The subject is one I've written about before  , so I hope the reader will forgive this return visit. To me it's profoundly important, one of the most significant events in history, the very hinge or fulchrum of the 20th Century.
It's the unsolicited announcement, made on March 31st, 1939, by British Prime Minister Nevile Chamberlain that his government had just told the Polish one that it would "lend it all support in their power" in the case of any action that "clearly threatened Polish independence." I was a toddler at the time, so accept no blame for what he did that day a couple of hundred miles from my playpen.
From then on, the UK was on the hook; if the German one invaded Poland, a major war would begin. On September 1st of that year, the Germans did. From then on FDR did his utmost to bring the US into the fray against an 80% public preference for staying out, and two years later he succeeded, by the back door; he provoked Japan into attacking the US Navy, and handed Hitler an irresistible invitation to declare war on the US. The world took an irrevocable turn for the worse, affecting for ill the lives of almost every reader here.
Chamberlain's "Polish Guarantee" is ambiguous. Did it mean that the UK would intervene if Hitler took just the ethnically-German Polish city of Danzig by force? Or did it mean that intervention would follow only a general, broad invasion of the whole country?
Both Hitler and Beck (the Polish Foreign Minister) took it to mean the former, so Hitler presumably calculated that since he was going to risk war with Britain in either case, he might as well take the lot; in for a Pfennig, in for a Reichsmark. Beck made the fatal mistake of presuming that Hitler would not take that risk, and so took no action at all to negotiate a peaceful transfer of Danzig.
According to Pat Buchanan's fine book Churchill, Hitler and the Unnecessary War however the London Times, on the other hand, editorialized that Chamberlain's announcement did "not bind Great Britain to defend every inch of the present frontiers of Poland", nor did it "advocate the encirclement of Germany." Another commentator suggests the Guarantee's purpose was to "give Britain leverage in forcing Poland to come to terms" over Danzig.
Don't know about you, but I can't see the logic of that. What "leverage"?
At any rate, Beck immediately traveled to London and conferred with the government about what the Guarantee implied; this visit I had not noticed before. The week he spent there in April 1939 could not possibly have left him in any doubt about what it meant. We're not told what Chamberlain and he discussed, but we can see what Beck went home and did; namely, nothing. I can see no explanation for that inaction other than that he had been told not to worry, the UK would wage war if Hitler laid a finger on any part of his country.
Accordingly - and to my considerable surprise - we must conclude that Nevile Chamberlain fully intended to draw a hard line in the sand and prepare to wage war. Such was the long-time "appeaser."
That fresh perception provokes three questions.
1. Why did the BritGov wish to prevent an Eastward German expansion, when the UK lay to its West?
2. Why did the BritGov suppose it had any business instructing the German one how to behave?
3. Why did the BritGov suppose it was acting for all the people of the UK?
That Question 1 is quite baffling. From 1923 onwards (when Hitler wrote Mein Kampf) it was well known that he visualized a German expansion to the East for Lebensraum, and to remove the hated Bolshevik régime in Russia. He had no animosity towards Britain, whose people he regarded as of a similar race to his own and whose Empire he admired. So why didn't the BritGov simply let him go on his rampage and allow the Fascists and Communists fight it out? - was there an influential pro-communist faction working at the Foreign Office?
He would almost certainly have won handily, and so extinguished a régime that, at the time, had already murdered over 7 million people. Britain would have been untouched, and would have had ample time to rearm in case any feared that he would later turn West.
Question 2 is almost as great a puzzle. Who made the UK Europe's policeman? True, the "victors" of WW1 had an interest in enforcing the terms of what was thrust down German throats at Versailles, but by 1939 very few had failed to realize the vicious nature of those terms and so had lost the will to enforce them. By that year German industry had recovered, and the two states were neighbors. So why the British interference?
The same question applies the the United States today: who made this country the world's policeman? And the same answer applies: nobody.
Question 3 goes deeper than most will venture, and asks from where the UK or any other government gets its alleged power to act on behalf of all in its domain.
The only credible answer is that they get both the domain areas and power over the people living in them by means of force. The force of conquest to establish the borders, and the threat of death to secure the obedience of the people. Might alone, in other words, always makes any government's "right."
The only valid way anyone can acquire a domain (ownership of some piece of land) is by a contract of exchange (he buys it) or by inheritance (someone gives it to him) or in the case of unclaimed land, by working it. No government ever got any land in any of those ways.
So, could Chamberlain's government rightfully commit 50 million Brits to wage war on 60 million Germans, in 1939? - of course not. But he did anyway. 400,000 of them died as a result. Such is government. When it evaporates, we will be very well rid of it.