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Friday, 25 October 2013

Inconsistencies in the application of appeasement among the British Politicians in the 1930’s

In the run up to WWII British Politicians took unexpected or different approaches to appeasement during the 1930’s. In order to find out why there are inconsistencies between British politicians, there needs to be an understanding of why Churchill did not always support Chamberlain in each episode of appeasement. Chamberlain was consistent, Churchill, however was more complex. This essay will focus on the reasons behind the inconsistencies by looking at different episodes of appeasement throughout the 1930’s. It will explain the reasons each politician chose to take their stance in the issue of appeasement. 

Appeasement was an approach the British used throughout the 1930’s; it was a ‘policy of granting concessions to potential enemies to maintain peace’ . When looking at the conventional view of Appeasement during this time it would seem, at face value that Chamberlain and Churchill appear to be consistent in the way they deal with this policy. Many quotes from history show us this must be true such as Churchill’s statement regarding the case of Manchuria. However, when searching beneath the surface you can find many speeches and further information to the contrary. 

The Manchurian crisis (1931) shows us that when taking into account the Mukden incident the Prime Minister of that time; James MacDonald (1929-35), took the same stance as MP’s Chamberlain and Churchill. There was no reprimand to the Japanese for invading Chinese territory, thus, appeasing Japan. In 1933 Churchill re-affirmed his stance of appeasement to this crisis with the following statement to the commons. “I must say something to you which is very unfashionable. I am going to say a word of sympathy for Japan … I hope we in England shall try to understand a little of the position of Japan, an ancient state, with the highest sense of national honor and patriotism, with a teeming population and remarkable energy. On one side they see the dark menace of Soviet Russia. On the other the chaos of China. ” 

Churchill brings focus to the ‘dark menace of Soviet Russia’. At that point in History we know that Communism was feared by all democratic and Fascist leaders. China were in early stages of Communism with many internal wars ongoing, hence, referral to the chaos of China. Japan where one of the largest powers in the world and were seen as an ally against Communism preventing any advances from Russia and therefore agreed that this approach, appeasement, was in the best interests of the British Empire. 

The Anglo-Naval agreement (1935) was not however, so amicable between British politicians. When Hitler approached Baldwin for permission to rebuild his Naval units Baldwin and Chamberlain agreed that this was only for defence reasons. Churchill however called it "acme of gullibility”. Churchill had been speaking out against defence cuts since 1933 when Hitler was appointed Chancellor, Churchill was acutely aware that Germany could become a threat but was outnumbered on this point of view. 

When German troops marched into the Rhineland (1936) Chamberlain took the stance that Germany had suffered enough over the last 18 years. They did not intervene on behalf of France favouring that of Lord Lothians opinion that Germany was "only going into their own back garden." Churchill however described this move as “a menace to Holland, Belgium and France”. Churchill seen the oncoming threat from Germany and disagreed with the general appeasement given.

In the case of Austria (1938), Hitler sent an emissary to Great Britain to advise that Austria was in turmoil and he wished to step in to assist, he asked if Great Britain had any objections to this and was advised that although they did object they would not intervene. Chamberlain Justified this by accepting that Austria was a German spoken land which was part of Germany’s old Empire, Germany was only re-claiming her land back and that she was only assisting Austria. This was an appeasement approach from Chamberlain (who was now PM of Britain). Churchill disagreed calling Anschluss "a programme of aggression, nicely calculated and timed" . 

Czechoslovakia showed Chamberlain was prepared to apply appeasement at any level to keep Britain free of War. Only six months after Anschluss, demands were made for the Sudeten lands. Chamberlin met with Hitler hoping to resolve the conflict peacefully. After consultation with Hitler and the British and French governments, a meeting was set up (excluding the Czech government) to discuss the demands. The decision was that the Sudeten lands be handed back to Germany. Chamberlain attended a further meeting with Hitler and returned with a signed document guaranteeing peace between Britain and Germany. Appeasement had been successful according to Chamberlain. According to Churchill this was not acceptable at all. On October 5th 1938 at a meeting, Churchill spoke of the disappointment of Munich and pointed out that had the Czechs been left to their own, they “would have been able to make better terms than they have got - they could hardly have worse”. 

After Hitler took over Slovak, the politicians rallied to Churchill’s point of view. They offered protection of Poland in the event that Hitler tried to invade them. Poland was invaded and in September of 1939 British politicians stood together and ended appeasement by declaring War. 

Chamberlain was the strongest known advocate for appeasement. Chamberlain was focused on protecting the British Empire from the atrocity of War from any front, at any time, be it Fascism, Communism or Nazi’s. 

Churchill also looked at the overview of all threats to the Empire. He wanted to protect National interest too, however; he was not always in favour of appeasement as a solution to everything. You can see from his choices made, he would use events to gain further advantage to the British Empire, such as appeasing Japan because they were holding back Communism on the Eastern axis. He appeased Italy because of their fight against Communism and his agreement on the application of appeasement during the Spanish Civil War allowed Franco to wipe out Communism there. Churchill appeased because Communism was the bigger threat at that time and it made tactical sense to do so. 

When you look at Germany however, Churchill did not appease and spoke out against appeasing politicians. Churchill himself seems to have taken a watchful eye over Germany during the years of Hitler’s rise to power as he certainly shows himself acutely aware of the threat. Churchill also shows that his focus on threat shifted from Communism to the German Nazi’s as their direct threat in Britain’s own “back yard” became apparent. Churchill’s choices reflect the priority of the threat in accordance to National interest. 

British politicians did take different approaches to appeasement during the 1930’s. This essay has shown that although there are inconsistencies between Chamberlain and Churchill, the motivations behind these inconsistencies were the same, to keep the British Empire safe. What this essay shows is that Churchill was looking at British National interests and who directly impacted on this in the short term. Chamberlain was looking at British National interests and anything that impacted this over the long term. 


Gluckstein, D., 2012, A Peoples history of the second world war - Resistance versus Empire, Pluto press

Appeasement and the Road to War - A:1 - A:6

I have recently published An Academic View of World War Two on and it included four full Essays about World War two.  These are a great help when working on Year one Essays for university.