My study blog

Appeasement on Germany

Posted by lednum on November 10, 2006

What was Appeasement?

After 10 million deaths in the First World War, many countries were determined to prevent any future conflict. In the 1920s the League of Nations tried to follow the idea of collective security: the idea that countries acting together could discourage aggression and, if necessary, act together to stop aggressors. This was not very successful as it proved hard for all the countries in the League to agree on a common policy. As a result a second idea was considered.

Appeasement was a policy adopted by Britain during the 1930s. This policy developed from the growing belief that some countries, especially Germany, had been unfairly treated in the peace settlement of 1918-1919. When they began to demand aggressively that some terms in the Versailles treaty be scrapped, some people argued that this was only right. If their grievances could be settled by negotiation, it would avoid the need for the aggression. Once they were “appeased” in this way, they would act in the same way as others in foreign affairs. This policy was used in the 1930s to try to prevent both Italy and Germany from going to war to achieve their respective objectives.

Some people, at the time and since, have described Appeasement as a policy of cowardice, but this is much too simple. The leaders who followed the policy believed they were overcoming real grievances and that it would help to create a settled, peaceful Europe as the causes of aggression were removed. They may have been wrong, but that does not mean that they were cowards.

Opponents of appeasement

Although the vast majority of British people agreed with the government and its policy of appeasement, there were some individuals who disagreed.

One of those individuals was Winston Churchill. Churchill believed that Hitler could not be dealt with because his aims and objectives were not rational. As such, no amount of appeasement would satisfy the man – he would always want more.

Churchill was not alone in voicing concern. British Communists and those on the left wing of the Labour Party were alarmed at German militarization and aggression and demanded action against Hitler.

Why did Britain follow a policy of Appeasement?

The British government of the day, led by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, has been criticised by modern historians for giving in to Hitler rather than standing up to him. There were, however, several factors that influenced Chamberlain’s actions in trying to deal with Hitler rather than fight him.

Attitude to Germany

Popular opinion in Britain at the time was that German had been punished too heavily by the terms of the Versailles Treaty. Paying reparations to the nations it had invaded had crippled the German economy.

Before the outbreak of war, many people in Britain admired Hitler. After the ruinous end of WWI, Hitler appeared to have rebuilt Germany and made it a powerful country again.

Many people thought Hitler’s demands to regain control of territories that used to belong to Germany were justified as many of these territories had German-speaking populations.

Europe’s economy was still recovering from WWI and the effects of the Wall Street Crash. It was thought that a strong, prosperous Germany could help revitalise the economy of these nations.

Hatred of war

After the horrors of WWI, there was a widespread revulsion at the thought of war. Since then, new advances in weaponry, such as long distance bombers, meant towns and cities could be targeted and the civilian death toll could be huge in a future war.

The peace movement was expanding in Britain and public mood was very much against another European war.

Military weakness

Britain had disarmed after WWI and would need time to rebuild its army if it were to fight another war.

Britain’s main concern was its Empire – not Europe – and this was potentially under threat on three fronts. Germany threatened in Northern Europe, while Italy was a potential threat in the Mediterranean, as was Japan in the Far East. Britain didn’t have the strength to fight a war on three fronts.

All of this meant diplomacy and negotiation was a better option for Britain at the time.

Economic weakness

During the 1930s there was a great trade depression and money was tight. With three million people unemployed, the government had to spend money on social welfare rather than weapons and soldiers. Chamberlain wanted to increase the amount of money used for social welfare, so was reluctant to increase military spending.

Lack of allies

At the Imperial Conference in London in 1937, member states of the British Empire, such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, made it clear that they would not take part in another war in Europe.

The USA was following a policy of isolation and was inclined to stay out of European affairs. There were question marks over France’s ability to be an effective ally. The country was politically unstable during the 1930s with violent clashes in the streets between supporters of right and left wing parties.

The League of Nations, established after WWI to help prevent future conflicts, had proved ineffective. The member states could not reach agreements or enforce their decisions.

Fear of Communism

In Britain during most of the 1930s, the Conservative party was in power. They believed that Communism was a far greater threat to world peace than Hitler.

The Conservatives believed that Hitler’s Germany could be a strong defence against possible Soviet plans to invade Europe.


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