There are several things to be said about this.
First, the facts themselves. The data you’re referring to are about West Prussia as it existed in 1910. But not all of West Prussia was ceded to Poland: densely populated and predominantly German-speaking areas in the east and the west of the former province, were added to adjacent provinces that remained with Germany. Therefore, the 1910 statistics are not representative of the West Prussian area actually acquired by Poland.
Second, the question whether language is a good criterion to identify someone as belonging to a certain population group. The areas that Germany lost after World War I, had been acquired by Prussia in the late 18th century, when the then-existing Poland was split between Prussia and Russia. Since then, a policy of Germanization had been installed in those areas, and in such cases it’s obvious that the language of the rulers would gain ground at the expense of the language of the ruled. By the early 20th century, German had thus become the language of the cities and the upper class, while Polish was lingering in the countryside. If not for both World Wars, this process would very likely have continued - one only needs to look at the current position of the Irish language in Ireland for an example of this mechanism.
Third, and related to the second point: nobody ever asked the opinion of the population of West Prussia about the transfer of the area. I hold it for quite possible that regardless of their language, they would have voted to remain with Germany as opposed to becoming a part of the newly formed Polish state. As an example of that, in some areas of East Prussia a plebiscite was indeed held, and the people voted to stay with Germany by an overwhelming majority, even in areas that were mostly Polish-speaking.
Fourth, there’s politics and geography. When Poland was carved out from lands formerly owned by German and Russia, but definitely Polish until the 18th century, it was given access to the sea. To create a somewhat reasonable border, certain areas that were mostly German speaking were indeed given to Poland, notably the city of Bromberg. And there was the clumsy Danzig compromise of course.
So there were arguments one way or the other. But do any of those justify a military invasion of another state, or necessitate that state to make certain concessions in an attempt to establish “friendly” relations? No. There’s such a thing as international law, and invading another country simply because you want something from them, is a clear violation of that law. Politicians always manage to come up with some sort of distorted justification anyway, but that doesn’t make it legitimate.
“Signing a treaty with the Soviet Union” is not the same as “adopting a pro-Soviet foreign policy”. Germany signed several such treaties, and I don’t think anyone can accuse them of being pro-Soviet. The conservative ‘bourgeois’ regimes of eastern Europe were no friends of Stalin, but out of necessity, needed to find a modus to deal with a powerful and potentially aggressive neighbor. Being a small country locked in between Hitler and Stalin wasn’t an enviable situation.
I’m not actually certain how much information about the Ukrainian famine would have been available to the average German citizen of the 1930’s. A massive campaign of cover up and denial was put in place by the Soviets, and maintained until the 1980’s. But in general terms, it’s easy to understand why anyone found the Soviet Union threatening during most of the existence of that state, and especially during the Stalin years. A big country with a big army, not very far away, and consistently preaching “international revolution” - I’d say that would make people nervous.
There’s something to be said for that. However, I suppose that the political and geographical situation took precedence at the time. The Habsburg monarchy was carved up in such a way that viable countries would be created.
The German government had no such duty at all. The fact that people existed that identified themselves as German and were considered German by culture and tradition, did not imply that Germany, as a country, had a right or even a duty, to act against a neighboring country where those people happened to live. It’s a classic imperialistic trick to claim that people have been wronged that you consider to be your citizens, and has always been an instrument in the hands of powerful countries to further their ambitions. It’s not that I approve of the attitude or treatment of German-speaking citizens by the Czech government, but that situation simply didn’t qualify as a pretext for annexation by Germany.
Of course Stalin would have loved it. But I wouldn’t consider the defense of international law and the honoring of treaties an unjust war. On the other hand, I do agree that it doesn’t seem right to go to war to keep the Sudetenland with Czechoslovakia against the will of its inhabitants. Chamberlain and Daladier have been much criticized for the Munich agreements, but those who do so have the benefit of hindsight.
There’s a difference between an area inhabited by Germans, and territory belonging to, or having belonged to, the country known as Germany. The Sudetenland had never belonged to Germany and could therefore not be considered “occupied German territory”. It wasn’t occupied by anybody - it was a part of Bohemia, and had been so since the Middle Ages. Maybe it should have been added to Germany in the 19th century, or after World War I, and maybe Austria should have been added, too. But that didn’t happen on either occasion.
But do any of those justify a military invasion of another state, or necessitate that state to
make certain concessions in an attempt to establish “friendly” relations? No.
Suppose (for example) that the United States had lost a war. And that as a result of this defeat, the Pacific Northwest was placed under hostile foreign occupation? (Including Alaska, Washington State, Oregon, and Northern California.) Would the U.S. be justified in seeking the return of this territory? If it started a war to regain this lost land; would that war be less justified than (for example) George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq?
You could argue that Germany’s claim to West Prussia wasn’t as clear-cut as America’s claim to the above-described lands; due to the presence of a significant Polish population in West Prussia. But suppose (in my example) that Texas had been placed under Mexican occupation. Would the presence of large numbers of Mexicans within Texas invalidate any right the United States might otherwise have had to take Texas back?
But the Germans’ justification for the invasion went beyond merely reclaiming lost territory. John Toland’s book Adolf Hitler was favorably endorsed by the New York Times, Newsweek, the Chicago Tribune, and Library Journal. Below is a quote.
[A.I.] Berndt [a German government official] thought the reported number of German nationals killed by Poles too small and simply added a nought. At first Hitler refused to believe such a figure but, when Berndt replied that it may have been somewhat exaggerated but something monstrous must have happened to give rise to such stories, Hitler shouted ‘They’ll pay for this! Now no one will stop me from teaching these fellows a lesson they’ll never forget! I will not have my Germans butchered like cattle!’ At this point the Fuhrer went to the phone and, in Berndt’s presence, ordered Keitel to issue ‘Directive No. 1 for the Conduct of the War.’ (pp. 566 - 567)
The fact that Polish leaders were willing to take things as far as that demonstrates a) that they felt France would launch its promised general offensive, and b) that their military/government would survive the opening phases of the engagement.
“Signing a treaty with the Soviet Union” is not the same as “adopting a pro-Soviet foreign policy”. Germany signed several such treaties . . .
Yes, but there was a difference. Germany signed a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union as a temporary measure. Czechoslovakia signed a defensive alliance with the Soviets. The Soviets appear to have ignored whatever obligations they might have had under the treaty. But the reverse might not have been true. Had Hitler invaded the Soviet Union without first annexing Czechoslovakia, it’s quite possible the Czech government would have felt itself bound by its treaty to declare war on Germany.
The stated long-term goal of Soviet foreign policy was world conquest. During the late '20s and '30s, the Soviet Union aggressively built up its industry and military. Prior to 1948, the major Western democracies had no interest at all in preventing Soviet expansionism. Hitler knew that a completely passive foreign policy would give the Soviets time to build up. After which, they would likely invade Eastern and Central Europe. Hitler knew that in such a scenario, the Western democracies would stay neutral or side with the Soviets. Hitler felt Germany’s best chance of avoiding defeat–and the horror of Soviet occupation–was to launch a preemptive attack against the Soviet Union; before it was ready for war. But for that preemptive attack to have its best possible chance for success, would-be Soviet allies–such as the Czechoslovak government–first had to be removed from the chess board.
A massive campaign of cover up and denial was put in place by the Soviets
True. Most “big name” newspaper publications–in both Western Europe and North America–didn’t exactly bend over backwards to oppose that coverup. The same was true of most “big name” German newspapers–at least during the Weimar Republic. However, a number of refugees from the Soviet regime had fled to Germany; which is why the Germans weren’t quite as protected from the truth as were their neighbors to the west. I imagine refugees had also fled to Czechoslovakia; partially undermining the Soviet/big media coverup. Also, political leaders tended to be better-informed than their constituents.
The fact that people existed that identified themselves as German and were considered German
by culture and tradition, did not imply that Germany, as a country, had a right or even a duty,
to act against a neighboring country where those people happened to live.
I’m an American. Americans are not united by race, religion, a common culture, or even a common language. The people I know define Americans as people who were either born within the United States, or who have legally become citizens. There isn’t (as far as I know) any other logical way of defining us.
But just because this is how we are used to thinking, doesn’t mean mid 20th century Europeans thought in those same terms. The people of the Sudetenland were ethnic Germans, they spoke German, were part of the German culture, and for centuries had been ruled by the Germanic nation of Austria. The fact that they hadn’t been included in von Bismarck’s efforts to reunite Germany was quite beside the point in determining whether they were Germans. They saw themselves as Germans. The people of Germany saw them as Germans. The Czech government saw them as Germans, which is why they were treated as second-class citizens. (Ultimately to be replaced with Czechs.) If we take our method for determining who is or isn’t an American, and try to apply that to them, we’d be engaging in thinking that would have been alien to all parties involved. While there’s sometimes something to be said for alien thinking; in this case it would serve no useful purpose.