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Appeasement

An analysis of the Strategic policy of Appeasement and its application under Neville Chamberlain in the years preceding the Second World War
(Rough Copy)

Tim Norman

Assignment 1 HIST 4200 Dr. Annie St. John-Stark August 2nd, 2012

The conclusion of the Great War brought with it the true realization of the horrors of modern warfare. What many had predicted would be a short conflict resulted in a protracted bloodbath spanning over 4 years. Some nine million individuals died before an armistice was signed by Germany on November 11th, 1918. The signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 would stimulate the British diplomatic policy of appeasement and set the stage for grievances upon which the Nazi party would find much of its support after 1933. In 1937, British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, would inherit perhaps the most difficult task in diplomacy and foreign relations faced by any of his predecessors. The most notorious of the appeasers, he has frequently shouldered the blame and criticism for maintaining a weak and failed policy that allowed the Third Reich to establish itself as the supreme military power in Europe. In spite of this, a closer inspection brings to light a number of more complex nuances to the Prime Ministers use appeasement as a diplomatic tool during the years leading up to the World War II. The following essay will examine the policy of appeasement itself, discerning the various reasons it was a popular diplomatic policy in the pre-war period. This will include the intricacies of party politics, economics, foreign relations, and balance of power as they pertain to the aforementioned subject. Finally, the debate surrounding Chamberlain and his use of appeasement will be addressed. This paper will argue that appeasement was a diplomatic policy in which the Prime Minister and (many) of his advisors had great confidence. It was a deliberately adopted tactic used by skilled politicians and diplomats in a desperate struggle to prevent a second European war in the face of rising nationalism and hostile, expansionist dictators. The policy of appeasement is most often examined by historians in the context of the British experience in the First World War and the signing of the Versailles treaty at the end of the six month Paris Peace Conference. In spite of this, the roots of appeasement have been traced by a number of scholars to the mid-nineteenth century Britain. Martin Gilbert distinguishes a . . . state of mind conducive to appeasement developing from the time of Crimean War1

In his work, The Roots of Appeasement, he cites changes in British thinking towards the morality of war and its acceptance as a tool of international policy. Citing The Roots of Appeasement, Gilbert declares The age when war was romantic, when alliances were skillfully manipulated for sudden gain . . . was dying.2 In place of this romantic patriotism, the idea of a give and take approach is facilitated, one in which disputes were to be settled in a rational, non-violent manner. Between 1871 and 1914, Europe remained relatively free of large wars of conquest and domination. This period of peace can be traced back to Otto von Bismarck who unified the states of the North German Confederation into the German Empire in 1871. Under the German Empire, Bismarck was able to establish an alliance system that brought with it balance of power and . . . a sense of general security. . .3 to the continent. This is not to say that the years prior to 1914 were free of tension and internal desires to solve conflicts through war. Rather, there remained an almost surreal aura of confidence in the power of diplomacy that lasted until the outbreak of World War I in August of 1914. The First World War brought a number of previous assumptions under scrutiny. British domestic politics was changed fundamentally as previous expectations of short wars were swiftly discarded. Two important developments could be directly observed in Britain as a result of the conflict: Total War now required the mobilization of all the energies and resources of the nation. Such was the nature of mass participation that commentators found it increasingly difficult to conceive of a successful war ever being fought by a state of whose population a substantial proportion was in some way or other disaffected. Secondly, the war played havoc with the British party system.4

British participation in the war was debated in the years that followed. Although there was a general movement of support 1914; this attitude had changed considerably by the 1920s. The pressures and demands of war resulted in the Labour and the Conservative parties falling into favour, while support for the Liberal party fell into decline. The primary task on the post-war agenda was to ensure that the outbreak of future protracted conflicts would be averted. A number of moves were made in this direction.

The idea of collective security was established under the League of Nations. Under this agreement . . . all states would agree that in the case of aggression against any member of the system, all other states would respond to defend the attacked state.5 This would be backed-up by the Washington Navy Treaty and KelloggPact, effectively strengthening arms control over the great powers and making war illegal respectively. In spite of these developments, the conditions set out in the Treaty of Versailles combined with the rise of Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist Party would test the policy of appeasement to its limits. It is a severe treaty in the duties and penalties it imposes upon Germany, but it is severe only because great wrongs done by Germany are to be righted and repaired . . .6

The Treaty of Versailles forced Germany to acknowledge its responsibility for starting the conflict. It also required the country to disarm, make territorial concessions, and pay an immense sum in reparations to allied powers. Although there was a general consensus that action needed to be taken to prevent further German aggression, those conditions set out in Versailles were considered by many as too severe. Severe enough, in fact, that they could act as a catalyst to conflict in the future. Warnings of this nature had been predicted by individuals such as economist John Maynard Keynes who criticized the treaty upon its inception. The future life of Europe was not their concern; its means of livelihood was not their anxiety. Their preoccupations, good and bad alike, related to frontiers and nationalities, to the balance of power, to imperial aggrandizements, to the future enfeeblement of a strong and dangerous enemy, to revenge, and to the shifting by the victors of their unbearable financial burdens on to the shoulders of the defeated.7

British objectives in utilizing the policy of appeasement with Germany ultimately failed in preventing Adolf Hitler from becoming Chancellor. The Lausanne conference of 1931, initially viewed as a triumph in conciliation, had eliminated Germanys obligation to paying war reparations. Yet it had little effect in changing the economic and political instability that engulfed the country. As a result, Hitler

became the German chancellor in January of 1933, assuming dictatorial powers under the Enabling Act two months later. His party would utilize the grievances of Versailles in an attempt to increase domestic support and gain the sympathy of foreign nations. Hitler promptly left the League of Nations on 18 October 1933. It was obvious to many officials in the British government that the new German Chancellor was an extremist, one whom could easily plunge the continent back into a terrible conflict. The next two years passed with little change in foreign policy as the British felt dismayed and convinced it would be . . . impossible to do business with Hitler.8 These concerns seemed to materialize in March of 1935 when Hitler chose to break Versailles and announced the rearmament of Germany. Neville Chamberlain was angered, in writing to his sister, referred to Hitler as . . . the bully of Europe . . .9 and held the conviction that only . . . firmness and clarity would make Germany behave reasonably.10 However, the efforts of Chamberlain and Baldwin in 1935 fell far short of what could be considered a success. Chamberlain had become convinced that the rearmament of Great Britain specifically the RAF were essential to the security of the island nation. Starting in 1935, an ever growing percentage of Britains GDP was devoted to military expenditures. Between 1935 and 1937, economic appeasement was thought to be the most constructive approach to the growing anxiety with Germany. Anglo-German co-operation was forwarded by Frank Ashton-Gwatkin, a deal including a mutual reduction on import quotas and tariffs between counties. Additional economic proposals involved the creation of an Anglo-German economic bloc or even . . . the inclusion of Germany in a full-blown, European-wide common market.11 It was hoped that such economic arrangements would ease political tensions between the two powers and possibly preserve peace on the European continent. Unfortunately, attempts at economic appeasement would fall on deaf ears. In spite of this failure, the economic appeasement remained on the table as an option in future negotiation.

Further anxiety would follow with German seizure and remilitarization of the Rhineland in 1936. The Locarno Accords had asserted that the western powers would assist in any aggression towards France or Belgium. German occupation of this zone was viewed as the possible prelude to an attack. In spite of this, military retaliation was not considered and sanctions proposed by France were likewise brushed aside. Surprisingly, British public opinion remained somewhat sympathetic to the Germans. This is not to imply that they were overly sympathetic to dictators or completely oblivious to the ongoing situation. Rather, many believed Germanys grievances were reasonable and negotiation should be pursued further, effectively restoring the German state to its previous status in Europe and enhancing continental stability accordingly. These feelings were not felt by all, Neville Chamberlain being one of those individuals who opposed a passive approach. Upon becoming British Prime Minister in 1937 he decided to . . . move from Baldwins passive appeasement policy to more active attempts to produce a European settlement.12 Due to Great Britains growing isolation and independence from its colonies and fears of another European conflict, it was determined that a different strategy was required in dealing with developing problems concerning Germany. Neville Chamberlain had been appointed Chancellor in 1931 under Prime Minister Ramsey MacDonald. At the time, the national government was suffering from a severe financial crisis. Chamberlain experienced great success as an economist during these disparate years, effectively resolving many of Great Britains financial calamities. His achievements and reputation within the Conservative party eventually brought him to succeed Stanley Baldwin as Prime Minister in 1937. Having some previous experience in foreign relations, Chamberlain would make the maintenance of peace in Europe one of his top priorities. He would work together with his Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Anthony Eden, in the establishment of . . . sustainable rearmament and the search for German assent to arms limitation and a European settlement . . .13 Although Germany remained the focal point, the problems faced by the administration were not singular. The administration was well aware of the aggressive

foreign policy being pursued by both Italy and Japan and the potential threat posed by these two powers. Additionally, the actions of the United States could affect British relations with all three. From taking office, Neville Chamberlain had already formulated the methods in which he would go about conducting foreign relations. He firmly believed in personal, face-to-face negotiations rather than working through diplomats. Yet, it would not be until 1938 that the British Prime Minister would actually meet with Hitler in this fashion. In the interim, it would be Lord Halifax that would be the first to meet the German Chancellor. During their first meeting in 1937, Halifax . . . told the Nazi leader that British policy was not opposed to the peaceful evolution of outstanding German grievances over Danzig, Austria and Czechoslovakia provided they were achieved by methods which did not cause far reaching disturbances.14 Alexander Eden, British foreign secretary, claimed to have reservations regarding Chamberlains policy of appeasement. However, he never voiced his criticism prior to February of 1938. To the contrary, during the month of January, Eden stated to Chamberlain . . . I do hope that you will never for an instant feel that any interest you take in foreign affairs, however close, could ever be resented by me.15 Unfortunately, early reassurances would give way to tension soon thereafter, as friction between Eden and Chamberlain intensified as Germany began her aggressive intimidation of Kurt Schuschnigg, the Austrian Chancellor. Chamberlain continued to pursue his policy of peaceful settlement in dealing with the question of Austria. Anthony Eden resigned on 20 February 1938. The foreign minister had become tired of attempting a negotiated agreement with Mussolini and Hitler, both of whom and he firmly believed to be unappeasable. Lord Halifax moved in to take Edens position just prior to the crisis in Czechoslovakia. The German Chancellor would annex Austria on 12 March 1938 without a shot fired. Filled with confidence, Hitler soon had his eyes set on the Sudetenland. This part of Czechoslovakia was inhabited by large numbers of ethnic Germans and geographically constituted a large portion of the border regions of the country. In light of these developments, Chamberlain had his first meeting with Adolf Hitler on 15 September 1938 to begin negotiations over the Sudetenland. Hitler demanded that all areas occupying a

German speaking majority should surrender their sovereignty to Germany. This plan was accepted by both the British and the French, while the Anglo-French plan was effectively forced onto the reluctant Czechs. What was considered a success would lead to further disappointment; Chamberlain was faced with additional demands from Hitler upon returning to Germany on 22 September 1938. The Godesberg memorandum pushed the crisis into another diplomatic deadlock. Retaining his composure, Chamberlain issued the following statement urging calmness in the prevailing state of anxiety: . . . the first essential in the opinion of the Prime Minister is that there should be determination on the part of all parties concerned to insure that local conditions in Czechoslovakia are such as not in any way to interfere with the progress of the conversations.16 This is rather extraordinary considering the awesome and menacing German military presence on the Czech border. As reported in The Pittsburg Press: News reached the British delegation that Bermany had 22 army divisionsabout 500,000 men, it was estimated, if they were on war footingin the immediate neighborhood of the Czech frontier on all sides. Fighting between Sudeten Germans and Czechs was reported along the border. From France came news that heavy French troop movements were in progress along the German frontier.17

The Prime Minister decided to send Sir Horace Wilson to Germany and propose conference between the major powers so as to come to a negotiated settlement. At the time, tensions between cabinet and Chamberlain were growing in intensity with the prospect of a German offensive into Czechoslovakia now almost a certainty. Cabinet strongly felt that any Czech resistance to the occupation of the Sudetenland should entail military intervention by both France and Britain. In spite of the rather inflexible stance held by congress, the Prime Minister was intent on keeping negotiations open. Chamberlain was successful in convincing congress that Wilsons mission was unique in that it made Hitler a completely new offer using the platform of an international conference. This would set the stage for the Munich conference on 29 September 1938. In retrospect, the strategy of appeasement in dealing with Hitler appears to be absurd. As Hitler wrote Chamberlain offering more promises prior to the

conference, the British leaders confidence in success looks rather naive on the surface. In his reply to Hitlers letter, he answers After reading your letter I feel certain that you can get all essentials without war and without delay . . . I feel convinced that we could reach agreement in a week18 Although an observation such as this can be made in hindsight, the complexity and anxiety of the situation which Chamberlain faced during this period must be thoughtfully considered. The Munich agreement, signed 30 September 1938, was hailed as a success by Neville Chamberlain and much of Britain. Although the use of appeasement permitted the German occupation of the Sudetenland, it was seen as a declaration that would prevent the two countries from ever going to war again. On returning to Britain, Chamberlain read the agreement enthusiastically to reporters: "We, the German Fhrer and Chancellor, and the British Prime Minister, have had a further meeting today and are agreed in recognizing that the question of Anglo-German relations is of the first importance for two countries and for Europe. We regard the agreement signed last night and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again."19

Optimism in England was to be short-lived; Hitler would continue to aggravate the situation in Europe with impunity after Munich. The Chancellor spoke in an aggressive and degrading tone towards the British leadership and members of parliament with the German press following suit. Czechoslovakia was facing the threat of further military attack by the German military while Poland and Hungary grabbed portions of Czech territory. On the night of 9-10 November 1938, the Jewish population was ruthlessly attacked in what is now known as Kristallnacht, or night of broken glass. Richard Thurlow in Fascism in Britain: from Oswald Moselys Blackshirts to the National Front, provides another possible contributing factor to Chamberlains failure to act earlier and more forcefully to mounting German aggression. Large numbers of British citizens actually supported Nazi persecution of the Jewish population and the ideology of fascism. Nesta Webster, a well-known feminist author and early member of the British Union of Fascists (BUF) had . . . since 1933 had been praising Hitler20 as his . . . antiSemitism had cleared out all pornographic literature in Germany.21 Webster later renounced her views,

believing the Furor had . . . sold his soul to the devil,22 a response that was likely due to Hitlers pact with Bolshevism and increasing fears of German aggression. Likewise, Lord Londonderry had sent a letter to German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop in 1936, stating ". . . I have no great affections for the Jews. It is possible to trace their participation in most of these International disturbances which have created so much havoc in different countries."23 The world stood shocked and horrified upon hearing of the brutality of Kristallnacht, and support for fascism and anti-Semitism gradually began to decline. The Furors continued provocations effectively ended the policy of appeasement with Germany. Prime Minister Chamberlain perhaps naively proposed continued Anglo-German economic co-operation and remained confident in holding a disarmament conference in the latter half of 1939. Some of the final efforts in economic appeasement were carried out by city commodity broker, E. W. Tennant and German Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop. A separate exchange took place between British industrialists and Herman Goering just prior to the war. According to scholar Scott Newton, these moves were warranted. In Profits of Peace, Newton declares . . . the fact that Anglo-German agreement was never going to be possible should not lead us to underestimate the urgency and intensity of attempts . . . during the critical weeks of July and August. A world was at stake. How could it be preserved once war had broken out?24 This flurry of activity just before the outbreak of war suggests the lengths to which the British wanted to maintain European peace. Unfortunately, it was becoming rather evident that Adolf Hitlers demands and aggressive behaviour could not be appeased by any means short of absolute capitulation. France, Britain and the majority of countries in the Commonwealth declared war on Germany when it invaded Poland on 1 September 1939. There was never a war in all history easier to prevent by timely action than the one which has just desolated great areas of the globe. It could have been prevented without the firing of a single shot, but no one would listen.25 Winston Churchill, 1946

Critical opinions of appeasement such as that posed by Winston Churchill in the quote above were quite popular in scholarly literature in the decades following the Second World War. Then again, to look back and pass judgment whilst choosing to ignore certain facts was all too common in early historical scholarship and writing on appeasement. History will judge us kindly, Churchill remarked at the Tehran Conference in 1943; when asked how he could be sure, he responded: because I shall write the history. As it is often the victor that does write the history, it is the duty of the academic historian to record past events as accurately as possible for the benefit of future generations. Although the majority of scholarly literature points towards Neville Chamberlain as a man who did use appeasement as a military strategy; it is not stated as his sole strategy prior to WWII. According to James Levy, appeasement was used parallel with a policy of rapid re-armament in the late 1930s. In realizing that the German Chancellor could not be appeased, Levy theorizes that the Prime Minister skillfully bought time for the allies. He thoughtfully writes . . . Appeasement did not stop the war, but it did not cause the war either.26 Levy goes on to write that . . . rearmament was . . . a duel policy to deter war first and to create the means to fight a war only secondarily.27 It was hoped that . . . the stronger Britain grew militarily, the more effective her diplomacy would be.28 Other scholarly works, such as Jeffery Records article Appeasement Reconsidered: Investigating the Mythology of the 1930s argue that Anglo-French appeasement of Hitler in the 1930s has generated a mythology that ignores much of the actual politicalmilitary situation at the time . . . Record goes on to list a myriad of considerations that are often glossed over by those that study the strategy as applied in the 1930s. These included . . . Frances military inflexibility, Britains strategic overstretch, Frances strategic dependence on Britain, dread of strategic bombing and misjudgment of the Nazi air threat, American isolationism, and distrust of the Soviet Union and fear of Communism,29 to name but a few. Included in this article are some interesting contemporary observations that many historians have overlooked. To this day, Hitler remains without equal as a state threat. Record states that Hitlers nihilism, ambitions, and military power posed a mortal threat to Western civilization.30 Comparisons are drawn to Stalin, Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, and Saddam Hussein. None of the scenarios posed by these men match Hitler, as one is left to ponder . . . who but

Hitler was so powerful and unappeasable and undeterrable?31 The author also reminds us to beware of hindsight, as Todays should runs afoul of yesterdays could not and would not . . . British and French statesmen did not know they were on the road to general war; on the contrary, they were seeking to avoid it.32 Furthermore, . . . neither assassination of the head of a major state nor the launching of preventive war against the (German) state fell within the repertory of practical and politically acceptable policy options.33 The burden that Neville Chamberlain inherited upon assuming the position of British Prime Minister in 1937 was colossal. Although appeasement had been used as an effective diplomatic and strategic tool since the mid-19th century, it was a tool which failed in dealing with Adolf Hitler. Despite making every effort imaginable, Chamberlain and his advisors could not successfully appease the German dictator. Regardless, appeasement remained Chamberlains diplomatic policy of choice, a policy which he firmly believed was the best strategy given the circumstances. He used it deliberately and confidently, in the face of heavy criticism. Tis choice was not without its consequences; the Prime Minister lost close political allies (such as foreign secretary Antony Eden), faced increasing economic pressures (much of which could be attributed to rapid re-armament), and the jeering of the more hawkish members of parliament who wanted war. Contrary to the historical writings of numerous commentators, appeasement should not be blamed for the outbreak of war. I believe that James Levy said it best, stating that . . . appeasement did not stop the war, but it did not cause the war either.34 The failure of Munich and the outbreak of war in 1939 were not a byproduct of the personal of political weakness of Neville Chamberlain. Rather, in hindsight, it was clearly impossible dealing with a character such as Adolf Hitler. One could not appease the unappeasable.

Endnotes
1 2

Martin Gilbert, The Roots of Appeasement (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson Inc., 1966), 4ff. Gilbert, Roots of Appeasement, 5. 3 William R. Rock, British Appeasement in the 1930s (New York: W. W. Norton & Company Inc., 1977), 32. 4 nd Keith Robbins, Appeasement, 2 ed. (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Inc., 1997), 9-10. 5 th Allen Sens and Peter Stoett, Global Politics: Origins, Currents, Directions, 4 ed. (Toronto: Nelson Education Ltd., 2010), 13. 6 th Germans Sign the Treaty and Officially End War on Saturday June 28 , Florence Times Daily, 4 July 1919, 5. <http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=2yYsAAAAIBAJ&sjid=RJ8FAAAAIBAJ&pg=1841,1799630&dq=sig ning+treaty+of+versailles&hl=en>. 7 John Maynard Keynes, The Economic Consequences of Peace, (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1920), 77. 8 Rock, British Appeasement, 36. 9 R.A.C. Parker, Chamberlain and Appeasement (New York: St. Martins Press, 1993), 26. 10 Parker, Chamberlain and Appeasement, 26. 11 Rock, British Appeasement, 38. 12 Richard C. Thurlow, Fascism in Britain: from Oswald Moselys Blackshirts to the National Front, (New York: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd., 2006), 93 13 Parker, Chamberlain and Appeasement, 54. 14 Frank McDonough, Neville Chamberlain, appeasement and the British road to war, (New York: St. Martins Press Inc., 1998), 51. 15 McDonough, Neville Chamberlain, 52. 16 Webb Miller, Chamberlain-Hitler: British Demand Pledge That Nazi Army Stay Out of Czechoslovakia During Meeting, The Pittsburgh Press, 23 September 1938, 13, <http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=o0kqAAAAIBAJ&sjid=N0wEAAAAIBAJ&pg=3902,3947539&dq=c hamberlain&hl=en>. 17 Miller, Chamberlain-Hitler, 13. 18 Neville Chamberlain, In Search of Peace (New York: Van Rees Press, 1939), 197. 19 Chamberlain Secures Peace in Our Time, The History Channel website, 1:08, filmed on September 30, 1938, <http://www.history.com/audio/chamberlain-secures-peace-in-our-time> (accessed Mar 10, 2012). 20 Thurlow, Fascism in Britain, 137. 21 Ibid., 137. 22 Ibid., 138. 23 Robert Rhodes James, The British Revolution: British Politics 1880-1939, vol. 2, (London: Hamish Hamilton Ltd., 1978), 526-527. 24 Scott Newton, Profits of Peace: The Political Economy of Anglo-German Appeasement, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 129. 25 John L. Snell, ed., The Outbreak of the Second World War: Design or Blunder? (London: D. C. Heath, 1962), vii. 26 James P. Levy, Appeasement And Rearmament: Britain, 1936-1939, (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc., 2006), 158. 27 Ibid., 161. 28 Ibid. 29 Jeffery Record, Appeasement Reconsidered: Investigating the Mythology of the 1930s, Strategic Studies Institute United States Army War College, August 01, 2005, v. http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pubs/display.cfm?pubID=622 30 Ibid., 44 31 Ibid. 32 Ibid., 45 33 Ibid. 34 Levy, Appeasement and Rearmament: Britain, 1936-1939, 158