CHAMBERLAIN AND APPEASEMENT When studying Arthur Neville Chamberlain, it is at least as important to understand his personality, as well as his political achievement. The Prime Minister of Great Britain between 1937 and 1940, he was an intensely idealistic man, one who believed that he alone could bridge the gap between Germany and the rest of the World. His subsequent policies of appeasement towards Nazi Germany, a policy based upon pragmatism, fear of war, or moral conviction that lead to the acceptance of diplomatically imposed conditions in lieu of warfare, forever characterized Chamberlain as a most central figure at the diplomatic crossroads leading towards World War II. Chamberlain’s father, Joseph, had been the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, so young Neville found himself subjected to strong political opinions throughout his youth. He worked his way through the ranks of British government, becoming a Member of Parliament in 1918, and going on to become Chancellor of the Exchequer in the National Government headed by Ramsay MacDonald for much of the 1920’s. Chamberlain finally rose to the office of Prime Minister in 1937.
His lifetime dedication to politics made him a shrewd politician, but his relatively rapid success could also be viewed as a contributing factor towards his developing overconfidence. Chamberlain’s impact on foreign affairs was vast and direct upon his rise to power. He changed the foreign policy dynamic from a slow and passive policy of non-intervention, to a much more pro-active policy of appeasement. Chamberlain believed that Germany had been badly treated by the Allies after it was defeated in World War I.
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Therefore, he thought that the German government had legitimate grievances, and that these needed to be addressed. By agreeing to some of the demands being made by Adolph Hitler of Germany and Benito Mussolini of Italy, he earnestly believed that he could avoid a European war. Chamberlain’s enthusiasm, conviction in his beliefs, and the fact that he would not listen to criticism, led him to pursue appeasement with a nearly unlimited spirit. This would have been noble had it not been for another problem which was also caused, in part, by Chamberlain’s enthusiasm to pursue appeasement.
In his rush to stamp his name on the appeasement process, Chamberlain was too eager to foster good relations with Germany and her allies. To this end, he was too happy to take Hitler’s personal assurances that Germany also wanted peace, so long as somebody could regulate its terms. It is certainly not beyond belief that Hitler, indeed, may have played upon the confidence and determination of Chamberlain’s efforts to gain more time to advance his own military might. There were other significant factors concerning Chamberlain’s eagerness to initiate the appeasement process. The overestimation of the speed of German rearmament, and the possibility of areas such as in the Mediterranean and in Japan affecting a major conflict, were also deciding factors in shaping Chamberlain’s choices. It was widely believed that if any one of those places broke into war, then at least one of the other two would also fight.
In light of this theory, it was imperative for Britain to secure new trade routes in Europe, as well as to create enough time to finish rearming the unprepared British forces. By making concessions with Germany and Italy, Chamberlain saw the quickest, and in his opinion, the best way for Britain to achieve these goals. When Chamberlain came to power, he followed Prime Ministers McDonald and Baldwin, who had viewed Great Britain as a true super power. This attitude had led to an foreign policy, and a lack of new trade routes being formed.
Chamberlain was a seasoned political campaigner, and could see Britain’s position for what it was: tied to America, not active in trade with Europe, and ill prepared for the conflict which many saw as inevitable in the near future. This was fuel led by a report from the British Chiefs of Staff in January 1938 which observed that “Naval, Military and air forces in their present stage of development, are still far from sufficient to meet our defensive commitments, which now stretch from Western Europe, through the Mediterranean to the Far East… We cannot foresee the time when our defences will be strong enough to safeguard our territory, trade and vital interests against Germany, Italy and Japan simultaneously.” This concern about the threat of German aggression grew when the Anschluss between Austria and Germany was finalized in March 1938. However, Chamberlain did not want to form alliances in Europe, as this kind of collaborative could result in supporting a conflict which Britain did not want, and could not afford at the time. Many, including Chamberlain, were of the opinion that the Treaty of Versailles had been unduly harsh on Germany.
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Consequently, Chamberlain was prepared to give Hitler a fair hearing as he viewed such treatment as potentially advantageous for both countries. One of the main areas that Chamberlain is criticised over is his acceptance of Hitler’s assertion that the only reason Germany was interested in the Sudetenland was his desire to unite all Germans. After his first meeting with Hitler in Berchtesgaden on September 15 th 1938, Chamberlain wrote in a letter to his sister that “I got the impression that here was a man who could be relied on when he had given his word.” Although Hitler is famous for his ability to manipulate people’s opinions, Chamberlain was an experienced politician, who could presumably read people’s true intentions better than most. His insistence on agreement without war and, further, his belief that if he was not the only man who could do it, he was certainly the best qualified, meant that he was too keen to pursue any concessions that would fit in with his plan for appeasement. This can be seen clearly in Chamberlains broadcast of September 27 th 1938, where, concerning increased German pressure on the Czech issue, he said, “How horrible, Fantastic and 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… War is a fearful thing and we must be very clear, before we embark on it, that it is really the great issues that are at stake.” This gave a bad impression on two fronts.
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It made Chamberlain seem ignorant of foreign affairs, particularly concerning Czechoslovakia, which was the area that he had been most active in, and the area that could d mean the difference between Britain going to war or not. More importantly, Chamberlain’s comments sent the message that he would try to avoid conflict at all costs. When Hitler heard this, he took no time in pushing Chamberlain even further over the Czechoslovakian issue. Hitler’s negotiation, in turn, led to the Munich conference on the future of the Sudetenland, where Chamberlain agreed to almost any concession, simply so that he could say that he had achieved “Peace in our time.” This eagerness at Munich has caused many historians to portray Chamberlain as a weak and gullible character, who was prepared to settle for peace ‘at any price’. However, this assertion is not a complete representation of Chamberlain. Although he undoubtedly made some poor decisions, and he clearly placed too much trust in both Hitler and Mussolini, he was never oblivious to the fact that war may be unavoidable.
Ultimately, he met with Hitler on three occasions, first the famous visit mentioned earlier, second at Godesberg on September 15 th 1938, where he was given an unexpected ultimatum to evacuate the Sudetenland within five days, which was rejected; and finally in Munich on September 29 th and 30 th. By this time, one can only logically assume that Chamberlain must have known, at the very least, that Hitler was a volatile personality. In February 1939, he stated that “Any threat to the vital interests of France, from whatever quarter it came, must evoke the immediate cooperation of Great Britain.” Although this statement was made at a time when Hitler’s claims that he had only limited goals in Europe were severely in question, and Britain’s vulnerability if France was to fall was obvious; it still showed that Chamberlain had enough awareness of the severity of the situation and of Hitler’s personality, prior to Germany’s invasion of Poland, to see it as a threat. Conversely, now that the democracies had accepted the fact that Germany posed a significant problem, they had begun to prepare them militarily for that eventuality, even as Hitler became aware of such preparations. Chamberlain believed that due to these defensive preparations, Hitler would have to stop any ideas he had previously nurtured of gaining his concessions through armed conflict. In fact, the situation made Hitler act even sooner, in order to begin the war whilst the democracies were still rearming.
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Another factor which undoubtedly affected Chamberlain’s decision to pursue appeasement was his aversion to the alternatives. If he had not gone down the path of appeasement, Chamberlain would have been forced to take up an alliance with France, or possibly with the Soviet Union. Chamberlain disliked this solution for two main reasons. Firstly, although he was by no means as confident in the British position as either of his predecessors, or even his successor, Winston Churchill, he also wasn’t of the opinion that Britain needed European allies that may cause an already volatile European leader, in Hitler, to believe that the alliance was formed specifically against him. Secondly, although Britain was over committed at that time due to colonial duties and to duties arising from the last war, given enough investment, and by forging trade routes, Chamberlain believed that Britain would be able to regain its former glory over time.
Again, he did not want to alienate possible trading partners by allying with countries that they did not trade with. Basically, Chamberlain found himself in a very difficult position, in an equally difficult time in international relations, and he wanted to give Britain what he saw as its best chance to survive, considering every diplomatic variable. In conclusion, one can initially draw two possible views of Chamberlain. One, that he was a weak and gullible leader, obsessed with his own political success, and, therefore, prepared to negotiate a peace at any cost. The alternative view is that he simply found himself in the right place at the wrong time. Although there is no doubt that he was an accomplished politician, the need he felt to be involved in foreign affairs, in spite of his relative inexperience of this area, meant that he was unable to achieve the success he felt he should have, and possibly could have, had war not been such an immediate threat.
The Term Paper on To what extent did the events of 1945-1946 turn war-time allies into Cold War enemies?
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Further to this point, while he may not have accomplished his aim of creating peace through diplomacy, with Hitler ready to go to war at a moments notice, Chamberlain gave Britain at least an extra year to prepare for it. The notion of some historians that Chamberlain was afraid to go to war should be tempered with the view that Chamberlain was, in fact, initiating delay through diplomacy in order to give the British military more time to prepare for the inevitable. However, Chamberlain’s attitudes must have been firmly against war, as he had lost much of his family, including his best friend, his cousin Norman, during World War I, and he was all too aware of the reality of war, even for those who survive, and their families. Although his reasons to cling to the appeasement program were personally charged, both by his political ambition and by his hatred of wars, at heart they were based on the needs of Britain at the time, namely, to delay war in order to rearm, and to establish trade routes to rebuild the economy. In short, the decisive factors acting upon Chamberlain’s decision to actively pursue appeasement were, initially, his own expectations of himself, and his need to be the man seen as responsible for appeasing Germany. Secondly, Chamberlain’s believed that Britain needed time to recover, both economically and militarily from the last war.
Thirdly, his own views of war and his naivety in foreign affairs certainly affected his decision, though not to the extent commonly believed. In any event, he certainly allowed Hitler more input than he should have had when it came to the Sudetenland, and he badly misjudged the threat posed by both Hitler and Mussolini. That cannot be denied. What can also not be denied is that the extra year that Chamberlain gave the democracies to prepare may well have been the difference between victory and defeat for the Allies. Bibliography Chamberlain and appeasement: British policy and the coming of the Second World War. by R.
A. C. Parker, (Robert Alexander Clarke), 1927- Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1993. Neville Chamberlain. by Wikipedia Encyclopedia.
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web Chamberlain Neville Chamberlain. by Spartacus Educational. web.