Call Kenny Loggins, you're in the DANGER ZONE...
- Dec 5, 2008
January - February 1942
Delegates at the Locarno negotiations, 1925.
Rationales for the failure of the Two-One-One (or 2-1-1) Talks are many, but the ultimate progenitor of any rationale lay in the Locarno treaties. The treaties were a series of seven agreements negotiated in the Swiss resort town of the same name from 5 to 16 October 1925 before being signed formally 1 December of that year; Locarno had divided Europe into two categories: the western borders--deemed “settled” by treaty--and the eastern borders of Germany with Poland, which were left open for revision. The negotiations sought the return of Germany back into the world order, as well as a promise from Germany to never go to war against her neighbors again. When Germany sought publicly to negotiate in 1939, Foreign Minister von Neurath had cited the Locarno agreements as a way to mask Germany’s true intentions of drawing the Allies offside and into war. Thus, some discussion of the nature of Locarno is justified here.
Some of the major characters at Locarno: from
top left: Gustav Stresemann (GER), Austen
Chamberlain (UK), Aristide Briand (FRA), and
August Zaleski (POL).
In the period just after the Great War, the German nation worked vainly to recover her prestige and privileges as a leading European power. The German Foreign Minister, Gustav Stresemann, sensed hesitation on the part of the planned French occupation of the Ruhr in early 1925; he recognized that the French wanted a British guarantee of its postwar borders. For its part at the time, the British were reluctant to do so: they did not want the repeat of supporting a massive army on the Continent at the cost of blood and treasure. Seeking out his counterpart in London, Stresemann managed to get Austen Chamberlain to agree to the negotiations by a plan where all sides would get what they wanted through a series of guarantees. France came to the table because their occupation of Germany had caused more financial and diplomatic damage than the value of the security that resulted. Other nations invited to the negotiations included Belgium, Czechoslovakia and Poland.
Signing the Locarno treaty, December 1925. On
Neurath’s advice, Hitler had encouraged similar
discussions to take place from 1939 to 1942.
The first agreement also proved to be the most critical: a mutual guarantee of the borders of France, Belgium and Germany assured by two parties: Britain and Italy. The three signatories also promised not to attack one another, with the latter two acting as guarantors. Any act of aggression from any of the three would bring all other parties to the side of the defender. The second and third agreement laid out mechanisms of arbitration regarding future disputes between Germany and Belgium in one and Germany and France in the other. The fourth and fifth agreements created similar mechanisms for Germany and Poland and Germany and Czechoslovakia; both felt threatened by the first few agreements (justifiably so by subsequent events) and these treaties were meant to reassure them. The final two agreements reaffirmed the Franco-Polish and Franco-Czech mutual assistance should a conflict with Germany arise.
Josef Beck (C) and Josef Piłsudski both hated the
Locarno treaties, believing them to be a betrayal
of their recently recreated nation. Beck’s inability
to generate much goodwill from their allies and
his ability to create hostility from everyone doomed
Poland. Below, the coup leaders on Poniatowski
Bridge in Warsawa.
British support for the series of treaties predicated upon the French abandoning the Cordon Sanitaire. With their Great Power supporter withdrawn, the Poles and Czechoslovaks would be forced to peacefully resolve their own border disputes with Germany. This agreement was the source of significant distrust in Warsaw and Prague--justified in the long term--and a weakening of the Franco-Polish alliance. Polish Foreign Minister Józef Beck ridiculed the treaties saying, "Germany was officially asked to attack the east, in return for peace in the west." The hero of Poland, Józef Piłsudski, said: "Every honest Pole spits when he hears this word,” referring to Locarno. Piłsudski so hated the treaties signed by Poland that he led a coup d’etat, overthrowing the government of President Stanisław Wojciechowski in favor of Ignacy Mościcki; the old Marshal would continue to be the power behind the throne until his death in 1935.
Hitler and Chamberlain discussing something, 1939.
Chamberlain’s efforts to negotiate a settlement were
in good faith, and he gained significant popularity in
the attempt to divert the war, but this sentiment came
to haunt his legacy after the war started.
By 1939, the sentiments in the capitals of Europe had changed, but only so slightly. France’s continued humiliation at the hands of Britain when dealing with Germany had soured the sentiment between Paris and London; the Allies’ betrayal of Czechoslovakia (despite their immediate acceptance of Poland into the Allies) weighed heavily on those in Warsawa. Hitler’s allowance of the veil of “negotiations” appealed to the British and French Foreign offices, who warily eyed their own military strength compared with that of Germany.
Charles Maurras, one of the leading minds in the
Action Francaise ranks who argued that France
should leave the British to their fate.
As negotiations continued to drag on through two long years, the relationship between London and Paris similarly dragged on, especially with the changing political climates in France, whose Action Francaise party arose to power essentially on a wave of anti-British and anti-Popular Front sentiment. With Paris declaring that they did not want to be dragged into a war that their notional compatriots across the Channel had organized, and as some Frenchmen believed, championed. The reevaluation of their alignment with Westminster set the French on their turn-coat path later in 1942 (which later became known as “Better Hitler than Blum”), though the fickleness of the crowd would go on to the abrupt collapse of the AF government in 1943. The French formally withdrew from the Entente on 4 January 1942, with a flowery declaration which essentially stated the desire to not send their youth to die for Danzig penned by Marcel Deat. This publication would lead to massive peace demonstrations throughout France which began on 21 January, continuing for nearly twenty days.
Laval, Bouthillier and Petain in Frank Capra’s
documentary film, Divide and Conquer.
With France thus neutralized, Germany’s demands became far more rigid, but the time for drawing the British into declaring a war against Germany had long since past. Germany’s economy had been pushed to nearly the breaking point: much of the government spending was on the military and while that had worked for awhile, Schacht--distant as he was from actual power over his department--raised concerns about securing the ability to continue such expenditures to support all of the war equipment and manpower produced and trained to date. This pressure led to a momentous decision: that the time had come to declare war.
Hitler saluting infantry forces moving into place, 1942.
Finalization of plans for the assault on Poland would take some time, however. New equipment was coming into the Heer, and there was some question as to whether certain formations would be ready for combat operations in time. While waiting, the propaganda department began to spin out a volume of rationales for what was to come. They cited the intransigence of the Allies, the problems of dealing with the land stolen from Germany by the Poles (and by extension, the Allies), and how reasonable Germany had been in negotiations with all parties.
The front page of the New York Times, February 1942.
As February arrived, the drumbeats were so loud that any day that passed without a declaration of war was counted as a surprise in the Western media. Newspaper headlines questioned “When it might the big show start?” Their answer came early on 8 February: Germany declared war on Poland that morning. Great Britain, followed rapidly by much of the Commonwealth, declared war on Germany.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s front page when the
Belgians and Dutch mobilized their forces, 1942.
The declaration of war set of a spate of cascading effects. Ireland granted military access to their former overlords almost immediately, though it was limited to training only; Thailand provided it later in the month. The United States announced that they were declaring a national emergency with the outbreak of war, and begin production of arms to defend their own territory. Throughout February the nations of Holland, Japan and her associated puppets, Ethiopia, Hungary, Luxembourg and Belgium all mobilized their forces. New Zealand joined the war on 13 February. The Royal Air Force led one of the first strikes against the Germans on 14 February when Nos. 2, 3 and 4 Strategic Bomb Wings conducted raids against Dusseldorf.
The Chicago Sunday Tribune lamenting the Soviet
occupation of Eastern Poland.
Poland’s rapid collapse at the hands of an expertly conducted Bewegungskrieg over the course of ten days shocked the world. At its conclusion, the Soviets accepted their half of Poland, and the nation that had only just re-emerged onto the stage of history was ushered off. The Soviets also presented the Baltic states with their fait accompli, which the small nations of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia bowed to the inevitable. The world seemed to be playing exactly to the Reich’s tune.
*****Author's Note: Two updates in a week? What is the world coming to?? Hope this gets everyone ready for the beginning of the world war!!