For us living today it was the interval between the two greatest wars of human history, but for those of that era - who had no concept of the horrors World War II was to bring - it was the world weary time of a mere score of years since the “war to end all wars.”
Europe had not at all recovered from its destruction. Their factories and commerce were yet to be up and running, their economies were in shambles, their homes were still being rebuilt.
No one it seemed could even conceive of the idea of fighting another war, or, to put it another way, they were willing to settle for any action, negotiations, appeasement, prayers and even fantasies, to avoid another conflict.
Well, everyone except Adolph Hitler, who was itching to “correct” the “wrongs” done to the Germans under the terms of the Versailles Treaty. Into the hapless circumstance flew the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to Berlin on today’s date, Sept. 23, of 1938, with the mission of dissuading the Fuhrer of his continued military expansion in Europe.
The world, still reeling from the conflict still torturing people’s memories, prayed for his success. Many held that Stalin’s communism was a greater threat and that Nazi Germany would better serve as a buffer zone.
What an ambivalence of give-and-take communication the entire world was experiencing - the more boisterous Hitler fumed and threatened, the more submissive the British and French genuflected. Over and over again Hitler’s aggressive words were met with even more humble passivity.
History records, as we all know, Chamberlain returned home famously and mistakenly waving a copy of the Munich Agreement claiming, “Peace in our time!”
Then Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia!
No one this side of heaven could possibly put a number of the speeches, sermons, books, articles and discussions centering around the arguments against appeasement brought on by Chamberlain’s naivety. There probably is an equal number of defensive writings and speeches as well.
Even Franklin Roosevelt is said to have commented upon hearing of the prime minister’s “success” that he found, “nothing about it that made him unhappy.”
To millions of “armchair” know-it-all’s and “Monday-morning-quarterback” politicians, it’s an easy call - Chamberlain was a gullible stooge who played Hitler’s patsy. In truth, it simply is not that simple.
Jesus’ teachings were filled with warnings against the difficulty of decision making: a builder does not begin construction before counting the cost; a king does not go out to war against an invader without first inventorying his army; and, of course, do not judge others because the criteria you use will be employed to judge you.
No doubt, that could have been applied to the prime minister, but it is also equally applicable to each of us.
Let us insert here a quick little observation. Contrary to many an assumption, the gospel writers did not quote Jesus as saying “do not judge.” In the course of everyday adult life, the fact is that all too frequently we are placed in decision-making situations in which we must, like Chamberlain, judiciously take all the information that we know, including the assessment of the characters of the people involved as well as their futures, and determine the best courses of actions of which we are capable and we do so knowing that sometimes we will have made grievous errors.
We vote for politicians from a list of candidates, we hire a new worker from a stack of resumes, from our limited financial resources we decide which charities to support and in every decision we also responsibly decide which politicians, workers, needy people to ignore.
In a sense, Jesus’ admonition was paraphrased by one of my favorite philosophers, Andy Rooney, who advised, “Keep your words soft and sweet in case you sometime have to eat them.”
Johnny A. Phillips is a retired minister residing in Leland and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.