The Policy of Appeasement

What was appeasement?
Appeasement is the deliberate policy of giving concessions to an aggressive country in order that it will be satisfied and avoid conflict. Britain, followed by France, increasingly took this approach with Germany, Italy and Japan from 1935 onwards.
What was the idea of the policy of appeasement?
The Treaty of Versailles shaped the idea of appeasement. People felt what Hitler was asking for was reasonable, given the harshness of the treaty against Germany. They believed once Germany was given back what it had lost, Hitler would stop and war would be avoided.
What were the reasons that people followed the policy of appeasement?
The key reasons for following appeasement included the suffering experienced in the First World War; people wanted peace. Countries could not afford another war, and people felt the Treaty of Versailles was unfair on Germany.
Why did Britain and France follow a policy of appeasement in the 1930s?
Although appeasement was heavily criticised after the Second World War, during the 1930s there were some good reasons to use it to deal with aggressive powers such as Germany.
  • By the 1930s, the Treaty of Versailles was seen by many as unfair. Appeasement allowed world leaders to correct some of the injustices and demands for self-determination and border defence seemed reasonable.
  • The combined threat of Germany, Italy and Japan was worrying to Britain, which doubted its ability to defeat all three.
  • Rearmament was difficult during the Depression and Britain and France needed time to build up their military forces. Appeasement provided them with time to strengthen their defences.
  • Public opinion in Britain and France was firmly in favour of avoiding another conflict like the First World War. Politicians were influenced by the views of their electorate.
  • France would not act against Hitler without the support of Chamberlain, and the instability of its own government meant there were few resources to devote to foreign policy.
  • The crisis in Abyssinia was much more of an immediate threat than Hitler's remilitarisation of the Rhineland, which was widely seen as Hitler "going into his own backyard".
  • There was also the threat of the USSR and world communism. Many western politicians feared communism more than the Nazis and wanted strong anti-communist states in central Europe to neutralise the threat.
Who was responsible for the policy of appeasement?
Appeasement began under the British Prime Ministers, Ramsay MacDonald and Stanley Baldwin (who signed the Anglo-German Naval Treaty). Neville Chamberlain was most proactive in addressing German grievances and is seen as the figurehead of the policy.
What were Churchill's views on the policy of appeasement?
Winston Churchill was a British politician at the time, who later became prime minister as an opponent of appeasement. He said 'an appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last'. Churchill was confident Hitler would not stop.
Why has the policy of appeasement been criticised?
The policy of appeasement has been criticised for a number of reasons:
  • It allowed Germany to grow in power and strength, making it harder to defeat after 1939. After 1935 it increased its territory by 36%, its population by 28%, and had more time to rearm.
  • Germany could have been easily defeated in 1936, when it remilitarised the Rhineland.
  • It was morally wrong to allow stronger, more aggressive countries to take advantage of smaller, weaker ones.
  • It made Britain and France appear weak and gave Hitler confidence. This may have made him more aggressive in his aims.
  • It contributed to Stalin's decision to sign the Nazi-Soviet Pact with Hitler as he saw the actions of Britain and France as weak.
Why was the policy of appeasement abandoned in 1939?
In March 1939 Britain and France stopped trying to appease Hitler and started to try to deter him from further aggression.
  • In March 1939 Germany invaded the Czechoslovakian territories of Bohemia and Moravia, despite its guarantees at Munich.
  • This showed Hitler would not be content with merely righting the wrongs of Versailles.
  • Instead, he was actively aiming to conquer new territory to which Germany had no claim.
  • It was clear to the western powers that Hitler's aim was to dominate Europe and rule it by force.
What was the consequences of the appeasement policy?
Many people have argued that the policy of appeasement meant several opportunities to stop Hitler, and therefore avoid war, were missed; for example, the reoccupation of the Rhineland. Hitler himself said he would have stood down if he met opposition.
What was the significance of the policy of appeasement?
The policy of appeasement was significant due to the role it played in the causes of the Second World War. At the time it had many critics and historians have since argued that the policy served to make Hitler stronger over time and ultimately led to the Second World War.
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