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Appeasement is the policy of trying to resolve outstanding conflicts in order to reduce international tensions. This always involves some amount of concessions, by either or both parties. Historically, it often refers to the movement in the late 1930s to give Adolf Hitler what he wanted in order to avoid war. Since then, the term has been widely applied to cases similar to the rise of Nazi Germany and almost entirely different.
World War Two
Appeasement was a popular political position in the United Kingdom in the late 1930s as Hitler consolidated his hold on power and it became apparent he was re-arming and preparing for war. It was particularly associated with Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister from 1937 to 1940, who came home promising "peace in our time" after signing the so-called Munich Agreement on 30 September 1938, which gave Hitler a slice of Czechoslovakia in exchange for promises not to invade Poland. However, appeasement in fact if not name was also apparent in the (lack of) response on the part of Britain and France to the re-militarization of the Rhineland, the "Anschluss" of Austria, Germany's and Italy's blatant breaking of the "non-intervention" agreement with regards to the Spanish Civil War and later on the annexation of Czechia while creating a Slovak puppet state. Similarly, Britain and France did nothing when Italy and Germany redrew the borders of the many small and mid-sized states in the "cordon sanitaire" intended to keep the Soviet Union and Germany out of each other's face.
There were two main reasons for those who advocated appeasement.
There were those who didn't want war because they were pacifists, or didn't want more horrible bloodshed on the scale of World War One especially if Britain would lose. This view may be intellectually respectable in some ways, but posterity tends to cast a bad light on it. Is it wrong to reward aggression in order to prevent worse aggression? Maybe all-out war could have been stopped with diplomacy; maybe the Holocaust wouldn't have taken place but for all-out war; maybe it's better to go back in time and kill Baby Hitler or his innocent mother.
- Peace Pledge Union: This long-lasting, largely Christian organisation opposed all war and supported appeasement, believing that overturning the harsh conditions of Versailles[note 1] would satisfy Hitler. As war approached, they focused on allowing members to opt out of war work, and on humanitarian efforts.
- Bertrand Russell: an early member of the Peace Pledge Union, he supported appeasement until in 1940 he decided that sometimes war could be the lesser of two evils.
- Quakers (Society of Friends): Although they had a long tradition of agitating for peace, their efforts were focused less on preventing war than on ensuring members could register as conscientious objectors, as well as humanitarian work in Europe, such as the Kindertransport.
Then there were those who were strongly in favor of Germany. This included many figures on the British far right, a few innocent Germanophiles who thought Hitler was probably just misunderstood and misreported, and a further subset of the British ruling classes who thought that anything was preferable to the threat of communism. A number of those on the far right who had opposed war went on to serve Britain in combat, such as A. K. Chesterton, although many others avoided the war through internment.
- Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, 14th Duke of Hamilton: a man of fascist sympathies, he worked for the British government trying to negotiate a peace with German contacts until July 1938 when his negotiations broke down. Even later, he remained in touch with some high-ranking Germans, and was accused of being a foreign agent by British intelligence. His chief contact was Rudolf Hess, who on 10 May, 1941 secretly arrived in Scotland. It is widely believed he had come to the UK to visit Hamilton and with his aid negotiate peace with the British government.
- Edward VIII, later Duke of Windsor, widely suspected of pro-German and anti-war sympathies. But then his family was German.
- Oswald Mosley: British fascist leader campaigned against war in the late 1930s and was even beaten up in the street for it on one occasion.
- Militant Christian Patriots: An anti-semitic right-wing organisation who advocated appeasement in the late 1930s.
- The Link (The Anglo-German Link): Ostensibly an organisation promoting peace and reconcilation, its founder was anti-semite and Hitler sympathiser Admiral Sir Barry Domvile.
- Anglo-German Fellowship: A more respectable pro-German group with strong support from British business (a lot of which had investments in Germany) and the upper classes, including but not limited to Douglas-Hamilton. It wasn't outwardly fascistic (at least initially) but some of its members were of Nazi sympathies and others left as the true horrors of Hitler's rule became ever more apparent.
Other "arguments" in favor of Nazi appeasement
Another class would be those communists who opposed war while Hitler was allied with Stalin and supported war when Hitler turned on Stalin. If you accept that Stalin was almost as evil as Hitler, such people were almost as evil as Hitler apologists.
After the war a third class of "arguments" in favor of appeasement was brought up, arguing that Britain and France were just not ready for war and the year of peace the Munich agreement gave them provided much needed time. This of course is hogwash, as the same amount of time was also available to the Nazis (who made full use of it) and the treaty of Munich and subsequent annexation of Bohemia and Moravia allowed the Nazis to make full use of the Škoda factories to churn out panzers far enough away from the reach of any British air force bombardment. Furthermore the highly defensive way of fighting the war on the part of France does not indicate the time was indeed well used. As for an invasion of Britain being successful in a 1938 war, just mention Operation Sealion on any alternate history forum and see the reaction you get. In short, the "we needed the time to be really ready for war" is a protective lie that holds less water than a sifter after you throw a grenade in it. Furthermore nobody at the time in anything close to power used the argument themselves.
Since World War II, appeasement has been used a snarl word hurled at anyone who took a conciliatory or dovish foreign policy approach. In fact, a certain fetish seemed to develop around "resolve" and "credibility", leading to some Cold War policies (such as the escalation of the Vietnam War and its bastard son) that had no basis in empirical reality. The phrase "Munich Syndrome" was coined to refer to the pathology that "the opponent is always Hitler, and it's always Munich 1938." Even in situations in which concessions might have been appropriate, they were hard to implement, as they were labeled appeasement. On the other hand, an appeased opponent getting out of hand (say North Korea getting nukes) can be more disastrous than a non-conciliatory stance, but hindsight is 20/20 as they say.
In recent years, appeasement has seen a resurgence as political scientists and even policy wonks have begun debating the usefulness and limits of deterrence. Instead, many have gone back and studied other (far more successful) attempts at appeasement, and found it to be a worthwhile policy under certain conditions. Most of these conditions have to do with the nature of the opposing regime, and the motivations for the claims they make. An insecure or frightened state is easily appeased, a paranoid or greedy one not so much. Moreover, a state hell-bent on war for war's sake (such as Nazi Germany) is impossible to appease. In general, it helps to know your opponent and to take your opponent seriously. Hitler had written a book about his intention to wage war on Europe and his belief in Social Darwinism. People back then thought nobody can be that crazy. Turns out there are people who are that crazy.
Unknown to most Americans, the current American hegemony has roots in British appeasement of the US at the turn of the 20th century, on matters from the Canadian-Alaskan border to the fortifying of the Panama Canal.
- Godwin's Corollary: In War Debates, the Probability of Hawks Invoking Hitler Approaches One, The Atlantic
- See the Wikipedia article on Opposition to World War II.
- See the Wikipedia article on Munich Agreement.
- See the Wikipedia article on Peace Pledge Union.
- Pacifism in World War 2, Peace Pledge Union
- See the Wikipedia article on Bertrand Russell.
- Wartime Quakers remembered in national memorial, BBC
- Duke of Hamilton, Spartacus
- See the Wikipedia article on Anglo-German Fellowship.
- Steve A. Yetiv. Explaining Foreign Policy: U.S. Decision-Making in the Gulf Wars. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2004.