Eighty years ago: An Imaginary Triumph for British Diplomacy, Euphemism Fails to Sugar the Pill of Rearmament In Britain and Rebranding Swims against the Tide of History in Germany
The British government scored what it imagined was a diplomatic triumph when Germany appeared to obey a firm message that it was not to invade Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakian intelligence had deduced from German troop movements near the border than an invasion was imminent over the week-end. The British success was an illusion; no invasion was being prepared. Had the German army been in a position to do so, Hitler might have been spurred by the British ultimatum to launch an attack out of spite and defiance. He certainly wanted war with Czechoslovakia. The episode left the British with a dangerously exaggerated view of their ability to influence Hitler which would soon come back to haunt them.
The British domestic advocates of rearmament pursued their campaign on a topic that was more symbolic than practical. The creation of a Ministry of Supply (a euphemism for a resurrection of the Ministry of Munitions of the First World War) would have given a powerful signal of the government’s commitment to push rearmament forward but during a debate in the House of Lords Lord Zetland expressed the Cabinet’s firm opposition to the idea even though it was proposed by Lord Mottistone who was broadly a supporter of appeasement. At one level a Ministry of Supply would have run counter to the government’s vain hopes that rearmament could be pursued resolutely without disrupting civilian economic life severely. It would also have sent the kind of hostile signal to Germany that Neville Chamberlain was desperate to avoid. Winston Churchill further marked himself as a dangerous and irresponsible figure by supporting a Ministry of Supply in the Commons.
Adolf Hitler laid the foundation of the planned vast factory that was to build huge numbers of the car that was intended to bring private motoring to the masses. He also used the occasion to slip through a new name for the vehicle: Kraft durch Freude Wagen (strength through joy car). Kraft durch Freude was the Nazi label for any pleasurable initiatives from vast holiday camps on the Baltic to compulsory gymnastics. Even abbreviated to KdF Wagen the name never caught on – possibly because only small numbers were made for civilian use before the factory was put to other work - and the plant still produces cars under the original name: the Volkswagen or people’s car.