The Specter of Munich: Reconsidering the Lessons of Appeasing Hitler

By Niesen, Paul C. Usaf | Air & Space Power Journal, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

The Specter of Munich: Reconsidering the Lessons of Appeasing Hitler


Niesen, Paul C. Usaf, Air & Space Power Journal


The Specter of Munich: Reconsidering the Lessons of Appeasing Hitler by Jeffrey Record. Potomac Books (http://www.potomacbooksinc.com), 22841 Quicksilver Drive, Dulles, Virginia 20166, 2006, 160 pages, $19.96 (hardcover).

Say what you will, hindsight is not always 20/20. So argues Jeffrey Record in his book The Specter of Munich. It seems that many US leaders - both military and civilian - like to invoke the Anglo-French appeasement of Hider's Nazi Germany at the Munich conference of September-October 1938. The author begins with a brief look at America's current war and then drives the introduction through a historical review of leaders who have invoked Munich, starting with Harry Truman.

To be sure, this book is not kind to the administration of Pres. George W. Bush, but the reader will need to push past that and look at the valuable analysis Record presents in his chapters. He argues that significant errors occurred in the Anglo-French handling of Hider's expansionist policies from the mid-1930s through the first declaration of war errors that, if corrected, might have significandy (certainly partially) changed history. Record hinges most of his book on these key points (p. 8) and proceeds to apply them to current and future endeavors, noting that leaders must

1. correctly gauge enemy intentions and capabilities,

2. have public support for risky military action,

3. ensure consistency between diplomatic objectives and military force posture,

4. have a reasonable quantitative balance of strategic ends and means,

5. properly balance offensive and defensive capabilities, and

6. be predictable (and remain so) in threatening and using force.

It's reassuring that the author first seeks to put British and French actions in the context of the time, successfully arguing in chapter 2 (almost half of the book!) that public opinion tied the hands of Neville Chamberlain and the Anglo-French team (such as that was at the time). He observes that

it is difficult to underestimate the influence of the slaughter of 1914-1918 on official and public opinion in Europe during the 1920s and 1930s. . . . The war had an especially profound impact on opinion in the primary appeasing power of the 1930s, Britain, where vivid memories of the lost comrades and loved ones and the special horrors of trench warfare bred an electorate of which significant segments were either pacifist or unwilling to contemplate the use of force (pp.

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