Preparing for war.

Handing out gas masks – expecting the worst.

– NBC/BBC – News for Sept. 28, 1938 –

This day in 1938 saw the world hold its collective breath. In a special broadcast from the BBC in London, reports were coming in regarding Prime Minister Chamberlain’s address to Parliament on the situation in Czechoslovakia and the results of his latest series of talks with Chancellor Hitler and members of the Czech government over the Sudeten question.

Since there was no live broadcasting permitted in Parliament in 1938, Chamberlain’s speech and its reaction had to be written down and relayed by messengers who raced into the broadcast booth to deliver updates every minute or so.

Chamberlain: “To-day we are faced with a situation which has had no parallel since 1914.
To find the origins of the present controversy it would be necessary to go back to the constitution of the state of Czechoslovakia with its heterogeneous population. No doubt at the time when it was constituted it seemed to those then responsible that it was the best arrangement that could be made in the light of conditions as they then supposed them to exist. I cannot help reflecting that if Article XIX of the Covenant providing for the revision of the Treaties by agreement had been put into operation, as was contemplated by the framers of the Covenant, instead of waiting until passion became so exasperated that revision by agreement became impossible, we might have avoided the crisis. For that omission all Members of the League must bear their responsibility. I am not here to apportion blame among them.

The position that we had to face in July was that a deadlock had arisen in the negotiations which had been going on between the Czechoslovak Government and the Sudeten Germans and that fears were already entertained that if it were not speedily broken the German Government might presently intervene in the dispute. For His Majesty’s Government there were three alternative courses that we might have adopted. Either we could have threatened to go to war with Germany if she attacked Czechoslovakia, or we could have stood aside and allowed 6matters to take their course, or, finally, we could attempt to find a peaceful settlement by way of mediation. The first of those courses we rejected. We had no treaty liabilities to Czechoslovakia. We always refused to accept any such obligation. Indeed, this country, which does not readily resort to war, would not have followed us if we had tried to lead it into war to prevent a minority from obtaining autonomy, or even from choosing to pass under some other Government”.

The world got to hear what the British people were hearing while it was happening, and this one hour special broadcast, one of the first of its kind, kept everyone in the U.S. glued to their radios, waiting for the outcome.

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