Eighty years ago, Chamberlain's policy of appeasement falls into a black hole just as Einstein declares black holes to be impossible

On Monday 9th March the Parliamentary Lobby correspondents of Britain’s major newspapers attended an off-the-record briefing  by the Prime Minister; that is the way that they work then as now. He set out an optimistic vision of Europe’s diplomatic outlook. The end of the civil war in Spain would remove the issue that had bedevilled relations between France and Italy. Rome’s claims to large chunks of southern France could be ignored. The true state of relations between Britain and Germany was far better than might be supposed from the rantings of Dr. Goebbels. Upcoming contacts between industrialists and a visit to Berlin by British trade ministers showed the underlying true state of harmony between the countries. Europe could soon look forward to disarmament. Obediently the newspapers published stories embodying these views in near-identical terms the following day.

The very same day the Czech government took violent measures to suppress agitation for autonomy for the Slovakian portion of the population. Martial law was proclaimed in Bratislava, the main Slovak town, and the regional government was dismissed. The Slovak leaders including Josef Tiso, who later led the virulently anti-Semitic puppet regime in Slovakia, were arrested. Hitler had wanted to destroy the Czech state completely during the Sudeten crisis of the previous year; only the last minute Munich settlement had held him back. His moment had now arrived and he took the Slovaks under his wing.  Emil Hácha, the Czech President, was summoned to Berlin and coerced into signing away Czech independence in the early hours of 15th March. The Wehrmacht entered Prague later in the day. Hitler’s claim that the Sudetenland was his “last territorial demand” was exposed as the lie it had always been. Undeterred by this breach of good faith Chamberlain told Parliament he would go on with his policy of appeasement.

Science collided brutally with mainstream journalism when Albert Einstein made his latest contribution to the debate on theoretical physics. The headlines announced that he had discovered the “cause of gravitation” which was a lot easier to grasp than “On a Stationary System with Spherical Symmetry Consisting of Many Gravitating Masses.” The paper claimed that matter could not be compressed to within the “Schwarzschild radius.” In very crude terms this is the measure of the size to which the matter in a body can be compressed. Here it exerts a gravitational force so strong that even light cannot escape. Ironically, the radius was a theoretical limit calculated as an answer to the field equations resulting from Einstein’s own general theory of relativity. It is the foundation on which today’s understanding of black holes is based.


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