Haunted by History: Myths in International Relations

Haunted by History: Myths in International Relations

Haunted by History: Myths in International Relations

Haunted by History: Myths in International Relations

Synopsis

Europe is a continent weighed down by the shadows of its past. This has immediate consequences for the understanding and representation of the past, and pre-conceived patterns may distort our understanding of international affairs.

Excerpt

David Chuter

The myth of Munich is the most powerful and influential political myth of the second half of the twentieth century. There is scarcely a major international crisis of this era where its baleful ghost has not peered in through the windows of conferences and crisis meetings, and scarcely a theme of foreign and security policy which does not show its influence. Even today, the accusation that a given policy amounts to a "new Munich' is generally regarded as a knock-down argument.

As with most powerful myths, that of Munich has never really been defined, and the 'lessons of Munich' are more readily invoked than they are analysed. Thus, much of the myth has to be inferred from references to it, usually when something else is the ostensible subject of discussion. The Munich myth is generally held to demonstrate the need to 'stand up to aggression', although aggression as such was not offered in 1938, and to avoid 'appeasing dictators', although the British and French governments of the day believed that the policy of appeasement was both necessary and wise.

As is usually the case with myths, that of Munich has become almost completely detached from the circumstances of 1938, when Chamberlain's government believed they had found a magic formula which would promote a system of security in Europe. Moreover, it was backed by discreet threats if the Germans did not do . . .

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