World War II: Appeasement (1935-39)


Figure 1.--Virually everyone in Britain thanks to the movie newsreels understood Hitler's character and the nature of the NAZIs. The book burmings, oppression of the Jews, and military rearmament were all on full display. But such was the horrors of World war I that the British were desperate to avoid another war. Thus Chamberlian and the Britis people woul as John Lennon suggets were willing to 'Give peace a chance'. Here we see British boys playing, we think on Guy Faukes Day, probably after the onset of the Blitz. There were no longer any illusions about Hitler, but even his shzrpest critics had no idea about just what his monsterous goals were.

Appeasement was a foreign policy largely based on the horrors of World War I. It is most associate with Primeminister Neville Chamberlain, but in fact was a widely popular policy in both Britain and France. Much of the public in the democracies (Britain, France, and the United States) were convinced that the War had beeb maistake which should never be repeated. While this was in fact true, the resulting thinking was deeply flawed. Many peoplein tghe democracies came to think that Germany should have been appeased in 1914. That thinking simply does not follow with a Germany that wanted a more dominant position in Europe and was prepared to use war to achieve thar position. This was the situation in 1914 and in the late-1930s the situatiin was ecen more desperate. You had aGermany that did not only want more influence, but one that wanted to rule Europe and to destroy millions of innocent lives to change the ethnic map of the continent. The inter-War policy of appeasement is today a disgraced policy, largely because its assoiciation with Munich and the start of World War II. The fact is, that it might well have precented war if Chamberlain had been working with a German leader who also desired to avert war. It was beyond Chamberlain's understanding that a leader of a great European nation could actually desire a war. John Lennon wrote a beautiful song,'Give peace a chance'. It has become a theme song for the Anti-War movement and modern pacifists. It should always be remembered that Neville Chamberlain gave peace a chance. The result was the most horrific war in human history and 50 million deaths. This is a fact, not an opinion. While historically intert-War policy of appeasement is disgraced. There are in fact many in the West who are modern appeasers. Much of this thought is today directed towared Iran. And becuse of the modern appeasers, Iran will soon have a bomb a development which will dramatically change international politics. The Obama administration has clealy adopted a policy of apeasement towar Russia when he backed off on the missdle shiekd, leaving Czechoslovakia and Poland in the lurch. Russia at the time was of course nit an aggressive NAZI Germany. Perhaps appeasement in this case was the best policy. But no one knows just where Russia is headed. Subsequent Russian actions in Crimea and the Ukraine suggest that agaim appeasement has failed. Even so, Preident Obama seems intenbt on again pursuing appeasement, in this case with Iran.

World War I (1914-18)

The casulaties in World War I were horendous. Neither these soldiers who enthuistically marched off to war in August 1914 expected the level of casulaties experienced or the duration of the War. This was in part because of the development of such lethal weapons, including machine guns, improved artillery, airplanes, poison gas, tanks, and other refinements. Europe had not fought a war since the Franco Prussian War (1870-71) and thus tactics taking these improvements in weaponery had not yet been developed. The reslt was killing and maiming on n inustrial scale. The professional armies that began the War was desimated. Each commatant county was forced to draft huge conscript armies. Virtually every family had loved ones at the front.

British Goal

Chamberlin became primeminister with the avowed purose of avoiding another European war (May 1937). Chamberlain remembering the horrors of World War I. He was convinced that he was uniquely placed and capable of preventiung another world war. [Feiling] He attempted to avoid war with Germany he tried to reason with Hitler. It never crossed his mind that a man could actually desire a European war. Chamberlain suggested to the cabinent his idea of placating Hitler by offering him African colonies. He disagreed with an academic assessment that NAZI Germany was a threat to Britain and that the NAZIs at their core had an evil nature that would inevitably lead to war. [Roberts]

German Goals

Much of the public in the democraacies (Britain, France, and the United States) were convinced that the War had beeb maistake which should never be repeated. While this was in fact true, the resulting thinking was deeply flawed. Many peoplein tghe democracies came to think that Germany should have been appeased in 1914. That thinking simply does not follow with a Germany that wanted a more dominant position in Europe and was prepared to use war to achieve thar position. This was the situation in 1914 and in the late-1930s the situation was even more desperate. You had aGermany that did not only want more influence, but one that wanted to rule Europe and to destroy millions of innocent lives to change the ethnic map of the continent. This is basically spelled out in Main Kampf, but Chamberlain and others chose not to take it seriously. The German goals proved to be horrifying than Chamberlain or even Churchill could have imagined. The best statement is Generalplan Ost.

Critics

Chamberlain and appeasement were not without their critics. There were a number of British politicans who spoke out against Chamberlain. They were, however, small in number and found little support among the British people. The leading critic was of course, Winston Churchill. Churcill is today seen as an isolated prophet who from the very beginning og Hitler's tyranny warned the government of the dangers posed by Hitler and the NAZIS and the asolute folly of appeasement, Churchill argued for British rearmament to match Hitler's massive rearment program. Chamberlain main ally was Anthony Eden. A lower profile opponent of appeasement was suprisinly Chamberlain's half-brother, Austen Chamberlain. He like Churchill recognized the nature of the NAZI tyranny and the ineviable path toward war. He was thus one of the few British politicians to understand that Hitler could never be appeased. Austen Chamberlain died before Munich, silencing an important voice at a critical moment (1937). Alfred Duff Cooper, First LOrd of the Admiralty, was another critic. He was the only cabinet minister to resign his post in protest of Chamberlain's Munich settlement. After Munich, Churchill and Eden attracted more suuport to oppose Chamberlain's policies. They came to include: Robert Boothby, Brendan Bracken, Harold Macmillan, and Duncan Sandys. Equivocal opposition ventually came from the Labour Party under Clement Attlee. Labour had a strong pacifist, anti military wing and thus only gradually began to fully appreciate the NAZI menance and he ned for military preparadness as well as possible support for war. Attlee's front-bench colleague Hugh Dalton was even more reluctant than Attlee. Dalton and the Liberals led by Archibald Sinclair continued to cling to collective security and the League of Nations.

Munich Conference (September 1938)

Chamberlain's desire for peace led his to forsake the Czechs, who were prepared to fight, and the Sudetenland was handed over to Hitler under the Munich Agreement. Chamberlain flew back to London waising Herr Hitler's signature, proclaiming that it guaranteed "Peace in our times". Churchill was agast. Chamberlain was outraged when Hitler occupied the rest of Czecheslovakia in direct violation of the Munich Pact (March 1939). Hitler had asured Chamberlain that he wanted no Czechs in the Reich. The NAZIs replied with an ivitation for Britain to join Germany in dictating the peace of the entire world. Chamberlain felt that this was his momenr in time. an he and he alone was uniquely suited to avoid another war.

Other Acts of Appeasement

Munich was not Chamberlain's only act of appeasement. Chamberlain helped set up a committe to promote non-intervention in the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). He obtained British recognition of Italian sovereignty over Ethiopia (November 1938). He also gained British recogonition of the Franco Government in Spain (1939).

German Invasion of Czechoslovakia (March 1939)

Only 6 months after Munich, Hitler revealed what his pledges were worth. After promising Chamberlain that he wanted no Czechs, he invaded and occupied Czechoslovakia (March 1939). The allies simply submitted weak diplomatic protests. It was aajor victory for Hitler. at no cost, he obtained control over the very substantial Czech arms industry. Hitler threatened the Czechs with military action on several occassions after Munich. Finally he summoned elderly President Dr. Emil Hacha to Berlin (March 14). There after midnight Hitler haranged him. No precise account exists of what Hitler said. One account reports that Hitler reminded Hacha of the beauties of Prague, and told him what a shame it would be if the Luftwaffe had to flatten the ancient Czech capital. Then Göring apparently offered a mocked applogy for having his bombers destroy Prague, but said it would be a good lesson to the British and French. Hacha fainted, perhaps a minor hear attack, and had to be revived. Hitler demanded that the Czech lands be incorporated into the Nazi Reich as a "Protectorate". A broken Hacha telephoned Prague, ordering that there should be no resistance. Göring and Ribbentrop bullied him into signing a paper asking for German intervention. [Black, p. 512.] The text "... placed the fate of the Czech people and nation in the hands of the Führer of the German Reich". Neither Hacha or the Czech people understood at the time the dully villiny of what the NAZIs planned for the Czechs. The Wehrmacht crossed the border and occupied Bohenia and Moravia in one day (March 15). This was a total violation of the Munich Agreement. Slovakia had succeeded the day before and became Hiler's most slavish puppet state. Hungary with Hitler's approval seized Ruthenia. All of Czechoslovakia was now in the NAZI orbit. The Czechs would pay a terrible price. They would be Hitler's last bloodless victory. They would not, however, be his last stunning victory.

Impact

There were several impact of Chamberlain's appeasment policy. First, it allowed Hitler to pursue his rearmennt profram without interference. Secinf, it gave Hitler possession of the very substantial Czech arms industry. Third, it increased Hitler's prestige, bith with the German people and the German military. Fourth, it both Britain and France a year to prepare for the coming war, time they did not utilize to full effect. Fifth, it convimced Stalin that Britain and France were unreliable potential allies. Hius assessment was that the British andFrench were intent on peace with Hitler so he would be free to attack the Soviet Union. The result was the NAZI-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact (August 1939).

German Invasion of Poland (September 1939)

After Hitler occupied Czechoslovakia (March 1939), even Chamberlain recognized that there was nor reasoning or appeasing Hitler. He saw that war could not be prevented short of surrender. The British Government began negotiating with other countries it felt were threatened by Germany. Agreements with Poland and Turkey were quickly signed. France already had an afreement with Poland. And so it was, the man who hated war and devoted his political war to preventing war, with the Polish treaty that made war inevitable. [Feiling] Ironically, had Hitler not invaded Czechoslovakia, Chamberlain probably would have supported changes to the Polish-German border. Hitler dnounced the British-Polish Treaty. And he began making demands for the return of Danzig and the Polish Corridor which since the Versailles Peace Treaty had separated East Prussia from the rest of Germany. Both had large German populations. As he had done with Czechoslovalia, Hitler insisted that he had no desire to rule over Poles. Despite what had happened at Munich, Chanberlain's desire to prevent war was so great, that he waa incredibly was still willing to deal with Hitler. Foreign Minister Ribbentrop, who considered himself an expert on England, assured Hitler that England would not go to war over Poland.

Modern Appeasement

While historically intert-War policy of appeasement is disgraced. There are in fact many in the West who are modern appeasers. Much of this thought is today directed towared Iran. And becuse of the modern appeasers, Iran will soon have a bomb a development which will dramatically change international politics. The Obama administration has clealy adopted a policy of apeasement towar Russia when he backed off on the missdle shiekd, leaving Czechoslovakia and Poland in the lurch. Russia at the time was of course nit an aggressive NAZI Germany. Perhaps appeasement in this case was the best policy. But no one knows just where Russia is headed. Subsequent Russian actions in Crimea and the Ukraine suggest that agaim appeasement has failed. Even so, Preident Obama seems intenbt on again pursuing appeasement, in this case with Iran.

Sources

Churcill, Winston. The Cathering Stotm (1948). This is the first volume of his monumental history of World War II.

Feiling, Keith. The Life of Neville Chamberlain (1946).

Hitler, Adolf. Mein Kampf.

Lennon, John. "Give peace a chance".

Roberts, Stephen. The House that Hitler Built.







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Created: 12:22 AM 4/27/2015
Last updated: 12:22 AM 4/27/2015