The Ambassador in France ( Bullitt ) to the Secretary of State
[Received 2:10 p.m.]
1454. As I told you over the telephone last night Daladier called Chamberlain on the telephone yesterday and proposed to him that the British and French Governments should invite the German Government to meet them in an immediate conference to work out a settlement of the Sudeten dispute. Chamberlain, whose French is not good, had difficulty in understanding and the message was finally transmitted through the British Ambassador in Paris.
This morning I talked with the British Ambassador who expressed the opinion that the suggestion was not a happy one. His people in London were inclined to doubt that the German Government would accept such an invitation. It might be possible to obtain German acceptance if Italy should be added.
The British Ambassador then read to me the telegrams which he received this morning from Praha. A vitally important one which must be treated as strictly confidential was from Runciman. As I have informed you the French have been doing their utmost for some time to persuade Runciman to make an important pronouncement. Bonnet urged this with intensity yesterday. Runciman’s reply of this morning states that he considers that it will be impossible for him to make any pronouncement so long as there is disorder in the Sudeten regions. He feels that the statement which he has prepared would not serve to calm the Sudeten although it might form a basis of agreement in case calm should previously have been established in the Sudeten regions. I ventured to suggest to the British Ambassador that Runciman seemed to be putting the cart before the horse as I could see no possibility of calm being restored in the Sudeten regions except as a result of a statement in definite terms issued by Runciman. The British Ambassador said that he too feared incidents in the Sudeten region would continue until Hitler would be forced to cross the border; but that Runciman was on the spot and that the British Government would have to accept his judgment.
Runciman added that he had sent two members of his staff, Gwatkin and Peto into the Sudeten area to investigate the incidents and attempt to produce an atmosphere of calm.
You will recall that Runciman said to Henlein before the latter’s visit to Hitler that if agreement should not be reached before September 15 he would issue a pronouncement. It seems possible that the trip of Gwatkin and Peto will be for the purpose of assuring the Sudeten leaders that if they can restore order Runciman will speak.[Page 595]
A telegram from the British Minister in Praha to the British Ambassador here informed him that Hodza was ready to discuss the withdrawal of extra Czech military units sent to the Sudeten area for the purpose of restoring order. I pointed out to the British Ambassador that Henlein had broken off all negotiations this morning and had ordered his representatives in Praha to return to the Sudeten area because of the refusal of the Czechs to withdraw the extra troops sent to that area.
The British Ambassador then said that it had become clear to the British Government that the trouble maker in the present situation was Beneš. He had often promised to carry out measures which would produce appeasement but had not in fact put them into effect. He added that for the first time yesterday he believed that the French Government had become convinced that Beneš was really trying to start trouble. This was certainly the view of the British Government.
I commented that for some time it had seemed to me that Bonnet shared this opinion.
The British Ambassador replied that it was a question of degree. He felt that since yesterday the French Government had weakened greatly in its support of the Czechs. He felt that the French at the present time were “ready for peace at almost any price”.
It is true that during the past few days the French newspapers have published many maps showing the racial divisions in Czechoslovakia and that public opinion has begun to develop the attitude “Why should we annihilate all the youth of France and destroy the continent of Europe in order to maintain the domination of 7,000,000 Czechs over 3,200,000 Germans?” I am certain, however, that one must add to the British Ambassador’s phrase the words “except at the price of honor”.
If German troops cross the Czech border except as a result of most outrageous provocation by the Czechs, France unquestionably will declare war on Germany.
I discussed the general situation with Bonnet this morning. While I was talking to him Daladier called him on the telephone to inform him that the Czechs without informing the French Government in any way had issued orders for the mobilization on the German frontier of a number of motorized divisions. Daladier expressed the opinion to Bonnet that this was most grave and Bonnet replied that it was outrageous that the Czechs at a moment when everything depended on calming the Sudeten and not provoking the Germans and at a moment when the Sudeten were demanding the withdrawal of extra Czech troops, should send new divisions into the Sudeten area without previous consultation with the French Government. Bonnet went on to say that he felt that the Czechs were not playing straight with the [Page 596] French and he felt that they had failed to play straight so often with France that the French would be fully justified in washing their hands of their obligation to the Czechs. He added that the one issue which could now force France to attack Germany would be if Hitler should send the German Army across the Czechoslovak border. Nothing else would produce general European war.
Bonnet was most apprehensive that there would be further incidents in the Sudeten area today. He again expressed the opinion that it was absolute folly for Runciman to delay longer his pronouncement. He said that he thought that a pronouncement by Runciman was the single thing which could calm the Sudeten and that if Runciman should delay longer than today or tomorrow the Sudetens were apt to get completely out of hand and a large number be shot by the Czechs and Hitler march in. He said that he would continue today to urge the British Government to have Runciman speak at once.
With regard to the proposal originally made by Daladier over the telephone to Chamberlain, Bonnet said that while the British had not yet accepted it they had received the idea with favor and had informed him that they were thinking along similar lines. I of course did not mention my conversation with the British Ambassador, but it seemed to me possible, in view of this statement of Bonnet’s, that the British might propose a four-power conference of England, France, Germany and Italy.
Bonnet said that the single rays of light at the present moment were the fact that his reports from Berlin indicated that the German Government had accepted the events of yesterday calmly and the additional fact that there had been no further incidents in the Sudeten regions this morning.
In view of the growing belief among the French and the British that Beneš in his heart of hearts has decided to provoke general European war rather than accept complete autonomy for the subject nationalities of Czechoslovakia, intense pressure will unquestionably be brought on Praha today by the French and British and the French will continue to request Runciman to issue a pronouncement.