Robert Harris: München (English title: Munich) ISBN 978-3-453-27143-2 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ It seems paradoxical, but the world has never been closer to a devastating war in Asia than today. True, the Singapore summit of US president Donald Trump and the North Korean leader Kim Kong Un has been a brilliant photo opportunity for both politicians. Unfortunately it has raised utterly unrealistic hopes, since there is no consensus on the core issues that lie at the heart of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction program. The pledges made are vague and thus irrelevant.
Without these weapons, the regime in Pyongyang while falter, and that’s why it will not give them up. It has spent years and billions developing them while North Koreans starved, and that’s why it will not give them up. As charming as Trump appeared, the North Korean regime trusts nobody. And that’s why it will not give those weapons up. It may make concessions to ease the present sanctions – and it will try to cheat as it has done on similar occasions in the past. Just like Saddam Hussein in Irak, just like Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Dictators cheat, and at some point Trump will find out. And he will throw a tantrum. An angry tweet screaming betrayal – the emotional reaction of the president is predictable. It will be the start of the war. Male mammals’ reaction to betrayal is an uncontrollable eruption of violence.
The world has seen a similar constellation before. 1938. The British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler meet in Munich. Chamberlain entertains the hope that by asking for a guarantee that Nazi Germany will resolve territorial and political disputes peacefully war over the future of Czechoslovakia can be averted. “Appeasement” – the name of this approach was coined later, but Chamberlain tried to appease Hitler by accepting that certain regions of Czechoslovakia become part of Germany while the rest remains independent. He betrayed the Czechs, but he gained a year that helped the British Empire to rearm. It did not save what was left of Czechoslovakia – Germany annexed it in 1939 – and it did not save peace: From 1939 on, Hitler would declare war to Poland, France, Great Britain, Russia and finally the United States.
In his brilliant novel “Munich” Robert Harris describes the climate in Munich while Chamberlain and Hitler discuss the issues at hand. The novel paints Chamberlain’s initiative in a benign light – and I will have to read up in a history book what his real legacy was – and at the same time it puts two other characters on the center stage. A German diplomat with links to a resistance group, Paul von Hartmann, and one of Chamberlain’s Private Secretaries, Hugh Legat. Both have met before, as students in Oxford, they were friends until k they lost sight of eachother again. In 1938 von Hartmann tries to convince Legat and ultimately Chamberlain of the true nature of the Nazi regime: born out of violence, bound to use violence. Violence against other countries, violence against its Jewish citizen, violence anyone deemed an enemy. Classified information changes hands, the SS is breathing down the neck of von Hartmann. The endeavour fails. Chamberlain is being betrayed by Hitler and his political opponent Winston Churchill will fight the war Chamberlain wanted to avoid.
The German translation by Wolfgang Müller is 426 pages long, it took me less than two evenings to read it. A real page-turner. I loved it. I also love a piece of music that has been written during that time, marked by political tension and the fear of betrayal, Bohuslav Martinu’s Double Concerto: