What Really Happened at the Munich Conference of 1938

Spencer Connell ’17, Guest Writer

Professor Simms gave a presentation on the 75th anniversary of the Munich Conference of 1938 at Crawley Forum on September 25.  The Munich Conference of 1938 was a meeting between Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain of Great Britain, Prime Minister Edouard Daladier of France, Adolf Hitler of Nazi Germany and Benito Mussolini of Italy regarding Hitler’s request to acquire the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia.  The goal of Professor Simms’s presentation was to educate people about this event and clarify the true meaning of the conference.  He enlisted the help of Professor Blackman and Professor Barrus to offer the viewpoints of France and Great Britain, respectively, regarding the nuances of the conference that affected both countries.

Professor Simms opened up his presentation with a short movie clip that described the events leading up to and beyond the Munich Conference.  Once the video ended, Professor Simms addressed the three key points of his presentation: the Munich Conference was not the decisive cause of World War II (the German occupation of the Rhineland in 1936 was the real trigger, according to Professor Simms), British Prime Minister Chamberlain was not at all “bamboozled” during the meeting (in fact, it was Hitler who backed down during the meeting), and the conference is something that is grossly misused by contemporary politicians.  The reason, according to Professor Simms, is due to the context many people take out of the conference.  In true context, Prime Minister Chamberlain wanted to avoid war and was willing to negotiate with Hitler using diplomacy.  Yet, it was all for naught, as Chamberlain “prevented war with war.”

Eventually, Professor Blackman entered the stage to offer a French point of view on the conference.  He explained that the French government was in shambles and swaying in political viewpoints often.  He also pointed out that France viewed the Soviets as the real threat, and not Nazi Germany.  A notable quote from Professor Blackman’s portion was related to how France was surrounded by tumultuous nations: “France has bad allies and worse neighbors.”

Professor Barrus joined Professor Blackman and offered the British prospective.  He pointed out that Great Britain was on edge in the 1930s, especially with Germany rearming and reoccupying land quickly.  Although Professor Barrus made interesting points, it did not take long before some disagreement befell the stage, as the professors defended their country’s beliefs while thinking on their feet.

I was able to talk with Professor Simms and asked him a few questions regarding his presentation.  His preparation time for this specific presentation was “a very long time,” as he put it.  He built upon his 70th anniversary presentation, indexed numerous articles, books, and monographs—he’s still working on the entire process.  When asked about how well he thought the presentation went, he said, “The audience was intact and attentive.  They paid attention to Professor Blackman and Professor Barris.  [Overall], it was impressive to keep the audience.”  Indeed, the audience was very interested in the presentation, as those who stayed after the conclusion broke into mini-forums and discussed their interpretations about the Munich Conference.  When asked to leave any closing thoughts, Professor Simms said, “Beware of the Munich Analogy whenever any politician uses it for any particular policy [Vietnam, the Middle East, Syria, etc.].”


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