With Hitler's appointment as Chancellor a series of former and present British prime-minsters adopted a policy of appeasement. Their primary interest was to above all else avoiding another war. The horrors of World War I made this a top policy concern. The idea was to make concessions to Hitler and the NAZIs that would remove any desire for Germany to start another war. Prime-minister Neville Chamberlain man most associated with the policy, largely because of his giving in to Hitler at the Munich Conference (1938). Chamberlain flew back to London and wave a piece of paper signed by Herr Hitler that he claimed guaranteed 'peace in our times'. The policy was widely endorsed by other prime-ministers and the great majority of the British political establishment and media. Serving prime-ministers included Ramsay MacDonald and and Stanley Baldwin. World War I leader Lloyd George also became a major proponent of appeasement, visiting Germany and calling him the 'greatest living German'. The list of appeasers is long indeed. Only with Munich did members of the British establishment begin to question appeasement in any numbers. In comparison the number of men who wanted to confront Hitler, men like Churchill and Aden until Munich was very short indeed. Also notable is not only how few they were, but the vitriol with which they were attacked by the appeasers. The number of appeasers and the strength of their popular support is astonishing given the fact that these men and women very nearly ushered in the demise of Western Civilization.
There were only two major political parties by the 1930s. the Liberal Party which had once dominated British politics no longer was a force in Westminster. Election were contested by the Conservatives and Labour parties. The British public had been traumatized by World War I. The primary preoccupation in the1920s was how to prevent another war. The Great Depression added another concern. All kinds of ideas were proposed as to the causes of the War. One of the most common was that the War was caused by armament manufacturers -- the so called merchants of death. This was also commonly proposed in the United States. Several investigations were launched. No proof was ever found. But it continued to be a major theme as it fit so neatly into Marxist narrative. Fear of another war became increasingly acute with advances in aviation. This was especially true of Britain which has been bombed by the Germans in World War I. And the public not only thought that military spending was actually dangerous, but also available funds should be used for social welfare. This was the milieu in which the Conservatives and Labour contested elections. And in the background Soviet propaganda was convincing all too many in the West that Communism was creating peasant and worker paradises.
The Communists were not a major political party, there were only about 6,000 British Communists in 1930. That number increased somewhat as a result of the Depression. The Communists played a role in policy debates and publication, especially within the labor movement. And this increased after the Bolsheviks seized control of Russia. Soviet propaganda and material support helped spread the Communist message. This played a role in the appeasement debate. Among Conservatives, many were willing to work with Hitler as a barrier against Soviet Communism. This was not always articulated clearly. The British Communist and other European Communist parties changed policies during the 1930s, following Moscow's policy changes and dictates. The basic policy was to oppose military spending, arguing that available funds should be used for social welfare. (Unsaid was the desire to weaken the military forces of capitalist countries.) This of course was the opposite of Soviet policy. This changed during the Popular Front era when their was an effort to cooperate with the democracies to oppose Fascism, both the NAZIs and Italian Fascists. With the signing of the NAZI-Soviet Pact (1939), they changed again and once again opposed military spending. This continued until the NAZI invasion of the Soviet Union when they once again supported military spending because they needed British assistance (1941).
The Conservatives won a landslide victory (1931). The Conservatives were normally the party supporting empire and military preparedness, The pacifist disarmament feeling of the 1920s and 30s affected the Party's policies, as well as the need to control Government expenditures, another Conservative policy theme. The Conservative leadership was rocked in a by-election at Fulham East. Labour candidate John Wilmot turned a safe Conservative constituency a 15,000 majority into a 5,000 vote majority for Labour. Wilmot campaigned on both disarmament and pacifism. Prime-minister Baldwin later explained that Fulham-East was the major reason that the Government did not institute a major rearmament program when Hitler was appointed Chancellor and began to rearm. He wrote, "Supposing I had gone to the country and said that Germany was rearming and that we must rearm, does anybody think that this pacific democracy would have railed to that cry at that moment? I cannot think of anything that would have made the loss of the election from my point of view more certain." [Baldwin] Baldwin unlike Labour MPs was not pacifist, but like many MPs had been profoundly affected by the horror of World War I. In addition he understood the public opposition to another war and any hint at forceful action against the Germans would have been met with a public outcry if not a general strike. Thus the appeasement policy was born. Neville Chamberlain took it a step further when he convinced himself of three propositions. First that he and he alone had the ability to prevent another war. Second, that no world leader, including Hitler, wanted another war. Third, that Britain did not need to out spend or even match German spending, but only have a military that could damage Germany and thus dissuade Germany from launching another war. As Churchill began his warnings, there were some Conservative MPs who supported him, but not many. Baldwin and Chamberlain maintained large majorities. And virtually none dared to challenge their leadership even after Munich. At the end of 1938 when Churchill's standing was rising, only two Conservatives joined him to defy Chamberlain--Macmillan and Bracken. [Bouverie, p. 211.] Part of the reason for this was Chamberlain's hard ball party politics. He was weak with Hitler, but at home in Parliament he was more than willing to use every tool at his command to keep his majority in line. (In the Commons he was known as the British Führer.) Anyone challenging him risked deselection.
The Independent Labour Party (ILP) was a British left-wing political party. It was founded when the Liberal Party proved reluctant to select working-class candidates (1893). A sitting independent MP and important union organizer, Keir Hardie, was selected as the first chairman. Its orientation was to the left of Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour Representation Committee founded (1900) and quickly renamed the Labour Party (LP). Because of the comparable political orientation, the ILP became affiliated with the much larger LP.
World War I was fought with Liberal Prime-Ministers, first H.H. Asquith, then David Lord George. The Liberals in the 1930s supported disarmament, but by the 1930s were no longer a major party. British policies were a contest between the Conservatives and Labour. The former Liberal leader, Sir Herbert Samuel accused Churchill of stirring up 'blind abs causeless panic'. [Samuel]
The Labour Party during the 1920s and much of the 30s supported disarmament and opposed military spending. Many Labour MPs were outright pacifists. Party Leader George Lansbury advocated disbanding the Army and Royal Air Force. The Royal Navy, however, was a step too far even for Lansbury. At the 1933 Party Conference committed to total disarmament. And they threatened a General Strike if a British Government ever declared war again. Labour MPs as Churchill began his warnings, labeled him a dangerous war monger. Lansbury resigned over the Abyssinia/Ethiopia Crisis (1935). His replacement, Clemet Attlee, also supported disarmament and relying on the League of Nations. Gradually as information unearthed by Churchill and the other anti-appeasers as well as Hitler's aggressive motives pushed Labour into the anti-appeaser camp. They would join Churchill's coalition war-time government (1940). They refused to deal with Chamberlain, but Churchill was acceptable as a war leader.
The public after the War began and especially with the onslaught of the Blitz demanded answers. Left unsaid is that Appeasement was no a policy pursued by Prime-Minister Chamberlain out of whole cloth. It was what the British public wanted and strongly supported--anything to prevent another war. Anything that is except military preparedness. At the time it was arms manufacturers (described as the 'merchants of death') and politicians standing up the Germans that were seen as the cause of World Wat I. Asa result, men like Churchill and the other anti-appeasers who warned about the dangers of NAZI Germany were pilloried as reckless war mongers. Ar first the primary support for limiting defense spending came from the Labour Party. Important Labour leaders actually favored not just limiting arms spending, but actual disarmament. Labour would eventually shift their opinion as they saw what Hitler had done to the free labor movement in Germany, but as late as 1935 Labor was still opposing defense spending. And mostly a small group of Conservative politicians like Churchill were opposing Appeasement. They were subjected to all kinds of abuse from the general public. Labour in 1935 still saw welfare as the priority, not rearmament. The House of Commons was debating unemployment (October 24, 1935). The debate was interrupted two times by protestors seated in the 'strangers’ gallery'. A know critic of the Government and advocate of increased defense spending, Sir Henry Page Croft began to speak. A young woman showered him and the House with disarmament leaflets. When another Conservative MP, Henry Victor Raikes, spoke attacking the Labour Party for advocating disarmament, more leaflets rained down, along with shouts, ‘Never again. Those who speak for peace also prepare for war.’ [Daily Mirror, October 25, 1935.] The protesters were incensed because the two MPs were addressing the 'world crisis', that at the insistence of Arthur Greenwood, a former Labour minister, had shifted from one on unemployment.
There is a long list of individuals who were porominent appeasers. Of course the list vartied over time as the true character of Hitler and the NAZIs became apparent and the military danger grew. Prime-Ministers Stanley Baldwin and Nevile Chamberlain were the principal movers, but support for the effort was widespread, including much of the British public. They were a mixed bag of British civil servants, industrialists, journalists, officials, pacifists, politicians, social do gooders, socialists, trade unionists, and other who in various ways played a role in: 1) allowing Germany to rearm and 2) preventing Britain from matching that rearmament. Some were principled men like Prime-Minister Chamberlain who saw his primary task as preventing another war. The horror of World War was a raw, dominant force affecting the public psyche throughout the 1920s and 30s. There were others who opposed defense spending because of pacifist beliefs or a desire to increase social welfare spending. The list includes anti-Semites of various hues who admired Hitler and Fascist ideology. Among them are men who were openly Fascist and pro-NAZI. Others saw the Soviets as the primary danger and Hitler as a necessary, if unsavory bulwark against Communism. This is why there are so many aristocrats on this list. It should be mention that while it was well known that Hitler was a brutal dictator, he was not yet a mass murderer. There were few Communists of any stature, but Marxist ideology influenced many in the Labour Party. Many of these men shared a mix of the various orientations and political hues. Quite a number at various times would reverse themselves and become anti-appeasers. Labour politicians in particular who opposed defense spending began to reverse themselves before most Conservatives who staunchly supported Baldwin and then Chamberlain. Motivations varied. Important in assessing these individuals is not only their support for appeasement, but in addition their position on rearamament and the inclination to hide the extent of German rearmament from the British public.
American Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy was an active appeaser (1937-40). One rarely mentioned matter is his father was in Britain during the Blitz--although safely in the countryside. Jack was a Harvard undergraduate and and traveked to Britain on his summer vacations. It is at this time he had traveled to NAZI Germany and had a first habd look at the new Germany. He publishrd a book based on a college paper--Why England Slept (1940). The title is an allusion to Winston Churchill's book While England Slept (1938). Kennedy's book examines the failures of the Prime Minister Chamberlain's appeasement policy. It is an interesting book in part because Kenndy knew a great deal about Chanberlain's polivy and must have discussed it atblength with his father. Even nore so because of the view Kenndy took, unciommon in 1940. He did not castigate Chanberlain and his appeasrment policy. Rather he suggested that an earlier confrontation between Britain anf NAZI Germany could well have been even more disterous. (Of course Chanberlain's failure to match German rearmament is anoither matter entirely.) What makes the book really interesting is that Kennedy was president during the climatic Cuban Missle Crisis (1962). He had to mmake the choice of appeasement or confrotation. It was the closest the workd came to nuclear war.
Churchill of course is the best known anti-appeaser, but he was hardly the only voice criticising appeasement. Important anti-appeasers included: Austin Chamberlain, Duff Cooper, Anthony Eden, Harold Rumbold, Brig. A.C. Temperly, Robert Vansittart, Ralph Wigram, and others. This is a lttle complicated because people changed their opinions over time. And the question becomes just when did an individual have to part company from the Goverment to be regarded as a legitimate anti-appeasers? Do those who only shifted after Munich (September 1939) qualify as anti-appeasers. Labour Party policies are a special case. From an early point they distrusted Hitler and the NAZIs. At the same time, they also opposed themilitary spending needed to deter Hitler. In fact, imprtant factions of the party was pacifist, arguing for disarament at the same time that Hitler was conducting a massive rearmament effort. Labour leaders for some time were opposimg the Government's very limited military spending.
Aldrik, Philip. "Was Montagu Norman a Nazi sympathiser?" The Telegraph (July 31, 2013).
Ascher, Abraham. Was Hitler a Riddle?: Western Democracies and National Socialism (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2012).
Atlee, Clement, House of Commons,March 8. 1934.
Baldwin, Stanley in Hansard, House of Common Debates (Novenber 12,1936), Vol. 317, Col 1144.
Bartlett, Vernon. NAZI Germany Explained (London: 1933).
Bouverie, Tim. Appeasing Hitler: Chamberlain, Churchill and the Road to War (Bodley Head: London, 2019, 497p.
Callan, Paul. "Hitler's aristocratic admirers." Express (September 12, 2009).
Cato. Guilty Men (1940). Guilty Men was a British political tract written under the pseudonym 'Cato', published after the fall of France during the Battle of Britain (July 1940). It accusd 15 public figures for attempting to appease Hitler rather than vigorously rearming to confront NAZI aggression. it was written by three politicans including future Labour leader Michael Foot. Left unsaid was the fact that Labour many leaders were even more opposed to rearmament than Baldwin and Chamberlain
Cooper, Diana. The Light of the Common Day.
Cockett, Richard. Twilight of the Truth: Chamberlin, Appeasement and Manipulation of the Press (london: 1989).
Cowling, Maurice (2005) The Impact of Hitler: British Politics and British Policies, 1933–1940. (Cambridge University Press: 2005).
Cripps, Stanford. The Times (March 15, 1937), p. 21.
Feuchtwanger, E. "Ashley, Wilfrid William, Baron Mount Temple (1867–1939), politician," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. (January 3, 2008).
Foreign Office (FO). Documents on British Foreign Policy.
Fort, Adrian. Nancy: The Story of Lady Astor (St. Martins: 2013).
George, LLoyd. Daily Express (1936).
Gilbert, Martin. The Roots of Appeasement (London, 1966).
Gilbert, Martin. Prophet of Truth: Winston S. Churchill, 1922–1939 (London: Minerva, 1990).
Gilbert, Martin and Richad Gott, The Appeasers (Phoenix Oress: London, 2000), 444p.
Griffiths, Richard. Fellow Travellers of the Right: British Enthusiasts for NAZI Germany, 1933-39<. (Oxford Paoerbacks: 1983), 410p.
Gunther, John. Inside Europe (Harper & Brothers: 1940).
Hankey, Maurice. Hankey to Phipps (September 1933). Phipps Papers.
Hendersn, Nevile. Failure of a Mission, 1937-39 (1940).
Hersh, Seymour. The Dark Side of Camelot (Back Bay Books: 1998).
Holland, James. Persinal coomunications (December 28, 2020).
Jackson, Alvin. ‘Stewart, Charles Stewart Henry Vane-Tempest-, seventh marquess of Londonderry (1878–1949)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004).
Johnson, Gaynor. Ed. our Man in Berlin: The Diary of Sir Eric Phillios, 1933-37 (Bassingstoke: 2007).
Jones, Thomas. A Diary with Letters, 1931-1950 (London: 1934). Jones has been described as one of the six most influential men in Europe. He was also described as the keeper of a thouand secrets. This book is a good example, but of course they were no longer secrets.
Jones, Thomas. Lloyd George (Harvard University Press: 1951).
Kershaw, Ian. Making Friends with Hitler: Lord Londonderry and Britain's Road to War Keyes, John Maynatd. The ecomomic Consequenhces of the Peace (1919).
(Lord) Lothian, The Times (February 1, 1935).
McDonough, Frank. Neville Chamberlain, Appeasement, and the British Road to War (Manchester University Press: 1998).
McDonough, Frank. "The Times, Norman Ebbut and the Nazis, 1927-37," Journal of Contemporary History Vol. 27, No. 3 (1992), pp. 407-24.
Gordon Martel, Gordon. Ed. The Times and Appeasement: The Journals of A L Kennedy, 1932-1939 (2000).
Lang, Michel. "Globalization and global history in Toynbee." Journal of World Histor Vol. 22, No. 4, (2011), pp. 747–83.
McNeill, William H. Arnold J. Toynbee: A Life (New York: Oxford University Press: 1989).
Martel, Gordon. The Times and Appeasement: The Journals of A. L. Kennedy, 1932–1939 (Camden Fifth Series, Series Number 16: 2009)
Morgan, Kenneth O. "Lloyd George and Germany." Historical Journal Vol. 39, No. 3 (1996), pp. 755-66.
Nasaw, David. The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy (2012).
Naylor, john F. "Hankey, Maurice Pascal Alers, first Baron Hankey (1877-1963)," The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004).
Neville, Peter. Appeasing Hitler: The Diplomacy of Sir Nevile Henderson, 1937-39 (London: Macmillan, 1999). The pro-NAZI British historiam was T. Philip Conwell-Evans.
Pemberton, Jo-Anne (2020). The Story of International Relations, Part Three: Cold-Blooded Idealists. (Springer Nature: 2020)..
Penden, George C.. "Sir Horace Wilson and appeasement," Historical Journal Cambridge University Press. Vol. 53, No. 4, (December 2010), pp. 983-1014.
Phipps, Eric. Johnson, Gaynor, ed. Our Man in Berlin: The Duary iof Eric Phipps, 1933-1937 (Basingstoke: 2007).
Picknett. Lynn, Clive Prince, and Stephen Prior. Double Standards: The Rudolf Hess Cover-Up (2002).
Pugh, Martin. Hurrah For the Blackshirts!" Fascists and Fascism in Britain Between the War (Pimlico: 2006).
Renehan, Edward, Jr. "Joseph Kennedy and the Jews," History News Network.
(Lord) Rothermere, Daily Msil (July 10, 1933).
(Lord) Rothermere, Daily Msil (Nivember 28, 1933).
Rudman, Stella (2011), Lloyd George and the Appeasement of Germany, 1919-1945 (Cambridge Scholars Publishing: 2011).
Samuel, Herbert in Hansard, House of Common Devates (Juky 13n 1934, Vol. 292, Col. 675. Samuel was Jewish and served as High Commisioner in Palestine, trying to to get Arab assent for home rule. He was the LiberalmParty leader (1931-35).
Urbach, Karina. Go Betweens for Hitler (Oxford: 2015).
Vaughan, Hal. Sleeping With the Enemy, Coco Chanel's Secret War (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011).
Vickers, Rhiannon. The Labour Party and the World Volume 1: The Evolution of Labour's Foreign Policy, 1900–51 (Manchester University Press: 2013).
Wilson, Bee. "Musical Chairs with Ribbentrop," London Review of Books (December 20, 2012).
Yeoman, Fran. "Did Unity Mitford have Adolf Hitler's love child?" The Times (December 13, 2007).
"A chance to rebuild" The Times (March 9, 1936). The editors like many were taken in by Hitler's peace gestures follwing the troop movement into the Rhineland. .
Daily Mirror (October 25, 1935), p. 6. The interruptions were not mentioned in the official record. ,
'Eerste tien jaar geen oorlog," Verklaringen van Lloyd George. Alkmaarsche Courant (August 9, 1934), p.6.
Manchester Guardian, various issues.
Navigate the CIH World War II Section:
[Return to the Main Appeasement page]
[Return to the Main Neville Chamberlain page]
[Return to the Main biography C page]
[Return to the Main Munich Conference page]
[Biographies][Campaigns][Children][Countries][Deciding factors][Diplomacy][Geo-political crisis][Economics][Home front][Intelligence]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Return to Main war essay page]
[Return to CIH Home page]