Appeasement Essay, Research Paper
At the end of The First World War, Europe was in economic, political and social peril. Many people believed that the War had been unnecessary. Thousands of families had lost husbands, fathers or sons and the war seemed more of a loss than a gain. Following the war, appeasement, the policy of settling international quarrels by admitting and satisfying grievances through rational negotiation and compromise, became popular amongst nations and there were many reasons why the policy could be justified. This policy, however, was stretched to it’s limits until countries, such as Great Britain, were giving into the belligerent demands of Germany in order to avoid a substantial clash. Adolf Hitler, the leader of Germany through the 1930’s, got what he wanted by way of this policy. Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister, put appeasement into full force when he came into power in May 1937. This policy, consequently, contributed profoundly to the outbreak of the Second World War.
Following World War I, Britain felt that it was crucial to avoid war at almost any cost. She was unprepared economically and militarily. The American stock market crash in October 1929 had caused foreign trade to decrease and unemployment to increase rapidly. Overproduction had reduced product demand and traditional industries and business practices were going out of style and were being surpassed by other more efficient ways of production. The value of the British pound had also been decreasing since the beginning of the 1930’s. As a result, the British Minister of National Defence told Chamberlain that Britain could not afford to go to war or get involved in a military conflict because Britain did not have the resources to provide and execute a full scale offense or defence. The politicians of the time felt that the longer that they avoided aggression the more time they would have to gain strength in case a conflict became unavoidable. The British Battle fleet and other military armaments had been reduced significantly, without public protest, because of a developing ideology that a war would not be fought within the next ten years.
Britain was also prepared to give in to the demands of Germany and Hitler because the country feared the spreading threat of Communism. Nazism acted as a shield against Communism. Prime Minister Chamberlain was more afraid of Communist Russia than he was of Nazi Germany and Hitler. He also hoped that Nazism and Communism would balance each other and hoped that there would not be a conflict between the two ideologies.
A strong pacifist movement had also swung through Britain in the 1930’s. In 1933, an influential group known as the Oxford Union voted not to fight for Britain because the members believed that violence was not an answer. The Labour Party, which tended to represent the middle class, was also predominantly pacifist because of the massive losses from the working classes during World War I. Britain and the allied forces had also been helped greatly by the United States of America in World War I. The United States had, however, returned to a policy of isolationism, and Britain felt unsure of it’s ability to win a conflict knowing that the USA would not volunteer it’s services should another European War start.
By resorting to appeasement as a political alternative to conflict, Britain let Germany break the Treaty of Versailles. Germany took advantage of the policy by annexing Austria in March 1938. Chamberlain accepted the German Anschluss because he believed in uniting German people in adjacent lands. Chamberlain feared war and was very reluctant to show any disagreement or challenge to the aggression of Hitler. When Germany officially annexed Austria, a direct violation of the Treaty of Versailles, Britain merely uttered feeble protests. This revealed a weakness in the British to the Germans. After uniting with Austria, Hitler was set to get the Czechoslovakian Sudatenland. This ended up in a victory for Hitler at the Munich Conference in 1938, the climax of Britain’s appeasement policy.
The Munich Conference occurred on September 29, 1938. Chamberlain and Daladier, the French representative, had been invited to the conference by Hitler, but Czechoslovakia and Russia had not been invited. At Munich, Hitler had previously stated that he wanted the German-speaking area of Czechoslovakia, the Sudatenland. Hitler had previously wanted to take it by force but was now willing to negotiate. Hitler’s letter agreeing to discuss the matter once again was delivered while Chamberlain was giving a speech to the House of Commons. The Prime Minister commented that it was a “terrible, incredible” situation that had arisen “because of a quarrel in a far away country between people of who we know nothing.”
A plan, supposedly produced by Mussolini, was adopted at Munich but the plan was actually produced by the German Foreign Office. After some mild debates, Daladier and Chamberlain let down their guard and gave into the demands of the German leader. Hitler obtained almost everything he had demanded in his ultimatum to Chamberlain. The Sudatenland was immediately transferred to Germany even though it had never been apart of Germany previously. Any place on the border of Germany which was comprised of more than 50% German was immediately placed under German control. Hitler said it was an act of self-determination but how can that be true when over 800,000 Czechs were thrust under German control due to this act? Chamberlain and Daladier were welcomed home with cheers and over-whelming crowds. The public thought that giving into the demands of Hitler had made war a thing of the past. Most believed war had been bypassed. Chamberlain, when he arrived back in England, went as far as to exclaim “I believe that it is peace for our time.” But not all of Britain was happy. Winston Churchill had this to say about the agreement.
“We have sustained a total and unmitigated
defeat…I believe that the Czechs, left to themselves,
would have been able to make better terms…they
could hardly have worse.”
Although the Munich Agreement was successful in the short term, it avoided war in September 1938, it achieved none of the goals which it had originally set out to, such as preserving Czechoslovakia. The policy of Appeasement and the Munich Conference ended up being a complete failure because Hitler broke the agreement a short six months later.
The policy of appeasement ultimately failed and World War II broke out, but was appeasement more a cause than a solution? Yes. Historians agree on the fact that Britain should have taken a firmer stand with Hitler. If Britain had taken a strong stand point, Hitler would have recognized that they were a force to be reckoned with. By giving into some demands, Hitler was seen as a hero to his people, thus acquiring, potentially, more supporters. Because opposition was lacking, Hitler to tried more daring expansion policies. Chamberlain’s ultimate goal with appeasement was to buy time so that he could build up an army and stronger defences, but historians claim that this was the wrong way to go because if he wanted to fight the Nazi’s, it would have been smarter to fight on the side of the Czech’s because they had superb defences and an abundance of materials. But the policy of appeasement reigned in Britain.
The reasons for Appeasement’s prominence included the demilitarization of Britain following World War I in the mistaken belief that after such a disastrous conflict, there could not be another. Combined with a faltering economy that could not support a military build up; the spread of pacifism among the intellectuals of the day; the belief that Nazism could stop or balance the expansion of communism; isolationism of the United States; and the feeling of the working class toward wars from which they ultimately suffered the major personal loss, the people followed the most agreeable policy-that of appeasement. But the major reason must remain that the elected leadership of the day believed in it and actively promoted it. The leadership of Britain combined all the different beliefs in place to reach the conclusion that appeasement could work. Thus the people believed it and accepted it.
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