Appeasement In Britain Essay, Research Paper
email: email@example.comAppeasement in BritainIn the aftermath of World War 2, the British policy of appeasement, especially as to Germany, was considered one of weakness and inability, globally condemned by immediate post-war historians. Some historians, such as A.J.P. Taylor, go as far as making appeasement a direct cause of the war, arguing that Hitler was only a pragmatic politician reacting to his opponents mistakes, taking advantage of the situations Britain created for him. The war, he argued, was just a miscalculation on Hitler s behalf. Why, then, did Britain lead this policy of appeasement ? If appeasement is seen as an attempt on Britain s behalf to avoid a war, why was it doing so ? In this essay, an attempt to account for the reasons of British appeasing Germany in the 1920s and 1930s shall be given. First of all, it is necessary to differentiate different periods in the policy of appeasement. In the 1920s and until Hitler came to power, appeasement was aimed at avoiding the creation of a potential threat as opposed to soothing an existing one. After Hitler came to power, this gradually ceased to be the case, and German increasingly came to be regarded as a potential enemy. Finally, at and after the Munich Conference of September 1938, it was clear to most that Germany was blatantly a bellicose nation, yet Britain under Chamberlain continued to apply the appeasement policy.But let us first consider the beginning of appeasement, a movement which surfaced in the 1920s following the Versailles Peace Treaty of 1919. Indeed, the conditions of the Versailles Treaty were viewed much too harsh by many British people, including Lloyd George, who had actually attended the conference. Indeed, the terms imposed on Germany were extremely severe, and were viewed by some as excessive. The height of the reparations demanded was defined largely by France, and was thought by Britain to be unfeasible. Churchill, during the 1918 election run, thought the figure of 2,000 million to be closer to Germany s capabilities , as opposed to the 20,000 million proposed by the French. Keynes also thought the figure too high, and warned that vengeance [...] would not limp should Germany be too harshly punished. This factor had multiple effects. The most direct was the apparition of the first instance of appeasement, carried out by from Lloyd George. Indeed, Lloyd George also thought the repayments figure too high, and was determined to moderate the Treaty. There were 23 international conferences in the period 1920-1922, and he attended most of them , with some success. The French had wanted to try Luddendorf and Von Hindenburg, two of the very few men that had emerged from the war with credit to the eyes of the German population; Lloyd George believed that to do so would be a grave political mistake, and eventually the trials were abandoned. Moreover, the sum to be paid by Germany was lowered from 24,000 million to 13,450 million in 1920, though this was not entirely his doing. The second effect this had was to create a feeling of awkwardness in Britain . To quote Robert Vansittart, member of the British Delegation at Versailles, there are always Britons who nibble the fruit of victory with the guilty conscience of Adam . This movement had not yet touched the vast majority of the individuals, but was especially present amongst the upper classes of British society and its intellectuals, who remembered Germany s pre-war greatness and genius, and who saw in Germany a cousin of Britain, a country of some similarities. In view of this, the Treaty seemed particularly unfair, to the extent that a feeling of guilt touching that segment of Britain s population could be observed . An expression of this feeling is J.M. Keynes The Economic Consequences of the Peace , which stated the unreality of the Versailles Treaty, its unfairness towards Germany, and popularised an almost general need to redeem towards Germany.This current of sympathy for Germany was reinforced by the growing dissension between France and Great Britain. Though wartime allies, the two powers disagreed on the severity of the terms to be imposed on Germany, which France wanted to bleed white . This disagreement was furthered by successive French occupation of the Ruhr in 1920 and 1923, which it had carried out unilaterally. French use of Moroccan troops in the later of the two occupations, associated with rape and murder and considered savages at the time, was considered an act of barbarism by the British public, and gave birth to the term French Folly . Moreover, France s political instability fostered distrust on the part of Britain; the largely Conservative National Government moreover feared the popularity of Socialism in France in the 1930s, as symbolised by the Conservative Parliament slogan of 1936-37, Rather Hitler than Blum . The combination of these factors lead a shift in sympathy from France to the Germany; it has even been argued that without French Folly , appeasement would never have grown from a feeble offshoot to a frantic bloom . Finally, at the very heart of the population, a general aversion to war could be observed. Acceptance of the fact that war was no longer Business as usual , and knowledge that war now required the total implication of all the resources available in a country, lead to the existence of an underlying consensus in Britain to the effect that British participation in another European war was highly undesirable. Two examples of this consensus are the Oxford Union vote of 1933, in which the Oxford Students Union voted that it would not in any circumstance fight for King and Country , following the Cambridge Union vote for pacifism in 1927 ; furthermore, in the by-elections of 1933, the Conservatives lost their traditionally secure East Fulham seat on the grounds of warmongering . Indeed, the Conservative candidate had admonished the strengthening of British force as opposed to international disarmament, and consequently lost his seat to Labour.It can thus be seen that the British public opinion, on the whole, was against the idea of fighting another war; moreover, there was a general feeling of sympathy and well-meaning towards Germany, reinforced by a growing distrust in France. It follows, Britain being a democratic country, that these ideas were to be carried out by the elected politician; this is why this factor is crucial in explaining British appeasement towards Germany, as public will was the basis on which politicians made their decisions. However, this policy could not have been carried out had the economical and geopolitical factors not favoured it. This was not the case; therefore, let us consider these factors, beginning with economical considerations.First of all, it is useful to remember that free trade was traditionally thought to benefit the British economy. This was still the case, as a large amount of trade with its colonies gave it an advantage over other European countries. However, at the close of the war, most of these countries had closed their economies due to the damages war had inflicted. Free trade, openness of the economies and mutual co-operation could only find a favourable territory in a relaxed economic atmosphere; the most obvious barrier to this was the high amount of reparations demanded from Germany, which not only crippled its economy but also fostered enmity with France. Thus, for free trade to develop in Europe, Germany had to be helped to integrate to the European economy again. It was thus necessary to eliminate whatever obstacle there was to this, and promote European, especially Franco-German, understanding and co-operation. Moreover, an economically revived Germany would prove an active trading partner over which Britain would have an advantage. Thus, appeasement was the most profitable path for Britain to follow in consideration of its economy. Britain s economy, in the aftermath of the First World War, was in fact in a poor condition. The war had cost Britain numerous overseas markets, and for the first time in at least 50 years Britain had lost its position of lending money rather than borrowing it. Indeed, it had lent about 300 million, but had borrowed about 730 million, and was thus in debt. The war had moreover necessitated a great industrial effort, and a lot of Britain s industry was hence turned towards war production, and needed to be rehabilitated. Finally, the country was in a social mess, as in 1919 there was the highest unemployment rate in Britain put to that date , which was further demonstrated by the general strike of 1926. Thus, there was a need in Britain to reduce military spending in order to devote as much of the nations resources as possible to economic restructuring. The first instance of this reduction of military spending was the passing of the Ten-Year-Rule in August 1919 by the then War and Air Secretary, Winston Churchill. This stated that the British forces should base their expenses on the assumption that there would be no great European war involving Britain in the next ten years. This decree was made self perpetuating in 1928, still by Churchill , until it was finally shelved in 1932. Basically, military expenditure was reduced from 604 million in 1919 to 111 million in 1922, and reached an inter-war low of 106 million in 1932.One interpretation of the consequences of this is that it was necessary for Britain to reduce other countries military forces low enough for its own security , Britain not having waited for the other nations to reduce its forces. This was the reason for signing the 1921 Naval Agreement with the U.S.A. an Japan in 1921, limiting the tonnage of the three major naval powers, which was renewed in 1930. Although no limitations were imposed on the Territorial or Air forces, Britain still hoped this would be possible even after the failure of the Geneva Disarmament Conference of 1932.The economic and thus social situation in Britain did not improve in the 1930s, as the Unemployment Figures 1929-1940 table shows. The need to operate within a balanced budget, to limit the public deficit and restore confidence in the pound, meant that the necessary increase in social expenditure was linked to a parallel decrease in military expense. Winston Churchill, for instance, when he was the Chancellor of the Exchequer, constantly decreased the Defence budget in order to raise social expenditure in a balanced budget. Moreover, Britain could not, as Germany did, base its economy on rearmament, the economic reasoning behind this being as follows. If British industry were to focus on rearmament, it would lose overseas markets and the benefit it would create would only be short-termed, as one could not go on rearming for ever. Moreover, this would lead to an increase in demand for skilled labour force which was rare in post-war Britain; this would mean inflation, which would result in a crisis. The only way to counterbalance this inflation was to devaluate the pound; however, this had been tired in September 1931, and had lead to a brief rise in exports, but following this other countries had also devaluated their currencies or increased tariffs, to face Britain, which had lead to a reduction in world trade volume which was not in Britain s interest. Moreover, this would increase the price of vital imports to the British people, which was also not desirable. The only alternative solution was borrowing, but that linked with the shortage of labour was also bound to lead to an inflationary crisis, as well as a further increase in the National Debt. Germany could avoid some of these problems by going to war when it suited it, but Britain did not wish to base its policy on such an assumption
The practical consequences of this were that Britain was greatly behind other countries in both the size and the modernity of its armament. This was especially true of the Royal Air Force, though there was recognition of the importance of its potential tactical role . An expansion of 52 extra squadrons had been decided on in 1923, but a victim of Churchill s budget cuts, it was delayed to 1935. By this date, Britain was only the world s fifth air power; and the next year, Germany overtook it, only to expand its lead by 1939. The Army was reduced from 3.5 million men in 1918 to 206 000 by 1932, possessing very little post-war equipment, and no expeditionary force was implemented until 1939. The emphasis on defence was thus placed on the Royal Navy, which was still the world s most powerful, on par with the United States and being caught up by Japan; yet it was not large enough to fulfil its defensive role for the colonies . But what did this mean as to Britain s position in the world ? It meant, quite simply, that Britain no longer had enough armed forces to support its commitment throughout the world. Indeed, it could no more take on three countries at the same time, as in the 19th century; and indeed, it was thought that if it were to be at war with Germany, Japan and Italy at the same time, it would lose. Moreover, conflict in the West could only encourage Japan in the East, as the Admiralty pointed out. Thus, Britain was in a position to chose between its imperial commitments and European intervention; it was obvious it was going to choose its Empire, as a source of trade, a symbol of power and the continuation of its traditional policy. Thus, it was important for Britain to reduce the likeliness of a conflict in Europe in order to concentrate on colonial preoccupations, hence the policy of appeasement towards Germany. Another argument pertaining to the relatively poor condition of Britain s armament is the fact that it might have thought itself at difficulty to win a war against Germany. This was not so much the case in the 1920s as after Hitler s accession to chancellorship. Indeed, let us first consider the relations Britain had with its and Germany s neighbouring countries. On the one hand, Anglo-French relations were worsened by disagreement over the Versailles Treaty, and in any case France could not be trusted because of its political instability and poor statesmanship . Moreover, the British had doubts over France s actual strength, not militarily but because of instability. Russia, on the other hand, was excluded from peace talks in the 1930s because of its political nature, which did not appeal to the Conservatives or the Liberals, and also to avoid the encirclement excuse that Germany had taken to go to war in 1914. Moreover, its political stability could be doubted upon, and it was weak militarily due to a series of government purges which hit the General Staff particularly hard . The United States showed no particular interest in the affairs of Europe, and in fact pronounced its isolationism through a series of Neutrality Decrees passed in Congress. Basically, Britain felt that it could not count on any other Great Powers to help it effectively in the event of war ; yet its own military condition was not up to Germany s, as is illustrated by the table showing comparative military expenditure . Thus, it was argued that Britain needed to pursue a policy that would avoid a war which it might well lose; appeasement was such a policy. Thus, we have assessed the ground reasons pushing Britain to avoid war and to appease Germany. However, it might be argued that the situation changed slightly after 1935 with the Italian invasion of Abyssinia, and more so with the succession of crises that followed, namely Hitler s invasion of the Rhineland in March 1936, the Anschluss with Austria in May 1937, and the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1938. Much of the historical debate on appeasement focuses on this period; seeing danger come, it has been argued, why did Britain not accelerate its rearmament in anticipation of a predictable conflict ?First of all, it is necessary once again to put emphasis on the financial condition of Britain at the time. A war was by no means certain, thus an extraordinary rearmament effort could well have lead to British bankruptcy if a war did not occur to warrant it. Britain would thus have avoided a war, but would be bankrupt as a consequence of this. Secondly, it must be pointed out that Britain did indeed rearm , but not as swiftly as some might have liked it. This was due to the financial constraints of the time, but also because of the fact that Britain had a small base to expand upon . Due to the small amount of rearmament done in the previous decade, Britain not only had to rearm but also fill its technological gaps, which thus took more time. Moreover, but briefly, it is necessary to discuss the extent to which the people occupied the deciding posts in Britain in the 1920s and 1930s were influenced by their personalities and beliefs, as opposed to factual evidence, in pursuing this policy. This is especially the case when examining Neville Chamberlain s appeasement; the word appeasement has been associated with him due to his diplomacy at and after the Munich Conference of September 1938 . Briefly, it seems in retrospect to many historians that Chamberlain, due to a lack in political talents and several flaws in personality, had taken appeasement one step too far, beyond what everyone thought was reasonable, and thus made it possible for World War II to happen. However, other historians have stated that there were no other viable solutions to the problem in 1938, and that Chamberlain did the best he could given the cards he was dealt. Others believe that given his personality and its flaws, he did what it was logical for him to do, and in a sense cannot be blamed for it; they regard Chamberlain as one element amongst many.Ramsay MacDonald, Stanley Baldwin and Andrew Bonar-Law have also been blamed for being slow at rearming Britain before Chamberlain ; but rather than put the blame on a few men, it is necessary to consider the situation in which they had to operate. The fact was that there was very little margin to manoeuvre in, and whilst it is true that these men might have gambled their country s financial and political strength on the occurrence of war by imposing complete and total rearmament, it is a very unlikely proposition. It is also necessary to remember that these men did not get to their position of power without public support via elections, and that they could not have ruled without this support; thus, blaming one man is indirectly blaming the whole country. Besides, it has been argued that Britain thought that Germany would never risk a war as late as 1939, in view of Britain s strengths and her own weaknesses. Indeed, Britain had a united front and political stability; furthermore, the French Army was still stronger than the German Army in 1936, and outnumbered it combined with the Polish Army in 1939. Moreover, Germany was thought not to have enough reserves or large enough an economical base to win large amounts of territory in the East or the West . It was thus only in February 1939 that the Cabinet voted for the creation of a full-scale Continental Army. To conclude, it can be said that the reasons for Britain s foreign policy of appeasement in the 1920s and 1930s are largely based on the conditions at the time, as opposed to the personalities of the people in positions of power. Indeed, popular opinion, the economic situation and Britain s position in the world all point towards appeasement in Europe, particularly towards Germany. However, given this situation, it is interesting to wonder whether there actually was any alternative to an appeasement policy. The suggestions put forward by historians examining the question, when they did suggest any alternatives, are often vague and rarely feasible. These range from the utopian idea of committed support and enforcement of the League of Nations , which Britain could not do by herself, to early rearmament in order to reaffirm Britain s dominant position, the impossibility of which has already been demonstrated. In any case, attempting to rewrite history is, in a sense, a futile exercise; for on the 3rd of September 1939, Britain declared war on Germany.