How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas masks here because of a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing.
—Neville Chamberlain, 27 September 1938, 8 p.m. radio broadcast, on Czechoslovak refusal to accept Nazi demands to cede border areas to Germany.
Appeasement in a political context is a diplomatic policy of making political or material concessions to an enemy power in order to avoid conflict.
The term is most often applied to the foreign policy of the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain towards Nazi Germany between 1937 and 1939. His policies of avoiding war with Germany have been the subject of intense debate for seventy years among academics, politicians and diplomats. The historians' assessments have ranged from condemnation for allowing Adolf Hitler's Germany to grow too strong, to the judgement that he had no alternative and acted in Britain's best interests. At the time, these concessions were widely seen as positive, and the Munich Pact concluded on 30 September 1938 among Germany, Britain, France and Italy prompted Chamberlain to announce that he had secured "peace for our time".
Chamberlain's policy of appeasement emerged from the failure of the League of Nations and the failure of collective security. The League of Nations was set up in the aftermath of World War I in the hope that international cooperation and collective resistance to aggression might prevent another war. Members of the League were entitled to the assistance of other members if they came under attack. The policy of collective security ran in parallel with measures to achieve international disarmament and where possible was to be based on economic sanctions against an aggressor. It appeared to be ineffectual when confronted by the aggression of dictators, notably Germany's occupation of the Rhineland, and Italian leader Benito Mussolini's invasion of Abyssinia.
In September 1931, Japan, a member of the League of Nations, invaded northeast China, claiming it as not only Chinese but a multi-ethnic "Manchuria" region. China appealed to the League and the United States for assistance. The Council of the League asked the parties to withdraw to their original positions to permit a peaceful settlement. The United States reminded them of their duty under the Kellogg-Briand Pact to settle matters peacefully. Japan was undeterred and went on to occupy the whole of Manchuria. The League set up a commission of inquiry that condemned Japan, the League duly adopting the report in February 1933. Japan resigned from the League and continued its advance into China. Neither the League nor the United States took any action. "Their inactivity and ineffectualness in the Far East lent every encouragement to European aggressors who planned similar acts of defiance." However the U.S. issued the Stimson Doctrine and refused to recognize Japan's conquest, which played a role in shifting U.S. policy to favor China over Japan late in the 1930s.
Mussolini had imperial ambitions in Abyssinia. Italy was already in possession of neighbouring Eritrea and Somalia. In December 1934 there was a clash between Italian and Abyssinian troops at Walwal, near the border between British and Italian Somaliland, in which Italian troops took possession of the disputed territory and in which 150 Abyssinians and 50 Italians were killed. When Italy demanded apologies and compensation from Abyssinia, Abyssinia appealed to the League, Haile Selassie famously appealing in person to the assembly in Geneva. The League persuaded both sides to seek a settlement under the Italo-Ethiopian Treaty of 1928 but Italy continued troop movements and Abyssinia appealed to the League again. In October 1935 Mussolini launched an attack on Abyssinia. The League declared Italy to be the aggressor and imposed sanctions, but coal and oil were not included; blocking these, it was thought, would provoke war. Albania, Austria and Hungary refused to apply sanctions; Germany and the United States were not in the League. Nevertheless, the Italian economy suffered. The League considered closing off the Suez Canal also, which would have stopped arms to Abyssinia, but, thinking it would be too harsh a measure, they did not do so.
Earlier, in April 1935, Italy had joined Britain and France in protesting against Germany's rearmament. France was anxious to placate Mussolini so as to keep him away from an alliance with Germany. Britain was less hostile to Germany, set the pace in imposing sanctions and moved a naval fleet into the Mediterranean. But in November 1935, the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Samuel Hoare and the French Prime Minister, Pierre Laval, had secret discussions in which they agreed to concede two-thirds of Abyssinia to Italy. However, the press leaked the content of the discussions and a public outcry forced Hoare and Laval to resign. In May 1936, undeterred by sanctions, Italy captured Addis Ababa, the Abyssinian capital, and proclaimed Victor Emmanuel III the Emperor of Ethiopia. In July the League abandoned sanctions. This episode, in which sanctions were incomplete and appeared to be easily given up, seriously discredited the League.
Under the Versailles Settlement, the Rhineland was demilitarized. Germany accepted this arrangement under the Locarno Treaties of 1925. Hitler claimed that it threatened Germany and on 7 March 1936 he sent German forces into the Rhineland. He gambled on Britain not getting involved but was unsure how France would react. The action was opposed by many of his advisers. His officers had orders to withdraw if they met French resistance. France consulted Britain and lodged protests with the League, but took no action. Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin said that Britain lacked the forces to back its guarantees to France, and that in any case public opinion would not allow it. In Britain it was thought that the Germans were merely walking into "their own back yard". Hugh Dalton, a Labour Party MP who usually advocated stiff resistance to Germany, said that neither the British people nor Labour would support military or economic sanctions. In the Council of the League, only the Soviet Union proposed sanctions against Germany. Hitler was invited to negotiate. He proposed a non-aggression pact with the Western powers. When asked for details he did not reply. Hitler's occupation of the Rhineland had persuaded him that the international community would not resist him and put Germany in a powerful strategic position.
In 1937 Stanley Baldwin resigned as Prime Minister and Neville Chamberlain took over. Chamberlain pursued a policy of appeasement and rearmament. Chamberlain's reputation for appeasement rests in large measure on his negotiations with Hitler over Czechoslovakia in 1938.
When the German Empire and Austro-Hungarian Empire were broken up in 1918, Austria was left as a rump state with the adopted name "German-Austria" with the vast majority of the Austrians wanting to join Germany. However, the victors agreements of World War I (Treaty of Versailles and the Treaty of Saint-Germain) strictly forbade union between Austria and Germany, as well as the name "German-Austria", which reverted to "Austria" after the emergence of the First Republic of Austria in September 1919. The constitutions of both the Weimar Republic and the First Austrian Republic included the aim of unification, which was supported by democratic parties. However, the rise of Hitler dampened the enthusiasm of the Austrian government for such a plan. Hitler, an Austrian by birth, became a pan-German from a very young age and had promoted a Pan-Germanism vision of a Greater German Reich from the beginning of his career in politics and stated in Mein Kampf (1924) that he would attempt a union of his birth country Austria with Germany, by any means possible and by force if necessary. By early 1938, Hitler had consolidated his power in Germany and was ready to implement this long-held plan.
The Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg wished to pursue ties with Italy, but turned to Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Romania (the Little Entente). To this Hitler took violent exception. In January 1938 the Austrian Nazis attempted a putsch, following which some were imprisoned. Hitler summoned Schuschnigg to Berchtesgaden in February and demanded, with the threat of military action, that he release imprisoned Austrian Nazis and allow them to participate in the government. Schuschnigg complied and appointed Arthur Seyss-Inquart, a pro-Nazi lawyer, as interior minister. To forestall Hitler and to preserve Austria's independence, Schuschnigg scheduled a plebiscite on the issue for 13 March. Hitler demanded that the plebiscite be canceled. The German ministry of propaganda issued press reports that riots had broken out in Austria and that large parts of the Austrian population were calling for German troops to restore order. On 11 March, Hitler sent an ultimatum to Schuschnigg, demanding that he hand over all power to the Austrian Nazis or face an invasion. The British Ambassador in Berlin registered a protest with the German Government against the use of coercion against Austria. Schuschnigg, realizing that neither France nor the United Kingdom would actively support him, resigned in favour of Seyss-Inquart, who then appealed to German troops to restore order. On 12 March the 8th Army of the German Wehrmacht crossed the Austrian border. They met no resistance and were greeted by cheering Austrians. This invasion was the first major test of the Wehrmacht's machinery. Austria became the German province of Ostmark, with Seyss-Inquart as governor. A plebiscite was held on 10 April and officially recorded a support of 99.73 percent of the voters.
Although the victorious Allies of World War I had prohibited the union of Austria and Germany, their reaction to the Anschluss was mild. Even the strongest voices against annexation, particularly those of Fascist Italy, France and Britain (the "Stresa Front") were not backed by force. In the House of Commons Chamberlain said that "The hard fact is that nothing could have arrested what has actually happened [in Austria] unless this country and other countries had been prepared to use force." The American reaction was similar. The international reaction to the events of 12 March 1938 led Hitler to conclude that he could use even more aggressive tactics in his plan to expand the Third Reich. The Anschluss paved the way for Munich in September 1938 because it indicated the likely non-response of Britain and France to future German aggression. Again, it must be remembered that the whole world was knee-deep in economic depression at this time, and the allies of World War I were in no condition to advance militarily on anyone. Across the Atlantic, the United States had its own economic woes, not the least of which was mass unemployment. Further, and perhaps most importantly[according to whom?], Americans were in no mood to go to war again over European "squabbles" over boundaries or ethnic governments.
Under the Versailles Settlement, Czechoslovakia was created with territory of the Czech part more or less corresponding to the Czech Crown lands as they had existed within the Austria-Hungary and before, including the border areas with a majority German population called as Sudetenland. In April 1938, Sudeten Nazis, led by Konrad Henlein, agitated for autonomy. Chamberlain, faced with the danger of a German invasion, warned Hitler that Britain might intervene. Hitler ordered an attack on Czechoslovakia. Lord Runciman was sent by Chamberlain to mediate in Prague and persuaded the Czech government to grant the Sudeten virtual autonomy. Henlein broke off negotiations and Hitler railed against Prague.
In September, Chamberlain flew to Berchtesgaden to negotiate directly with Hitler, hoping to avoid war. Hitler now demanded that the Sudetenland should be absorbed into Germany, convincing Chamberlain that refusal meant war. Chamberlain, with France, told the Czech president that he must hand to Germany all territory with a German majority. Czechoslovakia would thus lose 800,000 citizens, much of its industry and its mountain defences in the west. In effect, the British and French pressed their ally to cede territory to a hostile neighbour to prevent annihilation.
Hitler then informed Chamberlain that Germany was about to occupy the Sudetenland and that the Czechoslovaks had to move out. The Czechoslovaks rejected the demand, as did the British and the French. Mussolini persuaded Hitler to put the dispute to a four-power conference. Czechoslovakia was not to be a party to these talks. On 29 September, Hitler, Chamberlain, Édouard Daladier (the French Prime Minister) and Mussolini met in Munich. They agreed that Germany would complete its occupation of the Sudetenland, but an international commission would consider other disputed areas. Czechoslovakia was told that if it did not submit, it would stand alone. At Chamberlain's request, Hitler signed a peace treaty between the United Kingdom and Germany. Chamberlain returned to Britain promising "peace for our time". In March 1939, Chamberlain foresaw a possible disarmament conference between himself, Daladier, Hitler, Mussolini and Joseph Stalin; his home secretary, Samuel Hoare, said, "These five men, working together in Europe and blessed in their efforts by the President of the United States of America, might make themselves eternal benefactors of the human race." That month, Czechoslovakia ceased to exist, divided among Germany, Hungary, Poland, and an independent Slovakia.
On 1 September 1939, German forces invaded Poland; Britain and France joined the war against Germany. Chamberlain's conduct of the war was not popular and, on 10 May 1940, Winston Churchill became Prime Minister. In July, some politicians inside and outside the government were still willing to consider Hitler's peace offer, but Churchill would not. Chamberlain died on 9 November the same year. Churchill delivered a tribute to him in which he said, "Whatever else history may or may not say about these terrible, tremendous years, we can be sure that Neville Chamberlain acted with perfect sincerity according to his lights and strove to the utmost of his capacity and authority, which were powerful, to save the world from the awful, devastating struggle in which we are now engaged." 
As the policy of appeasement failed to prevent war, those who advocated it were quickly criticized. Appeasement came to be seen as something to be avoided by those with responsibility for the diplomacy of Britain or any other democratic country. By contrast, the few who stood out against appeasement were seen as "voices in the wilderness whose wise counsels were largely ignored, with almost catastrophic consequences for the nation in 1939–40". More recently, however, historians have questioned the accuracy of this simple distinction between appeasers and anti-appeasers. "Few appeasers were really prepared to seek peace at any price; few, if any, anti-appeasers were prepared for Britain to make a stand against aggression whatever the circumstances and wherever the location in which it occurred."
'Germany and Europe'
... My dream is of a British statesman who could say to his countrymen: “You are sick of war, weary of entanglements. There are some who would have you renounce both. I offer you instead a heavier load of foreign responsibilities, a risk of new war. Because that is the only road to lasting peace. Since the War, British policy has been shuffling, timid, ignoble. Be bold at last, and give a lead to Europe, by offering to form with France and whatever other European states will join, a League within the League, of nations pledged to submit all disputes to the League, but pledged also to fight without hesitation in defence of any member of the group who is attacked. If Germany will join, so much the better; though Germany as she is never will. If America, better still; for the present America is a broken reed. All the more honour for us to accept a responsibility if she refuses.
“The way will not be easy. We shall often regret the day we pledged ourselves to bear taxation in peace and face death in war for interests and frontiers not our own. But no interest is more really our own than the reign of law between nations.”
That is little likely to happen. Only an Abraham Lincoln takes risks of that sort with a nation. But this is not because the ordinary politician is wiser; it is because the ordinary politician does not realise the latent force of idealism, all the stronger with the decay of the religions which gave it other outlets, ready in the world of to-day for any leader with the courage to use it; and so easily abused accordingly by the rulers of Moscow and Berlin.
|[From a letter by F. L. Lucas of King's College, Cambridge, British anti-appeasement campaigner, to The Week-end Review, 21 October 1933]|
Chamberlain's policy was in some respects a continuation of what had gone before and was popular until the failure of the Munich Agreement to stop Hitler in Czechoslovakia. "Appeasement" had been a respectable term between 1919 and 1937 to signify the pursuit of peace. Many believed after the First World War that wars were started by mistake, in which case the League could prevent them, or that they were caused by large-scale armaments, in which case disarmament was the remedy, or that they were caused by national grievances, in which case the grievances should be redressed peacefully. Many thought that the Versailles Settlement had been unjust, that the German minorities were entitled to self-determination and that Germany was entitled to equality in armaments.
Most Conservative politicians were in favour of appeasement, though Churchill said their supporters were divided. It was accepted by most of those responsible for British foreign policy in the 1930s, by leading journalists and academics and by members of the royal family, such as Edward VIII and his successor, George VI.
Churchill was unusual in believing that Germany menaced freedom and democracy and should be resisted over Czechoslovakia. A week before Munich he warned, "The partition of Czechoslovakia under pressure from England and France amounts to the complete surrender of the Western Democracies to the Nazi threat of force. Such a collapse will bring peace or security neither to England nor to France." But Churchill's leadership of Britain during the war and his role in creating the post-war consensus against appeasement has tended to obscure the fact that "his contemporary criticism of totalitarian regimes other than Hitler's Germany was at best muted". Not until May 1938 did he begin "consistently to withhold his support from the National Government's conduct of foreign policy in the division lobbies of the House of Commons", and he seems "to have been convinced by the Sudeten German leader, Henlein, in the spring of 1938, that a satisfactory settlement could be reached if Britain managed to persuade the Czech government to make concessions to the German minority."
The Labour Party opposed the Fascist dictators on principle but until the late 1930s it also opposed re-armament and it had a significant pacifist wing. In 1935 its non-pacifist wing persuaded its pacifist leader George Lansbury to resign, to be replaced by Clement Attlee, and in 1937 Ernest Bevin and Hugh Dalton persuaded the party to oppose appeasement.
Czechoslovakia did not concern most people until the middle of September 1938, when they began to object to a small democratic state being bullied. Nevertheless, the initial response of the British public to the Munich agreement was generally favourable. As Chamberlain left for Munich in 1938, the whole House of Commons cheered him noisily. On 30 September, on his return to Britain, Chamberlain delivered his famous "peace for our time" speech to delighted crowds. He was invited by the royal family on to the balcony at Buckingham Palace before he had reported to Parliament. The agreement was supported by most of the press, only Reynold's News and the Daily Worker dissenting. In parliament the Labour Party opposed the agreement. Some Conservatives abstained in the vote. However, the only MP to advocate war was the Conservative Duff Cooper, who had resigned from the government in protest against the agreement.
The journalist Shiela Grant Duff's Penguin Special, Europe and the Czechs was published and distributed to every MP on the day that Chamberlain returned from Munich. Her book was a spirited defence of the Czech nation and a detailed criticism of British policy, confronting the need for war if necessary. It was influential and widely read. Although she argued against the policy of "peace at almost any price" she never actually used the word "appeasement" and did not take the personal tone that Guilty Men was to take two years later.
( “The British policeman should stick to his own beat.” - Evening Standard, April 22, 1935 )...Paris may pass in gas and flame and blood –We shall sit safe behind our sundering flood.Berlin may build a Holier Inquisition –It will but mean an extra-late edition.Hitler be hailed through all a wrecked Ukraine –We shall just read, and turn to golf again.For God, the day our guardian seas He took,Gave us the broad breast of a Beaverbrook;Round us, though fails the Channel – never fear! –Still lie the stainless depths of Rothermere.
|[From a verse-satire by F. L. Lucas on the pro-appeasement British press barons; New Statesman and Nation, 11 May 1935, p. 669]|
A few on the left said that that Chamberlain looked forward to a war between Germany and Russia. The Labour Party Leader Clement Attlee claimed in one political speech in 1937 that the National Government had connived at German rearmament "because of its hatred of Russia." British Communists, following the Party line defined by Joseph Stalin, argued that appeasement had been a pro-fascist policy and that the British ruling class would have preferred fascism to socialism. The Communist MP Willie Gallacher said "that many prominent representatives of the Conservative Party, speaking for powerful landed and financial interests in the country, would welcome Hitler and the German Army if they believed that such was the only alternative to the establishment of Socialism in this country." This view has persisted on the far-left.
Once war broke out, appeasement was blamed for the failure to stop the dictators. The Labour MP Hugh Dalton identified the policy with wealthy people in the City of London, Conservatives and members of the peerage who were soft on Hitler. The entry of Churchill as Prime Minister hardened opinion against appeasement and encouraged the search for those responsible. Three British journalists, Michael Foot, Frank Owen and Peter Howard, writing under the name of "Cato" in their book Guilty Men, called for the removal from office of fifteen public figures they held accountable, including Chamberlain and Baldwin. The book defined appeasement as the "deliberate surrender of small nations in the face of Hitler's blatant bullying." It was hastily written and has few claims to historical scholarship, but Guilty Men shaped subsequent thinking about appeasement and it is said that it contributed to the defeat of the Conservatives in the 1945 general election.
The change in the meaning of "appeasement" after Munich was summarised later by the historian David Dilks: "The word in its normal meaning connotes the pacific settlement of disputes; in the meaning usually applied to the period of Neville Chamberlain premiership, it has come to indicate something sinister, the granting from fear or cowardice of unwarranted concessions in order to buy temporary peace at someone else's expense."
Churchill's book The Gathering Storm, published in 1948, made a similar judgment to Guilty Men, though in moderate tones and with some claim to scholarship. This book and Churchill's authority confirmed the orthodox view.
Historians have subsequently explained Chamberlain's policies in various ways. It could be said that he believed sincerely that the objectives of Hitler and Mussolini were limited and that the settlement of their grievances would protect the world from war; for safety, military and air power should be strengthened. Many have judged this belief to be fallacious, since the dictators' demands were not limited and appeasement gave them time to gain greater strength.
In 1961 this view of appeasement as avoidable error and cowardice was set on its head by A.J.P. Taylor in his book The Origins of the Second World War. Taylor argued that Hitler did not have a blueprint for war and was behaving much as any other German leader might have done. Appeasement was an active policy, and not a passive one; allowing Hitler to consolidate himself was a policy implemented by "men confronted with real problems, doing their best in the circumstances of their time". Taylor said that appeasement ought to be seen as a rational response to an unpredictable leader, appropriate to the time both diplomatically and politically.
His view has been shared by other historians, for example, Paul Kennedy, who says of the choices facing politicians at the time, "Each course brought its share of disadvantages: there was only a choice of evils. The crisis in the British global position by this time was such that it was, in the last resort, insoluble, in the sense that there was no good or proper solution."Martin Gilbert has expressed a similar view: "At bottom, the old appeasement was a mood of hope, Victorian in its optimism, Burkean in its belief that societies evolved from bad to good and that progress could only be for the better. The new appeasement was a mood of fear, Hobbesian in its insistence upon swallowing the bad in order to preserve some remnant of the good, pessimistic in its belief that Nazism was there to stay and, however horrible it might be, should be accepted as a way of life with which Britain ought to deal."
The arguments in Taylor's Origins of the Second World War (sometimes described as "revisionist") were rejected by many historians at the time and reviews of his book in Britain and the United States were generally critical. Nevertheless, he was praised for some of his insights. By showing that appeasement was a popular policy and that there was continuity in British foreign policy after 1933, he shattered the common view of the appeasers as a small, degenerate clique that had mysteriously hijacked the British government sometime in the 1930s and who had carried out their policies in the face of massive public resistance; and by portraying the leaders of the 1930s as real people attempting to deal with real problems, he made the first strides towards attempting to explain the actions of the appeasers rather than merely to condemn them.
In the early 1990s a new theory of appeasement, sometimes called "counter-revisionist", emerged as historians argued that appeasement was probably the only choice for the British government in the 1930s, but that it was poorly implemented, carried out too late and not enforced strongly enough to constrain Hitler. Appeasement was considered a viable policy, considering the strains that the British Empire faced in recuperating from World War I, and Chamberlain was said to have adopted a policy suitable to Britain's cultural and political needs. Frank McDonough is a leading proponent of this view of appeasement and describes his book Neville Chamberlain, Appeasement and the British Road to War as a "post revisionist" study. Appeasement was a crisis management strategy seeking a peaceful settlement of Hitler's grievances. "Chamberlain's worst error," says McDonough, "was to believe that he could march Hitler on the yellow brick road to peace when in reality Hitler was marching very firmly on the road to war." He has criticised revisionist historians for concentrating on Chamberlain's motivations rather than how appeasement worked in practice – as a "usable policy" to deal with Hitler. James P. Levy argues against the outright condemnation of appeasement. "Knowing what Hitler did later," he writes, "the critics of Appeasement condemn the men who tried to keep the peace in the 1930s, men who could not know what would come later. ... The political leaders responsible for Appeasement made many errors. They were not blameless. But what they attempted was logical, rational, and humane."
Statesmen in the post-war years have often referred to their opposition to appeasement as a justification for firm, sometimes armed, action in international relations.
U.S. President Harry S. Truman thus explained his decision to enter the Korean War in 1950, British Prime Minister Anthony Eden his confrontation of EgyptianPresidentGamal Abdel Nasser in the Suez Crisis of 1956, U.S. President John F. Kennedy his "quarantine" of Cuba in 1962, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson his resistance to communism in Indochina in the 1960s, and U.S. President Ronald Reagan his air strike on Libya in 1986.
During the Cold War, the "lessons" of appeasement were cited by prominent conservative allies of Reagan, who urged Reagan to be assertive in "rolling back" Soviet-backed regimes throughout the world. The Heritage Foundation's Michael Johns, for instance, wrote in 1987 that "seven years after Ronald Reagan's arrival in Washington, the United States government and its allies are still dominated by the culture of appeasement that drove Neville Chamberlain to Munich in 1938.
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher invoked the example of Churchill during the Falklands War of 1982: "When the American Secretary of State, Alexander Haig, urged her to reach a compromise with the Argentines she rapped sharply on the table and told him, pointedly, 'that this was the table at which Neville Chamberlain sat in 1938 and spoke of the Czechs as a faraway people about whom we know so little'."  The spectre of appeasement was raised in discussions of the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair also cited Churchill's warnings about German rearmament to justify their action in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq War. In May 2008, President Bush cautioned against "the false comfort of appeasement" when dealing with Iran and its President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali demands a confrontational policy at the European level to meet the threat of radical Islam, and compares policies of non-confrontation to Neville Chamberlain's appeasement of Hitler. The policy of the West towards China on Tibet is considered by some Tibetan representatives as appeasement.