This is the second time in our history that there has come back from Germany to Downing Street peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time.
Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister, 1937-1940.
Surprisingly, this excellent Netflix movie: Munich-The Edge of War, has great relevance today, specifically to international negotiations. To a negotiator, one must ask why was United Kingdom Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain not persuaded when presented with evidence that Fuhrer Adolf Hitler planned a European-wide expansion?
First, the plot.
Movie Plot per Wikipedia:
Six years later, Legat works as British prime minister Neville Chamberlain's secretary as Europe is on the brink of war. Chamberlain strives to obtain peace with Adolf Hitler at any cost, even if that means allowing Germany to seize control of the Sudetenland from Britain's ally Czechoslovakia.
Hartmann meanwhile works as a translator in the Foreign Office in Berlin while secretly plotting with a Wehrmacht general in an effort to overthrow Hitler if top army officials agree to arrest him and seize control…Hartmann meets with Hitler, who chastises him for his Oxford education.
In Munich, Legat and Hartmann reunite… Legat agrees to take possession of a secret document, but insists Hartmann himself present the argument to Chamberlain that he should not sign the Munich Agreement. Legat and Hartmann meet with Chamberlain, who scoffs at the idea of not signing the agreement based on vague German military plans for a coup d'état and refuses to take action. …Hartmann reveals he intends to assassinate Hitler much to Legat's dismay…Hartmann meets with Hitler to deliver the morning news reports but cannot bring himself to shoot him….
Chamberlain returns to Britain a hero and gives his famous Peace for our time speech…The Munich Agreement ultimately fails and World War II begins just one year later. Chamberlain resigns in disgrace before dying soon after. The document, however, prompts the British to prepare for and ultimately win the war."
Rotten Tomatoes Rating=84%.
Is This Story True? No, Historic Drama.
"Based on the novel Munich by Robert Harris, Netflix’s latest cinematic release, Munich The Edge Of War, is a suspenseful political war film set on the eve of the outbreak of the Second World War. Starring 1917’s George MacKay, the film sees a plot to bring about Hitler's demise at an emergency conference in Munich in 1938 and has been praised for its “perfect casting” of real historical figures, including Prime Minister Chamberlain (Jeremy Irons)
Netflix’s synopsis’ sets the very real scene in Autumn 1938 when “Europe stands on the brink of war” and “Adolf Hitler is preparing to invade Czechoslovakia and Neville Chamberlain's government desperately seeks a peaceful solution.” The film however centres on fictional characters; political aide Hugh Legat (played by George MacKay) and his former Oxford University classmate turned diplomat, Paul von Hartmann (played German actor Jannis Niewöhner).
With the pressure building, Legat, British civil servant, and Hartmann, German diplomat, travel to Munich for the emergency Conference…."
Relevance to Present Time
- Hitler was surely an authoritarian who wanted to restore the glory of Germany.
- Russian President Putin is an authoritarian who wants to restore the glory of the U.S.S.R.
- Chamberlain is an older Prime Minister who struggled to maintain peace.
- U.S. President Joe Biden is older than most U.S. Presidents and is struggling to maintain the peace and control Russian expansionism.
According to Wiki: "The median age at inauguration of incoming U.S. presidents is 55 years. ... The oldest person to assume the presidency was Joe Biden, who took the presidential oath of office two months after turning 78."
- In the movie, UK and Germany held negotiations to discuss Czechoslovakia without Czech involvement.
- Recently, US and Russia held bi-lateral talks to discuss Ukraine. (Now, there are other talks in Paris with Ukraine involved.)
About Former Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (NC)
NC was born to a political family in 1869. He was a business person and gained a reputation as a hands on manager. In 1937, he was elected Conservative Party leader and became Prime Minister. With Germany’s invasion of Poland, NC declared war on Germany on September 3, 1938. When Britain failed to liberate Norway, NC resigned in May, 1940, and soon thereafter died of cancer.
Key Negotiation Question Raised in this Movie.
"As negotiations begin, the two old friends find themselves at the centre of a web of political subterfuge and very real danger. With the whole world watching, can war be averted and, if so, at what cost?"
For negotiators having watched this movie, the key question is this:
Why was Neville Chamberlain (NC) not persuaded to not sign this agreement after clear evidence was presented that Hitler had expansionist plan for most of Europe?
The answers may be instructive to many negotiations. In this case, there may be a number of persuasion or negotiation obstacles.
Information gained and presented outside the diplomatic structure. Probably according to Hitler, young diplomat Herr Paul von Hartmann committed treason by passing on secret Hitler expansionism information. Hartmann accessed his Oxford U buddy Hugh Legat, NC’s scheduler, to gain access to NC. NC may not have appreciated going outside the norms of communication, outside the norms of diplomacy. NC expressed his disappointment with Legat.
Many folks are dedicated to the process and want to respect the process. (In the United States, Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema may be examples of this issue. Regardless of the subject matter, they seem to be clinging to the Senate filibuster process. To many, this makes no sense.)
NC stuck in his laments-his guilt about WWI. To understand the negotiator, one must BE where they are. NC seemingly was stuck in the past, specifically WWI. He felt guilty that he had been too old to fight and yet too young to make decisions. He mourned the extreme loss of British lives and vowed, never again.
The sender of the message was young, not an experienced diplomat. Both Legat and Hartmann in the eyes of elderly NC were fresh from Oxford University. NC seems to value age and experience. (Yes, most likely this would be called ageism today.) This stance made him dismissive of what could be valuable information.
For negotiators, they need to pay attention to both the sender and the receiver of information. Trust is often the key.
Old Age: The age of NC probably played a role. If he had been 10-15 years younger, would he have been more up for confrontation which is really the only approach that authoritarian people such as Hitler respect?
Arrogance and Illusory Superiority (IL): NC may have approached this with a bit of arrogance and IL; that is, only “I could negotiate with Hitler.” Let me meet him man to man. At one point, NC said, You can only play poker with a gangster if you have cards up your sleeve. What cards did he have?
In addition, he seemed to have surrounded himself with people who agreed with him, not contrarians. It seemed as if NC did not treat other perspectives with respect.
NC was stuck on his position and could not see the broader interests. NC had the position of peace at any cost. He seemed stuck in this position, not allowing him to see the big picture. He did not seem to see the broad interest which may have set the stage for creative options.
Czechs were not English: Oddly, NC seemingly viewed Czech as a faraway country with no particular relevance to the UK and therefore, not willing to risk British lives.
Message sender did not manage his emotions. Frustrated with NC’s refusal to examine the evidence of Hitler’s big plan of expansion, Hartmann called Hitler “a monster.” This was true but not persuasive to NC. Hartmann allowed his emotions to get the best of him. Passion can be persuasive, but not delivered in this manner.
BTW: Hypocrisy of Hartmann could have been a reason for NC’s to doubt the evidence, but NC was not privy to this information. Post-graduation, but before 1938, Hartman and Legat got into a public fight over Hitler. Hartmann favored Hitler believing he would bring German “back to glory.” Hartmann grew to learn that Hitler was indeed “a monster.” Hartmann might respond that he changed his views because he learned more. If so, what more information did he gain that seemingly contradicted his first impressions? Why were Hartmann’s first impressions so wrong? How can he trust them in the future?
Takeaway Quote: Hope is waiting for someone else to do it.
Yes, this movie was fiction but very close to the truth?
This story contains a lot of lessons for effective negotiators. They need to look at the broad picture. They need to put themselves in the shoes of the person one is trying to persuade. What would persuade them? Who delivers the message? Is there a trust issue?
So, the movie is a fun way to explore and examine these important negotiation issues.
See Recommended Books under “Blogs” drop down menu. Clicking on any book will lead one to the discounted Amazon site.
Roy J. Lewicki is the author of 'Essentials of Negotiation', published 2015 under ISBN 9780077862466 and ISBN 0077862465. Publisher: McGraw Hill Higher Education
The Conflict Resolution Training Program, Leader’s Manual, ISBN: 0-7879-6077-2. Prudence Bowman Kestner and Larry Ray
5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.
Getting Your Way Every Day.