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Appeasement of Germany

map showing the Saar, the Ruhr, Sudentenland, Rhineland (demilitarised zone) and German territory

German Territories, 1933

After seizing power in Germany, Hitler set in place an ambitious foreign policy that aimed to undo the effects of the Treaty of Versailles. Hitler wanted to:
  • re-take control of the territories that it had lost at Versailles, such as the Rhineland
  • re-arm its military forces - something forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles
  • expand its borders to provide Lebensraum (living space) for its population
  • unite all the German-speaking people of Europe under the control of Nazi Germany

Hitler was prepared to gamble that the other European powers would be reluctant to go to war to stop him.

What was appeasement?

After 10 million deaths in the First World War, many countries were determined to prevent any future conflict. In the 1920s the League of Nations tried to follow the idea of collective security: the idea that countries acting together could discourage aggression and, if necessary, act together to stop aggressors. This was not very successful as it proved hard for all the countries in the League to agree on a common policy. As a result a second idea was considered.

Appeasement was a policy adopted by Britain during the 1930s. This policy developed from the growing belief that some countries, especially Germany, had been unfairly treated in the peace settlement of 1918-1919. When they began to demand aggressively that some terms in the Versailles treaty be scrapped, some people argued that this was only right. If their grievances could be settled by negotiation, it would avoid the need for the aggression. Once they were "appeased" in this way, they would act in the same way as others in foreign affairs. This policy was used in the 1930s to try to prevent both Italy and Germany from going to war to achieve their respective objectives.

Some people, at the time and since, have described Appeasement as a policy of cowardice, but this is much too simple. The leaders who followed the policy believed they were overcoming real grievances and that it would help to create a settled, peaceful Europe as the causes of aggression were removed. They may have been wrong, but that does not mean that they were cowards.

Opponents of appeasement

Although the vast majority of British people agreed with the government and its policy of appeasement, there were some individuals who disagreed.

One of those individuals was Winston Churchill. Churchill believed that Hitler could not be dealt with because his aims and objectives were not rational. As such, no amount of appeasement would satisfy the man - he would always want more.

Churchill was not alone in voicing concern. British Communists and those on the left wing of the Labour Party were alarmed at German militarization and aggression and demanded action against Hitler.

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