Policy Of Appeasement – Cause of WWII?
The term ‘appeasement’ can be defined as giving in and to someone’s demands to maintain the level of world peace in the world and avoid conflict as much as possible. This was the policy of giving Hitler what he wanted to stop him from going to war. It was based on the idea that what Hitler wanted was reasonable and, when his reasonable demands had been satisfied, he would stop. Starting from 1933, Britain and France used the policy of appeasement to a number of countries, such as Japan, Italy and most importantly, Germany. The policy of appeasement was used by the two leaders of Britain and France to maintain world peace. However, it was revealed that Hitler was a tyrant and a dictator and craved for more power when just when Britain and France gave in to him. However, In March 1939, when Hitler attacks Poland, Britain and France finally declare war on Germany, which marks the beginning of the Second World War. This essay will examine the policy of appeasement and other causes to the extent whether it had caused the Second World War or not.
Why exactly did Britain and France choose the policy of appeasement? Firstly, they pursued appeasement because Hitler’s complaints seemed reasonable at the time, for example, the harsh terms in Treaty of Versailles which was signed on 28th June 1919. Germany was not allowed conscription, air-force and their defense and armaments were heavily cut, hence it seemed reasonable to give Germany what they wanted. Secondly, as Germany is situated between Britain and USSR which was a communist country, giving Hitler what he wanted would make Germany stronger and Britain believed that it would work as a buffer between the two countries. Thirdly, the World War I caused over 37 million casualties and the public was scared of war and believed in peace and negotiations, especially the Prime Minister of Britain, Neville Chamberlain, who first pursued the policy of appeasement. Fourthly, Britain and France needed sufficient time and money to rearm, as their economy was busted from the Great Depression, which hit America in October 1929. The Depression wrecked Britain’s traditional manufacturing industries and the shipbuilding industry completely collapsed; the unemployment in France trebled from 1931 to 1935. Fifthly, League of Nations was shown to be a failure after a series of failures as the two of the four key remembers of League of Nations disobeyed, such as in the crisis Manchuria and Abyssinia in 1931 and 1936 respectively. The power of the League’s sanctions did not help as they only used the moral sanctions not did not pursue the trade or military sanction, as the League did not have a real army, which showed a sign of weakness of the League. Even though in the 1920s, the League was shown to be bringing peace to the world, after the two Council members, Japan and Italy left the League; the ‘peace-bringing’ image of the League was completely wrecked.
To some extent, the policy of appeasement did cause the Second World War. The first event that led to Second World War was Japan’s invasion of Manchuria in 1931. One of the reasons why the policy of appeasement was used on Japan was mainly because the Japanese were furious of the reduction of their navy, which was discussed in the Washington Naval Conference in 1921, as known as the ‘5:5:3’. It was self-explanatory that the Japanese were resentful to the decision in the conference as Japan had fought with the Entente Powers and had helped them win but they did not get any rewards. Therefore, the League of Nations at that time only imposed moral sanctions, which was the Lytton Report which did not threaten Japan in any possible way. Even though the League knew this was ineffective, there was no other possible way to stop Japan, as it was one of the four key members of League of Nations and imposing the harsher sanctions would give the public a worse impression of the League, even though eventually the League began to lose grip and power in the 1930s, this crisis being one of the first reasons.
Secondly, appeasement was a contributing factor to Second World War, as this policy failed to stop Hitler from attacking and invading other countries. The policy of appeasement had made Hitler see himself as the best and nothing could stop him from taking land from other countries using force. Also, appeasement caused Germany to rearm quickly and fully, so it can be ready for a large-scale war, similar to World War I. When Hitler demands the German troops to march into Rhineland, which was meant to be a demilitarized zone, Britain and France could have stopped Hitler from sending his troops in and it would have saved everyone from the war, as German troops were not powerful and fully rearmed to fight in a large-scale war. Hitler had also said that his troops would retreat if France and Britain were to stop him. Not only did marching into Rhineland disobey the Treaty of Versailles, but also the Locarno Pact. This caused international tension, even though the democratic powers chose not to care, as we know that America was an isolationist, Britain was sympathetic to German recovery and France was too reluctant to intervene with Germany’s conflicts.
Thirdly, the Munich Agreement also contributed to Second World War. Once again, Chamberlain’s appeasing attitude was also one of the many factors that caused Second World War. Sudetenland was a piece of land which was in between the German and Czechoslovakian borders was originally governed by Czechoslovakia. However, the population in Sudetenland was mostly German and they wanted to be governed by Germany. Hitler heard about the news and wanted to create chaos from this crisis. Neville Chamberlain meets Hitler and tries to negotiate with him many times, and decided to give away and strongly believed that it would be the best decision has Sudetenland annexed to Germany. Though Czechoslovakia had defense treaties with France and the Soviet Union, both countries agreed that areas in the Sudetenland with majority German populations should be returned. However, Germany wanted more than just Sudetenland: he demanded that German take-over should be immediate, that there should votes on whether to stay in Czechoslovakia in additional areas, that the claims of Hungary and Poland to other parts of Czechoslovakia needed consideration. Chamberlain, again, chose to give in, particularly in this crisis because there was a fine chance that Britain was to get into war with Germany when Germany was not happy with the negotiations. The policy of appeasement failed in this crisis as on 1st October 1938, Hitler demands the German troops to march into the Sudetenland and invade further into Czechoslovakia. Neither Britain nor France nor Czechoslovakia decided to stop Hitler, showing us that neither of them wanted war and they were too scared to stop Hitler.
However, appeasement was not the only contributing factor; there were also other contributing factors that led to Second World War.
Firstly, the League of Nations failed to maintain the peace in the world. Even though in the 1920s the League of Nations was shown to be successful for arbitrating border issues, taking the POWs home, freed over 200,000 slaves and many more, after the Great Depression in 1929, the League was shown to be weak. One of the biggest weaknesses within the League was the absence of strong countries, such as USSR, America and Germany; also, the Council members only consisted of mainly European countries, which meant that the League was biased and more concerned towards the conflicts in Europe. The structure of the League is also shown to be a failure, as all votes within the Council had to be unanimous, which caused the decision-making in the League slower and the conflicts to slowly arise. For example, in the incident of Abyssinia in 1936 is one of the key examples of League’s weakness. The League decided to impose a trade ban between Italy and Abyssinia, specifically that they cannot trade arms with each other. This did not help and later on, Italy invades Abyssinia. Furthermore, strong countries such as Japan, Italy and Germany left the League between 1933 and 1937, which gradually made the League wrecked and broken.
Secondly, the policy of appeasement did not fully cause the Second World War. The Great Depression in October 1929 which started in America also triggered Second World War. Even though its impact isn’t as immense as the Manchurian and Abyssinian crises, this event definitely opened a beginning of the road to war. Many countries in 1920s depended on America for trading, for example, Germany depended for their loans as they had to pay reparations. Even big and powerful countries such as Britain and France were gradually corrupting from poverty and unemployment. Germany was the most effected as they lost a lot of their raw materials and resources as they lost a lot of important lands like Alsace-Lorraine, which contained abundant materials for armaments and the Saarland which was a rich mining site. Therefore, some other countries like Japan and Italy believed in expansionism and that building an Empire would secure their amount of raw materials and resources, as they chose to conquer land which contained abundant materials. Germany was also one of the expansionist countries, as Hitler wanted to fight back for Germany’s losses from World War I and from Treaty of Versailles, and even decided to move east more land. For instance, we can see that the Depression had caused the Japanese to conquer Manchuria because of its resources. In the 1920s, it was the belief of world peace, however in post-Depression; countries began to mind its own business and neglect the idea of world peace, as countries had to compete for land. The fact that powerful countries were taking land off other countries, it caused international conflict and tension, which gradually led to war when the conflict simply cannot be resolved by the policy of appeasement and negotiation.
Thirdly, the Nazi-Soviet Pact also contributed to the Second World War. Nazi-Soviet Pact was a non-aggression agreement between Germany and USSR, which was signed on 19th August 1939. It also included that both countries would help each other financially. The two countries agreed not to attack each other or help another party attack the other side for a period of 10 years. The pact also included a secret attachment concerning the division of various territories. The Baltic States (Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia) and Bessarabia were to be part of USSR, while Lithuania’s claim of Vilna and its surroundings was to be part of the Germans. Poland was to be divided between the two countries. This sparked the beginning of the war instantly as Poland did not want to be split into half and they were not consented before the two countries decided to split it up.