Vital Crossroads: Mediterranean Origins of the Second World War, 1935-1940

By Reynolds M. Salerno | Go to book overview

[3]

“The natural aspirations of the Italian people”: October 1938—March 1939

REACTIONS TO MUNICH

Daladier left Munich with the strong sense that he had been swindled. He referred to the British prime minister as that “desiccated stick, whose notion of appeasement he had never shared. The Anglo-French staff talks, for which Daladier had accepted the terms of the Munich agreement, were extremely limited in scope. He believed, on reflection, that the loss of an important ally in eastern Europe and the damage to France's eastern-front strategy were staggering concessions. Upon his return to France, Daladier—“eyes turned down, seemingly overwhelmed, prostrated”—was greeted by a throng of people cheering the premier for saving the peace. Speaking through clenched teeth, he commented, “These people are fools.” Turning to his aides Léger and Jacques Raphaël-Leygues, he added, “Don't have any illusions. This is only a respite, and if we don't make use of it, we will all be shot.” 1

Also accompanying Daladier on 1 October in Bourget was Georges Bonnet, who reacted to the crowd's applause with a radiant smile, an energetic wave, and obvious pride. Perhaps no French statesman reveled in the Munich agreement as much as the foreign minister, with whom the desire in Paris to avoid war was identified most closely. Bonnet viewed the international landscape after Munich as tremendously conducive for achieving a French rapprochement with both Germany and Italy; France's political, military, and financial weakness left her no choice but to pursue accommodation with the dictator states. Fearing that the “next Munich” would lead to war, Bonnet sought to trade Germany the freedom to expand into Central and Eastern Europe with an agreement to respect the Franco-German frontier. In mid-October the foreign minister told Phipps that France “must

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