John F. Kennedy and the Munich Myth
Robert F. Cuervo
This study explores the symbolism of the Munich Four-Power Agreement of 1938 in selected speeches and writings of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. The Four- Power Agreement, or Munich Pact (or simply "Munich"), was signed on September 30, 1938, by representatives of Great Britain, France, Germany, and Italy. The main provision of the agreement ceded the ethnically German Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia to Adolf Hitler's Nazi German state. 1
Munich, especially in America, soon became a symbol for everything that seemed wrong with democratic foreign policy between the world wars. When British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain emerged from his airplane and proclaimed that Munich had achieved "peace in our time," he became the symbol of naivité and timidity in the face of aggression. Chamberlain, with his umbrella in one hand and his worthless paper signed by Hitler in the other, became the focal point of a new concept--appeasement--as soon as Hitler made territorial claims beyond those of Munich.
Appeasement--that is, the surrender of territory or vital interests to a foreign aggressor in lieu of resisting aggression--quickly became a highly negative term in American political discourse. Even before America entered World War II, Franklin Roosevelt, in his Four Freedoms Speech of January 6, 1941, defended his pro-Allied actions by saying that the American people will never "acquiesce in a peace dictated by aggressors and sponsored by appeasers." 2 A generation later, Lyndon Johnson, in a July 28, 1965, press conference, applied the Munich analogy to Vietnam, remarking that "we learned from Hitler at Munich that success only feeds the appetite of aggression. The battle would be renewed in one country and then another country." 3