The idea of appeasement is synonymous with Neville Chamberlain. Leading up to WWII the British government led the way in world foreign policy. Neville invented neither the policy nor the word but when Hitler came to power it became Neville’s personal doctrine. 1 The accepted definition of appeasement is, “conciliatory compromises offered in the hope that the aggressors would be satisfied and thus cease their aggression. The obvious failure of this policy gave appeasement the bad name that it still has.
“2 The Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, pushed cooperation with the Third Reich much farther than most of his Cabinet colleagues or the British people would have. Despite this fact appeasement was not the exception among worldviews but the norm, many other nations were allowing the Third Reich and their military machine almost free reign. Following WWI Germany had been relieved of its remaining military might and forced to stop production of weapons.
The British government is often criticized for it position and policies leading up to the second world war but the fact is their position was the same as any other powerful nation, they were just the most visible in the world stage. The international community did little to slow German aggression and build up after Hitler gained power. The United States had left the other world leaders with little leverage after it pulled out of the League of Nations and refused to sign the Versailles peace treaty.
3 The Soviet Union worried about the growing power of the Third Reich’s military machine, had actually signed a non-aggression pact with Germany in 1939. Britain was trying hold ground without giving up to much power but by the time decisions were made it was already too late. The Beginnings of Appeasement Britain, as a country, functions like many others in a clearly economic sense. The idea of another world war was truly disastrous for the British people and policy makers. WWI had brought Britain to its knees economically and another even grander conflict was sure to do the same and possibly worse.
“British foreign and defense policies between the wars were guided by two interrelated principles endorsed in 1919 at the time of peacemaking and consolidated in the 1920s by diplomacy and economic and financial policy. “4 The ideas developed and pushed to the forefront during this period sustained themselves until the beginning of WWII. The policies held strength without any real results for several reasons. One of the most striking was the coverage of foreign affairs by British press leading up to WWII.
“The ‘quality’ press, especially The Times, have been charged with having been so willing an agent of Chamberlain’s wishes that to characterize them as supine might be an under statement. “5 The press was willing to bend and twist accounts to suit the wishes of British officials; who were worried of up roar among their constituents if the truth was known. The recent advancements in the technologies of war also contributed to the policies of the British government. “If the memory of the horrors of the Great War rendered a repetition of that experience unpalatable, the added dimension of the threat from the air made it unthinkable.
“6 Appeasement was the first step to try to prevent the idea of a total war and a devastating first strike attack. “Many of Britain’s air experts even assumed that an attempted aerial ‘knock-out blow’ would replace the traditional declaration of war. “7 Common belief was that the “knock-out blow” would incapacitate the power assailed before convention forces could be mobilized. The policy of appeasement, which was originally designed to pacify the growing German appetite later shifted toward a fear of the German war machine and its capabilities.
“February-June 1935 marked a turning point in Anglo-German relations. Appeasement, as a policy based on fear, was then inaugurated. “8 The new policy stance took away any strength that Britain had previously held against Germany. “It was pursued ineffectually and passively until Baldwin’s resignation and thereafter with positive vigor until March 1939. “9 The strongest support for appeasement undoubtedly came from the British government who understood the real consequences and cost of another devastating world war. The Rise of German Power
No matter the steps the Allied powers took after WWI to hold back the rearmament of a defeated Germany, Hitler and the Third Reich decided they would reconstruct the German war machine of the early twentieth century. “The German invasion of Czechoslovakia was a surprise to the British government, even though it had received a warning of such an eventuality from the Secret Intelligence Service a fortnight earlier. “10 The invasion was just the tip of the iceberg and a small part of German’s future plans. Appeasement had obviously not satisfied the German leadership and only served to further the cause of the Third Reich.
One of the really untold reasons for the British policy of appeasement, allowing time for Britain to rearm, never worked as planned. “Foreign policy neither reduced the number of Britain’s potential enemies nor guaranteed enough time for the nation to rearm. “11 Some say Britain knew war was inevitable but the question is whether the room Germany gained through appeasement was really necessary. Some in the British government did not see war as unstoppable but knew preparations were needed. “Churchill did not consider war with Germany inevitable, he thought concerted rearmament would make it much less likely.
“12 Although Britain was beginning to rearm itself at a much quicker pace, there had been plans for such changes in place for years before the emergence of problems with Germany. “In February 1934 the Defense Requirements Committee (DRC) began with recommendations to rectify, in five years, most of the major deficiencies in the authorized peacetime strengths of the three Fighting Services. “13 After the plans were completed Britain would conceivably be able to deter an aggression from Japan or Germany, Germany being the ultimate potential enemy.