Why Appeasement Was Adopted
As we’ve seen, at various point from 1934 onwards Britain was fairly accommodating of Hitler’s foreign policy aims, by signing agreements that broke the Treaty of Versailles and turning a blind eye to Hitler’s other breaches of it. Britain acted this way because its government was practicing the policy of appeasement – the strategy of avoiding war by trying to satisfy some of the demands of aggressive powers such as France and Germany.
But far from convincing Hitler to be happy with British generosity, Hitler responded by demanding more, and making his demands more aggressively. But Britain continued to believe it could appease Hitler into backing down all the way until 1939.
Arguments For Appeasement
Looking at it today, the policy of appeasement seems absolutely bonkers, little different from trying to stop a murderer by giving him a knife. The key argument against appeasement seems obvious: it only encouraged aggressive powers to be more aggressive. Ultimately, this viewpoint was shown to be correct. But if we put appeasement into the context of its time, we can see it had a certain logic to it.
* The British people were sick and tired of war – In 1938, only 20 years had passed since World War One had ended. The majority of the adult British population had lived through – or even fought in – the war, and still had terrible memories of the hundreds of thousands of tragic and futile deaths it caused. Pretty much nobody wanted to live through such terrible times again. And who could blame them? Almost as importantly, the British army was hardly in a fit state to fight another long war against a powerful enemy.
* Maybe Hitler wasn’t so unreasonable – By 1938, the Treaty of Versailles was regarded by many as having been needlessly harsh on Germany. They sympathized with Hitler’s quest to overturn it. To many, the idea of keeping Germany as weak as possible seemed to achieve no purpose. Apart from anything else, they argued, it meant Britain could not trade with Germany. But some went even further than this; they actually admired the Nazi regime for a variety of reasons, including its opposition to communism, which was viewed by many as a bigger threat than fascism.