Assess the view that appeasement was the only realistic option for British policy towards Germany between 1936 and 1938
The erosion of Neville Chamberlain’s# reputation was brought about quickly as his policy of appeasement failed to prevent WW2. The Cato# collective branded him as a criminal in the ‘Guilty men’#. Churchill# further reinforced this view telling the commons “England has been offered a choice between war and shame. She has chosen shame, and will get war.”#. These more orthodox views starkly contrast the reactions of the public and media pre-war. Hailed as a hero “Most newspapers supported Chamberlain uncritically, and he received thousands of gifts, from a silver dinner service to many of his trademark umbrellas.”#, with newspapers such as the Stockholm Tidningen# suggesting he receive the Nobel peace prize, Strasbourg renaming her streets overnight and the Telegram# concluding "Your name will go down in history as a statesman who saved civilisation from destruction”#. Ultimately appeasement, “the reduction of tensions between two states by the methodical removal of the principal causes of conflict and disagreement between them, which might otherwise lead to war.”# may not have been the only realistic option, but it was certainly an option and it was taken forward. Used as a synonym for weakness and ‘giving in’ in today’s world, there are Historians who argue that Chamberlain and his policy of appeasement was weak and lead to WW2 such as L.B. Namier, while there are also historians, such as A.J.P Taylor, who argue it was the only realistic option for him, during the years 1936-38. An assumption can be made that to go to war, or engage in conflict, a government must have a certain level of public backing and a stable economy. The Oxford union debate in 1933 caused shock waves in Britain as they voted “257 votes to 153 that ‘This house will in no circumstances fight for king and country’”#, suggesting the ruling class had become open to appeasement. However what it doesn’t show is the opinion of the majority, just the few upper class. Also if the debater for appeasement was substantially stronger, this could also explain the outcome. The acceptance of appeasement was also seemingly replicated in the lower classes. Validating the view that the public wanted a more passive foreign policy was the Fulham East by-election in 1933 when the Tory in favour of rearming, lost his seat to the pacifist Labour MP. The dramatic swing seems to show the sentiment that the public did not want to rearm. However this may not be the sole reason for the swing. The economy had only just posted positive GDP movements out of the recession and still had around 3 million unemployed. Therefore they could’ve voted labour simply for his policy’s. Supporting this alternative interpretation Ted Hanson suggests “"For most Fulham voters it was almost certainly housing, food prices and employment, that influenced their vote.”#. Hanson’s argument devalues the idea that voters were purely voting on the rearmament ideologies of the candidates and is complimented by the state of the economy in 1933. Therefore is relatively more reliable than the idea of it being won due to views on appeasement alone, implying that the public in Fulham east may not have been strongly against appeasement. Contrasting this, however, is the peace ballot of 1934/5. The results would resonate with Baldwin as around 10 million, approximately 35% of the entire population and 93% of those who were asked, were in favour of stopping aggressive nations by ‘economic and non-military measures’. This makes the case for appeasement more realistic as it is such a large quantity of data, it could be said to be fairly representative. However the last question on the ballot ‘If necessary, by military measures?’ had a ¾ majority in favour.# Winston Churchill in 1948 said it meant Britons were "willing, and indeed resolved, to go to war in a righteous cause"#. So if there was a...
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