What was meant by the policy of appeasement?
The term has become derogatory ('negative'). It's NOT a neutral
word for a policy of the inter-war period. In the early 1920s
(probably 1921-23) the British government came to take the view
that the Versailles Treaty of 1919 had beentoo harsh, and it was
willing in principle to make changes in order to meet some of the
German grievances. By about 1924-25 even the French government took
a similar view of some aspects. In the 1920s German reparations
payments were adjusted twice (1924 and 1929), the occupation of the
Rhineland ended early, and in 1926 Germany was admitted to the
League of Nations instead of being excluded as an 'outcast' nation.
At that stage there was no question of altering any borders in
favour of Germany. All these earlyconcessions were made to a
democratic Germany. When Hitler came to power he set about undoing
the Versailles Treaty as fast as he could. From late 1933 he
managed to set the agenda (until 1940-41, in fact). As a result,
Britain and France found themselves always caught unprepared by new
demands made by Hitler. At just about every point Hitler took the
initiative, often amid bullying and threats. Britain and France
tolerated or accepted the following major breaches of the Treaty of
Versailles from 1935 onwards:
- 1935: German re-introduction of conscription (the draft) and
establishment of an air force.
- 1936: German remilitarization of the Rhineland.
- 1938 (March): Annexation of Austria.
- 1938 (September, Munich Conference): Annexation of the
Sudetenland (the areas of Czechoslovakia adjoining Germany and what
has previously been Austria).
- 1939 (March): Annexation of the rest of Bohemia and Moravia by
Germany, and also of Memel.
The policy is particularly closely associated with Neville
Chamberlain (British Prime Minister, 1937-40). However, the policy
(if that's the right word for it) of accepting German demands had
begun under his predecessor, Stanley Baldwin, an avuncular man
whowanted a quiet lifeand was one of the worst prime ministers in
British history. By March 1939 it was clear that appeasement had
failed, and it was at this point that Chamberlain gave Poland the
assurances that led to Britain's declaration of war in September of
that year - despite the fact Britain was in no position to do
anything practical to help Poland ... I've stressed the British
role because France was seething with internal discord (left versus
right) from 1934 onwards and was too deeply divided to undertake
any decisive moves. Please remember that in a democracy, the
government needs to have the majority of the electorate behind it
if it embarks on a major war. This isbrief, but I hope it's some