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Appeasement is a strategic maneuver, based on either pragmatism, fear of war, or moral conviction, that leads to the known acceptance of imposed conditions in lieu of armed resistance. Since World War II, the term has gained a negative connotation, in politics and in general, of weakness, cowardice and self-deception.


Different views on appeasement

The meaning of the term "appeasement" has changed throughout the years. According to Paul Kennedy in his Strategy and Diplomacy, 1983, appeasement is "the policy of settling international quarrels by admitting and satisfying grievances through rational negotiation and compromise, theby avoiding the resort to an armed conflict which would be expensive, bloody and possibly dangerous."

Further quotes:

"At bottom, the old appeasement was a mood of hope, Victorian in its optimism, Burkean in its belief that societies evolved from bad to good and that progress could only be for the better. The new appeasement was a mood of fear, Hobbesian in its insistence upon swallowing the bad in order to preserve some remnant of the good, pessimistic in its belief that Nazism was there to stay and, however horrible it might be, should be accepted as a way of life with which Britain ought to deal." Martin Gilbert, The Roots of Appeasement, 1968.

To appease: " Concise Oxford Dictionary, 1963 edition.

"Each course brought its share of disadvantages: there was only a choice of evils. The crisis in the British global position by this time was such that it was, in the last resort, insoluble, in the sense that there was no good or proper solution." Paul Kennedy, Strategy and Diplomacy, 1983.

"The word in its normal meaning connotes the pacific settlement of disputes; in the meaning usually applied to the period of Chamberlain's premiership, it has come to indicate something sinister, the granting from fear or cowardice of unwarranted concessions in order to buy temporary peace at someone else's expense." D.N. DIlks, Appeasement Revisited, Journal of Contemporary History, 1972.

Appeasement of Hitler

By far the most well-known case of appeasement is one which ultimately failed — the appeasement of Adolf Hitler's Germany by United Kingdom Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's government in the late 1930s. The Munich Agreement in particular stands as a major example of appeasement. There is, however, a large historiographical debate about appeasement.

Reasons why the British government appeased Hitler

  • Memories of the First World War. The United Kingdom and especially France were extremely reluctant to fight because of the psychological trauma resulting from having witnessed the mass deaths of vast numbers of young people. For example, many British urban centres lost up to 40% of all young men; many families lost all their sons and most young male relatives. King George V famously said that he would rather abdicate and stand in Trafalgar Square in central London singing The Red Flag (the socialist and communist anthem) than allow his country to go through another war like 191418.
  • Imperial commitments. It should not be forgotten either that Britain was, effectively, an imperial nation. Empire was seen as vital for national significance, economic integrity (for example, imperial nations to act as source for raw materials and purchasers of British produce) in a period emerging from the depression, and also for national security. Yet armed services still ultimately weak (and neglected in terms of funding during the offices of governments with both budgetary restrictions and more retrenchist philosophies) arguably would not have been able to both suppress rebellion in dominions and connfront Hitler similtaneoulsy.
  • The flaws of the Treaty of Versailles. The Treaty of Versailles imposed many restrictions on internal German affairs, which were later on widely viewed by the Allied nations as being unfair to Germany. Many people, especially on the left of the political spectrum, argued that German rearmament, the reoccupation of the Rhineland and the acquisition of the Saarland were merely examples of the Germans taking back what was rightfully theirs. They also believed that since Versailles had created the states of Poland and Czechoslovakia on the basis of self-determination, it was unjust to deny the opportunity of Austrians and Sudetenlanders to join Germany if they so wished. Because Hitler had not taken any obviously non-German territory as of 1938, a war launched by the Allies at this stage would have been a war launched merely on the basis of suspicion, in which Britain would be deeply divided. This could have been fatal if the war had gone badly for the Allies — as indeed happened in 1940. By 1939 Hitler had annexed the very non-German city of Prague — meaning that self-determination could no longer be used to justify his actions. This made a decision to go to war in 1939 far easier than in 1938.
  • The Communist threat. Conservative politicians had to worry not only about the threat posed by Hitler's Germany, but also about the threat posed by the Stalinist Soviet Union — as the Holocaust had not yet occurred, they mostly regarded Stalin as the greater of the two totalitarian evils. The fact that the United States was at the time in an extremely isolationist phase made the situation even more difficult. They feared that as Britain and France were busy fighting Germany in the West, the Soviets would invade Poland and then eastern Germany. After the "War of German Suppression", Germans and Allies alike would be at the mercy of the Soviet Union, essentially "1945 without the United States or the atomic bomb".
  • Failure to recognise the evil of Nazism. It was not immediately obvious that the Nazi regime in Germany was worse than the other dictatorships which ruled Central and Eastern Europe in the 1930s. Even Winston Churchill, while recognising the military threat posed by a rearmed Germany, was slow to recognise the inherent evil of Nazism itself. As late as 1938 he wrote to The Times that "I have always said that I hoped if Great Britain were beaten in a war we should find a Hitler who would lead us back to our rightful place among nations." Even if a 1938 war against Germany was won, the most likely regime to replace the Nazis would be a military dictatorship — not an obvious improvement on the Nazi regime, as far as could be ascertained at the time. Alternatively, a post-Nazi Germany could have swung leftward, forcing the Western democracies to fight a German-Soviet alliance.
  • Support for the League of Nations. The League of Nations was designed to prevent future wars. If there were no wars to be fought, then there would be no need to maintain armaments, and any disagreements could be settled by the League of Nations. The Peace Ballot of 1935 conducted by the League of Nations Union (a political pressure group of the time) showed support for the League; this was though a select group that voted and not a national referendum. When asked "should Britain remain a member of the League of Nations?" 97% voted in favour of staying in the League. When asked "Do you consider that, if a nation insists on attacking another, the other nations should combine to stop it by economic and non-military measures?" 94.1% voted in favour. However, there was greater division over whether force should be used to stop an aggressive nation; only 74.2% voted in favour, showing a greater division over the use of force.
  • The Economic Impact of World War I. The national debt of Britain increased tenfold during the war, and the increase of British government debt to foreign governments during WWI, mainly to America, led to a high interest rate being charged. The British government therefore had to try to cut back on spending, and the public would not stomach cutting back on domestic spending. The Geddes Committee of 1921–22 recommended that the armed forces and weapons be reduced, but this would eventually lead to a time delay when it came to rearmament during the 1930s. The price of rearming would have a crippling effect on the British government, and so the avoidance of war was a sound economic policy. Besides, one can argue that it was not until the post-war period, after the large scale centralisation of the government, that the British civil service was really capable of raising, allocating and taxing the funds required of the large scale spending that would be necessary to rearm effectively.

Peace for our time

Image:Neville Chamberlain2.jpg Chamberlain's peace for our time deal (i.e. the surrender of the Sudetenland to Germany) with Hitler was internationally acclaimed and praised at home and abroad, by among others Pope Pius XI, Ireland's Eamon de Valera, the United States admistration of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Canada's Mackenzie King. Chamberlain was acclaimed by many British people for avoiding another war that would slaughter their sons; of course, all this acclaim turned out to be completely for nothing. He was greeted by cheering crowds on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, alongside King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, who themselves supported his policy, both having lost friends and relatives in the last war.

A voice condemning the Agreement came in the publication that very same day of the best-selling Penguin Special Europe and the Czechs by S.Grant Duff, a copy of which was delivered to each member of Parliament. As the publishers state, the volume was written at their request and was completed as late as the first week of September, and sold in the hundreds of thousands of copies.

The Munich Agreement marked the high tide of appeasement but was also the turning point in British public opinion. Many regarded the surrender of Czechoslovakia, the only remaining democracy in central Europe, with disgust — especially as it had a well-armed and trained army. The Labour Party, which until relatively recently had been condemning the Tories for their bellicosity, now attacked the appeasers as the "Men of Munich" and switched firmly into the pro-war camp.

Origins of the concept of the Western Betrayal

The Czechoslovak leaders and the population believed that if Germany attacked, France would meet its treaty obligation to Czechoslovakia and attack Germany. They also believed that Britain — which unlike France had no treaty obligation to Czechoslovakia — would be drawn in, too. The Soviet Union also had a treaty obligation to come to the aid of Czechoslovakia — if France did. There was no question of America acting, as far as Jan Masaryk, the son of the first Czechoslovak President, professor Tomáš Garigue Masaryk, was concerned. (It was largely thanks to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson that Czecho-Slovakia became an independent state in 1918 at the end of World War I after three hundred years of subjugation.)

It is when viewed against this background that the rationale and impact of Chamberlain's agreement with Hitler takes on less than desirable and laudable characteristic:

On September 27, 1938, when negotiations between Hitler and Chamberlain were strained, the British Prime Minister addressed the British people. At the heart of why his critics view his policy as well-meant but wrong is this sentence from that speech: "How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas masks here because of a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing."

A mere 20 years before Chamberlain addressed the British people regarding his agreement with Hitler, WWI ended in The Versailles Treaty. Czecho-Slovakia was one of the original members of the League of Nations signatories of the Versailles treaty of peace. Part I, Articles 27–30, addresses the Boundaries of Germany. Part III, Political Clauses for Europe, Section VII, of that treaty addresses the Czecho-Slovak State. Yet, Chamberlain characterised the Czechs and the Germans as "people of whom we know nothing".

The peoples whose fate was being decided in Munich were not invited to the negotiating table. O nás bez nás (about us without us) became a phrase bitterly remembered by all Czechs and Slovaks. Neither were the peoples whose fate was being decided again invited to the Yalta Conference in 1945.

Hopes were expressed by Milan Ekert, Czech PES Group Observer, Member of the European integration Committee in 2003: "'Without us, but about us' — this sentence describes the history of the Czech Republic, where a succession of larger powers have taken decisions about us, without us. After enlargement, however, all of this change [sic]. For the first time in our history, we can decide for ourselves. And only because of this, is it worth joining the EU."

The first Western leader to accept the concept of Western Betrayal was U.S. President George W. Bush on May 7, 2005. However, U.S. Secretary of State James Baker said in Prague already in 1990: "Never again should you be just the objects of history, unable to effect, much less shape, your own destiny, unable to do anything but cry out: 'o nás, bez nás, proti nám' — about us, without us, against us."

Chamberlain and rearmament

However, many of those that had been in government during the First World War were haunted by its effect and were determined to avoid any war in the future. Deeming all war "futile", Chamberlain himself and his ministers were also aware of the lack of military capacity at their disposal. Part of that was the result of the belief subscribed to by many governing elites in the 1920s and early 1930s that war would no longer be an option and that military budgets could be tailored accordingly. The European cycle of wars, which in the previous seventy years had produced two massive conflicts, the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the First World War (or Great War as it was often called), was thought to mark the end of old-style European conflicts. This was partly because of:

  • the horrors of 191418 that were thought to haunt all Europeans;
  • the disappearance of old militarist monarchies like the Hohenzollern monarchy of Prussia and Germany and the old system of secretive military alliances (the Triple Entente and the Triple Alliance);
  • the apparent democratisation of Europe which it was thought would mean that war could not be waged without the will of the people, and after 1918 that will would no longer be there;
  • and as a result of the financial burdens fighting the Great War and rebuilding states afterwards had imposed on individual exchequers.

In addition, the appearance of the League of Nations raised hope that there would now be other ways of resolving interstate disputes than military might. Because of this the old cycle of rearming for the next revenge conflict was thought to be broken. In addition, the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the following Great Depression had forced governments to rein in expenditures and provide for the increasing poverty that was hitting states. In such circumstances, a heavily funded military was thought neither politically possible nor financially viable. However, the growing instability in Weimar Germany with the rapid collapse in governments and the growing reliance on President Paul von Hindenburg's presidential decrees raised fears among some that however unpopular and financially difficult, increased military expenditure was becoming unavoidable.

Faced with the growing political and economic instability in Europe, the rise in Nazism and the increased irrelevance of the League of Nations as a means to deal with disputes, Baldwin with Chamberlain as his Chancellor and later as himself British Prime Minister oversaw one of the most massive military build-ups in modern history and instituted a peacetime draft. Few if any contemporary historians even mention the rearmament budget amounting to £1.5 billion introduced by Chamberlain in April 1937 as his last significant act as Chancellor before succeeding Baldwin later that month. Nor is any mention made of his earlier contributions towards rearmament from 1933 onwards by diverting money towards this end, frequently in the face of Treasury opposition.

He also compromised with Hitler over the Sudetenland, largely after being advised by his generals that the United Kingdom was in no military position to fight Hitler. Although Churchill is credited with having fought the war against Hitler, it was Chamberlain's rebuilding of the depleted British military that gave Churchill an army, navy and air force capable of fighting, although popular myth continues to see Chamberlain as just an appeaser.

It is also worth noting that after Chamberlain's death, Churchill's eulogy spoke movingly and positively of Chamberlain's desire for peace. Earlier in his letter accepting the dying ex-prime minister's resignation, he also paid tribute to his preparations for war.

The fear of war after the experiences of 1914–18 and their own inadequate military capacity also led many European leaders and peoples to appease the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini in Italy, again in the belief that war under any cost was undesirable and wrong.

Appeasement's effect on the Second World War

It has been argued that if an overly bellicose war enthusiasm had produced the mass slaughter of World War I, then the resulting determination to avoid war at all costs in the 1930s proved equally counterproductive, with Europe's failure to oppose Hitler leading the German Führer to believe that he could do as he pleased and no-one would threaten war in response. In this view the delay caused by appeasement increased the number of people killed when war ultimately became unavoidable. Another view argues that there were elements within the German Army which would have removed Hitler from power if he had backed down in the face of Allied opposition. Finally, some have argued that had the Allies put a hard line on Czechoslovakia, Germany would have had less time to rearm and the resulting war would have been less destructive.

Responses to criticism of appeasement

However, these views are not without critics. It has also been argued that a strong stand by Britain and France would not have caused Hitler to back down, and that in the Sudeten crisis, Hitler was fully intent on going to war with Britain and France and seizing . Furthermore, the idea that an early war would have prevented a general war has also been criticised. Long before the Czech crisis, Hitler had revealed his intent to become master of Europe if not the world, and many historians feel that it is unlikely that a strong stand over Czechoslovakia would have caused him to permanently renounce such ambitions. In addition, though there were some in the German Army who detested Hitler and were actively looking for an excuse to effect a putsch or coup (for example, General Beck); there is no reason to believe that a loss of face over Czechoslovakia would have triggered a coup or that a coup would have been successful.

Finally, it has been argued that there is no reason to believe that a war over Czechoslovakia would have been less destructive than the war over Poland. Other historians have claimed that the reason for the length and severity of the war was that, even after war was declared, Britain and France took no aggressive action towards Germany (the Phony War or sitzkrieg). This, after the collapse of the Polish army, only gave Germany several additional months to rearm and pick their convenient timing to invade the next countries. There does not seem to be any reason why Britain and France would not have followed such a policy if the war had started over Czechoslovakia. This group of historians argues that if the Allies had taken the initiative, the war would have been over much more quickly. In other words, they contend that the policy of appeasement was not the main reason why the war was so severe.

Another example of appeasement could be the American and British position in the Teheran Conference and later in the Yalta conference, where both Roosevelt and Churchill eagerly accepted all Stalin's demands even if there was not any immediate risk of confrontation. Later, Winston Churchill considered that it might well have been worthwhile to continue World War II after VE Day by fighting the Soviet army. The move by Western consensus to draw the line at this possibility was perceived by some as appeasement by the West towards Josef Stalin which led to the Cold War. However, the post-war Soviet Union's prestige was colossal, and communism had a considerable following in Western Europe: to attack Russia might have provoked unrest or even revolution in war-torn Western Europe.

External links

Useful textbooks (especially A-level-oriented)

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