Perspectives on Appeasement
During the 1930s, the political influence of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, also known as the Nazi Party, spread rapidly. At the head of the party was Adolf Hitler, who was very open about his anti-semitism (hate of the Jews) and his opposition to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. Though World War I had ended twenty years prior, many Germans were still upset over how they had been treated. There was lingering tension on the part of the Germans toward Britain and France. However, instead of forcefully challenging Hitler and the brewing conflict, the countries practiced what is today known as appeasement, a hands-off policy in which Hitler was left unchecked and unchallenged.
British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain came to power in 1937 amid popularity. However, in the face of Hitler, he became weak and succumbed to more than a few of the Chancellor’s demands. Chamberlain understood that his country wanted to avoid a war at all costs. He recognized that World War I had been devastating, and couldn’t imagine that Hitler would want another war, as well. Rather than escalate the situation and keep Hitler in check, Chamberlain instead gave in. In 1938, for instance, Germany and Britain (along with France and Italy) signed the Munich Agreement, which allowed Germany to annex, or take, a part of Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain’s non-action and appeasement of Hitler would lose him significant political support as a result. He was therefore seen as a weak pushover who would give anything up to avoid another war.
Hitler, on the other hand, was seething over the humiliation he thought Germany had suffered at the hands of Great Britain and France. He was not a supporter of the Treaty of Versailles, and did not think Germany should have been blamed for the war. He set his sights on delivering a similar fate to the two countries and wanted to humiliate them in return. Hitler had three main goals in mind: he wanted to change the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, consolidate all of the German speaking territories into one, and conquer enough territory for that consolidation to happen. He was exceptionally nationalistic, meaning he touted the importance of his country above all the others. In the public eye, Hitler was thus seen as a bully who kept taking and wanting more and more. His hunger to provide only for the German people, while subsequently threatening and oppressing everyone else, made him a danger to the whole of Europe.