Sunday, 26 October 2014

To the editor of The Times: Ian Fleming on the Munich Agreement

Ian Fleming's writing outside his James Bond novels provide fascinating insights into Fleming's world-view and the cultural environment of the day. For example, there is among the mass of his published material a letter to the editor of The Times published on Wednesday 28th September 1938. The date is significant, being the day before the signing of the infamous Munich Agreement, which ceded the Czechoslovakian territory of Sudetenland to Germany and heralded the full annexation of Czechoslovakia six months later. It was about the imminent meeting between the British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, and Adolf Hitler that Fleming wrote.

Ian Fleming began, “Since the immediate future of Europe appears to depend largely on Herr Hitler's intentions, it is most important that we should have a clear knowledge of exactly what those intentions are.” Revealing himself as something of a German expert (he had spent time in Germany, having enrolled at Munich University in 1928), Fleming drew attention to a rare document (a copy of which he had in his possession) produced by the National Socialist German Workers' Party on its foundation in 1920 that stated among other objectives a demand for “'the union of all Germans within a Greater-Germany'”. To Fleming, then, Hitler's territorial ambitions in 1938 had come as no surprise. But what was to be the response from the signatory powers of Britain, France and Italy?

Peace in Europe, it seemed to Fleming, would only be possible if the demands contained in the document of 1920 represented the full extent of Hitler's ambitions. “There will be no peace, no return of prosperity, and no happiness in Europe until England and France agree to the fulfilment of Herr Hitler's stated programme”, he wrote. The alternative was stark. Should Hitler refuse this settlement, Fleming continued, then “it will be time to organize this country on a war-
time basis.”
The Munich Agreement, giving the mainly German-speaking Czechoslovakian region of Sudetenland to Germany, was signed in the early hours of Friday 30th September 1938. Neville Chamberlain returned to London, and outside 10 Downing Street told the assembled press that he believed the agreement represented “peace for our time”. The phrase would later haunt Chamberlain, who would come to be viewed as the architect of appeasement as Hitler's subsequent territorial aggression became clear. However, there was initial public support in Britain for the agreement, and judging by his letter, the outcome was for Fleming preferable to the alternative.

Ian Fleming's letter is of interest beyond historical curiosity. It demonstrates in Fleming a growing political awareness that he appears to have lacked, as biographer Andrew Lycett notes, even in Munich in 1928 when the Nazi Party was on the rise (although presumably it was there that Fleming acquired the copy of the document he described in his letter). This awareness was soon put to practical use in 1939 when Fleming was appointed as special correspondent for The Times to cover a British trade mission to the Soviet Union. Following the Second World War, Fleming's interest in global politics appeared to have waned, although it found a degree of expression in the James Bond novels as he pitted his hero against the Soviet Union.

Reference:


Fleming, I, 1938 Letter to the editor of The Times, The Times, 28 September 1938
Lycett, A, 1995 Ian Fleming: The Man Behind James Bond, Turner

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