In the run up to the Second World War Poland briefly occupied a new and prominent role in international relations. Since the closing months of 1938 Poland’s status had changed from that of Germany’s partner in the destruction of Czechoslovakia to its probable next victim. In most European capitals the fear arose that Poland would provoke Germany by a hasty or imprudent response to tensions in the Free City of Danzig. The perception of Poland as a victim rather than a player in the complex game of brinkmanship that marked the months preceding the outbreak of the war, has long persisted, encouraged not least by the provocative work of the British historian A. J. P. Taylor. In his study of the implications of the British policy of appeasement, Taylor suggested that by guaranteeing Polish security and hence the security of the Free City of Danzig, Britain encouraged Poland to become intransigent and that this caused the outbreak of the Second World War.1 While Taylor’s apportioning of responsibility for the outbreak of the Second World War to the British policy of appeasement has been extensively debated, the general assumption has persisted that small states were at best passive, at worst opportunistic in their responses to the impending European conflict. The main reason for this is that the Second World War is still seen as the consequence of the breakdown of the Versailles order in which smaller states, first Czechoslovakia and then Poland, played only walk-on roles. By implication, the study of the east European states’ foreign policies appears to be unnecessary. To conclude that they were passive, lacking in foresight and generally inept, is an easily made assumption even now.
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Anita J. Prazmowska
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