Although “the lessons of Munich” have been mindlessly recited by subsequent generations of American political leaders, it is worth recalling Chamberlain’s actual intent in settling the crisis over Czechoslovakia. Far from “appeasing” Hitler simply to avoid war at all costs, Chamberlain hoped instead to reach a broader Anglo-German “understanding” that might nudge the Third Reich toward an Eastern conflict with the Soviet Union. Viewing Germany and England as “two pillars of European peace and buttresses against Communism,” Chamberlain offered to restrain his nation’s allies in the event such a war transpired. These alternative “lessons of Munich” -- including the folly of cajoling right-wing dictatorships to attack their enemies on the left -- were less frequently cited over the next several decades, as the United States exchanged promise rings with some of the most appalling regimes on the planet.
The Soviets, dismayed by their exclusion from the Munich conference, understood the “lessons of Munich” quite clearly and soon looked to reach an understanding of their own with the expanding German state. On 23 August of the following year, the disastrous Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was signed; Poland vanished little more than a week later, with 75 million lives eventually to follow.
Among those killed during those horrid six years were 100,000 Jewish, Sinti and Roma civilians, shot and gassed by the German Einsatzgruppen C in Kiev, Ukraine, along with Soviet POW’s and patients from the Pavlov Psychiatric Hospital. The bodies were dumped in a majestic ravine in northwestern Kiev called Babi Yar. The Babi Yar massacre continued for months, but it commenced on 29 September 1941, sixty-five years ago today.