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1939 German Invasion of Poland

British reaction to controversial Polish invasion by Germany.

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Neville Chamberlain's Appeasement Theory

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The Nazi war machine had a significant effect on the development of political alliances that eventually lead to the beginning of World War II.  As German influence began to permeate through Western Europe, Allied leaders struggled to peacefully isolate their nations from a violent conflict.  Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain of Great Britain shared this interest of peace, though was often reminded of his previous diplomatic relations with the intimidating German republic.  His attempts of appeasement to avert the Second World War eventually proved futile, as England was drawn into the great conflict after the sudden invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany.  The policy of appeasement, advocated by Chamberlain, mishandled the already fragile relationship between England and Germany, demonstrating his ineffectiveness as a capable politician.  Diplomatic relations between volatile Western European nations were largely based on increasingly dangerous alliances before the start of the grievous conflict.  Prime Minister Chamberlain was especially concerned with Adolf Hitler and his rising socialist regime.  These relations would set the stage for one of the greatest misunderstandings of the twentieth century.

Diplomatic relations between Germany and England before World War II were superficial at best.  Following World War I, Britain and the United States were recognized as the premier military powers in the world.  Ferdinand Kuhn, a writer for The New York Times, reported in early 1936 "as the year [1935] ended there was genuine fear in business circles that Britain's prosperity so laboriously built since the crisis of 1931, was at the mercy of one or two dictators on the Continent of Europe."[1]  Germany was especially vulnerable to economic downturns because of the heavy reparations they were required to pay as outlined in the Versailles Treaty, signed in 1919 by the "Big Four"[2] Allied powers.  Once he took office in 1937, Neville Chamberlain was faced with the difficult task of exemplifying peace in Europe.  To advance his beliefs, Chamberlain appropriated his time and energy to the breakthrough of appeasement in Western Europe, theorized near the beginning of 1934.  Historians attribute many of the problems in the 1930s to unfair ramifications towards Germany in the Versailles Treaty.  Historian James P. Levy says "nothing that happened at Versailles excuses the actions of Germany later on, but it was unwise to foster conditions in a defeated power that made the rise of fanatics like Hitler more, not less, likely and increased the chances of a future war."[3]  The severity of the treaty was a major force in the motivation for Germany to rearm, and Hitler himself recognized the political and economic effects that surfaced as a result. 

Realizing that Germany continued to struggle economically, Prime Minister Chamberlain appropriately condemned any situations regarding Nazi insurrection, while asserting other means to satisfy Adolf Hitler.  The New York Times reported on May 21, 1936, after an agreement to resign a portion of the Rhineland to Germany, that "Hitler will reject the plan because it demands another surrender of soverignity over a part of German Territory."[4]  Accordingly, Chamberlain grew to loathe the Nazi organization and its inherent effects on the citizens of Germany.  Britain initially lacked enthusiasm to energetically pursue a policy of appeasement.  Additionally, Parliament was not particularly anxious to consider a tenacious military response to the threat of Nazism in Western Europe, as the country continued to recuperate from the effects of the First World War.   As Germany reoccupied the Rhineland in 1936, it became apparent that a response, whether diplomatic or militaristic, became necessary.  This occupation was in clear disregard of the Locarno Treaty, an agreement that appropriated the region to be occupied by the Allied Forces, following World War I.   When Chamberlain was appointed Prime Minister in 1937, the integrated world order that had been established by the Versailles Treaty and other alliances was steadily crumbling.  Chamberlain consequently grasped this understanding and attempted to resolve such issues peacefully and effectively. 

Fortunately, in the years preceding the Second World War, Chamberlain's speeches to Parliament and the House of Commons prompted the necessity of preparation.  Chamberlain himself noted "as the leader and spokesman as one of the most powerful and influential nations In Europe, Herr Hitler has got it in his power to make an invaluable contribution to a general European settlement."[5]  In response to the growing tension with Germany, he pursued a policy that was popularized as appeasement, though he had formulated such ideas for years previous.  In September 1938, British Foreign Minister Lord Halifax continually addressed his viewpoints regarding Prime Minister Chamberlain, realizing there were mixed reactions to his assertive diplomatic policy.  He said "some say he tried his best to avert a war with a country that wanted nothing but war; others say he was blind and foolhardy in trying to deal with Nazi Germany."[6]  Obviously it was an arduous task to satisfy Adolf Hitler; however Chamberlain was blessed with the audacity to pursue the assignment.  Historian William Fuscher theorizes that Chamberlain hoped society would learn from the past and try at all costs to avert a Great War similar to that which had plagued Europe just decades earlier.[7]  The basic ideological foundation presented by Prime Minister Chamberlain was that "history must not repeat itself," and there were other solutions besides bloodshed.  His ideas for appeasement required special cooperation from the British press for his personal support.  

Chamberlain firmly believed it was necessary to inform public officials of German aggression.  Historian Robert J. Caputi asserts "an essential part of Chamberlain's appeasement policy towards Nazi Germany required that Nazi atrocities against the Jews, as well as other dissident groups, be watered down by the Press."[8]  His solution to the problem required unanimous approval from not only Parliament, but from society in general.  It was this reason for which he had such confidence that Hitler would easily acknowledge the propositions of the Allied powers.  As a means to propel his peaceful solution, Chamberlain called a conference in Munich, where an agreement was made that altered the course of English diplomacy with Germany.  The Munich Agreement became a defining clarification of the depletion of peace in Western Europe.

The Munich Agreement contains many resolutions that at the time seemed reasonable and practical.  The conference occurred on September 29, 1938 with representatives from the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy in attendance.  The evacuation of the Sudeten Germany Territory, an area of condensed populations of ethnic Germans, by Czechoslovakia, was explicitly outlined.[9]  The Munich Agreement also outlined the possibility of a joint German-Czechoslovakian commission to facilitate the transfer of ethnic German populations to German dominion.  Article Six, the most significant of this historic document, states: "The final determination of the frontiers will be carried out by the international commission. The commission will also be entitled to recommend to the four Powers, Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Italy, in certain exceptional cases, minor modifications in the strictly ethnographical determination of the zones which are to be transferred without plebiscite."[10]  Hitler was reluctant to sign this document, as his goal for a powerful Third Reich necessitated a population of a perfect "Aryan race," which Hitler believed was contained within the German culture.  Chamberlain was particularly satisfied that he had finally attained a document with the signatures of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, two dignitaries that exemplified fascism in Western Europe.  Under the agreement, Hitler was responsible for making sure that the peaceable transfer of populations was completed effectively and sufficiently.  Historian Frank McDonough relates that following the signing, Chamberlain had Hitler sign a private document, later to be known as the Anglo-German declaration, that "promised Britain and Germany would adopt %u2018the method of consultation' in any future disputes and would %u2018never go to war with one another again.'"[11]  Although it seemed superficially relevant, the Munich Agreement only encouraged Chamberlain to revel in his new confidence.

Appropriately, Chamberlain returned home to England to a hero's welcome and was invited to brief the King of England regarding the ramifications of the Munich Pact.  In his famous "Peace for our Time" speech, Chamberlain declared  "we are resolved that the method of consultation shall be the method adopted to deal with any other questions that may concern our two countries, and we are determined to continue our efforts to remove possible sources of difference, and thus to contribute to assure the peace of Europe."[12]  He confidently proclaimed that he had inadvertently avoided another world war, subsequently concluding that this would abolish German fascism.  He received congratulations from such world leaders as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Mackenzie King of Canada, and even Pope Pious XI for his temporary peace agreement with Germany.[13]  Chamberlain failed to realize, however, that this one agreement would not be conclusive enough to appease Adolf Hitler.  Apprehension became prevalent in Great Britain in the months following the signing of the agreement.  The New York Times reported "it is hard to pin down those nervous officials, business men and average citizens, who look with such unconcealed anxiety into 1939."[14] Due to the esteemed reception of the occurrence at Munich, Chamberlain considered that nothing further would occur.  The continued domination of Europe by Nazism, however, proved him wrong and represented the failure of the uncertain Munich Agreement.


[1] Ferdinand Kuhn, "Britain Sees War Menacing Revival," The New York Times, 1 Jan. 1936, 22.  The author refers to a social crisis in England in 1931, when Labour Government Leader Ramsay MacDonald resigned, causing great distress in government. 

[2] United States, Great Britain, France and Italy

[3] James P. Levy, Appeasement and Rearmament: Britain, 1936-1939 (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2006), 137. [4] Charles A. Selden, "Four Powers To Form Alliance," The New York Times, 21 Mar. 1936, 1. [5] Ferdinand Kuhn, "Appeal to Hitler Is Made in Britain," The New York Times, 30 Jan. 1937, 2.  [6] Lord Halifax, "Chamberlain Declares War." [7] Larry William Fuscher, Neville Chamberlain and Appeasement: A Study in the Politics of HistoryHistory, (New York: Norton, 1982), 12. [8] Robert J. Caputi, Neville Chamberlain and Appeasement (Selinsgrove [Pa.]: Susquehanna University Press; London: Associated University Presses, 2000), 169. [9] Germany,  Munich Pact,  (29 Sept. 1938) http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/imt/munich1.htm (accessed 27 January 2007). [10] Germany,  Munich Pact.

[11] Frank McDonough, Neville Chamberlain, Appeasement, and the British Road to War, (New York: Manchester University Press, 1998), 71.

  

[12] Neville Chamberlain,  "Peace for Our Time," 10 Sept. 1939 http://eudocs.lib.byu.edu/index.php/Neville_Chamberlain%27s_%22Peace_For_Our_Time%22_speech (accessed 12 January 2007).

[13] Ferdinand Kuhn, "Britain Sees Rough Weather Ahead," The New York Times, 1 Jan. 1939, 55.

[14] "Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact," Wikipedia, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molotov-Ribbentrop_Pact> (accessed 27 Jan. 2007).

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