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What is Appeasement?

By Venus D.
Updated May 23, 2024
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Appeasement, a diplomatic strategy, consists of pleasing the aggressor in order to avoid armed resistance. In his 1983 book, Strategy and Diplomacy, political scholar Paul Kennedy contends that appeasement is achieved through rational concessions that are better than the bloodshed and violence that result from war.

This most well-known example of appeasement is the failed 1939 agreement between British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler, known as the Munich Agreement. As a part of the agreement, Sudetenland, a portion of land within Czechoslovakia, was given to Germany. The British were motivated by a number of reasons, the most important of which was that they were unlikely to win a war against Germany. They had sufficient naval power, but neither strong resources on land nor airpower.

Appeasement was also a sound economic policy for Great Britain at that time. They simply could not rearm easily after the public debts incurred from World War I. Furthermore, the slaughter that took place during World War I was still fresh in the hearts and the minds of the citizenry, so they were in no hurry to enter into a new violence.

The British public and the rest of world, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt, were delighted by Chamberlain’s achievement. The speech Chamberlain gave upon his return to England is known as The Peace of Our Time. The German military themselves also attempted appeasement with an attempt, albeit an unsuccessful one, to remove Hitler from power.

The League of Nations reinforced the value of appeasement. A survey taken at the time showed that many nations believed the world should attempt to stop an aggressive nation through such methods as trade sanctions. However, a substantial number disagreed as to whether the world should resort to war.

The Munich Agreement ultimately failed to deter Hitler, who also gained an alliance with Stalin in 1939. His successes encouraged him further, especially as Nazism began to rapidly take root in Germany. Despite their aversion to war and an astounding lack of resources, Britain declared war on Germany in 1939, officially abrogating the Munich Agreement, which had allowed Germany to gain Czechoslovakia. Britain, the country that had repeatedly attempted appeasement, conducted one of the biggest arms build-ups of the time, costing 37 million pounds.

According to many academics, England and France did not believe that appeasement was possible. Instead, appeasing Germany was simply a way to prolong the inevitable conflict. Whatever the motivation was for attempting appeasement, the strategy completely failed.

Since World War II, appeasement has been viewed negatively despite being considered a possible solution for international conflicts, such as the ongoing war against terror. For example, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the ruling political party in India, believes appeasement of terrorists to be the cause of train bombings that took place in Mumbai on 11 July 2006. As George Orwell summarized in 1941, “The notion that you can somehow defeat violence by submitting to it is simply a flight from fact. As I have said, it is only possible to people who have money and guns between themselves and reality."

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