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Friday, 12 September 2014

Was Appeasement justified?

A cartoon by satirist David Low mocking Appeasement
Last week I talked about how a series of events referred to as 'Appeasement' led to World War Two. Many people both today and at the time including Winston Churchill opposed Appeasement saying that it was weak but some contemporaries and some modern day historians believed it was the right thing to do. I will discuss the policy for you to make up your own mind.

The Churchill's Plan- By the time of Hitler's annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938 Winston Churchill had formulated a plan that he continued to say would be the better alternative to Appeasement. In fact he had started to push for the points in his plan to be enacted as soon as Hitler came to power in 1933. This involved rebuilding the arm forces but especially the airforce with focus on the Spitfire, building a Grand Alliance of Britain, the Commonwealth nations, (Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa), France, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy, China, Japan, the USA and USSR and finally calling Hitler's bluff and threatening him if he did any expansionist ideas or something which broke the Treaty of Versailles. But to what extent could Churchill's plan have worked?
This quote sums up Churchill's view on Appeasement
Weaknesses of Appeasement- Churchill was at least right in some aspects as if France and Britain had started to build up their armies and airforces since 1933 Hitler most likely would have taken the two nations more seriously in their threats. The only reason why France didn't threaten Hitler after he remilitarised the Rhineland was that the German army was far larger than the French one so naturally if the French had built up an army it could have been a much more formidable foe to the Third Reich. The Battle of Britain also showcased how good the Spitfire was compared to the German Messerschmidt so Britain truly could have done much more serious damage to the Luftwaffe if they had started building up the airforce since 1933 rather than 1936.

In regards to the Grand Alliance it would have made sense to create one to combat Hitler as he would have had most of the world powers against him including one of the largest armies; that of the Soviet Union who was the one who captured Berlin in 1945. France and Britain could have focused all their attention on fighting Germany if the two other main Axis members, Italy and Japan, were not on Hitler's side. In 1936 Italy had even blocked the attempted annexation of Austria so this can be seen as a clear sign that negotiations with Mussolini could have been opened. With Hitler's hatred of communism and democracy it made the USSR and USA respectively natural allies against the Third Reich.

Finally in regards of threatening Hitler every time he broke the Treaty of Versailles or made a land grab it could have possibly worked. When Hitler moved troops into the Rhineland he ordered them to immediately leave if the French showed signs of hostility. Hitler did not wish to go to war against Britain and France so it is doubtful that in the early stages of Appeasement he would have risked war with two countries that had defeated Germany around twenty years prior. Hitler immediately started rearming when he came to power in 1933 which was prohibited by the Treaty of Versailles so if Britain and France had even challenged him then he wouldn't have been a challenge. After the 1938 Munich Crisis Hitler had seized the iron mines of Skoda which gave him even more resources for army so without Appeasement Hitler could have been deprived of these resources.

Neville Chamberlain's 'Peace in Our Time'
Faults with the Alternative- Churchill's alternative to Appeasement had some major holes in it though. For one the British couldn't rearm until 1936. In 1926 the Ten Year Plan had been put in place which made the economy for the next decade assuming there would be no war, keeping in mind Hitler was a little known figure outside Germany, so if the British government was to abandon this plan to rearm it would mean severely reducing the pensions, out of work benefits and other similar things that the poor needed to live by for the sake of rearming to fight an economically bankrupt country. Ironically it was Churchill himself who had put in place this plan while he was Chancellor of the Exchequer! 

In regards to the Grand was a terrible idea. Although looking back it would seem a good idea to form a Grand Alliance at the time it was an impossibility. Japan fought Germany in World War One because the Germans had possessions in the Pacific but these were annexed so Japan and China had little interest in a seemingly only European war, the USSR was lead by Joseph Stalin who was deeply paranoid so there would be no way a lasting alliance could have worked and especially as the USSR was isolationist until after the war. During the Russian Civil War Churchill even wanted to send troops to fight the Soviets which I am sure Stalin didn't forget. The USA was isolationist as well with it even refusing to be a League of Nations member so as it seemed to be a European conflict the USA wouldn't enter unless Congress, the President and the public felt threatened by Hitler. Italy was a likely ally to Germany with both nations being fascist dictatorships and Mussolini only really blocked Hitler's annexation of Austria was because the areas that Hitler wanted to annex wasn't very clear by 1936. Japan also became an increasingly likely ally with militarism growing in popularity in Japan ever since the establishment of the puppet state of Manchuko in 1931. Finally and also quite embarrassingly Hitler was somewhat popular in Britain, France, the USA and South Africa with many people liking his anti-communist views. Even the US hero Charles Lindbergh did have sympathy for Hitler, (to his credit though he did disagree with the Kristallnacht), and the British Union of Fascists under Oswald Mosely was increasingly popular so going to war early on in Appeasement before Hitler had started his increasingly anti-Semitic laws would have been unpopular.

My own opinion- To avoid inflicting my views on others I normally avoid this but for just this once I will give my own opinion. I believe that Appeasement was right until the point it was abandoned although I do believe that the British and French could have been more forceful. It was right not to blindly abandon social spending and blindly threaten a powerful nation that would have led to a war that we most likely would not have won but it was right to declare war to defend Poland as otherwise he would have done the same to the USSR, strengthening Hitler further and although in Mein Kampf he didn't show outward aggression towards Britain and France that doesn't mean a successor would have been reluctant to show aggression. Although I believe that if the British and French had been more forceful during the remilitarisation of the Rhineland and the Munich Crisis Hitler could have been weakened with the Nazi economy going into turmoil at that point making a failure in the Rhineland and Munich the possible end of the Nazi regime.

Your Opinion- What is your opinion on Appeasement? Do you think that I'm talking complete rubbish or do you agree with my view? Do you agree with Churchill, Chamberlain or neither? Please leave your views in the comment section and posts will be every Friday from now on. You can also leave suggestions about possible future posts and decide on the subject on my next post: How did Scotland and England form Great Britain or What if Scotland and England never formed Great Britain, (albeit under English rule). Thanks and have a nice day!

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