A powerful country, trying to restore its former glory a few decades after losing a major global conflict, starts testing the international community, violating agreements, and eventually gobbling up a couple of small territories in Eastern Europe. Met with Western weakness, it is eventually emboldened to launch a full-scale invasion of one of its neighbors. Such is the story not only of recent events in Ukraine, but also of Adolf Hitler’s assault first on Czechoslovakia and then on Poland. In the recent Netflix film Munich: The Edge of War, the British prime minister Neville Chamberlain’s famous capitulation in the titular city in 1938 is made out to be an act of strategic wisdom. Meir Soloveichik writes in his review:
The film . . . portrays a canny prime minister who seeks to buy time before a war that seems likely to come. In the movie, following the conference at Munich, the English aide glumly goes home and tells his wife that Chamberlain’s deal with Hitler was “just a delay.” He goes on: “The PM’s given us a chance of winning the damn thing when it happens. It’s quite some service when you think about it.” The film further concludes by informing the audience that Chamberlain’s agreement allowed time for Britain to arm, as if preparation for war had been the prime minster’s intention all along.
The only problem with this assertion is that it is preposterously false, and we know this because of what the film deliberately omits: . . . when Chamberlain stood on the balcony of Buckingham Palace clutching his agreement in hand and compared himself to Benjamin Disraeli, who had returned from the Congress of Berlin in 1878 where he truly had achieved a peaceable solution to a raging territorial conflict in Europe: “My good friends, this is the second time in our history that there has come back from Germany to Downing Street peace with honor. I believe it is peace for our time.”
If Chamberlain had not truly believed at the moment that he had made peace with Hitler—as the aide’s remark at the end of the movie suggests—would he have ever said such a thing? If . . . the film truly believes what it asserts about Chamberlain, why would it cut the most famous moment in the Munich story?
Jews therefore have a special stake in seeing that the depiction of Munich and its aftermath are true and correct. This does not mean that a statesman must always prefer war to the alternative; Churchill himself famously opined that “it is better to jaw-jaw than to war-war.” But one central lesson of Munich—the conference, not the movie—is that it is essential to recognize when evil exists, and it is precisely in this area that Chamberlain failed so profoundly.