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262 Mr S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London, to Mr J. A. Lyons, Prime Minister

Cablegram 157 LONDON, n.d. [on or before 17 September 1938]

SECRET

For Prime Minister
In my opinion Dominions Office telegram Number B.233 [2] gives
somewhat false impression of Prime Minister's [3] conversation
with Hitler in that it tends to give impression that Hitler was
more or less issuing an ultimatum to Prime Minister whereas
conversation appears to have been, while extremely frank on both
sides, of a most friendly and useful character. German position is
clearly as set out in Dominions Office telegram Number 233 and
there appears no doubt that decision is either to acquiesce in
principle of self-determination or face almost inevitable war.

Prime Minister's view that if principle accepted Hitler will agree
to reasonable conditions in its application probably right.

United Kingdom Government unanimous that principle of self-
determination should be accepted. French at meeting tomorrow will
be urged to accept principle also and then joint United Kingdom
and French pressure would be put on Czech Government to agree.

If this programme followed in my view greatest importance attaches
to how case is presented if irreparable damage is to be avoided by
the action being interpreted as surrender to force and dictation
by Hitler with consequent shattering blow to British prestige.

Highest hopes have been raised and admiration aroused by Prime
Minister's unprecedented and courageous action. If only result is
apparent complete surrender reaction would be disastrous.

In my view line taken must be somewhat down following lines: that
Czechoslovakia was created after war composed of mixture of
nationalities [4]; Saint Germain treaty bases and' Benes' own
memorandum provided for the equitable and fair treatment for the
minorities in particular German minority; that Czechs have not
accorded to minorities treatment provided for in the treaty; that
United Kingdom has been urging Czech Government for years to do
so; that in recent months matter has come to head; that all
efforts to bring about a settlement have failed; that events of
recent weeks have shown impossibility of Czechs and Germans living
together under conditions visualised in treaty; that time has
arrived when German minority must be given opportunity of
determining their own future; that unless this is done
Czechoslovakia must remain a danger spot to peace of Europe; that
this is a case such as was contemplated by Article 19 of the
Covenant and would have been dealt with under that Article had the
League of Nations functioned as its creators hoped. United Kingdom
and French Governments therefore accept principle of self-
determination and Prime Minister will discuss with Herr Hitler
method whereby principle can best be applied.

While this attitude will be subject to a great deal of criticism,
if well put and resolutely maintained it will I believe be
generally approved. When one realises the alternative is almost
inevitable world war, it is essential that it should be. When one
remembers that Czechoslovakia is an arbitrarily created nation
where majority of Czechs have not carried out conditions on which
nation was created, that Sudeten Germans have undoubtedly been
badly treated and that there is much to be said for the Sudeten
German case, it is unthinkable that in order to preserve
Czechoslovakia in its present form the world should be plunged
into war.

If principle of self-determination is accepted other questions
will arise for example method whereby independence of
Czechoslovakia can be safeguarded.

Will cable with regard to these later. [6]

BRUCE

1 The copy of this cablegram retained by Bruce (See AA :

AA1970/556, item 6(2)) was dated 18 September, but the stamp on
the Canberra version indicates that it was received on 17
September.

2 Document 263.

3 Neville Chamberlain.

4 Bruce's version read 'mixed nationalities'.

5 Bruce's version read 'Treaty of St Germain based on'. The St
Germain Treaty, signed on 10 September 1919, provided inter alia
for the incorporation of the former Austrian territories of
Bohemia and Moravia into the new state of Czechoslovakia.

6 Document 267.


[AA : A981, CZECHOSLOVAKIA 18, ii]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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