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By Robery Dell
March 12, 1938
Vol. 146, No. 11, P. 292-294
Geneva, February 22
The week that began with Hitler's ultimatum to Austria and ended with Anthony Eden's resignation was surely the most important week in the post-war history of Europe. The events of the past five years reached their climax. The successful bluff and blackmail of the fascist powers on the one hand and the incapacity and poltroonery of the Western democratic powers on the other produced a situation in which the British government had to choose between loyal cooperation with France and Russia to save Europe from fascism and adhesion to the fascist bloc. Neville Chamberlain chose the latter alternative. Eden, to his honor, refused to be a party to it. We cannot but regret that he did not make this choice in 1935 when the British government capitulated to Mussolini, but he has wiped out his weaknesses of the last two years by an act of courage which shows that he is made of stouter stuff than some of us had believed. The fact that he has been followed into retirement by Cranborne, the representative of a family that embodies the best tradition of English conservatism, is not negligible. Those of us who have seen Cranborne at Geneva have formed a high opinion of his character, in spite of several deplorable lapses. He has something in common with his uncle, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, whose evolution in the last few years has been so remarkable. The truth is no doubt that Eden and Cranborne have not fully realized until now the real nature of the policy of which they have been the instruments. They are to be congratulated on their escape from the gang of political crooks by whom my unhappy country is at present governed.
If Neville Chamberlain and the "Cliveden group" the title is taken from Lord Astor's country househave their way, it will not be long before Hitler is the master of the European continent. Some time or other the stork will have to be told of the part played in the pro-German intrigue that led to the recent crisis by the family of American millionaire snobs who migrated to England to get themselves made into aristocrats and whose money has enabled them to lay hands on two of the most important London newspapers. The one hope is that the English people will revolt as they did at the time of the Hoare-Laval plan and prevent Neville Chamberlain from putting the power of the British Empire at the disposal of Hitler. It is as yet too early to form any opinion on that point, but there are already certain encouraging signs.
It is to Hitler, not to Mussolini, that Chamberlain and his fascist gang are capitulating. They are not afraid of Mussolini. They know as well as anybody that he is in a precarious situation, that Italy does not really count as a military power and is not a serious menace to England. The conversations that began yesterday are conversations not with Mussolini alone but with Mussolini as the mouthpiece of the fascist bloc. Neville Chamberlain's aim, as he said plainly in the House of Commons yesterday, is an understanding with Germany and Italy into which he hopes to drag France. He proposes to revive the Four-Power Pact, that is, to substitute for the League of Nations a directorate of England and Germany, with France and Italy as far from brilliant seconds.
There is no longer any question of Vansittart's fatuous policy of trying to detach Italy from Germany. Neville Chamberlain knows that there is no hope of breaking the Berlin-Rome axis. He proposes to convert it into a London-Berlin-Rome axis. Not for centuries has England been put in so humiliating a position. As the London News-Chronicle said yesterday, Chamberlain "may now look in the mud for what is left of British prestige." Eden was forced out of office on the very day on which Hitler made a personal attack on him in the most truculent speech he has yet delivered. Chamberlain has condoned Hitler's pacific aggression against Austria, if he did not connive at it in advance, as is not impossible. It came to my knowledge not long ago that a certain diplomatic representative in Berlin had reported to his government that the British ambassador to Berlin, Sir Nevile Henderson, had said to a prominent member of the German government in the presence of several other persons that he did not understand why Germany had not already annexed Austria seeing that, so far as he could gather, the majority of the Austrians were Nazis already. Chamberlain has been disloyal to France, for in defiance of the agreement arrived at in the Anglo-French conversations in November he started the negotiations with Italy without consulting the French government. Indeed, he acted in opposition to it, for as soon as the French government heard of the first meeting between Chamberlain and Grandi on February 18, it informed the British government that, in its opinion, any negotiations with Italy at the moment would be "inopportune and premature."
Eden's departure has at least cleared the air. The policy of the majority of the English Conservative Party is now so plainly revealed in all its naked hideousness that nobody in England or in France or elsewhere can have any excuse for being misled. Eden said in his speech yesterday that a firm attitude on the part of the British government was more necessary than ever at this moment. I do not believe that there is a single intelligent observer of international affairs in any European country that does not agree with him. Even if the attempt to set up an Anglo-German hegemony in Europe succeeds, the time will come when Hitler will attack the British Empire. He says in "Mein Kampf" that at first Germany must not try to become a world power, since that would antagonize England and make impossible an alliance between England and Germany. But he also says that ultimately "Germany will be a world power or nothing at all." Clearly Hitler's idea is to make use of England to get the territory that he needs in Central Europe and then to discard it. Foreign observers see this so clearly and are so convinced that Neville Chamberlain's policy of playing into Hitler's hands cannot ultimately serve British interests that they are incined to attribute that policy merely to a craven fear of Germany.
In my opinion they are mistaken. I have been more and more coming to the conclusion that at the basis of the foreign policy of the British reactionaries during the last five years have been hatred of Soviet Russia and fear of the growing force of organized labor in England and still more in France. There is every reason to believe that they were behind Chautemps and Georges Bonnet when the latter deliberately provoked the defeat of the late Chautemps government for the purpose of separating the Socialists from the Communists and driving the latter out of the Popular Front. There is also every reason to believe that the attacks on the franc, for the instability of which there was no technical reason, were engineered in the City of London with the connivance of French financial interests and even of certain members of the late Chautemps Cabinet. The terrible irony of the situation is that Leon Blum and his colleagues in the first Popular Front government allowed themselves to be made the tools of a foreign policy fundamentally opposed to the interests of France and initiated by their worst enemies. The pro-German gang in England represented by Neville Chamberlain are not mere craven imbeciles. They are much more like traitors, putting the interests of their class before those of their country.
On February 12, after five years of rearmament, Hitler began to apply his program of territorial aggrandizement in Europe. The methods by which he forced the unhappy Schuschnigg to yield to his demands constituted as flagrant an act of aggression as an armed invasion. The best account of what happened was given by G. E. R. Gedye in the London Daily Telegraph and Morning Post,* of which he is the Vienna correspondent. Before Schuschnigg left Vienna for Berchtesgaden on February 11 he was given to understand that the Nazi plan for his overthrow, found on January 26 in the safe of Captain Leopold's headquarters in Vienna, would be put into force if he declined Hitler's invitation. According to this plan, which was signed R. H. (Rudolf Hess), the Austrian and German Nazis in collaboration were to promote frontier incidents and at the same time the Austrian Nazis were to start terrorist activities in the interior. As soon as the Austrian police took action the German army was to cross the frontier to prevent "Germans from shedding the blood of Germans." For this purpose German troops were to be massed on the frontier under the pretext of maneuvers and were to be under the command of General von Reichenau, corps commandant at Munich, who was described in the Hess plan as "Commander of the Army of Intervention in Austria."
When Schuschnigg went to Berchtesgaden, German troops were actually concentrated on the frontier opposite Salzburg. General von Reichenau was the first person introduced by Hitler to Schuschnigg at Berchtesgaden, and he and two other generals, if they did not actually take part in the conversations, were in the antechamber to intimidate Schuschnigg. Hitler gave Schuschnigg an ultimatum which expired on February 16. Failing an affirmative reply from the Austrian government by that date, the German troops were to march into Austria. What could Schuschnigg do but give way, knowing as he did that he could expect no help from anybody, not even from Mussolini? He did not, however, give way on every point, for he appears to have refused to agree to Hitler's demand that Austria should support Germany in whatever action Germany might take against Czechoslovakia. Nevertheless, unless something quite unforeseen happens, the formal annexation of Austria to Germany can be only a question of time.
It appears from Eden's speech yesterday that the attitude of the British government in regard to the coup against Austria was also a cause of his differences with Neville Chamberlain. The French government asked the British government a few days ago to join in making representations in Berlin to the effect that England and France would not again tolerate being faced with a fait accompli, and that they would not tolerate the destruction of Austrian independence or any interference with Czechoslovakia. Nothing has yet been published about the British reply to this proposal, but no doubt it was in the negative. Yet the British government signed the Treaty of St. Germain by which Austrian independence was put under the protection of the League of Nations. Hitler's success in this matter has caused great alarm here in Switzerland, where it is recognized that, if such methods are tolerated, no small country in Europe will be safe. Hitler's truculent speech on February 20 shows that he now believes himself able to do anything with impunity. That any British government should propose to come to an understanding with Nazi Germany after this speech is an enormity.
The worst element in the situation is the terrible position of France. Most people in that country are now beginning to recognize what a blunder the policy of sacrificing everything to British friendship has been. They are beginning to see that France has been betrayed by her false friends, the British reactionaries. That brilliant journalist, Emile Buré, described England and France a few days ago as l'aveugle et le paralytique. Alas! France is now paralyzed because the French, too, have been blind. Except during the eight months in 1934 when Louis Barthou was Foreign Minister, every successive French government in the last five years has blindly followed the orders issued from London. It is exasperating to remember that in 1936 the Blum Cabinet, under British influence, refused the offer of a pact of mutual assistance made to France by the Little Entente. The Blum Cabinet when it came into office had an immense opportunity. Had it revived and extended Barthou's policy, it could have secured the peace of Europe without sacrificing the friendship of England. As it is, the British government has succeeded in estranging France from Russia, and in destroying the Little Entente and the Balkan Entente. Poland, Yugoslavia, Rumania, and Greece have one after the other been drawn into the German orbit, because, as a Balkan diplomatist said to me some time ago, they could have no confidence in people who were incapable of defending even their own interests.
Czechoslovakia is isolated in Central Europe. After Hitler's speech there can be no doubt that he intends to use against Czechoslovakia the methods that he has used so successfully against Austria. The probability is that Czechoslovakia will resist, in which case France and Russia will be bound to go to its aid, and if they do the result will be a European war into which the English people will be drawn whether they like it or not. If, on the other hand, France does not fulfil its treaty obligations, Hitler will be the master of Central Europe and Czechoslovakia will no doubt be partitioned among Germany, Hungary, and Poland. Russia is not bound to go to the aid of Czechoslovakia unless France does. It is a heartrending situation.
* Mr. Gedye's account also appeared in the New York Times of February 17.