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John F. Kennedy Seeks to Set the Historical Record Straight on Munich
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Randolph S. Churchill denounces the ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude adopted by some Americans towards the English in regard to Munich and states that England ‘had no more moral or legal obligation’ to defend Czechoslovakia than had the United States.... Three days before the Munich Conference (September 26) the French received Chamberlain’s solemn pledge of absolute and immediate, as opposed to probable and eventual military action if France went to the Defense of Czechoslovakia….

That the British chose peace at this time rather than war is not, in my opinion, to their discredit, considering the poor condition of their armaments. As I stated in my book, While Why England Slept, the criticism directed against Munich could have been directed with more accuracy at Britain’s tardiness in rearming than against the pact itself…”

JOHN F. KENNEDY. Draft Typed Letter (unsigned), to the Editor of Time Magazine, June 13, 1952, with handwritten emendations. 4 pp. 8½ x 11 in, but for p. 4 which is cropped at bottom.

Inventory #24385       Price: $2,500

Complete Transcript [Bolded additions made in Kennedy’s hand; bracketed additions from the retained copy.]

                                                                        [June 13, 1952

Editor

TIME

Time & Life Building

9 Rockefeller Plaza

New York, N.Y.

Dear Sir:]

In your June 9th issue, Randolph S. Churchill denounces the holier-than-thou attitude adopted by some Americans towards the English in regard to Munich and states that England had no more moral or legal obligation to defend Czechoslovakia than had the United States. Mr. Churchill implies that the respective positions of Great Britain and the United States towards Czechoslovakia were on a par.

As a member of the League of Nations, England had an obligation towards collective security that the United States had not seen fit to assume, although it must be admitted that by 1938 the League was almost defunct, the major powers having no small responsibility for its failure.

More important was Britain’s military alliance with France under the Locarno Pact of 1925, which although it did not guarantee Czechoslovakia against aggression as it did Belgium, made it inevitable that if France went to war to fulfill its own direct obligation under the Franco-Czech Treaty of 1924, England would be drawn in. Prime Minister Chamberlain described this position clearly in his statement to the House of Commons on March 24, 1938 when it was apparent that a crisis was brewing in Czechoslovakia, and his warning that Britain would become involved in any war that France fought was echoed a few months later by Sir John Simon, Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his Lanark speech (August 27, 1938). Three days before the Munich Conference (September 26) the French received Chamberlain’s solemn pledge of absolute and immediate, as opposed to probable and <2> eventual military action if France went to the Defense of Czechoslovakia.

The British Government projected itself into the Czech affair by sending the Runciman Mission to Prague in July, 1938. Although it was announced (by Lord Halifax, Minister of Foreign Affairs, to the House of Lords, July 27th) that Lord Runciman would act as mediator in “a private capacity”, he clearly had an official status; his mission was staffed by experts lent by the government and its expenses were paid by the Foreign Office. Moreover, when he submitted his report of September 21st, advocating the transfer of the Sudeten areas to Germany, it was printed as one of the documents in the White Paper on the Czech crisis.

Thus England was deeply committed, by her treaty ties with France and by her official actions, to the settlement of the issues at stake.

The illustrious father of Mr. Churchill has admitted that Great Britain was deeply involved and that “it must be recorded with regret that the British government not only acquiesced but encouraged the French government in a fatal course.” (Churchill, The Gathering Storm, 321.)

That the British chose peace at this time rather than war is not, in my opinion, to their discredit, considering the poor condition of their armaments. As I stated in my book, While Why England Slept, the criticism directed against Munich could have been directed with more accuracy at Britain’s tardiness in rearming than against the pact itself; and Chamberlain was to be condemned more as a member of the Baldwin cabinet than for his role at Munich. <3>

Be that as it may, the United States had no political involvements in Europe in 1938. It is true that President Roosevelt sent-not one, but several-appeals on behalf of continued negotiation to the heads of the governments concerned in the dispute. This is very well known, and his appeals were released to the press at the time.  In his appeals for negotiation, the President was careful to stress that the United States would assume no obligations in the conduct of the negotiations.

However, the President never sent congratulations to Mussolini for arranging the Munich Conference, as stated by Mr. Randolph as alleged by Randolph Churchill. Perhaps that is why, as Mr. Churchill states, “this is a fact seldom adverted to in the United States!” The President’s telegram to Mussolini on September 27th was a final appeal asking Mussolini to intervene with Hitler.

On Tuesday, September 27th, the American government had heard that Hitler intended to march the next day at 2:00 P. M. In a final effort to stave off war, the President in connection with his second cable to Hitler, cabled a message to Phillips in Rome asking Mussolini to intervene with Hitler to resume negotiations. Mussolini did intervene with Hitler on Wednesday, and as a result, Hitler convened the four power conference at Munich. Since Phillips did not present the President’s message until 4:00 P. M., it was widely assumed (and historical records support the assumption) that Mussolini’s favorable intervention was due rather to Chamberlain’s appeal, transmitted that morning through Lord Perth, than to the President’s message. It must be noted, however, <4> that the Italian Foreign Office had been apprised of the sense of Roosevelt’s message early in the morning and, therefore, it may have had some influence on Mussolini’s decision to interview. (See FDR His Personal Letters, 1928-1945, 818-9.)

            On the day following the Munich Conference, Secretary of State Hull issued a statement: “As to immediate peace results, it is unnecessary to say that they afford a universal sense of relief. I am not undertaking to pass upon the merits of the differences to which the Four-Power Pact signed at Munich on yesterday related....” Hull writes in his memoirs that he did not wish to disparage the sincere efforts of Chamberlain and Daladier, but he could not commit himself to more than Munich’s “immediate peace results.” (Hull, I, 595) That had been the official position of the American government through the Czech crisis.

            The British official reaction was much more definite and clear cut. On October 6, 1938, after a week of brilliant and thorough debate on the subject, after an interval in which to cool off from the first excitement and relief, the House of Commons voted on the question put: “That this House approves the policy of His Majesty’s Government by which war was averted in the recent crisis and supports their efforts to secure a lasting peace.” The House divided: Ayes, 366; Noes, 144.

                                                                        [Faithfully yours

                                                                        John F. Kennedy]

Also included is a three-page retained carbon copy of the final version of the letter with the corrections that was transmitted.

Historical Background

In September 1938, several of the major powers of Europe met in Munich to discuss Nazi Germany’s demands to annex a portion of Czechoslovakia termed Sudetenland. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain of the United Kingdom, Chancellor Adolf Hitler of Germany, Prime Minister Benito Mussolini of Italy, and Prime Minister Édouard Daladier of France signed the Munich Agreement, which permitted the German army to occupy the Sudetenland. Neither Czechoslovakia nor the Soviet Union were represented at the conference. Czechoslovakia considered itself betrayed by the United Kingdom and France and referred to the conference as the “Munich Diktat” or the “Munich Betrayal.” In hindsight, the Munich agreement is widely regarded as a failure of the strategy of appeasement toward Germany, which continued to expand its territory and influence on the path to World War II.

In the June 9, 1952, issue of Time magazine, the editors published a letter from Randolph S. Churchill, who responded to a review of the fourth volume of Stanley Morison’s History of the Times in its May 19 issue. The History of the Times was a four-volume history of the influential London newspaper, The Times, and through it of Great Britain itself, from 1785 to 1948. Churchill objected to the use of the phrase, “Britain’s ally, Czechoslovakia,” and challenged “the myth that the United Kingdom was an ally of Czechoslovakia at the time of Munich” as one which “has long been fostered in the United States, and it is regrettable that it should gain new currency in your own authoritative columns.” Churchill’s father, Winston Churchill, had been prime minister of the United Kingdom through much of World War II and again served as prime minister from 1951 to 1955. Although some Britons in 1938 thought it in their nation’s interest to fight for Czech freedom, Churchill insisted that the United Kingdom “had no more moral or legal obligation to do so” than the United States did.

Congressman John F. Kennedy, whose senior thesis at Harvard University was entitled “Appeasement at Munich,” knew much about the subject. His thesis had been published as Why England Slept (1940) and became a bestseller in both the United States and Great Britain. He objected to Churchill’s assertion that the United Kingdom had no more obligation to Czechoslovakia than the United States and wrote this letter to express his perspective. It does not appear that Time magazine published Kennedy’s letter.

John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, and graduated from Harvard University in 1940. He joined the United States Naval Reserve in 1941, and became the commander of a patrol torpedo boat in the South Pacific until 1945, when he was discharged. Kennedy served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1947 to 1953 and then in the U.S. Senate from 1953 to 1960, when he was elected as the 35th President of the United States at age 43.

Randolph Frederick Edward Spencer-Churchill (1911-1968) was the son of British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill and his wife Clementine. He was born in London, educated at Eton College and Christ Church, Oxford, and became a journalist. From 1840 to 1845, he served as a Conservative member of Parliament and as a major in the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars, his father’s old regiment. He wrote the first two volumes of the official life of his father. Ironically, Churchill signed a contract with Robert Kennedy to write a biography of John F. Kennedy, but he died before beginning work and on the same day that Robert Kennedy was assassinated.

Provenance

From the Estate of Malcolm S. Forbes.

Condition

The fourth page of the draft has been trimmed at bottom by about 3 in. All four pages have multiple staple holes at top left corner. Small stain on page 3 and soiling to verso of page 4, likely the result of resting on carbon paper.


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