenade.)
The conversion was done using a nifty tool called WPTEX. This is some PHP which hooks into WordPress's functions and reads out and formats your posts into LaTeX format. It didn't quite do what I wanted but with some PHP and LaTeX hackery I think it turned out pretty nice in the end.
So the Sudeten crisis experiment has ended. How useful has it been?
I think it's been a very different view of the crisis. It's small-scale, not big-picture; confused, not lucid; bottom-up, not top-down (well, sorta: it could be more bottom-up). Most accounts that I've read are from the diplomatic-political-military point of view: Chamberlain's decision to fly to Berchtesgaden, Churchill's denunciations of the Munich agreement, the lack of readiness of the RAF to defend London. Some of these things are not apparent from the day-to-day press accounts, while others are, but take on a different complexion. For example, Plan Z -- Chamberlain's flight -- was not the sudden, impulsive act that it appeared to be from the press accounts which appeared on 15 September. He had in fact conceived of the idea days earlier -- he announced it to Cabinet on 12 September, and had discussed the idea with Halifax even earlier. Churchill does appear in the press record from time to time, but his voice was only one among many, even among appeasement's critics, and not the loudest. His years in the wilderness seem much more significant in retrospect: 1938 was not 1940. And the RAF is practically nowhere to be seen. Nobody's questioning whether it's ready for war or not, whether it can defend London or bomb Berlin -- with very few exceptions, it's just ignored, as being of no account.
The things which stand out for me are fourfold, corresponding to the evolution of the crisis itself. Firstly, there are the events on the ground in Czechoslovakia and the Sudetenland itself. The accounts publish in the British press likely were not fully accurate -- rarely were British correspondents there in person, and some reports came from the Nazi-influenced German press, which definitely can't be taken at face value. But it's clear that there was real tension and some violence between Sudetens and Czechs, and this seems to have convinced people that there was a real problem that wasn't going to go away.
As The Times reports today (p. 12), the Berlin Commission of Ambassadors which is implementing the Munich agreement has finished demarcating the major zones to be transferred to Germany, and has adjourned until Monday. But there's still much to do. For example, there's still the question of what to about Sudeten Germans outside the transfer zones. Originally their fate was to be decided by plebiscite, but it seems an exchange of populations is now preferred by the Commission. This might mean that the volunteers of the British Legion, who are to police the plebiscite areas, won't be going after all (Manchester Guardian, p. 17). The British Legion Volunteer Police are nearly ready to go, however, if called upon: they paraded in their uniforms ('blue serge suit with special constable's peaked cap') at Olympia yesterday and will do so again today (The Times, p. 9). The President of the Legion's North-Eastern Area, Brigadier-General E. P. A. Riddell, sent the following letter to the contingent from his section:
You are going to a foreign country as Great Britain's representatives of peace and order. On your personal conduct, tact, and understanding depends the success of your mission. The prestige of England and the British Legion is in your keeping. One false step on your part might have disastrous results for your country and your great organization. Watch your step. I wish I were physically fit to go with you. God bless you and guide you.
After four days of debate, the House of Commons has voted on the government's policy during the Sudeten crisis in general, and on the Munich agreement in particular (The Times, p. 14). The vote was won by 366 to 144, a majority of 222. The Times calls this 'a conclusive vindication of the Prime Minister', who was afterwards cheered by MPs. The majority is well above normal, despite abstentions from some Conservative MPs; even the terms of Labour's dissent showed 'unusual mildness' according to the leading article in The Times (p. 15). On the other hand, the equivalent article in the Manchester Guardian says (p. 10) that the speeches in the debate 'reflected all the bewilderment of the people' and 'the voting is not to be taken as any indication of how that feeling runs' (meaning the 'national feeling'). The ovation for the prime minister was not given by 'a confident majority', and 'there was no real happiness about the process by which peace has been preserved'. So who's right?
The main headlines in today's Daily Mail report (p. 11) on a battle raging in Palestine between 'Arab terrorists' and British aircraft and troops. Reinforcements are en route, and the High Commissioner has flown back to London for consultations. Hang on: this isn't about Czechoslovakia at all! For the first time since (at least) 29 August, one of the three major papers in my sample has decided to lead with something other than the Sudeten crisis or a related issue. It's starting to lose its hold on the public's attention.
The Sudeten crisis, or rather its aftermath, still dominates the headlines. But the headlines themselves are getting smaller -- these ones from the Daily Mail (p. 11) are only a couple of columns wide, where even a couple of days ago they were nearly the whole page across. The news today is serious enough: Inskip, the Minister for the Coordination of Defence, told the House of Commons yesterday that the crisis revealed gaps in Britain's defences which need to be filled -- though it seems he didn't give actual details of any gaps. Commanders have been named as part of an expansion of anti-aircraft defences: three new AA divisions are to be raised for the Territorial Army (The Times, p. 8). W. J. Fawkner writes to the Daily Mail to suggest (p. 10) that service in the Territorials should be compulsory for all men aged 18 to 24 -- 'Surely this is not asking too much?' It is for J. Fuller, though, who declares that 'compulsory national service is something completely at variance with the British spirit'. So that's that then.
A few days ago, Chamberlain said Munich was 'peace for our time'. Now he, in his speech in Parliament yesterday, he is saying that there can be no let-up in the pace of rearmament (Manchester Guardian, p. 11). In particular there is to be a 'big increase' in the RAF, especially for 'the defence of London' (Daily Mail, p. 11). Hoare, the Home Secretary, said in his speech that 'on the whole the machinery of A.R.P. had worked well', and it was mainly a matter of filling the gaps revealed by the crisis (Manchester Guardian, p. 6). Labour MPs were vocal in response to Chamberlain's speech: the Daily Mail's parliamentary correspondent says (p. 10) they 'wrecked his great hour' and turned the occasion into 'a shabby party fight', and the leading article (p. 10) contrasts 'The Government's calm statement of the facts' with 'the frothy diatribes of the Socialists'. Duff Cooper's resignation speech accused the Cabinet of being too timid to give a strong warning to Hitler, who he believed was more open to 'the language of the mailed fist' rather than Chamberlain's approach of 'sweet reasonableness' (Daily Mail, p. 5).
So, after all those weeks of mounting tension over the fate of the Sudetens, it's finally being resolved: German troops have begun occupying the Sudetenland (Daily Mail, p. 13). Polish troops have also moved into Teschen, and the Czech government has agreed to let a mixed commission decide the fate of the territory claimed by Hungary. The dismemberment of Czechoslovakia has begun.
But at least it's being done peacefully. The British are still celebrating their escape from war, in their different ways. The King has thanked his people for their steadfastness and his prime minister for his peacemaking. The churches were packed with thanksgivers yesterday, 'Peace Sunday'. A headline in the Daily Mail (p. 3) promises 'Fairer Days, Fatter Purses, Full Speed Ahead!' and claims that 'with the crisis over and peace in our thoughts it will be the biggest and brightest October ever known'. A man was arrested in Croydon on Saturday night for driving under the influence (Manchester Guardian, p. 2). He and his passenger had been to a dance to celebrate the end of the crisis, and the passenger's excuse was that 'I was glad that I had not been called up'. The judge was not impressed and fined him 10s. for being 'drunk and incapable'.
'IT IS PEACE FOR OUR TIME' (Daily Mail, p. 11). Chamberlain has returned from Munich, completing his third round-trip to Germany by air in as many weeks. He has been greeted by ecstatic crowds at Heston aerodrome, at 10 Downing Street (as seen above) and at Buckingham Palace, where he appeared on the balcony -- the first Prime Minister in history to be accorded this honour. His colleagues also registered their pleasure:
Our Cabinet Ministers -- on the doorstep, too, became schoolboys again. They clambered about on the window sills [at No. 10], whooped wildly, and threw hats in the air.
The Sunday Dispatch is trying to cash in on all the Chamberlain-mania by telling 'the unique life story of the man the world applauds', in tomorrow's edition (Daily Mail, pp. 9, 13):