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An evaluation of the reasons for the British policy of appeasement, 1936-1938

Economic difficulties

Europe's economy was still recovering from WWI and the effects of the Wall Street Crash. It was thought that a strong, prosperous Germany could help revitalise the economy of these nations.

During the 1930s there was a great trade depression and money was tight. With three million people unemployed, the government had to spend money on social welfare rather than weapons and soldiers. Chamberlain wanted to increase the amount of money used for social welfare, so was reluctant to increase military spending.

Attitudes to the Paris peace settlement

Feelings expressed by Lord Lothian during the Rhineland crisis that Germany was "only going into their own back garden" had support.

Popular opinion in Britain at the time was that German had been punished too heavily by the terms of the Versailles treaty. Paying reparations to the nations it had invaded had crippled the German economy.

Before the outbreak of war, many people in Britain admired Hitler. After the ruinous end of WWI, Hitler appeared to have rebuilt Germany and made it a powerful country again.

Many people thought Hitler's demands to regain control of territories that used to belong to Germany were justified as many of these territories had German-speaking populations.

Public opinion

After the Rhineland crisis in a debate in the House of Commons in March 1936, Sir Winston Churchill warned that the atmosphere in Europe had changed recently to the extent that war was being regarded as a serious responsibility. He also described the German occupation of the Rhineland as a menace to Holland, Belgium and France.

After Guernica in April 1937 support for non-intervention increased as it was feared that "the bomber will always get through". Of the British public only a minority favoured a stronger line, and then only when British interests/lives were threatened. Commentators such a Low were very critical of non intervention however this was a minority view.

Closer links between Germany and Austria were seen as inevitable. Some politicians held the view that Austria generally welcomed the Anschluss and that it would be futile to try and preserve their independence against their own wishes. There was a lack of public concern as Austria was German speaking, and had subsequently supported the Anschluss in a plebiscite. The Anschluss was not seen as a problem by most people because the Anschluss was seen as a product of the Versailles Settlement which was already widely discredited. Minority opinions showed serious concern – part of the wider scheme of expansion and aggression by Hitler, this was the view of some Conservatives such as Churchill and other anti-appeaser's such as Low. Churchill called the Anschluss "a programme of aggression, nicely calculated and timed". Minority of public concerned over immediate persecution of Austrian Jews reported in the press.


The Oxford University student debating society voted by 257 votes to 153 that "this house will in no circumstances fight for King and Country". This caused shock waves in the country because it was interpreted as a sign that the ruling classes had been converted to pacifism.

The East Fulham By Election 1933. A Conservative candidate supporting increases in defence spending was heavily defeated by a Labour candidate who was widely regarded as antiwar.

The Peace Ballot 1934. A house to house survey carried out across the whole country by the League of Nations Union had 11.5 million replies. The response was overwhelming support for the principle of collective security through the League of Nations.

After the horrors of WWI, there was a widespread revulsion at the thought of war. Since then, new advances in weaponry, such as long distance bombers, meant towns and cities could be targeted and the civilian death toll could be huge in a future war.The peace movement was expanding in Britain and public mood was very much against another European war.

Concern over the Empire

Any war in Europe involving Britain could threaten the security of her Empire. During the 1930s Britain's empire had come under threat from Japan and Italy furthermore Britain had to deal with trouble in India and the Middle East (20 000 troops were needed there in 1938) and in Ireland. In 1938 several countries in the British Empire, including Canada and South Africa said they would not go to war in support of Britain should war break out with Germany over Czechoslovakia.

Lack of reliable allies

France at this time was politically divided. France had only a static defence policy based on the Maginot line and would be unlikely to assist any attempt to oust Germany from the Rhineland. The USA was in isolation and wanted nothing to do with Europe.

At time of Anschluss, Britain had no allies in the area around Austria. Italy was no longer a protector of Austria as it had been in 1934.

At the Imperial Conference in London in 1937, member states of the British Empire, such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, made it clear that they would not take part in another war in Europe.

The USA was following a policy of isolation and was inclined to stay out of European affairs. There were question marks over France's ability to be an effective ally. The country was politically unstable during the 1930s with violent clashes in the streets between supporters of right and left wing parties.

The League of Nations, established after WWI to help prevent future conflicts, had proved ineffective. The member states could not reach agreements or enforce their decisions.

Military weaknesses

The Government was concerned with the weakness of its armed forces, notably the lack of home defences, especially against the bomber. There had been widespread disarmament in the 1920s; there were no troops immediately available to mount a challenge.

The heads of Britain's armed forces - Chiefs of Staff - consistently warned chamberlain that Britain was too weak to fight. Alongside this Nazi propaganda encouraged Britain and France to believe that Germany’s forces were a lot stronger than they really were.

Hitler claimed the remilitarisation of the Rhineland was to strengthen Germany's defences. Germany had rearmed in 1935 this led to the view that it was perhaps too late to resist the breaking of Versailles because Germany now had an army.

At the time of the Anschluss, Chiefs of Staff warned that Government that fighting Hitler now might encourage Italy and Japan to take advantage of Britain's overstretched and under-resourced overseas commitments.

Fear over spread of Communism

Many British politicians regarded Communism as a greater threat than Nazi Germany. Their view of brutal Communism was reinforced by the brutal show trials if the 1930s in Stalin's Soviet Union. A common saying at the time was "better Hitlerism than Communism".

In Britain during most of the 1930s, the Conservative party was in power. They believed that Communism was a far greater threat to world peace than Hitler.

The Conservatives believed that Hitler's Germany could be a strong defence against possible Soviet plans to invade Europe

Beliefs of Chamberlain

Chamberlain believed that Hitler was making extreme statements only to gain publicity and that he was essentially a reasonable man who would choose negotiation rather than conflict.

Several prominent British politicians were very impressed by Hitler. The former PM Lloyd George, who met Hitler in 1936 returned to Britain to describe him as a man of supreme quality. The Labour MP and former party leader George Lansbury, who was a pacifist, wrote in 1937 that Hitler would not go to war unless other people pushed him into it.

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