Photo: The Four (and Ciano) at Munich February 26, 2016Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback
One of the great twentieth-century photographs. The four men who dominate Europe in late September 1938 stand side by side. On the left, looking as if he has an umbrella up his bottom, there is Neville Chamberlain, British Prime Minister and pioneer of Britain’s disastrous experiment with appeasement. Connoisseurs of the British national character will recognise the rather pleased with himself demeanor: those who do not know the country might consider him a brave man preparing for a hail of bullets from a firing squad. Next comes shifty Edouard Daladier, a French radical, but one who was worth all the rest put together: and one who had certainly understood Hitler better than his British ally. The man with the moustache needs no introduction. He is playing the dignified statesman here – a strange kinship between Adolf and Chamberlain. Then next to them is the Italian contingent. Mussolini always fluctuated between messiah and clown and here he is on one of his baggy-pants day. The man to the left is his son in law and the Italian minister of foreign affairs, Ciano, another one of history’s fools (and nowhere near the thug that he appears in the photograph). The four leaders had come together to dissect Czechoslovakia and to stop a European war (at least in the short term). One of the most painful memories of the conference was the moment when the British and French went out to tell the Czech delegation, who had been practically left on the street, that there country would be divided ‘to save Europe’. Perhaps only one man here, Chamberlain, was entirely deluded. Daladier, as his eyes suggest, knows exactly what is going on: when he was cheered as a hero on returning to France, he turned to an aide and whispered ‘Les cons (the idiots)!’ The date of the photograph from the Bundesarchiv is given as 29 Sept and the treaty was signed early in the morning, 30 Sept (though backdated to the 29). When was the photograph actually taken in the negotiations? Beach’s guess is before the negotiations actually started: drbeachcombing At yahoo DOT com. Chamberlain and Hitler would probably have allowed themselves a smile if they had already achieved their aims: both were capable of it. Daladier’s expression suggests an unpleasant task ahead; Mussolini is probably dreading all night negotiations, perhaps even thinking of a mistress in Munchen.
It might also be worth noting that four of the five would not be around for much longer: three of the four would be dismissed (live by the sword…) with lead. Chamberlain may already have had the tumour growing inside him that would kill the then ex-British Prime Minister in November 1940 (he lived just long enough to see the British fight the Luftwaffe to a draw in August and September). Hitler would put a gun in his own mouth in 1945, probably suffering from Parkinsons. Mussolini, just days before, had been shot, with his lover, Clara Petacci by communist partisans in the Alps: the shooting almost became a comedy when the guns jammed twice. Ciano had been shot, meanwhile, with Mussolini and Hitler’s approval, 11 January 1944. Daladier was made of hardier stuff. He survived Dachau and lived till 1977: the last senior witnesses of the debacle at Munich.
29 February 2016: Nathaniel writes ‘Looking at it from across two ponds, I’d say you’re too tough on Chamberlain. It was he (not Churchill) who oversaw the preparations that enabled “the British [to] fight the Luftwaffe to a draw”. Delaying the war as long as possible (I doubt that anybody other than Hitler could have prevented it altogether) was probably the best strategy Chamberlain could pursue. And honestly, I can’t blame anybody who lived through WW 1 for not wanting a repeat.’