Appeasement in the 1930s

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Appeasement may be regarded as a philosophy of the maintenance of peace; in political terms it refers to policy of conciliation with a potential aggressor, often with implications of sacrifice of principles (Oxford Dictionary). The policy of appeasement is one in which both Britain and France and many other nations took towards Nazi Germany and its expansionist aims during the late 1930s, it is one of the most controversial and criticized foreign policies in history (Gelernter D 2002:22). This paper argues that the appeasement policy was for most nations around the world in the 1930s a less challenging way to deal with the problem of Hitler. Nowadays it is a common view that if Britain and France would have taken a harder line against the Nazis then Hitler's aggressive policy would not have remained unchecked and German expansionism may not have endangered the anti Nazi nation states of Europe and beyond. This essay will also explore the view that appeasement was necessary for many different countries at the time, as a way of buying time for rearmament, so that they would be able to oppose militarily Nazi Germany. The appeasement policy reflected the general consensus of people who where opposed to going to war again so soon when they still were feeling the devastating effects of the World War One (WW1). In regards to whether appeasement in the 1930s was defensible we have to look at the justifications for the policy of appeasement. We ultimately have to understand if it was a bid to reach a peaceful understanding with Germany or nations looking after their own interests. An important matter to note is that the major powers were anxious to stop any German influence over Eastern Europe at any cost (Day D 2003:8-10).

The term appeasement is used to describe the response of Western European governments, mainly Britain and France, to the expansionist activities of Germany under Hitler and to some extent Italy under Mussolini in the 1930s (The Roots of European Appeasement, Gelernter D 2002:24). Their attitude was to give them what they wanted to prevent a war in Central Europe. The events that occurred in WW1 had generated a great fear of war in the general populous and there was no hurry in their minds to repeat the horror once more. Consequently the major powers of the 1930s strove to prevent further breakout of war through whatever means deemed necessary at the time. WW1 was to be the ‘war to end all wars’ and appeasement was seen as a way to maximize the chances of peace. The British government believed in appeasement till the day there was no other solution than to go to war on Germany. Appeasement was described by the writing of the realist Morgenthau as a “corrupted policy of compromise, made erroneously by mistaking a policy of imperialism for a policy of the status quo” (Morgenthau cited in Dimuccio R.B.A. 1998:247) An interesting aspect of the appeasement policy is that it met the aggressor’s demands without asking for reciprocal advantages. This basic part of the policy involved agreeing to what the aggressor nation wanted, this case being Germany, without asking for anything back. The appeasing nations would provide help in whatever way

they deemed they could without necessarily expecting any concessions. What is to be questioned is why the leaders of these appeasing nations would implement such and unfair and non-demanding policy.

In the case of Britain the situation was quite complicated. Many critics saw the policy as merely reflective of a weak leader of a nation that allowed itself to lose its position of political, economic and military pre-eminence in Europe. If we look at Britain in the 1930s the diversity of public sentiment and a lack of consensus among British citizens could have been the reasoning behind the policy of appeasement. First of all there was strong Nazi party influence as evidenced by the Parliamentary Peace Aims Group who pressed the government to seek out the possibilities of a...
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