The Dark Side Part III Chapter III - Fritz the Cat

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The Dark Side III
Chapter 3

Shirer`s book is his attempt to make sense of France’s third Republic, its third attempt at a democratic government. We are nearing to point, 1/3 through the book and to spring of 1937, where to wheel is beginning to turn faster. The Popular Front government is on the point of collapse, with the less dedicated starting to drift away.

Blum will ask to the government on June 15th for plenary powers, the power to rule by decree. The lower chamber will consent 346-247 , but the upper senate will refuse by a large majority. The parliament had derived this power to Prime Minister Harriot in 1925, a left government, but approved it for Poincaré the conservative, as it later would for Laval the fascist collaborator.

Now I am going to leave the book, briefly, to look at how Russia and Germany reacted when they were in a situation similar to the one France was then in.

Blum wanted above all the power to stop the rich from fleeing the country with their capital, above all gold, thus starving the nation . Lenin and Hitler had both already blazed this trail: a democratic government elected by the have-nots comes eyeball to eyeball with the still powerful haves over the question of the limits of democracy. Could the have-nots vote their way into the money vaults of the haves, or it that ultimate step only accomplished in blood and fire?

Lenin was part of the democratically elected Kerensky parliament which he was able to overthrow with a handful of men, but the army was led by the hereditary nobility and would only be overthrown one general at a time. Hitler was elected by the have-nots as part of the Weimar liberal government as a National Socialist, a Nazi, but the socialist label was only a expedient to get elected. He finished with that on "the Night of the long knives".

The one force in Germany still able to stand up to Hitler was the Prussian officer corps, which came from the Junker families, those large land owners without title of nobility. Hitler had undercut the communist and socialists (bitterly divided due to Stalin's meddling) not only by assuming the socialist label , but by using the  brown shirted SA, his own private army, to break up the communist and socialist political rallies, something he could do only with the connivance of the police and army.

Ernst Rohm,  head of the SA, was more a traditional socialist and was not completely in tune with or reconciled to Hitler's leadership. When Hitler was firmly in electoral power he still needed the acquiescence of the Junker officers corps and he agreed to disband the SA and merger them into the Reichswehr, the regular army, something he knew would happen only over Rohm's dead body.

On the night of June 30th , 1934, Hitler's SS , his personal body guard of the most fanatic Nazis, and the Reichswehr, murdered some 200 of the people he considered still opposing him, including Rohm and the rest of the SA hierarchy and two of vice-chancellor Papen’s close associates, as a warning to Papen’s nationalist "allies". This became known as the "Night of the Long Knives".

Thus did Hitler ensnare the Junker class of officers and implicated them in his crimes, burning a bridge back to civilization. With the rule of law gone Hitler was well on his way to a police state and totalitarianism.

Hitler had, on March 23, 1933, intimidated the non-nazi part of the Reichstag into giving a 2/3 vote in favor of the enabling law, which allowed him to rule as dictator. When President Hindenburg , the only German politician more popular than Hitler, died on Aug. 2, 1934, Hitler added the title of President to the title of Chancellor that he already held, and began ruling Germany under the Furher principle.

The point I am trying to make with this little diversion out of French history is that Blum's request for power to rule by decree was not without precedent, and those precedents terrified the two hundred families that ruled France. They knew that communism would be their end, and wouldn't trust Blum with dictatorial powers, even though they had trusted Poincaré, who with those powers had pulled France back from the abyss.

The wealth that  the two hundred families shipped out of France had always been exempt from significant taxation through parliamentary manipulation that failed with the advent of the Popular Front.  Now, after only one year in power the Popular Front was breaking down in the face of what was a strike by the capitalists. Never mind that Hitler had tore up the Versailles Treaty and was rearming with deliberate speed. For the French to invest in the new factories and machines and hire and train the workers necessary to meet Hitler tank for tank and plane for plane would be the end the capitalist strike. With the end of the capitalist strike the labor movement could revive, this time without the debilitating split between communist and socialist that Moscow had contrived.

The depression was steadily ruining the middle class and pushing them to the right. If the economy was to revive the middle class would drift back to the center, its natural home. Hitler was an unknown quantity, a position he guarded zealously, but the rich French knew what would happen under communism. One began to hear from among the very wealthy of France, "Better Hitler than Blum." And so we rejoin the book.

With the Senate's second refusal of Blum's request for plenary power Blum resigned. Some of his stalwarts wanted him to request new elections but Blum was exhausted and feared what Hitler might do to a divided and bankrupt France. On June 22, 1937 he handed the President of the Republic his resignation.
The social gains made by the workers were offset by the hardship of the deteriorating economy, and after Blum's resignation the Popular Front gradually lost force. As in 1924 and 1932 the people who had elected a left government felt cheated.

Blum agreed to become vice-premier to a weak and ineffectual Premier, Comille Chautemps. When Hitler's troops took over Austria on March 11-12, 1938 Chautemps resigned rather than face the challenge. He had kicked the communists out of the coalition at the first of the year, and the socialists led by vice-premier Blum, had resigned in protest.

France was well aware of what the Nazi occupation of Austria meant. Czechoslovakia, with its formidable fortification facing Germany would be surrounded on three sides, and Germany could now bypass the fortification and enter from the rear. The loss of her eastern ally combined with Hitler's fortification of the Rheinland would make Hitler master of central Europe.

France once again refused to do anything unless backed by Britain, and Britain , now led by the arch-appeaser Chamberlain, refused to do anything more than register a protest, as everyone surely knew would happen.  Hitler added seven million new Reich citizens and Vienna, the center of communication and trading for central and south-east Europe, to the Reich.

France was still without a government and Blum was trying to entice the right into a national government, even with a conservative Premier.  They refused and Blum formed another Popular Front government, knowing it wouldn't last long.

Blum reaffirmed Frances commitment to Czechoslovakia and proposed intervention in Spain unless Franco repudiated German and Italian Assistance.  On April 6 parliament began debate on Blum's proposed economic program. He asked for the right to rule by decree until July 1, for government control of foreign exchange to halt the flight of capital, and for the right to put capital to productive use, mainly for the armament industry. On April, 8 1938, the Senate once again voted down Blum's proposal and brought down his government, which had lasted 26 days.

Succeeding  Blum was the Radical-Socialist Edouard Daladier, one of the Popular Front's staunchest supporters. He received unprecedented votes of confidence in the Senate (290-0) and the Chamber (514-8) and the power to govern temporarily by decree. he moved quickly to the right. The socialists refused to join his party though they would support it, and the communists were not asked to join, though they too would support it, making it easy for Daladier to receive conservative backing. Daladier fired Foreign Minister Paul-Boncour, a staunch patriot, and replaced him with a vain, tricky, conniving Georges Bonnet.

Britain under Chamberlain at this time was doing everything possible to avoid war,  including informing Germany of the substance of British-French talks and assuring Germany that British would do what it could to convince Czechoslovakia to acquiesce to German demands regarding the German speaking residents of Czechoslovakia, the Sudeten-Germans. Britain wrote Czechoslovakia off militarily.  The Sudeten-Germans had previously been part of Austria, but never Germany.

On May 18, 1938 Germany concentrated 12 divisions on to the Czech border and on May 20  Czechoslovakia mobilized. Britain and France told Hitler that the invasion of Czechoslovakia meant war. Belgium informed France that under no circumstance would France be permitted to attack Germany through their country. Late in the evening of May 22 the English informed France that treaty obligations did not entail British assistance should France invade Germany in defense of Czechoslovakia. French foreign minister Bonnet seized on this as an excuse to do nothing for Czechoslovakia. On May 28 Hitler informed his high command that it was his intention to wipe Czechoslovakia from the face of the map by Oct. 1, 1938, at the latest.

Russia was France's only militarily significant potential ally on the east of Germany, but signing a treaty with the Bolsheviks would be a bitter pill for the French right. Russia had a military treaty with Czechoslovakia that would only come into effect if France first intervened on the Czech side. In addition, Poland or Romania would have to permit passage before Russia could reach Germany, something they were reluctant to do. In addition Poland said it would not go to war over Czechoslovakia. The French ambassador to Moscow, Robert Coulondre, saw the necessity of an alliance with Russia, saw Poland as militarily insignificant, and advised Paris to make her choose between Germany and the western allies. Paris did no such thing. Coulondre began to feel that Russia, unable to find friends in the west, was putting feelers our to Germany.

As early as May 14 word leaked that the British government was ready to see Sudeten-land  ceded to Germany in the interest of peace, as long as it was done peacefully. As the summer wore on, the French generals became increasingly timid and nervous. But the German generals were also nervous about waging war against the west and Russia combined, to the point of hatching a plot to kill Hitler. The commander of the German forces in the west, General Adam, would have only five divisions (the French thought he would have fifty) if Germany attacked Czechoslovakia. General Beck resigned as Chief of the German Army General Staff on Aug. 18, which Hitler attempted to keep secret. A member of the conspiracy to kill Hitler informed Britain on Sept. 5 of the date of the Czech invasion, that they would overthrow Hitler on its eve, and begged Britain and France to remain firm in the face of Hitler's provocation.  A fact which Britain never shared with France.

America could not be counted on to be part of a war coalition and would not deliver planes already ordered if war broke out first, a fact made known by President Roosevelt in early Sept., and published in the Paris press. On Sept. 12 Hitler gave a long awaited speech to the Nazi party rally at Nuremberg, in which he worked the party faithful to a fever pitch, but stopped short of saying it would mean war if the Sudeten-Germans weren't allowed self-determination, i.e. turned over to Germany, since they were hardly free actors. The next day Czech Nazis, armed by Germany, attacked public buildings in a dozen Czech towns. Martial law was declared and the insurrection put down in two days.

On Sept. 13 Foreign Minister Bonnet apparently suffered a nervous breakdown, and Prime Minister Daladier had lost much nerve in the past week. Both appealed to Britain to do something to get them off the hook in Czechoslovakia. Prime Minister Chamberlain had already arranged to meet Hitler in Munich.

On Sept. 15 Chamberlain met Hitler in Berchtesgaden and agreed, in principle, to the detachment of  the Sudeten areas, but he would have to get French agreement first. No mention was made of consulting the Czechs. The French agreed on Sept 18, and on Sept. 19 they pressured Czech Prime Minister Benes to go along. He would not. On the night of Sept. 20 France's Bonnet cabled Czechoslovakia that France felt itself relieved of its treaty obligations unless Czechoslovakia submitted to the plan, a decision he directed to be delivered verbally and not committed to writing.

On Sept. 21 the Czech government capitulated, citing the, "base betrayal" of her allies. On Sept. 22 the chief of the French military mission to Czechoslovakia, General Foucher, tore up his French passport and joined the Czech army.

The affair was denounced in the next day`s papers by Winston Churchill. Chamberlain flew to Germany to give Hitler the good news, but Hitler demanded an area far larger than the British-French plan, which was to be occupied by German troops before Oct. 1. While Hitler and Chamberlain were arguing Czechoslovakia mobilized its army.

On the night of 22-23 of Sept. France mobilized her army, roughly a million men. On Sunday the 25th the French government heads flew to London to confer.  France refused further concessions and declared that if Germany crossed into Czechoslovakia it would mean war. By the next day Chamberlain agreed to back France, and sent an envoy to inform Hitler.  Foreign Minister Bonnet, always a defeatist, tried to suppress publication in the press of the new situation, and spread word that it was a fabrication. Several newspapers followed his line the next day.

When the British envoy, Sir Horace Wilson, meeting with Hitler on the 26th, told Hitler that Czechoslovakia refused Hitler's demands, Hitler went into a rage and the cowed Wilson failed to inform Hitler that Britain would back France, his very task. That evening Hitler gave a speech before delirious crowd in Berlin in which he surpassed his previous, very high levels of spleen and vitriol, declaring his intention to "destroy Czechoslovakia".  That night he ordered a further mobilization of troops on the Czech border.

On the 27th Hitler received bad news on all fronts. The Italians had done nothing, and America would surely follow Britain's lead. The Czechoslovakians and French mobilizations were proceeding smoothly, and Britain had mobilized her navy, which had so successfully blockaded Germany during WWI. The Swedish king counselled Hitler to avoid a war he would surely lose. That night Hitler sent a moderate telegram to Chamberlain hinting that peace was still possible.

On Sept. 26 the semi-official Le Temps published a letter from former Premier and Foreign Minister and leader of the Principal Center Party, Pierre Flandin, who opposed French intervention to aid Czechoslovakia. The next night he had posted on the walls of Paris a warning that the French people were being deceived into a cunning trap to make war inevitable. The police tore the posters down immediately, but the message was published in Doriot's Nazi sponsored La Liberte, of which the police confiscated what they could.

Those forces opposed to war, led by Foreign Minister Bonnet, who had gone so far as to falsify messages sent through him by Army Chief Gamelin to Premier Daladier, were greatly aided when, on the afternoon of the 27th, the Air Force Chief General Vuillemin reported to Daladier on the miserable state of the French Air Force. This was done behind the back of Army head Gamelin, apparently one of the few non-defected military men in France.

At 8:30 pm British Prime Minister Chamberlain advised the nation by radio of his distress at being unable to avoid a war, "because of a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing." Hitler's aforementioned letter reached him at 10:30 pm, and Chamberlain grasped that straw.

War seemed inevitable and those who could fled the great cities of Europe. The appeasers were also in full flight, to Berlin with new proposals, given Hitler's moderate letter of the previous night. Apparently Mussolini's plea for Hitler to back off tipped the scale. Two hours before Hitler's ultimatum to Czechoslovakia was to expire he called off the invasion, for 24 hours. A conference of Britain, France, Italy, and Germany was to decide Czechoslovakia's fate the next day. The German Generals called off their plot against Hitler. Before leaving for Munich Premier Daladier asked General Gamelin what the minimum a militarily viable Czechoslovakia required. It required her whole series of fortifications and her rail system be left intact, Gemeilin answered.

A further word from our sponsor.

Britain’s real-politic for the past three hundred years has been to maintain a balance of power in Europe by throwing her weight behind the weaker side, thus preventing any one country`s domination of Europe. Surely, the European leaders who had spent a lifetime in politics knew this.

Hitler was not a politician of this class. He was a demagogue who had absorbed the lessons of the hate filled, racist, Jew-baiting Mayor of Vienna he grew up under. He joined a small right wing party as the effects of the Versailles Treaty impoverished Germany. His speaking skills made him a leader.  At some point a wealthy patron bought him a newspaper, and this is when the National Socialist Party began its rise to dominance.

It is the purport of this Dark Side Series that human behavior is largely a function of the, "will to power", which at the international level results in a drive to empire. We have just seen (pg. 384) the former Premier and Foreign Minister Pierre Etienne Flandin try to warn Paris, "People of France, you are being deceived! A cunning trap has been occult elements to make war inevitable." It would seem that the "occult elements" were Britain and the United States. We have also seen (pg. 382) the Swedish king, a staunch friend of Germany, warn Hitler that "in view of the present combination of powers" he would lose the war and Germany would be blamed for it.

Back in the Dark Side 1 Fritz the Cat speculated that in at least some democratic countries the will to power manifests itself as the struggle of new money to displace old money. It would seem that in Italy, Russia, and Germany a non-democratic version of the will to power came to the fore and manifested itself as WWI and WWII.

Fritz the Cat is greatly puzzled by the tendency of autocratic governments to grow out of democratic ones. Specifically, is this possible without outside aid?  Recall Lenin's journey from his exile in Switzerland across war torn Germany in a German rail car with German gold to pay the cost of overthrowing the czar and taking Russia our or the war. Recall Stalin's manipulative division of the German working class that allowed Hitler's legal ascension to power.

The absence of a market to set the price of goods is one distinction between totalitarianism and democracy. The absence of checks and balances within the government is another. Fritz the Cat feels that in rejecting these two achievements of modernity to the totalitarian states are operating at some sort of feudal level, a level that is inferior to modern capitalism in both theory and practice, and that democratic governments are not adverse to aiding and abetting the installation of a totalitarian government in a competing nation, so as to remove that nation as a serious competitor. Later the inevitable decline of a non-market, non-democratic state will allow its reabsorption as a vassal or client state.

Fritz the Cat feels that the 20th century wars were manifestations of the will to power sanctified by ideological differences in the same way that the religious wars were sanctified by religious differences. The will to power at its most basic level is the will to eat and procreate, manifested at the level of the one celled microbes inception of a particle of food and later dividing in two. The will to power at its highest level is dying or killing an opponent in a sacred cause, i.e. religious, national, social, or ideological.  All of which are, of course, fictitious.

All transactions on the Wall Street stock exchanges of the world are said to be driven by two basic emotions: fear and greed. War, too, is driven by fear and greed, fear of being killed and of losing one's property, and greed for acquiring more property by killing its owner if necessary, property being of course, a fiction as well. The so called business cycle is powered by greed on the way up and fear on the way down. Greed is a product of strength and fear is a product of weakness.
Just as those whose greed for more property i.e. the powerful, have always found ways to manipulate the aforementioned sacred causes in either the mitigation or aggravation of the fears of the weak, so the powerful still manipulate their latest god, prosperity. I attempted an explanation of this process in the Dark Side 2, briefly the use of easy credit to fuel an expansion of consumption and trade and tight credit to choke this expansion off.

As we saw at the end of D.S.3, chapter 1, in summary of Shirer's pages 233-234, Stalin, one of the powerful, having manipulated the French working class toward "revolutionary defeatism" when he felt strong vis-a-vis Germany, manipulated the same French working class, through his control of the French Communist Party, toward "bourgeois parliamentarianism" when he felt weak vis-a-vis Germany, the last sentence of that section being "They (the French Socialist and Communists) also agreed to end the government's deflationary decree laws".

As mentioned, deflation makes existing money able to buy more, accelerate the consolidation of business and money capital, weakens the working class left, and strengthens the middle class right. All of Europe is currently (August, 2014) rapidly approaching the point where inflation is replaced by deflation, the result of policies imposed by the technocrats of the European Union, and above them the International Monetary Fund and the World bank, both controlled by the United States.

The depressions that started in 1929 and 2008 were both the result of the manipulation of the Wall Street stock exchange, whose crashes were used as a signal and excuse for the initiation of a capital strike, where the rich refuse to put their money to productive use. The European right, creature and tool of the rich, grows stronger as laid off government workers join their ranks and everyone else sees the interest accumulate on the loans their now tax depleted governments took out to feed the boom phase that led up to the collapse. Radical measures will soon be not only thinkable but inevitable.

Vladimir Putin's Russia is mirroring Hitler's Germany to an uncanny degree with the Ukraine replacing Czechoslovakia, and the demagogic, tank driving, horse riding, chest baring Putin replacing the demagogic, ranting and raving Hitler. Fritz the Cat thinks both were manipulated into water way over their heads with the easy re-conquest of former  territory, Crimea and the Rhineland, fuelling further appetite. Will the eastern Ukraine be Putin's Czechoslovakia?

Fritz the Cat wonders if perhaps Chamberlain and all the rest of the British and French "appeasement" crowd were perhaps play acting in their desire for peace at any cost, their fear of the German Army, and their timorous retreat before Hitler's outrages. Has Putin fallen into a 21st century version of Flandin’s "cunning trap," where he is given a little more rope and then yet again a little more rope until the whole world decides he deserves to hang? The czar's Russia was the 5th largest economy in the world, but after 100 years of one party rule it should be easily re-incorporated into the west as a vassal state. But back to Shirer's book.

D.S.3 Chapter 4

On the day following Chamberlain's Berlin meeting with Hitler, a conference between Britain, France, Italy and Germany took place in Munich in which Czechoslovakia was dismembered to Hitler's satisfaction. The Czech military fortifications, Czechoslovakia's 35 army divisions, and the Skoda munitions factories, Europe's third largest, were all lost to Hitler without a fight. After the war, at the Nuremberg trials, the German generals admitted that they were not militarily strong enough to take those forts, that the Rhineland fortifications were, at the time, one big construction site of no military value, that the French had overestimated the number of German troops of her border by a factor of five and that half of those troops were half trained recruits.

Hitler and Mussolini were exultant as they left the conference,. They had met before hand to work out a common strategy, a meeting at which Hitler informed Mussolini that at some time they would have to fight together against Britain and France.  Britain and France had no such meeting. Chamberlain left Munich with an air of sleepy satisfaction. French Premier Daladier, on the other hand, looked a completely beaten and broken man. Daladier, fearful of meeting a hostile crowd of Frenchmen, instead was greeted by half a million cheering, grateful Parisians. He said to an aide, "The imbeciles, if they only knew what they were acclaiming!" (pg.403)

The French abandonment of her treaty with Czechoslovakia received the assent of the majority of the cabinet of the Parliament and of the bulk of the public opinion. On Oct. 5, 1938, the day after the overwhelming vote in the French chamber, Czech President Benes resigned his post and, warned that his life was in danger, flew a few days later to exile in London. France tried to pretend that she had been faithful to her treaty, after all, Czechoslovakia wasn't invaded was she?

Winston Churchill was not deceived. Speaking before the House of Commons he said, "We have sustained a total, unmitigated defeat." He paused to let a storm of protest subside, then continued, "We are in the midst of a disaster of the first magnitude. The road down the Danube... the road to the Black Sea, has been opened...and do not suppose that this is the end. It is only the beginning."

Russia was not deceived. Denied a seat at the Munich conference deciding the Czech fate (with whom she had a mutual defense treaty, though it hinged on France first intervening), realizing that Poland would be next to go, and fearing facing this enlarged German war machine alone, Russia began seeking an accommodation with Hitler, as did the smaller nations of middle Europe.

The majority of the French people were deceived. But with Foreign Minister Bonnet, a middling and conniving man prepared to go to any lengths to avoid war, including lying to his own Prime Minister, and with a press as corrupt as any in the world and journalists in the pay of foreign agents, who could blame the common man for cheering peace, even though their fear of war amounted to collective cowardice?

The Nazi's did not let up their manipulation of France after Munich. Politicians, intellectuals, industrialists, and leaders of the war veterans groups were given all expense paid trips to Germany where they were wined, dined, and fed with Nazi propaganda. More funds were funneled to journalists, journals, and others of influence.

The French left and right continued their bitter feud over events of the 20's and 30's, not realizing that these had been superseded by the events of the past five years. In addition, a split, every bit as bitter, within both the left and the right occurred, with a sizeable minority of each disavowing the Munich accord.

Apologists for Chamberlain argue that at least Munich gave Britain another year to build its defenses, but it also gave Hitler that same year, and his armament factories were already churning out tanks and planes from the start. The French fascists had the wind in their sails and the French rich, far from rearming, continued their capital strike. The antifascist alliance would lose ground to Hitler during the next year.


The Poles, too, were allies of France, but Poland had  disputed borders with both Germany and Russia. As part of the Versailles Treaty Poland had been given access to the Baltic Sea port of Danzig, which cut off East Prussia from the rest of Germany. Poland had attacked Russia in 1920 when Russia was almost prostate from the civil war, with its western intervention on the White Russia side, and pushed its border 150 miles east, well into the Ukraine.

On the day after the Munich accord Poland, in cahoots with Hitler, demanded Czechoslovakia turn over one of her border cities, Teschen, and on Oct. 1 Polish troops occupied that city. On March 14, 1939 Hitler engineered the breakaway of Slovakia and the next day threatened Prague with total destruction if she did not request German protection. Germany occupied Czechoslovakia and Britain and France once more repudiated the treaties they had signed with Czechoslovakia after Munich. Germany now surrounded Poland on three sides. France had an alliance with Poland and a pact of mutual assistance with the Soviet Union. The question after March 15, 1939 was: what were they worth?

After Munich the French finally recognized the need for rapid re-armament, and assigned 85% of the expected receipts for 1939 to military credits. The U.S. secretly agreed to sell France 1000 of the latest model planes for 2.5 billion francs, to be delivered in the summer of 1939. The French generals could not agree on how to use tanks, as an adjunct to infantry as the old horse cavalry had been, or as an independent strike force. The French had been aware of Germany's blitzkrieg Panzer plans since 1935, and the generals had been "studying" the problem ever since. Still they decided that the tanks should never advance too far in front of the infantry and artillery, tactics which were mocked by Hitler's blitzkrieg invasion of France, which was rapidly approaching. The French generals did agree to form another tank division by 1941, two years away! The French generals were still in no hurry. General Gamelin understood exactly what Hitler had in mind, but felt that France could do no more.

On March 17 Prime Minister Chamberlain had his awakening. Hitler had deceived him! From the end of March and into the summer Britain began showering mutual defense pacts throughout Eastern Europe and down to Greece and Turkey, and persuaded France to follow her lead. This in spite of the fact the Britain had virtually no army. They had restored the draft only on April 27.

Yet they still would not make an alliance with Russia, nor was Yugoslavia consulted, despite the fact that it had the only sizeable military in the Balkans. Russia had proposed on March 18, 1939, three days after Hitler's invasion of Czechoslovakia, a six nation conference to form a "peace front" to stop Hitler . London and Paris begged off. Russia requested military talks at the general staff level to fix what specific army divisions would do in this or that given situation. The British and French declined these talks as they had several times before. If the British and French distrusted Russia, Russia in turn distrusted them, fearing it was being pushed into a war with Germany in which Britain and France would once again find excuses not to  honor a treaty. Russian Foreign Minister Litvinov, who had staked his reputation on an alliance with Britain and France to stop Hitler, was fired on May 3 and replaced by V. Molotov. Neither Britain nor France seemed to grasp the significance of this. Germany did.

Russia had been sending tentative feelers to Hitler ever since Munich. Hitler now realized that a solid France-Britain-Russia alliance could very well thwart his plans for European dominance, and responded to Stalin, knowing it would only be temporary. Stalin, too, probably had few illusions.

On May 22 Germany and Italy signed a mutual military alliance. The next day Hitler summoned his military chiefs saying, " We must burn our boats" and that Poland would be attacked, "at the first suitable opportunity."  Poland had been an obstacle in the defense of Czechoslovakia, refusing passage to Russian troops through Poland to protect Czechoslovakia. Now she was refusing to ask Russia for a mutual defense pact against Germany. In the middle of May the Polish Minister of War and the Deputy Chief of the Polish General Staff arrived in Paris to work out a military convention with France. Here France had the opportunity to insist on a Polish treaty with Russia before France would commit to defend Poland. The subject was not brought up. Foreign Minister Bonnet tried to sabotage the Polish treaty by refusing to sign a political accord on which it depended, perhaps providing a loophole in case France decided to dishonor yet another treaty. Yet France was already obligated to Poland through a secret treaty signed by Marshal Foch on Feb. 19, 1921. France knew that if Hitler attacked Poland, Poland would be quickly overrun unless Russia came to her aid. Yet Poland considered both countries enemies.

That summer in Paris was the 150th anniversary of the French Revolution, and the social season was the most resplendent in memory. The economy was improving, wages and salary increases were finally above inflation, and everyone was looking forward to the two week paid vacation in August. Unemployment was still 343,000 but strikes had subsided. The franc was finally stable, and the export of gold had stopped. The military parade down the Champs Elysees awed nearly everyone.

Yet there were still people, some very important, who wished the Republic gone. On June 8, Charles Maurras , the leader of the Royalist movement, Action Francaise, was received into the Acadamie Francaise, becoming one of the "Fourty Immortals", the height of prestige in France.  Maurras had just been released from prison, sentenced for his part in the beating of Leon Blum, the Jewish leader of the Socialist Party, as noted in D.S.3 part 2. On July 7, 1939 the new Pope, Pious XII, lifted  the ban on Action Francaise. He had been a nuncio in Germany for 12 years, signed a concordat with Hitler in 1933, and was completely silent while Hitler massacred the Jews. He became known as "Hitler's Pope".  Catholics could now in good conscience work for Action Francaise, the party who wanted to reinstate the monarchy and thus the overthrow of the Republic. Foreign Minister Bonnet had put his stamp on it, saying it was a religious, not political affair.

French Foreign Minister Bonnet realized that if Russia joined France and Britain Hitler would be reluctant to invade Poland, and if he did he would lose the war.  British Prime Minister Chamberlain distrusted Russia and doubted her ability to launch a military offensive.  When Stalin requested that British Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax come to Moscow to speed up negotiations, Chamberlain sent a low level official instead, giving offense to Russia.

On May 31, 1939 Molotov gave his first public speech since becoming Commissar of Foreign Affairs, insisting that the west agree to three points:  1.  conclude a tri-partite mutual-assistance pact.  2.  Guarantee the states of Central and Eastern Europe, including all states bordering on the Soviet Union.  3.  Conclude a definite military agreement on the form and scope of immediate and effective aid to be afforded one another and the smaller states threatened by aggression.  He also insisted that the agreement not involve the League of Nations, and that it include the Baltic states, including Finland, regardless of their consent and against their wishes , if necessary.

Disagreement over the definition of "indirect aggression" stalled the treaty, Russia insisting that the treaty be triggered if a state invited Hitler`s troops in under duress, as happened in Czechoslovakia, or in the event of a coup d'état favorable to Hitler.  France accepted the definition, Britain would not.  Britain also insisted on signing the political treaty before the military treaty, Russia wanting to sign them at the same time.

Issues of trust between Britain and Russia prevented mutual defense agreements.  In addition Poland, obviously Hitler`s next target, would not accept Russian intervention on her side, and the west would not pressure her. Britain and France sent soldiers and not diplomats for military talks with Russia, with instructions to stall for time.  Though heads of state had flown to meet Hitler, this low level mission to Russia took a slow boat to get there, arriving on May 10, taking six days to get there.  Moreover, their ideas on what constituted "mutual defense" were far apart from Russia`s.

Hitler blew hot and cold with regards to a pact with Russia.  His hatred of communism was well known, dating back to Mein Kamph of the mid-20s.  Yet he respected her military power and badly needed raw materials from somewhere.  Russia requested trade talks on July 18, and on July 31 Hitler sent instructions to Ambassador Schulenburg to meet with Molotov and get down to business.  Russia hinted that accommodations to Russia`s “vital interests” in Poland and the Baltic States could be discussed.  Hitler`s target date for the invasion of Poland, Sept 1, was rapidly approaching, and on Aug 3 he urged his diplomats to reach an agreement in the next few days.  Hitler knew that the October rains would make Poland`s primitive roads impassable, and he offered, obliquely, to return the parts of Russia relinquished to end WW1.  Thus Hitler offered Stalin a pact to stay out of war with Germany, sweetening it with parts of Russia`s former provinces.  The pact with Britain and France guaranteed war with Germany and no territorial gains.

On Aug 12 the British, French, and Russian military delegations met in Moscow.  The Russians were disturbed that the British Admiral Drax lacked written credentials to negotiate.  On Aug 13 the Russians pushed hard for facts and figures on Franco-British forces and plans, which the French and British did their best to side-step.  But the Russians knew their weaknesses and pried them out.  At the end of the day the Russians asked how the west envisioned Russia acting when Poland would not allow Russia to enter her territory even to aid her.  The talks foundered on the wests refusal to acquiesce to Russia invading Poland to meet Hitler`s invading troops as far as possible from Russian territory.

The talks were adjourned from the 17th to the 21st of August while Britain and France tried to get Poland to understand that their effective aid in the west depended on Russian aid in the east.  Poland would not consent, outrageously overconfident in her own ability to repulse Hitler.  But the formal Anglo-Polish mutual assistance pact had not yet been signed, and neither had the French signed the political accord drafted earlier.

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