Policy of Appeasement in the 1930s: Britain and France

Introduction

The policy of appeasement is a diplomatic policy that allowed enemies to find common ground with one another to avoid war. The term was very common after World War I because no country wanted to be involved in another war. The First World War had left various undesirable impacts on the world. The policy was initiated by Neville Chamberlain, the then Prime Minister of Britain. It was mostly an agreement between Britain and Germany in the beginning, but it was later enhanced by the coming in of other countries like Italy and France. However, as negotiations continued, Chamberlain and Hitler of Germany failed to agree, making Germany pull out of the initial treaty. This might have led to World War II. This paper will take a critical look into what the policy of appeasement was about, the factors that led Britain and France to adopt it, its advantages, disadvantages, and the impact it had on World War 2.

The policy of appeasement

As mentioned earlier, the policy of appeasement started as a gentleman’s agreement between Britain and Germany that neither of them would attack the other. It was a way of avoiding another war after WWI. Germany later withdrew from the deal after negotiations between Neville Chamberlain and Hitler failed. There were a few important historical events that happened before the policy was realized. The first historical event was the discussion between Chamberlain and Hitler over Czechoslovakia. The Treaty of Versailles restricted Germany and Austria to form any kind of political union after World War I. However, Hitler had his own plans. He wanted to reunite Austria and Germany when he came into power, thereby disregarding the Treaty of Versailles.

Austria did not want to disregard the treaty. Thus it turned to Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Romania for help. Hitler demanded Austria to include Nazi’s Austrians into government to ensure that they were treated well. There was chaos in Austria after a while. Hitler requested the then leader to step down or face a forceful invasion by Germany. Britain was not pleased by this move. This was when Britain decided to intervene. Although the people of Austria were pleased by the invasion of the German troops into Austria as a way of controlling the country, Germany had breached the Treaty of Versailles. This period is normally referred to as the Anschluss. It was followed by the Munich period.

The Munich period was famous because it was the time when the Munich Agreement was made. It started with talks between British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and German President Hitler in September of 1938. The agreement allowed Germany to own part of the Czechoslovak border. This went against the Treaty of Versailles as Hitler had already planned attacks on Czechoslovakia. Britain only got involved to reduce the chances of war. Hitler was adamant and made it clear to Britain that Czechoslovakia would have to give up all the lands that had German citizens as the majority group to avoid war.

Many leaders had now feared that Germany would cause a war. Thus they requested Czechoslovakia to bend to Hitler’s rules. Four world leaders, Hitler, Chamberlain, Mussolini, and Édouard Daladier, met at the end of September of 1938 in Munich and agreed that Germany would not cause any form of war.

The discussion presented above shows the process in which the policy of appeasement was established. From the discussion, it is clear that many of the countries that were involved were fearful of another war. Thus they made deals and offers with their enemies to avoid a war. Every country was involved for its own reasons and motives.

Factors that led Britain and France to adopt the policy of appeasement

After World War I, there was a unanimous agreement that a treaty that would help prevent another war should be created. This was when the Treaty of Versailles was made. However, when Chamberlain became the Prime Minister of Britain, he was of the view that the Treaty of Versailles was unfair to Germany. Germany had been warned against creating any form of the armory. Some of its colonies had also been taken after the war. It appeared that the treaty was punishing Germany for losing the war[1].

Chamberlain and Édouard Daladier were of the view that the treaty had been biased towards the winners of the First World War. Therefore, Britain and France supported Germany when it went against the treaty and started re-arming in the early 1930s. According to Waters[2], what motivated the Germans to go against the Treaty of Versailles was the union between France and Russia. Germany claimed that she felt threatened by the union. Thus Britain supported her.

France also adopted the policy of appeasement because she was afraid of being attacked by Germany. France nearly succumbed to the powers of Germany during World War I. France was afraid that she would be attached if she appeared not to be supporting Germany.[3]

Both countries were also very fearful of another world war as they had already experienced the First World War. The First World War had most probably affected France the most. However, both France and Britain had incurred a lot of losses. Stedman[4] argues that if there had been another war between Germany and Britain or Germany and France, then the loser of the war would have damaged her economy completely. This might be another reason why Britain and France adopted the policy of appeasement.

Advantages of the policy of appeasement

The policy of appeasement had various advantages. One of the most obvious advantages is that it delayed or stopped several wars. As discussed, there were very many instances in the 1930s that would have led to war. However, these wars were avoided due to the policy of appeasement. For example, there would have been a war if Britain had not intervened between the brawls over Czechoslovakia. Hitler had been ready to forcefully remove the then leader of Czechoslovakia if he had refused to give the parts of Czechoslovakia that were dominated by Germans. It took several meetings in Munich and pressure from other countries to have the leader of Czechoslovakia resign from office.

The policy also helped the people of Austria to find peace in a time of war. It was through this policy that Hitler was able to send German troops to Austria in an attempt to stabilize the country. The Treaty of Versailles had restricted Germany from going into Austria, but Germany was able to enter Austria without dire consequences due to the support that she received from Britain and France.[5]

Levy[6] argues that the policy of appeasement also helped France and Britain build up their armies. In as much as Germany had lost the First World War, it still had very many soldiers. Britain and France would have lost in the case of a war on either of the two countries. It is due to this situation that some authors have argued that the policy of appeasement helped shape the Second World War. The Second World War started one year after the policy of appeasement had been realized. This might have given France and Britain enough time to form armies, get new allies, and generally prepare for another war.

Disadvantages of the policy of appeasement

The biggest disadvantage of the policy of appeasement was that it literally gave Hitler what he wanted. The policy aimed specifically at avoiding war with Hitler. Therefore, Britain and France gave in to all the things that Hitler wanted. For example, Britain and France agreed to the absorption of the Sudetenland by Germany when Hitler threatened to start a war if Sudetenland was not absorbed into Germany. Both countries knew that Hitler had initiated the chaos that had started in the land for him to get power over it. This was not the only example of situations when Britain and France gave in to Germany’s demands.[7]

Another example is when Germany wanted to invade Austria. The Treaty of Versailles was against Germany’s motive; therefore, the only way that Germany would get into Austria was by having the support of the citizens and other powerful countries. Germany had the support of the Austrians because many of them were Nazis. Britain and France used their powers to force out Schuschnigg, the then Austrian Chancellor, in an attempt to reduce the chances of war.

In as much as the policy might have given Britain and France time to build their armies, it also gave Germany time to recruit and build her own army too. The policy allowed Germany to acquire new territories. Thus she got more soldiers to fight. Britain had also supported Germany’s decision to re-arm after the union of France and Russia. Thus Germany had a lot of weapons. This means that the policy gave both sides time to prepare for the Second World War.[8]

Impact of the policy of appeasement on the Second World War

World War 2 started in the year 1939 and ended in 1945. The war was between the allies and the axis. The axis comprised of Germany, Italy, and Japan, while the allies comprised of Britain, France, and the USA later. The USSR was considered to be a part of the axis at the beginning of the war, but the two powers fell out later. History has marked this war as the biggest war in the history of the world. It involved very many people from different parts of the world[9].

The policy of appeasement had various impacts on this war. The first major impact was that it made Germany considerably stronger than it was during the First World War. The Treaty of Versailles had distributed the colonies of Germany to other colonizers in Africa after the First World War. However, the policy of appeasement had ensured that Germany acquired new territories in Europe. For example, Germany had Czechoslovakia and Austria on its side. This was very important in making Germany strong because it did not have to ship soldiers from Africa to form a larger army. It was also very beneficial to Germany that her colonies were loyal to Hitler. Most of the colonies that were acquired through the policy of appeasement had a majority of Nazis. Thus they were loyal to Hitler. This was unlike the soldiers who were forced to fight for the allies. These soldiers were slaves. Thus they resented the allies.[10]

World War 2 also allowed Britain and France to be redeemed after being viewed as allies of Germany due to the policy of appeasement. They fought against Hitler and showed the international community that the policy had been necessary to avoid a war that they had not been prepared for.[11]

Conclusion

There are very many factors that made France and Britain adopt the policy of appeasement. Some of these factors include the fact that both countries did not want another war. Moreover, their economies were not ready to fund another war. It is also true that they might have been buying time to strengthen their armies in preparation for the Second World War. There were various impacts of the policy of appeasement on the Second World War. One such impact is that it made Germany stronger because the policy had enabled Germany to acquire new and close territories. However, the policy of appeasement ensured that Britain, France, Italy, and Germany coexisted from 1934 up to 1939 without any war or threat of war.

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