Thursday, December 15, 2011

Peace For Our Time : But What Time?


All sorts of things go through your mind when you are flying back from Munich and the air turbulence is so bad that the Stewardess can't serve you your can of beer and bag of crisps because she is firmly strapped into her seat and doing some last minute revision on the emergency evacuation procedures. My mind turned to that most famous return flight from Munich, the one undertaken by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain on the 30th September 1938, and I became obsessed with discovering how long the journey took him. Why such ridiculous questions should have dominated my mind at a time when the difference between life and death seemed to rest on the strength of the rivets holding the wing to the Airbus I was flying in, I have no idea, but on my safe return to Britain, I was determined to discover the answer.

There is a lot of information available about that famous return journey. Chamberlain was returning with a meeting with Hitler, Mussolini, and Prime Minister Édouard Daladier of France : a meeting at which the future fate of Czechoslovakia had been decided (without the active participation of the Czech Government). On his return to Heston Aerodrome, Chamberlain waved his famous piece of paper and spoke of peace. Later that day, in Downing Street, he issued his famous promise of "peace for our time". We know what kind of plane he flew in (a Lockheed 14 with the registration number G-AFGN), we even know Chamberlain's ticket number (BA/WS 18249 : the actual ticket was re-discovered about a year ago). But how long did the flight take?

I eventually found the answer within an archive recording from the BBC. The clip is from the original report made as the plane landed at Heston and features the sonorous tones of the famous reporter, Richard Dimbleby. Near the beginning of the broadcast, Dimbleby comments on the poor weather in England but says that the Prime Minister had good weather for most of the return flight which took "something like three and a half hours - a little less than that actually". You can find the full nine minute broadcast from September 1938 on the BBC Archive website - it makes interesting, but poignant, listening.

Around the same time that Chamberlain was making his three and a half hour flight, the German poet Bertolt Brecht, living in exile in Denmark" wrote a poem entitled "From A German War Primer" One verse from the poem says:

When the leaders speak of peace
The common folk know
That war is coming.
When the leaders curse war
The mobilization order is already written out.

War grows from their peace
Like a son from his mother
He bears
Her frightful features.
Their war kills
Whatever their peace
Has left over.

Chamberlain ended his famous "Peace For Our Time" speech with the following request to his audience : "And now I recommend you to go home and sleep quietly in your beds".  A verse of the Brecht poem seems to almost echo the thought:

It is night
The married couples
Lie in their beds. The young women
Will bear orphans

15 comments:

  1. Interesting post. Better a turbulent flight than that of the Man U team some decades ago.

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  2. Interesting what paths an anxious mind will take us on. Good research Alan! And Brecht's poem is very appropriate. Then again, everything Brecht wrote was appropriate!

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  3. My lord, man, what a poignant post and so very thought-provoking. The mind does take us to interesting places when we're trying to maintain a sense of calm. I find this fascinating for many reasons. Neville chamberlain's words ring across time and seem as pertinent today as they surely did then. Brecht is the perfect counterpoint. The closing stanza you've chosen is bringing to mind one of my favorite poems by Wilfred Owen. I'm grateful for the connections we make here in our blogging community.

    Thank you for this excellent post.

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  4. Man, this was almost as deep as the mud in the loadin' pen this mornin'.

    We have heard all our lives the quote from the Bible, "Wars and rumor of wars..."

    Love the prose here!

    God bless ya and have yourself a marvelous day!

    Merry Christmas ya'll!!! :o)

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  5. Hello Alan:
    Perhaps it is now generally forgotten that it was from Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part I, that Chamberlain drew for his famous speech on his return from Munich in 1938. Rather sadly, History does, as we know, tend to repeat itself and the lessons from that time have not, we feel, been totally learnt.

    We have discovered your most interesting blog by chance and have signed ourselves as Followers.

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  6. Oh yes, this rings quite true even yet today, and leaves me with tears...my son in law is over there right now, his second deployment and every time you hear the slight mention of a helicopter crash, or a soldier this or that your ears immediately draw close to the news that's being reported. It's so sad for all the lives from the beginning of time's first war to those yet to die, in our endless conflicts, and the next war....I will be so blessedly happy once he touches ground home here again.

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  7. Very nice progression from the trivial to the profound, Alan!

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  8. I knew some of this but there was more info that gave me a broader understanding. Many decisions of distribution of other countries that did not belong to them just prolonged the wars to come many years later.

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  9. Thought-provoking and timely, considering Obama's announcement today...I'm glad you landed safely and are home.

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  10. I love the way you've drawn so many threads together in this post, Alan. How long did your flight take, by comparison?

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  11. What a good post! What a lot of trilbies in the photo!

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  12. Interesting bit of research which makes us think back to the war and also think about today and how to maintain peace.

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  13. You wouldn't find a single hat in a similar photo of today. Pity the poor milliners.

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  14. History does indeed repeat itself. We adult humans are more like children caught up in a competition of can do and can't do, am so, am not.
    Blessings for the holidays.
    QMM

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  15. Very profound Alan; I wonder what his ’mind turned to’ during that three and half hours.

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