The Ghosts of Appeasement: Britain and the legacy of the Munich Agreement

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Abstract

This article is concerned with British foreign policy and the legacy of the Munich
Agreement during and after the Second World War. It argues that contemporary
policy requirements necessitated an unapologetic attitude to the past that often entailed the adoption of evasive legal formulae. Thus, while West Germany and Czechoslovakia achieved a modus vivendi in 1973, the British refused to repudiate Munich ab initio and applauded theWest German decision to do likewise. London steadfastly maintained this position until 1992, three years after the end of the Cold War. This article explores the reasoning in British policy formulation and demonstrates that while historians discussed
the ‘shame’ of Munich, policymakers rarely experienced feelings of guilt – seeking instead to derive the maximum possible benefit from the continuing significance of Munich. Furthermore, many of the actions of the British government during the Second World War, not least with regard to the Katyn´ massacres and the Yalta Conference, reinforced the idea that Munich had been a creature of its time and a ‘necessary evil’. Drawing extensively on primary sources, this article will make a contribution to the historiography of British foreign relations and that of collective institutional memory and appeasement.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)688-716
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of Contemporary History
Volume48
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 23 Oct 2013

Keywords

  • Appeasement
  • British foreign policy
  • cold war Europe
  • Katyń
  • Munich
  • Yalta

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