The Triumph and Disaster of Eduard Benes

Courtesy Reuters

THIS year marks the tenth anniversary of the political fall and subsequent death of the co-founder of Czechoslovakia, Dr. Eduard Benes, champion of democracy and international coöperation. Twice he had regained freedom for his beloved country, each time against fantastically superior forces. He lived just long enough to see his life's work reduced to rubble and his cherished hopes of honest and peaceful East-West coexistence smashed. Fortunately, his timely death relieved him of his agonizing doubts as to the correctness of the course which he had followed. These doubts had never ceased to torture him in that desolate six-month interval between his final departure from Hradcany Castle in Prague on February 27, 1948, and the fatal stroke which he suffered on September 3 of the same year.

The controversy concerning the character and policy of Dr. Benes is far from resolved. Judgments of his behavior and appraisals of his political acumen range from scathing condemnation to unconditional exoneration. Some see in him little more than an opportunistic fellow-travelling "quartermaster of Communism in Central Europe."[i] Others portray him as a sort of Micawberish optimist obsessed with a naïve belief in Stalin's promises and unrealistic dreams of lasting Soviet-Western collaboration. Still others claim he was the unfortunate victim of an exceptionally adverse confluence of circumstances and blame his fall mainly on the absence of proper Western support when it was most needed.

Where is the truth? As one who was closely associated with Dr. Benes during the last ten years of his life, I should like to offer my own analysis of his actions and their motivations.


What kind of a man was Benes as he stood on the threshold of the last decade of his life, unaware of the crushing burden which would be placed upon him in his remaining years?

If I were to describe his political personality in a single phrase, I would call him the Grand Master of Compromise. Compromise is, of course, an essential of democratic politics, but

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