Appeasement Back in Fashion

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I do not grudge our loyal, brave people, who were ready to do their duty no matter what the cost, who never flinched under the strain of last week – I do not grudge them the natural, spontaneous outburst of joy and relief when they learned that the hard ordeal would no longer be required of them at the moment; but they should know the truth. They should know that there has been gross neglect and deficiency in our defences; they should know that we have sustained a defeat without a war, the consequences of which will travel far with us along our road; they should know that we have passed an awful milestone in our history, when the whole equilibrium of Europe has been deranged, and that the terrible words have for the time being been pronounced against the Western democracies:

“Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting.”

And do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.

Winston Churchill, conclusion of speech condemning the Munich Agreement, October 5, 1938


Well, well, well, appeasement is back in fashion judging from a stunningly wrongheaded article at Slate by Nick Baumann defending the Munich agreement of 1938, on its 75th anniversary, by which British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain sold Czechoslovakia into Nazi slavery for a worthless promise from Hitler of “peace in our time”.  “Our time” turned out to be very short with the Nazis commencing World War II with the invasion of Poland less than a year later in September 1939.  Go here to read the article.

Baumann defends Chamberlain on the following grounds.  I will respond to each in turn.

1.  Britain Militarily UnreadyFirst, a look at the military situation. Most historians agree that the British army was not ready for war with Germany in September 1938. If war had broken out over the Czechoslovak crisis, Britain would only have been able to send two divisions to the continent—and ill-equipped divisions, at that. Between 1919 and March 1932, Britain had based its military planning on a “10-year rule,” which assumed Britain would face no major war in the next decade. Rearmament only began in 1934—and only on a limited basis. The British army, as it existed in September 1938, was simply not intended for continental warfare. Nor was the rearmament of the Navy or the Royal Air Force complete. British naval rearmament had recommenced in 1936 as part of a five-year program. And although Hitler’s Luftwaffe had repeatedly doubled in size in the late 1930s, it wasn’t until April 1938 that the British government decided that its air force could purchase as many aircraft as could be produced.

Response:  Britain was certainly in a sorry state for war in September 1938.  Churchill had been sounding the tocsin that Britain was militarily unprepared throughout most of the decade.  The dominant faction in his own party, the Conservatives, bitterly fought his calls for rearmament in the face of the rising Nazi threat, and preferred to engage in wishful thinking that the Nazis were bluffing and that deals to preserve the peace could be cut with Hitler.  Chamberlain’s appeasement policy arose out of a desire to avoid the cost of rearmament and an inexcusable misreading of what Hitler was all about, inexcusable since Hitler had made his ambitions for conquest quite clear in Mein Kampf.

Selling out Czechoslovakia made Great Britain much more militarily weak when war came.  It deprived the Allies of the well trained and equipped Czechoslovakian army, allowed Hitler to strengthen his forces with Czech armaments, especially their superb light 35(t) tanks, and gave him control of the huge Skoda armament factories which were a mainstay of German arms production throughout the War.  Militarily the Munich agreement was a disaster for the Allies.

2. Lack of support from the Dominions:  In World War I, Britain’s declaration of war had automatically brought Canada, Australia, and New Zealand into the fight. But the constitutional status of those Commonwealth countries had changed in the interwar period. According to the British archives, it was far from clear that Chamberlain could count on the backing of these countries if war broke out with Germany over Czechoslovakia.

Response:  Rubbish.  The Dominions instantly declared war after Great Britain declared war on Germany.  If the Dominions were willing to fight for Poland in September 1939, they would have fought for Czechoslovakia in October 1938.

3.  Lack of Popular Support-Nor was the British public ready for war in September 1938. “It’s easy to forget that this is only 20 years after the end of the last war,” Dutton notes. British politicians knew that the electorate would never again willingly make sacrifices like the ones it had made in World War I. The Somme and Passchendaele had left scars that still stung, and few, if any, British leaders were prepared to ask their people to fight those battles again. Many people saw the work of the Luftwaffe in the Spanish Civil War and feared that aerial bombardment would ensure that a second war would be more devastating that the first. Any strategy that claimed to offer an alternative to sending large armies to Europe therefore found supporters on every level of British society. “There was a feeling that any sensible politician would explore every avenue to avoid war before accepting war was inevitable,” Dutton says.

Response:  The British public had been living in a pacifist dreamland, fed lies by politicians like Chamberlain who pooh-poohed the obvious threat posed by Nazi Germany.  To defend Chamberlain for the Munich agreement because the British public bought his line of malarkey is perverse.  A statesman has a duty to his people to speak the truth, especially in time of peril.  Chamberlain was no statesman.  In any case the support would have been there, as was the case with Poland, once the Nazis launched a war of conquest against Czechoslovakia.


So much for Mr. Baumann’s attempt to defend a policy that brought both shame and ultimately war on Great Britain.  Left unaddressed by Mr. Baumann is the moral question.  By 1938 every leader in Europe knew what a tyrant Hitler was.  Chamberlain was complicit in selling the peoples of Czechoslovakia into a nightmare of slavery.  If the Brits didn’t want to fight for Czechoslovakia, that is one thing.  But to join with Hitler in browbeating a free nation into going under the fascist yoke was beneath contempt.  As Churchill said in reference to Neville Chamberlain after Munich:  “You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor and you will have war.”









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  1. “the desire of two peoples never to go to war again.” “the desire” was left unfulfilled. Every Allied troop had “the desire”, even while shooting at the aggressor.

  2. @3:01″Where a business man or small shop keeper ruins his competitor by telling tales about his private opinion.” compare with the HHS Mandate, the lawsuits of gays for power over another’s conscience.

  3. As Winston Churchill is quoted, An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last. World War II was a war that all objective observers should have realized was inevitable, long before September 1939. What if Britain and France had stood up to the Nazis over the remilitarization of the Rhineland? The Munich agreement was not the first piece of paper that Hitler tore up – think Versailles.

  4. 2. Lack of support from the Dominions: In World War I, Britain’s declaration of war had automatically brought Canada, Australia, and New Zealand into the fight. But the constitutional status of those Commonwealth countries had changed in the interwar period. According to the British archives, it was far from clear that Chamberlain could count on the backing of these countries if war broke out with Germany over Czechoslovakia.

    Your reference to this is correct -Rubbish. In those days, many Kiwis and some Aussies still looked on Great Britain as the “mother country”, and I would guess many Canadians felt the same. This part article from Wikipedia pretty well sums it up.

    New Zealand entered the Second World War by declaring war on Germany as of 9.30 pm 3 September 1939 (NZT). Politically, New Zealand had been a vocal opponent of European fascism and also the appeasement of those dictatorships, national sentiment for a strong show of force was generally supported. Economic and defensive considerations also motivated the New Zealand involvement; reliance on Britain meant that if she were threatened, New Zealand would be too in terms of economic and defensive ties. There was also a strong sentimental link between the former British colony and the United Kingdom, with many seeing Britain as the “mother country” or “Home”. Prime Minister of the time Michael Joseph Savage summed this up at the outbreak of war with a quote that would become a popular cry in New Zealand during the war;:”Where Britain goes, we go! Where she stands, we stand!”[2]

    New Zealand provided personnel for service in the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, the Royal New Zealand Navy was placed at the Admiralty’s disposal and new medium bombers waiting in the United Kingdom to be shipped to New Zealand were made available to the RAF. The New Zealand Army contributed the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force (2NZEF). In total, around 140,000 New Zealand personnel served overseas for the Allied war effort, and an additional 100,000 men were armed for Home Guard duty. At its peak in July 1942, New Zealand had 154,549 men and women under arms (excluding the Home Guard) and by the war’s end a total of 194,000 men and 10,000 women had served in the armed forces at home and overseas. The costs for the country were high – 11,625 killed, a ratio of 6684 dead per million in the population which was the highest rate in the Commonwealth (Britain suffered 5123 and Australia 3232 per million population)”
    NZ had received Polish immigrants from before the war, partly because of the Jewish pogroms, and oppression of Poles in the Sudetanland, and was well aware of the situation in Europe.

  5. To suggest that there was no popular support in Britain for a war against Hitler overlooks the fact that for many, especially in the working class movements, the war against fascism began, not on September 3rd 1939, but, as every Scottish school child knows, on July 17th 1936.

    The largest war memorial in Glasgow is the statue on the Broomielaw, commemorating the International Brigade, with its inscription, “better to die on your feet than live forever on your knees” and “¡No pasarán!” – They shall not pass!

  6. “The largest war memorial in Glasgow is the statue on the Broomielaw, commemorating the International Brigade, with its inscription, “better to die on your feet than live forever on your knees” and “¡No pasarán!” – They shall not pass!”

    Ah, Scotland, land of some of my ancestors, where people who are killing Catholics always will get a friendly nod from some of the population! No doubt many of the same people turned violently against war after the Nazi-Soviet pact and violently pro-war after “the homeland of the proletariat” was invaded in June of 1941.

  7. @Richard: “Would America’s participation in the League of Nations have forestalled WW2.?” It is my guess America’s participation in the League of Nations would have brought America into the war before Pearl Harbor. Has America’s participation in the United Nations forestalled any police or military action?

    It was the intent of both Hitler’s Germany and Japan to conquer America. The rest of the world was stepping stones.

  8. The fact about the Rhineland is that the British and the French knew that they not only had Hitler to deal with, but Mussolini too. Two years before, Mussolini had practically stopped Hitler annexating Austria single-handed, when Hitler had had his Austrian thugs murder Mussolini’s ally Dollfuss and stage a coup; but since then Mussolini had become convinced that the Allies were old and weak and would not fight – especially since the most determined French enemy of Hitler, Barthou, had been accidentally killed in 1934 and replaced by the ambiguous Laval – and had opted for Hitler. The signal of his decision was the invasion of Ethiopia, which was a direct hit at French and British interests and put the issue of the ownership of the Suez Canal – strategically essential to Italy but owned by Britain and France – very much into play. France informed Britain that it would not oppose Hitler unless Britain guaranteed to support it in case Italy entered the coming war; Britain told them they would not; and that was it. Neither country would act alone against both Germany and Italy. The power of Italy, of course, was overrated, and even more so the competence of their generals – Mussolini had a gift for promoting the worst and repressing the best, which was reflected in the country’s performance in the actual war – but in 1936 the two remaining democratic governments in Europe had to consider such things.

  9. Read with what despair the great Czech writer Karel Capek met the Munich Agreement. You will never such revision is horrific.

  10. The Rhineland militarization was a violation of the Treaty of Versailles. Breaking that treaty was enough of a casus belli.

    As I tell my friends who visit France, don’t sign any treaties at Versailles.

  11. Fabio P Barbieri

    The problem in France was that many people believed that either Fascism of Communism were the only live options and, of the two, they preferred Fascism

    This was complicated by the religious question: the open hostility of most Catholics to the Republic neatly matched the anti-clericalism of the bouffeurs de curé.

  12. Michael Paterson-Seymour:
    that is only partially significant, and it really only became decisive when the game was already lost. After all, the Church-State conflict in the twenties and thirties (setting aside the Front Populaire period) was nothing compared with what had happened in the Combes period, before World War One, when the government had pretended to legislate the Church out of existence with its new model elected Bishops and had sent troops to occupy monasteries; but that had not prevented the arch-anticlerical Clemenceau to promote to supreme command the devout Catholic Foch, and, in spite of their mutual personal and political detestation, it had not prevented them from collaborating – not only during but after the war – so closely for the good of France that the world was completely deceived, and was stunned and saddened when Foch’s posthumous memoirs blasted Clemenceau and received an equally vicious response from the still living Father of Victory.

    The fact is that by 1934 the French had good reason to hate and fear the British almost as much as the Germans, In every crisis and conflict from 1919 to the present, Britain had consistently supported Germany; in 1923, it had used language that seemed to threaten war. After 1921, and increasingly, a majority of English opinion makers (the public tending to believe what they were told) had taken an increasingly pathological attitude against France, treating it (in a world where Germany, Italy and Russia were competing, even before Hitler, at who made the most trouble) as the one menace to peace. This is almost impossible to believe today, but it really was the case that all three English parties were practically unanimous in treating the French as the aggressors and everyone else as reasonable gentlemen with reasonable grievances – a situation bizarrely similar to that of Israel today. Chesterton was disgusted:


    Oh, how I love Humanity,
    With love so pure and pringlish,
    And how I hate the horrid French,
    Who never will be English!

    The International Idea,
    The largest and the clearest,
    Is welding all the nations now,
    Except the one that’s nearest.

    This compromise has long been known,
    This scheme of partial pardons,
    In ethical societies
    And small suburban gardens—

    The villas and the chapels where
    I learned with little labour
    The way to love my fellow-man
    And hate my next-door neighbour.

    (There is some pointed language here, that may not be understood by those unfamiliar with thirties Britain. “Ethical Societies” were a whole class of agnostic-atheist local groups, almost in the nature of the parish structure of a national church of atheism; they have largely died out. “Chapels” refers to non-Anglican Protestant bodies, which Chesterton – who came from one – regarded as similar in spirit to the Ethical Societies in their narrowness, provinciality and delusional notions of idealism. And it is because of his rage at this provincial smugness and hostility that he associates suburbia and suburban villas to his curse.)

    Essentially, in 1939 the French did not trust the British any further than they could see them, and with some reason. And at that point a second disaster came and multiplied the effect of the disastrous mutual distaste of France and Britain. Stalin, reversing two decades of opposition to what he used to call “Social-Fascists”, ordered the Popular Front. In Spain, this led directly to civil war; in France, to something almost like it. Insanely, while the German danger grew visibly greater, the governing majority promoted social conflict across the board, with strikes everywhere and the industry – including the defence sector – seizing up just as, across the border, Germans worked twenty-four hours a day with no shifts building planes and tanks. it was under the pressure of the Popular Front that political struggle in France became so embittered that the first outright Hitler-boosters appeared. Even so, most of the historical hard right remained as anti-German as it had always been. As late as 1939 old Charles Maurras was still cursing the Nazis and calling for “France above all”. At any rate, the Right had always been a minority in France; the last free elections before the catastrophe, and the first free elections after the liberation, both brought centre-left majorities.

    So what brought the majority of the French Right (never all of it; Maurras’ former secretary broke with him, and when someone suggested to him that a “rapprochement” with the Germans was desirable, answered: “To the best of my knowledge, the Germans are in Melun. Si ca n’est pas assez proche…!“).It was the classic decision made in haste and repented at leisure. In June 1940 nobody believed in France that Britain would ever have fought on. With her empire still intact, and France knocked out, they expected London to make a deal with Berlin. Their only choice was to make one first, themselves, and at the best possible price. Or so they thought. That Petain himself, who next to Foch had been the most prestigious and beloved French military leader in the previous slaughter, took this view, just shows how natural it felt to the average French conservative. Of course, in the end, it trapped them in an increasingly pressured and subservient condition, compromising with the lowest elements in the state – beginning with Laval – and having Hitler, as he always did, continuously rewrite the deal to his own advantage. They simply had not understood the enormous significance, akin to a revolution, of Churchill coming to power with Labour votes and against the will of the entire British ruling class.

  13. There are some ridiculous typos in there:
    … but that had not prevented the arch-anticlerical Clemenceau from promoting to supreme command the devout Catholic Foch….
    …across the border, Germans worked twenty-four hours a day in shifts building planes and tanks…

  14. Fabio P Barbieri

    I was thinking of the ‘30s, when one had l’Action française, whose thugs, the Camelots du roi, beat up Léon Blum in the street, not to mention La Cagoule and its assassinations, bombings and sabotage. The country could not have been more polarised, especially, after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, as you rightly note.

    British fear and suspicion of France was real enough. Many believed that terms insisted upon by France at the Versailles Treaty had sown the seeds of future conflicts and her occupation of the Ruhr, especially with colonial troops (whom the English regarded as savages), shocked the conscience of the nation.

  15. Churchill talked a good game and wrote a famous history, quite apart from being the legendary wartime leader, so he remains the big bossy cat at the milk plate. But the reason why the British did not fight is that they could not. They had all of two pitiful divisions in Europe at that time and the French were distracted in Spain. The situation hardly changed when the invasion of Poland came. There were interlocking considerations; Stalin with reason suspected that the whole game plan of the British and French was to direct the Nazis to the East. It was not Churchill who built up the RAF and radar defences that kept Britain afloat, that was the work of Baldwin and Chamberlain. Churchill’s own military ability (as opposed to his courage and pugnacity) left a lot to be desired. Under the influence of his well-nigh useless science advisor Lindemann, he tended to stupid decisions. Chamberlain was not some Lord Blandings character, he too came from a family of distinguished soldiers and was able to read the forces at play. For example after the invasion of Poland he wrote:

    To my mind the lesson of the Polish campaign is the power of the Air Force, when it has obtained complete mastery in the air, to paralyse the operations of the land forces. The effects in this direction seem to have gone much beyond anything that we were led to expect by our Military Advisers

  16. Baldwin and Chamberlain resisted for as long as they could Churchill’s calls to rearm, with their backbencher sycophants continually attacking Churchill as a warmonger. They attempted to have him rejected by his constituency. As for Chamberlain, that patron saint of useful idiots in every time and place for aggressors, this statement at the time of the Munich crisis, says it all:

    “How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing. It seems still more impossible that a quarrel which has already been settled in principle should be the subject of war.”

  17. The Chamberlains were not “distinguished military leaders”, they were businessmen. I thought everybody knew that? And there is something strangely bewildered about attacking Churchill for having no part in the British rearmament when he was excluded from Government and pretty nearly from Parliament – before 1938, Chamberlain actually tried to have him deselected as a parliamentary candidate – while admitting that the heroic efforts of Baldwin and Chamberlain had produced no more than two divisions ready to fight (and, one might add, a RAF which, even after a year of wartime production, barely proved equal to the task of defending the home territory). Sorry, sometimes revisionism is not worth trying.

  18. @Donald,
    At one time our man Churchill too was smitten by Hitler:

    One may dislike Hitler’s system and yet admire his patriotic achievement. If our country were defeated, I hope we should find a champion as indomitable to restore our courage and lead us back to our place among the nations.

    I was mistaken. I thought he had a connection to a famous Chamberlain military family from the 19th century.

  19. Thanks for the link, I stand corrected. And I must say it is a penetrating, prescient article. With our man Churchill words are weapons and this article clarifies many things about Churchill for me.

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