Thursday, October 12, 2006

Appeasement

One of the prevailing curiosities of the Second World War concerns the motive of the British Government (led by Neville Chamberlain) in appeasing Hitler in 1938. Appeasement is commonly regarded as tantamount to cowardice, and Chamberlain is reviled in contrast to the brave and heroic Churchill.

But what were the effects of this appeasement?
  1. Gave Britain more time to prepare for war. [note 1]
  2. Turned Germany's aggression eastwards. [note 2]
  3. Triggered a shift in public opinion. [note 3]
  4. Established a much stronger case for war when Hitler (as some people predicted) reneged on the agreement. [note 4]
  5. Improved Churchill's political position.
If we evaluate appeasement against Chamberlain's sound-bite ("Peace For Our Time") then it may be regarded as an ironic failure. But if we look at appeasement as a regrettable but necessary step in the build-up towards the Second World War, then it could be seen as having made a useful contribution to the outcome of the war as a whole.

[Note 1] "Faced with the growing political and economic instability in Europe, the rise in Nazism and the increased irrelevance of the League of Nations as a means to deal with disputes, Britain engaged in one of the most massive military build-ups in modern history and instituted a peacetime draft. The rearmament budget of 1937 amounted to £1.5 billion." [Wikipedia: Appeasement of Hitler]

[Note 2] "It is possible to read Munich as a cynical attempt to turn Hitler’s aggression east giving the west more time to prepare for inevitable war and, in the meantime, killing off millions of Germany’s troops as well as millions of Soviet troops. Among other things, such an interpretation suggests additional motivations behind the 1939 Hitler/Stalin pact." [Wikipedia: Appeasement]

[Note 3] "The Munich Agreement marked the high tide of appeasement but was also the turning point in British public opinion." [Wikipedia: Appeasement of Hitler]

[Note 4] "Because Hitler soon violated the terms of the agreement, it has often been cited in support of the principle that tyrants should never be appeased." [Wikipedia: Munich Agreement]

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