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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."
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the definition of appeasement in a historical context?
Appeasement in a historical context refers to the policy of making concessions to an aggressive power to avoid conflict. This strategy was notably used by European democracies in the 1930s, particularly by Britain and France, in an attempt to prevent war by satisfying the demands of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. The Munich Agreement of 1938 is a classic example, where these nations allowed Germany to annex the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia, hoping it would satiate Hitler's expansionist appetite.
Why is the policy of appeasement often viewed negatively?
The policy of appeasement is often viewed negatively because it is associated with the failure to prevent World War II. Critics argue that by conceding to Hitler's demands, the appeasing nations emboldened the Nazi regime, allowing it to grow stronger and more aggressive. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the appeasement policy is seen as a missed opportunity to stop Nazi aggression early on, which could have altered the course of history and potentially saved millions of lives.
What were the main reasons for the adoption of appeasement policies in the 1930s?
Appeasement policies in the 1930s were adopted for several reasons. The trauma of World War I had left many in Britain and France deeply wary of another conflict, leading to a strong desire for peace. Additionally, economic struggles from the Great Depression made the prospect of military spending unappealing. There was also a belief that the Treaty of Versailles had been too harsh on Germany, and that addressing some of its grievances might promote stability in Europe.
Did any leaders oppose appeasement? If so, who were they and why?
Yes, there were notable opponents to appeasement. One of the most vocal was Winston Churchill, who consistently warned that appeasing Hitler would lead to disaster. He argued that the Nazis' ambitions would not be satisfied with small concessions and that only a strong stance against aggression would preserve peace. Churchill's speeches and writings, as documented by the International Churchill Society, were prescient in predicting the futility of appeasement and the need for preparedness against the growing threat of Nazi Germany.
How has the concept of appeasement influenced modern foreign policy?
The concept of appeasement has had a lasting impact on modern foreign policy, often serving as a cautionary tale. The term "appeasement" is frequently used pejoratively to criticize policies perceived as overly conciliatory to dictatorial regimes or state sponsors of terrorism. The lessons from the 1930s have led many policymakers to advocate for a more assertive stance in international relations, emphasizing the importance of deterrence and the potential risks of making concessions to aggressors.