Archive for the ‘Iron Curtain’ Category

A Quarrel In A Faraway Country

September 22, 2007

I highly recommend a listen to the latest episode (.ram file) of BBC Radio 4‘s Archive Hour (audio available for the next seven days only).

It brings together unique recordings discovered in the basement archives of the Czech national radio building in Prague, some of which have never been heard since they were recorded before World War II. Through these illuminating original audio sources, it tells the story of appeasement by the western powers, and the build-up to Hitler’s seizure of Czechoslovakian lands.

I found it incredible to listen to the less well-known pronouncements of Chamberlain and others, but was particularly interested in the Czech recordings from the 1930s, which, surprisingly to me, show how pro-western and modern Czechoslovakia was in the decade before its freedom was snatched away.

American listeners may be interested to hear the speech of the first President of Czechoslovakia Tomáš Masaryk, in a 1932 broadcast to America from Prague, in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of George Washington.

“When we severed the bonds binding us to the old Habsburg monarchy, I was aware that our decision must not be less motivated than the resolution taken by the founder of American liberty. And having recovered our liberty, we again follow the example of Washington in that we must no longer feel the old antagonism and anger which originated in the suppression of our liberty. My hearty wishes to the American people.”

I find it amazing to think of this nascent free nation, with so many hopes for liberty and friendship with the free world, being unknowingly on the cusp of devastation, and subjugation that was to last for almost the rest of the century.

I also wonder what I would have believed, had I been alive in the 1930s, knowing only what they knew then. I hope I wouldn’t have decided that appeasement was the least worst option. However, the position of wanting to accommodate Hitler, in the hope of pacifying him, would have seemed logical to those who held it, and perhaps preferable to a repeat of the slaughter of the First World War.

Chamberlain’s words sound so foolish now, but who could have known it then? I wonder what we are saying now that will be deemed so ridiculously erroneous in years to come.