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British appeasement

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British appeasement

After World War I Germany limped back, licking its wounds that the Treaty of Versailles had so mercilessly rubbed in salt. As one looks back on the events leading up to World War II it has to be asked whether France and England helped to start World War II by their actions at Versailles. It seems that the revenge that the Allies took at the Treaty came back to haunt them with the aggression of Hitler in 1936. However, we can not blame Neville Chamberlain for something with which he had no part. Chamberlain's actions in the years 1936 to 1939 are enough to help one appreciate the dilemma he found himself in. Chamberlain did not, in the beginning, realise exactly what Hitler was after. Hitler was after vengeance for Germany because of the Treaty of Versailles, but Chamberlain did not realise that Hitler was after domination of Europe. When confronted about Germany's plan to attack Czechoslovakia Chamberlain responded, "I think it would be wrong to assume that the German government has any intention of doing such." The eyes of the world were on Chamberlain's every move, criticising, praising, and waiting. With the pressure of the world on his shoulders Chamberlain proceeded cautiously not wanting the tensions to explode. Historically, Britain had followed a foreign policy of appeasement and not getting involved with the rest of Europe. Thus the word "appeasement" applies to the policy pursued in the entire inter-war period to avert war. In the 1920s, Britain appeased Weimar Germany with the aim of achieving justice, and paid the price of reducing reparations and treating Germany as an equal. In the 1930s Britain appeased Hitler's Germany with the aim of security and paying the price of turning a blind eye to Germany's ambitions. This essay shall offer analysis on Chamberlain's personal reasons to follow appeasement, the reasons on behalf of Britain and the reasons due to the views of the British public. A description of the course of appeasement will be given, and arguments for and against Chamberlain's use of appeasement against Hitler will be given. Thus the question "why did the British government follow a policy of appeasement in the 1930s" will be determined and evidence will be given as to whether or not this policy was effective in achieving its aim.

After World War I, Britain wanted a purged Germany to take her place among European nations once again. Many of the British ruling class preferred the Germans to the French. The British treated Hitler as a responsible statesman who would keep his bargains. He was in a responsible position and had to be treated like a head of state. Britain and the League of Nations believed that if Hitler was given enough surrounding territory and some colonies there was a point at which he would become reasonable, and war would be averted. It was commonly felt that Germany had been harshly treated at Versailles and so was entitled to take back what theoretically would be returned in negotiation in any case.

In May 1937, Neville Chamberlain became Prime Minister. He saw Britain's role as that of the peacemaker - the only hope if war was to be avoided in Europe, as the USA was not willing to be involved and France was no help. Britain was isolated so there was no strong ally to help her deal with Hitler. She even tried to make friendship with Mussolini in 1937. Chamberlain distrusted Stalin and Communism. Only in 1939 did he try to reach an understanding with Stalin, and many historians think that even then it was an insincere attempt on both sides. It failed anyhow as Stalin made the Nazi-Soviet Pact instead in August 1939.

Chamberlain had a deep personal horror of war. Many close relatives or friends had died in the previous world war, and it is understandable that this was one reason that he tried so hard to avert war. But he was inclined to rely on his own judgement and made some big errors. Another reason for appeasement was that Britain was not ready for war. She had spent less on arms in the 1930s due to the Depression. Chamberlain thought that the social problems should come first. Slowly coming out of the economic depression that followed World War I the British people wanted to avoid war at all costs. The wishes of the people were embodied in their leader. Chamberlain was after one thing: to keep Great Britain out of war. His reasoning in appeasing Hitler was that of sacrificing a little instead of sacrificing much through war. It could be said that Neville Chamberlain was frozen by fear. We cannot blame him for being fearful, but many of his actions were not only fearful but also eventually deadly for many people.

In February 1938, Anthony Eden the Foreign Secretary resigned. He did not agree with Chamberlain's approach, as he wanted to rely on collective security rather than appeasement. Lord Halifax became the new Foreign Secretary. He agreed with the policy of appeasement and a personal approach to Hitler. In September 1938, Chamberlain made three visits to appease Hitler - in Berchtesgaden, in Godesberg and Munich. However, Calvocoressi and Wint in their book "Total War" argue that this policy was foolish and contributed to longer war when it did come. They say that Britain should have fought in 1938 over Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain said Britain was not ready and would have lost. But Calvocoressi and Wint say that Germany was not ready either and Czechoslovakia was the only country ready and willing to fight in 1938. She had a good armaments industry and huge fortifications and a very well equipped army. By letting Hitler take over Czechoslovakia in September 1938 and March 1939, they let him have all the Czech planes, tanks, guns etc for his own use, and the huge output of Czech factories to supplement German output - all without a fight. Calvocoressi and Wint say that this was "shameful" and "foolish". It was shameful in that Britain let down an ally and foolish in that they made battle worse by postponing it and indeed, they nearly lost it.

It was true that France was not ready to help - but she collapsed in six weeks in 1940, and could hardly have done much worse in 1938. Also it was true that British aircraft production was behind German production and had improved by 1940. But Calvocoressi and Wint argue that if Germany had had to fight Czechoslovakia at the same time they could not have bombarded Britain from the air in 1938 in the same way as they did in the Battle of Britain in 1940.

At home, Britain faced public protest over the failure to help Czechoslovakia in March 1939. Chamberlain justified it by pointing out the disunity between Czechs and Slovaks and the possibility that Czechoslovakia would break up anyhow. Then Chamberlain made a grand diplomatic gesture in March 1939 as he gave a guarantee to Poland of military protection if Germany attacked. The British-French alliance pledged to aid Poland with all available power,

" the event of any action which clearly threatened Polish independence and which the Polish Government accordingly considered it vital to resist with their national ...

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