Winston Churchill’s Words in 1938 sounds like a Prophecy for 2024

U.S. President Biden and German Chancellor Scholz must memorize his speech. It will change them.

Shankar Narayan
7 min readJan 9, 2024
How much does courage cost? A whole lot — if we check the history books (Licensed Image)

“We have sustained a total and unmitigated defeat,” Winston Churchill told the British House of Commons on October 5th, 1938. That date was 330 days before the second world war broke out.

Why did he declare total defeat one year before the Nazi regime invaded Poland?

Winston Churchill was tearing into the Munich Agreement signed by Adolf Hitler, the Chancellor of Germany and leader of the Nazi Party, Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Édouard Daladier the Prime Minister of France, and Benito Mussolini, the Prime Minister of Italy. The only global agreement where the powers of the world agreed to dismember a country without the nation’s permission.

Where is Czechoslovakia? The signatories of the Munich Agreement: Credit German Federal Archive

Churchill was petrified that, despite France’s commitment to stand by Czechoslovakia, they would join hands with Britain to appease Hitler by conceding part of Czechoslovakia and thus avoid the onset of war.

Winston Churchill believed, Czechoslovakia, left to its own devices, could have fared much better than the treatment it received at the hands of Great Britain and France: “And I will say this, that I believe the Czechs, left to themselves and told they were going to get no help from the Western Powers, would have been able to make better terms than they have got — they could hardly have worse”.

Two democratic powers, ripped up a democratic nation, without asking its opinion, to pacify a dictator.

Following the signing of the Munich Agreement on September 30, 1938, which permitted the annexation of the Sudetenland — a primarily German-speaking region of Czechoslovakia — by Nazi Germany, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned to the UK and addressed the British public in a speech.

In his speech, Chamberlain famously declared:

“My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honor. I believe it is peace for our time.”

Winston Churchill did not believe ‘it is peace for our time’. He warned, “And do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning”. He was right. It took Hitler a mere 166 days to break the Munich agreement and fully annex Czechoslovakia.

Before the French and the British governments decided to throw Czechoslovakia to the wolves, the Czechs were ready to face the NAZIs.

In 1938, the Czechoslovak Army fielded more than 26 divisions, totaling approximately 1.5 million personnel. This force consisted of a diverse mix of infantry, artillery, and supporting units. To fortify its defenses, Czechoslovakia had strategically placed border fortifications, particularly along its western border with Germany.

Czechoslovakia built a system of border fortifications from 1935 to 1938 as a defensive countermeasure against the rising threat of Nazi Germany. — Credit: 1089hruskapetr

The nation’s defensive strength was further underscored by its possession of Europe’s second-strongest defensive line along the German border. With a substantial and well-trained army equipped with modern weaponry, Czechoslovakia stood as a formidable force in Europe before the second world war.

Subsequent to the agreement, wherein it became evident to the Czechs that promised support would not materialize, morale likely plummeted, and the nation faced the loss of fortifications and a substantial portion of its industrial capacity. The travesty of the entire arrangement is that, at that juncture, the Nazi army had not yet fully formed.

The Czechs had a military strength of 1.5 million. The poles had 30 divisions, an estimated 1 million. The French army had 2 million personnel. The Brits had a few hundred thousand, but a strong navy and significant air-power. The soviets had 4 to 5 million personnel. The Czechs were dug in and ready. Together they had more than enough to face the Nazi army with three to four million personnel.

Had the French and the British government chose to stand up against naked aggression. Had they mobilized European nations… Had they made an effort to bring the Soviet regime to their side, the Nazi army, may have never turned into an evil monster. And even if they had tried to do so in 1938, the world would have been mobilized and ready to push them off their tracks.

Instead of mobilizing against the rising threat, the policy of appeasement was chosen, even though the global awareness of the Nazi government’s dangerous direction was evident after the invasion and annexation of Austria on March 12th, 1938.

Tens of thousands of Jews fled Austria, anticipating the persecution under Nazi rule. In response to the escalating refugee crisis, the Évian Conference was convened in Évian-les-Bains, France, from July 6 to 15, 1938. Attended by delegations from 32 countries, the conference aimed to address the plight of persecuted Jews and minorities in Nazi Germany and Austria.

Nothing came out of the conference.

But the conference in itself is a good indicator that the world was aware of the direction the Nazi Germany was moving towards. Invade neighboring countries by claiming injustice to German speakers and prosecute a community by dehumanizing them.

It was in this backdrop the French and the British administrations chose to appease Hitler. Then why would Winston Churchill not call the agreement a ‘total and unmitigated disaster.’

Because that is exactly what it was.

Chamberlain and Daladier presented the Munich Agreement as a diplomatic success that had prevented an immediate conflict, but it failed to prevent Nazi aggression and ultimately contributed to the outbreak of World War II.

The world betrayed Czechoslovakians.

The results of the betrayal were immediate.

Hitler took just one month, after the Munich agreement, to launch Kristallnacht, known as the Night of Broken Glass. Throughout the night of November 9th and into the following day, violent mobs, encouraged or organized by Nazi authorities, attacked Jewish-owned businesses, homes, and synagogues. The streets were filled with broken glass from shattered windows, giving the event its name. Thousands of Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps during Kristallnacht. Many were subjected to brutal treatment, and some lost their lives.

Hitler gave some reason for launching Kristallnacht. But it is obvious where he got the license to unleash evil. Munich appeasement broke his shackles, because it told him, in no uncertain terms that the world is fearful and it will not respond to his naked aggression. That he can kill and get away with it. That he has the power and courage to decide what is justice and what is not.

This following paragraph is the one I want U.S. President Biden and German Chancellor Scholz to memorize from Churchill’s speech:

Many people, no doubt, honestly believe that they are only giving away the interests of Czechoslovakia, whereas I fear we shall find that we have deeply compromised, and perhaps fatally endangered, the safety and even the independence of Great Britain and France…[T]here can never be friendship between the British democracy and the Nazi Power, that Power cannot ever be the trusted friend of the British democracy…

Many people, no doubt, honestly believe that they are only giving away the interests of Ukraine, whereas I fear we shall find that we have deeply compromised and perhaps fatally endangered, the safety and even the independence of European nations and democracies around the world.

Ukraine is only the beginning of the reckoning.

If we do not stop aggression. If we do not stand up for justice. If we choose appeasement, as the second world war shows us in no uncertain terms, then we would have broken the shackles for the evil to take its full form.

If Winston Churchill was watching the ongoing round of evil appeasement, he may have said:

We are in the presence of a disaster of the second magnitude… Do not let us blind ourselves to that. It must now be accepted that all the countries of Central and Eastern Europe will make the best terms they can with the triumphant Kremlin power.

I labeled the unfolding situation in Ukraine as disaster of the second magnitude. Unlike the events of 1938 when Czechoslovakia was torn apart without a fighting chance due to appeasement, Ukraine has steadfastly resisted, fighting not only for its own freedom but also for ours. Their struggle extends beyond national borders, championing the cause of democracies worldwide.

Nonetheless, it remains a disaster as Western powers persist in withholding assistance for Ukraine to repel the invaders. The United States and Germany, despite their capabilities, continue to refrain from providing Ukraine with their best resources, providing the invaders an opportunity to prolong the conflict and, potentially, secure victory.

Neville Chamberlain and Édouard Daladier chose appeasement of a dictatorship. The world paid for that mistake with 80 million lives. We don’t have to go in the same direction. A triumphant dictatorship, that is connected and entrenched with other like minded dictatorships will always remain a threat to freedom, where ever it can be found.

Freedom must be armed. Anyone who wants to say otherwise has to remember these words:

The maintenance of peace depends upon the accumulation of deterrents against the aggressor- Winston Churchill

You can read Winston Churchill’s speech “Disaster of the First Magnitude, 1938”, here. It is a magnificent piece of our history. Please do take a minute to read it.

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Shankar Narayan

He didn't care what he had or what he had left, he cared only about what he must do.