In the final years leading up to the Second World War, it became very apparent that most countries would do anything to stay out of the impending warfare. Up to this point, appeasing the hot headed aggressors was the accepted way to go about international business, even if it meant giving land to a tyrant in the hope it would cease hostilities. On the contrary, giving in only seemed to embolden the resolve of the aggressors. Across the ocean from the focal point, the United States preferred to play an extreme game of risk, keeping its power isolated while Europe continued it’s decent into chaos. The ideas of those with the most power to curb the emerging powers had failed, yet the chances to deter another war were still plentiful. It would only take a concentrated effort of those involved; perhaps they could come together for the greater good.
In the final act of British appeasement policy, Hitler had asked for the annexation of the Sudetenland, which currently belonged to Czechoslovakia. The Scandinavian and Baltic states were a very touchy issue for the west to deal with. There was a good deal of pro-German feeling within that area; between 1933-1938, part of the Western Alliance was given very minor roles lest the growing Nazi influence made them feel insecure. As the Axis grew in power, the neutrality of that region was strained, and Britain knew it. To their credit, the British foreign government knew they stood little chance against the Axis, which is partly to explain why in 1938 the Munich agreement was signed by the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Germany. In the accord, Nazi Germany would gain control of the Sudetenland, which was a heavily fortified area for Czechoslovakia, and without it they stood little chance should Hitler want to breach the accord.[i] It was understood by the West at the time that Hitler simply wanted to reunify the German people who were scattered after the First World War, and this last attempt at pacification failed miserably.
On 15 March 1939, Hitler began to seize the rest of Czechoslovakia which had been left mostly defenseless by the Munich agreement. Before the decade ended, the Germans had enveloped Czechoslovakia, and completely enveloped Poland. This is notable because in the 1930’s Hitler tried to prove he was only trying to reestablish his nations true borders, shattered as they were by the Versailles Treaty. This was the first time the Nazi war machine showed its hand, bringing non-German peoples underneath Hitler’s control.[ii] In the end, British appeasement made a huge mistake when paired against Hitler’s opportunism, yet it was a failure in another area that truly started the war.
Germany’s attack on its neighbor country came as a shock to the world, especially those who thought appeasement had won the day. The effects were felt as far as Australia, where opinion of the situation shifted quickly. Nations who were looking to avoid war, now understood that no accommodation with Germany was possible.[iii] Just over a month later, it had already been decided that a peace alliance would be needed, a non-aggression pact that included all peaceful nations of Europe. This backed Britain and into a corner; they were not convinced that those they were allying with were up to the challenge of fending off the new Axis powers.[iv] The only exception seemed to be the Soviet Union, who sported a huge army and had an enormous supply of weapons.
An alliance with the Soviet union also brought along serious questions as to whether the communist nation would make a good ally. Soviet leadership was considered questionable after Stalin had purged his officer corps of those he found unworthy of the post, leaving a vast army almost leaderless. Consequently, it was difficult to prove the Soviet forces could establish themselves on the field and be efficient war partners. There was no enthusiasm for an alliance with the Soviet Union, yet Hitler’s actions had forced Britain to entertain...
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