The end of the First World War left the world in absolute tatters, with gruesome levels of economic depravity and an overall trend of falling standards of living. For the first time in the history of humankind, the global population witnessed the terrible consequences of such a massive war. Both from a strategic perspective and from a general humanitarian one, there was a spirit that unified everyone- the spirit of avoiding war at all cost. This motivation was certainly not entirely misplaced, and gave rise to the diplomatic policy of appeasement- the policy of the British, and later the French, of avoiding war with aggressive powers such as Italy, Germany and Japan, by giving way to their demands.
To determine whether appeasement was a good or bad diplomatic policy, we must examine its origin, development and consequences. One general precursor to appeasement was definitely the general aversion to war itself. British governments were supported by a strongly pacifist public opinions, and the horrors of war ensured this mood persisted in the entirety of Europe. Additionally, several people believed nations like Italy and Germany had genuine grievances- the Versailles Treaty had been exceedingly rough on the nations. The British were nearly expected to show sympathy. On the economic front, cooperation between Germany and Britain was anticipated to be beneficial for recovering internal conditions in both countries, especially Germany.
Besides such tactical reasons, one big reason for maintaining a friendly attitude was the British conservative attitude against communist USSR. Hitler was considered no threat at all, in fact they wanted a rather united geographical and political front against the huge nation of USSR. The intentions that drove appeasement did not seem very unreasonable. However, its development became questionable with each passing year. The appeasement of Japan’s invasion of Manchuria, and eventually a large portion of China, Italian invasion of Abyssinia, Germany’s rearmament and occupation of Rhineland were all outright violations of not only the Versailles Treaty but even the sovereignty of China and Abyssinia.
After Chamberlain came to power in Britain, appeasement was implemented with full force, and with ridiculous diplomatic ignorance. Almost all the unreasonable demands of Hitler were met ‘by negotiation’, and this reached its absolute zenith when Britain and France handed over Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia without consent of Czechoslovakia itself (which was absolutely against a German takeover). Hitler was inclined to believe he could go to absolutely any extent that he liked, offending the sovereignty of nations, enslaving their people and ripping them of identity. In fact, the soft-handed attitude of Britain and France made Hitler risk Poland, that was the immediate cause of the outbreak of Second World War.
Appeasement started off as a pacifist policy, but developed into that of ridiculous tolerance of atrocities. Hitler’s campaign involved violence in any case, but both Britain and France were actually hesitant to take responsible action against it, so long as it did not harm them. They should have taken a strong stand against Hitler when there was actually an opportunity to do so and Germany was weak. The German expansion of armaments rose to such calculated and massive extents without any hindrance whatsoever from either France or Britain. It was certainly myopic of the two nations to think Hitler’s ambitions would not be fueled by such appeasement.
In addition to this was Mussolini who was not as nearly as strong as Hitler, but possessed an ego larger than Italy itself. His psychological victory over Abyssinia was rather ill-placed and unfair to the smaller nations of the world, whose interests were always compromised at the hands of the ‘greater’ nations. Appeasement was not the only factor that led to the Second World War, but it was definitely one of them.
Every diplomatic policy demands continuous determination of intentions and welfare of the larger good. Above all, policies should prioritize preserving the safety, sovereignty and integrity of a nation, – something that appeasement aimed to do, but miserably failed to execute; it ruined a good half of Europe and major chunks of Asia and Africa, led innocents under the dictatorial regime of fascism and Nazism, and forsook the lives of millions who deserved to live as much as the citizens of a ‘great’ nation.
-Contributed by Tinka Dubey
Picture Credits: snopes.com