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The topic is still controversial and also more complicated than at first appears. Already in the 1920s many British politicians felt that the Treaty of Versailles (1919) had been too harsh and were prepared to consider amending the treaty in Germany's favour. In fact, in the 1920s and early 1930s the reparations burden on Germany was reduced. Germany was admitted to the League of Nations, and Britain and France also withdrew all their occupation forces from the Rhineland in 1930, earlier than originally scheduled. In particular, Britain was willing to 'redress legitimate [German] grievances'. Obviously, the original intention was to make concessions to a democratic Germany on the basis of negotiations, but from 1933 onwards Britain (and France) found themselves giving in to bullying from Nazi Germany. The key acts of appeasement are generally regarded as these:

  • 1935 - Failure to 'do anything about' the reintroduction of conscription (compulsory military service) in Germany. Germany also announced that it already had an air force and intended to build more warplanes. Britain came to an agreement with Germany about the respective size of the British and German navies.
  • 1936 - Under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, the Rhineland was demilitarized. The area remained part of Germany, but the Germans were not allowed to have troops or fortifications there. In 1936 Hitler sent troops into the Rhineland, and France and Britain merely protested. They would have been justified in throwing the German troops out by force.
  • 1938 (March) Germany invaded Austria though the Versailles Treaty forbade any union between the two countries.
  • 1938 (September, Munich Agreement) Hitler demanded the Sudetenland, that is the German-speaking areas of Czechoslovakia along the border with Germany (and what had been Austria). The British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, pressurized Czechoslovakia into handing these areas over to Germany. Hitler promised that he would make NO further territorial demands in Europe. The aim of course was to maintain peace. One needs to bear in mind that in Europe the First World War (1914-18) had been utterly traumatic, and there was no enthusiasm for another major war, especially in the democracies. The key problems were these:
    1. Throughout, Britain and France were reacting to events. It seems that there wasn't really a British 'policy' in any ordinary sense of the word. Britain and France never took the initiative. This encouraged Hitler to demand more and more. The unintended result was a kind of triumphal march for Hitler through the 1930s.
    2. There was a failure to grasp the speed, the dynamism of Hitler's policies and actions.
    3. There was also a disastrous failure to understand the nature of extreme German nationalism and its potentially boundless demands. There were hardly any people in high office in Britain with a knowledge of German or of Germany. One of the few exceptions was Alfred Duff Cooper, who was the first member of the government to speak out publicly against Nazi Germany (September 1933). He was First Lord of the Admiralty (Navy Minister) at the time of Munich Agreement in 1938 and resigned in protest.
    4. It was wrongly assumed that Hitler essentially a reasonable man and that one could do business with him.
    5. Appeasement failed. In March 1939 Germany occupied the rest of Bohemia and Moravia (the western part of Czechoslovakia). It was at this point that, without consulting any colleagues, Chamberlain suddenly offered a guarantee to Poland, which was obviously the next country in line for Hitler's plans for expansion. When Hitler went to war against Poland, he didn't really expect Britain to go to war, and was unpleasantly surprised. Time and again, people say that Britain (and France) 'should have done something', 'should have stopped Hitler' and so on. However, this is meaningless without saying **what** they should have done. A resolution by Parliament condemning Germany wouldn't have 'stopped Hitler'. [This answer needs to be continued when I have time. Joncey]
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βˆ™ 2013-08-26 22:45:20
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