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Defense Policy - Appeasement

As fascism grew, so did appeasement in both Britain and France, especially among the wealthy and ruling elites of both countries, a significant section of whom viewed Hitler and the Nazis as an antidote to communism and rising working class militancy against the crippling poverty and inequality that was their lot. In Britain's case, appeasement, which the country's future wartime leader Winston Churchill famously described as feeding a crocodile in the hope that it eats you last, reached as high as the royal family, with King Edward VIII known to have harbored Nazi sympathies during his brief period on the throne.

Hitler, it should be noted, was an admirer of the British Empire, which he used as a template of his plans to colonize Eastern Europe in the interests of Lebensraum (living space) for the German people. His overriding objective was to destroy the Soviet Union and what he described as Judeobolshevism.

To understand the political significance of Munich and what preceded it, one must recall that in addition to the wanton betrayal of Czechoslovakia by the callous righteousness of ignorance, the Conservative Party of England, like its French counterpart, was obsessed with fear of the Soviet Union and of Communism. Therefore it pursued the neo-Machiavellian policy of hoping that Nazism and Communism would fall upon and destroy each other. The grisly shortsightedness of this approach brought retribution in the Hitler-Stalin non-aggression pact of August 23, 1939.

MacDonald recognized that Britain's frontier was the Rhine. Initially this mean that British foreign policy would join France to maintain the status quo, the object of French policy, since British statesmen remained oriented toward revisionism. But was the basis for the revival of the "Entente Cordiale" as a limited defensive alliance, which finally occurred in 1936.

Labour was overthrown in the general election of October 1924 and Mr. Stanley Baldwin and Sir Austen Chamberlain became Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, respectively. Baldwin and Austen Chamberlain, did not adhere to the French security thesis but believed that France was morally bound to follow Germany's disarmament. Negotiations led to the Locarno Treaties, which were signed 16 October 1925. Under the terms of the Treaty of Mutual Guaranty, Britain as well as Italy guaranteed the Franco-German and Belgian-German frontiers and the demilitarization of the Rhineland. While the French Right attacked Briand for releasing Britain from her Versailles commitments, the British view was the Locarno Treaty fulfilled their '"moral commitment" to France.

Britain's role in the event of any unprovoked aggression would be to join in with the injured party against the aggressor. The French had been seeking alliance with Britain since the end of the Great War. But the British had become increasingly suspicious of the French attitude toward Germany, and Britain did not want to get dragged into a conflict by her Gallic neighbor.

Only the false dawn of the Locarno era illuminated the wretched and confusing darkness of the interwar years. The policies of Locarno prevailed in European affairs through the end of 1930. The men who shaped the foreign policies of Britain, France and Germany - Chamberlain, Briand and Stresemann - followed policies of conciliation. Steps were taken to solve the three questions challenging European peace: 1) security for France, 2) disarmament, and 3) reparations. In 1926, 1929 and 1930 the three occupied zones in Germany were evacuated. In 1926 Germany was admitted to the League and the following year the Allied Military Commission of Control over German disarmament was dissolved.

The Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936. Britain refused to become involved and Italy and Germany gave military support to the Spanish dictator, Francisco Franco. Franco's victory meant an ally for the Rome-Berlin Axis. In 1937 Japan began an invasion of China, which threatened British trade and investment. The British government followed a policy of 'appeasement', agreeing to the supposedly more 'reasonable' German demands.

The other wing of British policy sought to resume harmonious relations with Italy. In April 1938 an Anglo-Italian agreement acknowledged Italy's seizure of Abyssinia (modern Ethiopia) in exchange for reduction of Italian troops in Spain.

In 1938, despite being forbidden under the Treaty of Versailles, Hitler aimed to unify Austria and Germany. Hitler forced the Austrian Chancellor, Kurt Schuschnigg, into appointing the virulent Nazi, Artur Seiss-Inquart, as Minister of the Interior. In March 1938 Germany annexed Austria without substantial objection from Britain or France.

Hitler now turned his attention to Czechoslovakia. Here the position was more complicated because France and Russia had treaties with Czechoslovakia. British and French appeasement of Hitler reached its nadir with the Munich Agreement of 1938, where Britain and France effectively handed Czechoslovakia over to the Nazi dictator's tender mercies. This was despite Moscow urging France and Britain to join forces in order to defend Czechoslovakia. Moscow's entreaties were dismissed, which merely exacerbated Soviet leader Joseph Stalin's suspicions that the Western powers were intent on supporting Hitler's eastwards expansion. He was perfectly justified in holding those suspicions, given the craven capitulation to fascism that had marked the stance of British and French stance towards fascism up to this point.

On 29 and 30 September 1938 Mussolini brokered a conference of Germany, Britain, France and Italy at Munich. Germany was to occupy Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia, and the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, signed an Anglo-German friendship agreement with Hitler. Chamberlain returned to London apparently convinced that appeasement had satisfied Germany.

In March 1939 Germany invaded Czechoslovakia; the policy of appeasement had failed terribly. Germany seized the city of Memel from Lithuania, and Italy invaded Albania in April 1939. Hitler applied pressure to the Polish Government and strengthened the Italian alliance through the Pact of Steel in May. The situation was now grave.

The so-called Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (1939) was a direct result of the Munich Agreement. It was a non-aggression pact signed between Moscow and Berlin with expediency in mind. Hitler's motive was to forestall the prospect of becoming embroiled in a war on two fronts as he turned his war machine on France and Britain, while for Stalin, it provided the necessary time and space in which to modernize the Red Army, in preparation for the war the Soviet leadership knew was coming, but did not expect until the Spring of 1942.

The Franco-Polish Treaty of Mutual Assistance stated that France and Poland defend each other in the event of unprovoked aggression. Britain and France pledged to defend Poland, and the Anglo-Polish Treaty was signed on 26 August 1939. Hitler secured a non-aggression pact with USSR on 23 August. Despite this, only one week later on 1 September, Germany invaded Poland. On 3 September 1939 Britain and France declared war on Germany.

When Barbarossa was unleashed on 22nd June 1941, Winston Churchill delivered a radio broadcast to the British people. "The past, with its crimes, its follies and its tragedies, flashes away," he said. "I see the Russian soldiers standing on the threshold of their native land, guarding the fields which their fathers have tilled from time immemorial. I see them guarding their homes; their mothers and wives pray, ah yes, for there are times when all pray for the safety of their loved ones, for the return of the breadwinner, of the champion, of their protectors." Later in the same broadcast, the British prime minister pledged to "give whatever help we can to Russia and to the Russian people. We shall appeal to all our friends and Allies in every part of the world to take the same course and pursue it as we shall, faithfully and steadfastly to the end."

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Page last modified: 22-02-2017 16:27:45 ZULU