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The Policy of Appeasement and the Sudden Rise of Adolf Hitler to Power

Political leaders come and go. But perhaps there is no leader who has been able to catapult the world’s political scene more than Adolf Hitler of the German Nazi Party did; rising from the unknown to the world’s best remembered dictator. Known for his ability to dominate people and instigate his will upon those around him, Hitler was an absolutely unscrupulous leader, trusting no one, and always ready to mislead, betray, kill, and do anything else within his capabilities to gain his own selfish ends (Bullock, 130-33). On the other side of the coin, Hitler was remarkably known for his desire to avoid illegalities. For example, Hitler refused to join his associates in plotting a coup when his Nazi party was been balked of its aims. But once he was legitimately elected as chancellor, he did whatever he wanted without following any form of constitutional restraint. In the Mein Kampf, Hitler had clearly outlined what his intentions were once he gained power (Bullock). But his contemporaries never carried his remarks with any iota of seriousness. In the international scene, the policy of appeasement developed by western powers further helped to propel him and his Nazi Party to power.

Simply defined, appeasement is a policy that is used to settle international confrontations by acknowledging and satisfying complaints and accusations through reasonable negotiation and compromise (Lee, 8). In the appeasement policy, one nation must grant unilateral compromises to another to avoid political, economic, or military conflict that can be expensive to maintain, bloody, and possibly dangerous. According to Lee, the policy of appeasement is closely linked to three British prime ministers of the 1930’s, namely: Ramsay MacDonald (1929-35), Stanley Baldwin (1935-37) and Neville Chamberlain (1937-40). However, Chamberlain is mostly mentioned due to his foreign policy on Nazi Germany between 1937 and 1940. Also closely associated with the term are two British secretaries who served during that time, Sir Samuel Hoare (1935) and Lord Halifax (1938-40).

The origins of the policy of appeasement can be traced back to the ineptness of the League of Nations and the Failure of collective security (Lee, 11-13). The First World War (WW1) was an expensive war which claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and wanton destruction of property. After it subsided, world leaders came together to form the League of Nations on the premise that international collaboration and collective resistance to external aggression might help prevent escalations of war. League members were entitled to assistance by other members if their frontiers came under attack. The League of Nations was mandated to prevent war by using specific procedural requirements. Article 10 of the league’s covenant bound member countries “to respect and preserve as against external aggression the territorial integrity and existing political independence of all members of the league” (Zieger, 180). In the occasion of actual or threatened aggression against a member country, the League council was to meet and offer counsel regarding the means by which this duty would be fulfilled.

As mentioned above, the policy of appeasement can also be traced back to the failure of collective security. This system was under the League of Nations, and its chief mandate was to achieve international disarmament using such measures as economic sanctions to the aggressive nations. This system appeared like a lame duck when confronted by dictatorial aggressors, the likes of German’s Adolf Hitler. The system of collective security was also rendered ineffective by the hassles of the Great Depression witnessed in 1930’s (Howarth, 3-5).

The League of Nations’ inefficiency in fulfilling its obligations, including the above, led European powers to come together and formulate the policy of appeasement to save the world from further strife and confrontations. This was the real intention behind formulation of the policy. There was a general feeling that modern conventional warfare would be a devastating experience considering what had happened when German air forces conducted Arial bombings of Spain during the hard fought Spanish Civil war (Howarth, 5). The Germans targeted civilian populations and cities during the war, occasioning devastating economic losses. It was such experiences that made European powers to consider the foreign policy of appeasement, which basically called on the aggressed country to allow or give in to logical demands in the anticipation that the aggressive nation will not demand more.

However, problems arose due to the fact that Hitler, the aggressor in the Rhineland conflict was not reasonable at all (Howarth, 4). Many historians are of the view that Hitler was spoiling for war the whole time and looked at the appeasement foreign policy as a soft spot or weakness of other European leaders. The leaders, led by Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister at that time, either failed to objectively study the motives behind Hitler’s occupation on demilitarized Rhineland, or they never carried him seriously (Bullock, 132-35). The events that followed thereafter due to the policy of appeasement are largely blamed for the escalation of World War Two. But to understand them better, it is only imperative that background information regarding Hitler’s rise to power be looked into.

Western Europe’s early policy towards German fastened the rise of Hitler and his Nazi Party. The faulty nature of the WW1 peace agreements, the foreign policies of appeasement practiced mostly by Britain and French, and the failure of the international system during the period following the WWI are often linked to hastening Hitler’ ascendancy to power. His Nazi party also benefited immensely from these shortfalls (Howarth, 5). Despite the formulation of a 14 point plan by Woodrow Wilson from the US in meetings that followed immediately after WW1 to decide on how Germany should be made to pay for the war, Britain , France, and Italy felt that Germany had to be severely punished (History on the Net, 2007). The fourteen point plan included clauses on open diplomacy, freedom of navigation, multilateral disarmament, and formation of the League of Nations. But western powers wanted to adopt a more severe policy against their neighbor, a fact that could have made Germany, under Hitler, choose to follow a more aggressive path towards its Eastern Europe neighbors and its domination towards Western Europe (Hanser, 67-69; German Foreign Policy, 2009). Despite all the financial and military clauses that had been inserted into the treaty by the western powers, Germany was made to surrender land to a number of countries, including France, Denmark and Belgium. The Treaty also disallowed Germany from uniting with Austria. Therefore, Adolf Hitler could have been catapulted into action by such ‘perceived injustices’ against the German people.

To Critics, Adolf Hitler was a fascist dictator who ruled over Germany between 1933 and 1945. According to Howarth (5-6), fascism is dictatorial ideological inclination that depends on the use of militarism, betrayal, and aggression as a foreign policy. These were Hitler’s best tools of trade in the process of ruling his subjects. Hitler’s history that is relevant to this paper dates back to WW1, when Hitler served in the German army and received decoration for his bravery. By 1921, Adolf Hitler had risen through the ranks of the small National Socialist Workers’ Party (NAZI Party) to become its leader. In 1925, he formulated his National Socialism’s extreme nationalistic and racist ideological philosophies while serving time in prison due to his role in the botched up Munich Putsch (Bullock, 147). The population’s increased disenchantment occasioned by the economic distress of the Great Depression and discontent with the Weimar Republic propelled the Nazis towards electoral gains. Through the formation of an alliance comprising of the Nazi Party and Orthodox Nationalists, Hitler ascended to chancellorship in 1933.

Having achieved his desires, Hitler transformed himself into a dictator who could go full stretch to achieve what he wanted (Bullock, 145-55). The SS and Gestapo, his chief security custodians, were ruthlessly used to suppress all opposition towards Hitler’s government. Apart from his role in the Second World War, Adolph Hitler is perhaps best remembered by inciting racial hatred that led to the massacre of the Jewish population and others in the Holocaust. According to Bullock, Hitler had the extraordinary ability to dominate his subjects, including those who were close to him. He had a unique ability of not been understood. For example, the German business professionals supported Hitler when he was running for chancellor in the hope that they shall be able to use him only for Hitler to use them instead once he was safely in power (Bullock). These are some of his qualities that put his western European counterparts off the track in the Munich agreement of September, 1938.

To his German speaking citizens, Hitler was an icon. He was loved and revered because of ending the humiliation of the Versailles agreement by ignoring the pact and upgrading German’s armed personnel (Howarth, 3). He secured massive employment opportunities for millions of unemployed people in the military and armament factories. This serves to demystify one of the qualities that may have brought a precipitate that led to World War two – that Hitler was a war maniac. He was also popular among his subjects for working to reinstate German’s pride. For instance, he ignored the forbidding of military parades by the Versailles treaty. These were strong indicators that Hitler wanted to send to the world. Furthermore, the Germans were proud of their leader for spearheading the reunification process of 1938 (Howarth). First it was the Anschlus, or the reunification of Germany with Austria. Second, Germans were reunited Western Sudentland, Czechzlovakia.

Hitler was known for his aggressive fascist foreign policy aimed at German’s territorial enlargement within Europe. This policy was propelled at much higher velocity by the policy of appeasement and the realization by Hitler that there existed a gaping disjoint within western European leaders that he could utilize to his fullest advantage (Mommsen & Kettenecker, 132-35). The Western Europe allies consisting mainly of Britain and France had initially occupied the Rhineland under the treaty of Versailles. Under the treaty, the Rhineland area was to be maintained free of any military personnel or weaponry from the Germans. It is worthwhile to note that the treaty of Versailles formed the basis for the establishment of the League of Nations immediately after the First World War. Britain formally withdrew its troops from the area in 1926, and the French followed afterwards in 1930 (History on the Net, 2007).

Sensing that neither France nor Britain was in a distinct position to prevent remilitarization of Rhineland, Hitler took a gable against the wishes of his key advisors and sent troops to the area in March 1936. Historians view this advancement as a direct result of the policy of appeasement. Not only did Hitler breach the treaty of Versailles by moving his troops to Rhineland, but he also breached the Treaty of Locarno (Leitz, 56-63). Signed by Germany, Britain, Italy, and France in 1925, the Locarno Treaty stated that Rhineland should be demilitarized on a permanent basis. The treaty of Locarno had allowed Germany to become a member of the League of Nations. The league therefore found Germany to be in breach of the Locarno treaty by conducting the most ambitious foreign coup- Hitler’s remilitarization of the Rhineland. However, the League’s ineptness and inefficiency led it not to take action against Germany. Although Britain and France were perplexed by Hitler’s bold move to cross the Rhine, neither of allies took action preferring to play into the galleries using the foreign policy of appeasement (Bullock, 139-41). What they didn’t realize was that Hitler was planning to take on the world, bit by bit. According to Bullock, the Rhineland remilitarization was an integral component of Hitler’s stufenplan – a stage by stage plan to conquer the world.

The Anschluss, also known as the German Annexation of Austria took place on March 12 1938, again led by Aldolf Hitler (Leitz, 43-45). The Soviet Union together with France was again alarmed by the Germans but neither of them took a decisive action to stop the annexation, again preferring to play into the galleries of appeasement. Owing to hard economic difficulties that countries were undergoing during that period due to the Great Depression, going to war was considered unviable and costly affair by the European allies (Howarth, 3). This occasioned them to use the policy of appeasement, not knowing that they were up against a dictator who had predetermined motives. The failure of the western allies to act on Germany encouraged Hitler to continue pursuing his aggressive foreign policy, a situation that led to Second World War. The policy of appeasement mostly used by the two British premiers – Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain meant that Britain was not in any way interested in war. They also feared for possible escalation of a European war that could have witnessed the formation of an axis of powerful fascist leaders, namely Adolf Hitler and Mussolini (Mandelbaum, 12-15). To the premiers, such a dangerous alliance would have been a liability to British interests. This miscalculation by leaders gave Hitler the muscle and the spirit to move on until he eventually led the world into the doldrums of Second World War.

But perhaps the biggest miscalculation on the part of western powers came when they agreed to sign the Munich agreement of 1938. The Versailles treaty, discussed elsewhere in this paper, saw the establishment of Czechoslovakia, including the Sudetenland (Sladek, 2008; Mommsen & Kettenecker, 141-43. The latter had a large German population. Sudeten Nazis led by Konrad Hedlein had agitated for independence from the Czech Republic. Hitler, pleased with the occurrences, ordered an attack on Czechoslovakia. The British, led by the Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain fell back to their preferred foreign policy of appeasement. This is where Hitler saw the crack, and utilized it to his fullest potential. His public image had been enhanced by the annexation of Austria, where he was welcomed by citizens upon completing the exercise. Now, it was Sudetenland, a region where he was almost sure of gaining instant popularity and fame due to its large native German population (Mandelbaum, 147-49).

Western leaders failed to notice Hitler’s intent, or utterly miscalculated their moves towards Hitler’s containment. By September 1938, Britain, together with France had bowed to Hitler’s demands that a section of Czech Republic be given away to Germany (Mandelbaum, 152-60). The British Prime minister sent Lord Runciman for mediation talks that were clearly in support of Hitler’s demands. The Czech government was prevailed upon to cede Sudetenland to the Germans to diffuse a potentially dangerous stand off. This culminated to the signing of Munich agreement – a pact that aimed at settling Germans claims on Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia. Members to the pact included Britain, Nazi Germany, Italy, and France. According to Mandelbaum, France was represented by Prime Minister Edourd Deladier during the actual signing of the pact.

It has been argued that the chief mission of these noble men was to guarantee world peace in general, and secure Europe in particular (Mandelbaum, 18-24). It is the argument of many historians that Chamberlain sincerely believed that the intentions of both Hitler and Mussolini were limited, and could be met by settling their grievances so that global peace could be preserved (Taylor, 20-25). This was another miscalculation brought by the policy of appeasement since the two men were after the complete breakdown of world peace, not its rebuilding. Appeasement offered Hitler more time, strength, and greater ground to recoup himself. According to Taylor, the foreign policy of appeasement adopted by Britain and her allies was actively involved in permitting Hitler to consolidate his hold on world politics. However, he does not read mischief in the premiers’ reliance on appeasement as it was the only rational response to an impulsive leader like Hitler.

Appropriate or inappropriate, what the world leaders failed to realize was that there were only catapulting Hitler by ceding too much ground on his demands. A skeptic of Hitler’s assurances, Sir Winston Churchill had warned that partitioning the Czech Republic under pressure from the British and French amounted to complete surrender of Western democracies to threats of use of force by the Nazis (Mandelbaum, 135-45). Such threats according to Churchill could never bring peace to the world. He was right as World War Two followed shortly thereafter.

They miscalculated on Hitler’s seriousness to honor his part of the bargain. In the Munich agreement, Hitler disregarded the various clauses within the pact on non-aggression towards neighboring countries barely six months into the signing and commanded his army to completely overrun the Czech Republic (Mandelbaum, 145-48). This was after he had given assurances during the negotiation process that he would demand nothing, would not go further, and would be satisfied if he was offered Sudetenland. He was offered the prize he claimed, thanks to the policy of appeasement. But that did not dissuade Hitler to halt his guns. Therefore, the actions of Chamberlain and his allies in exercising the policy of appeasement may have been well intended. Indeed, Britain could hardly afford another war due to the great economic hardships of the 1930’s, and also due to the fact that it was recuperating from the effects of ww1. All these facts were well known to Hitler. Chamberlain and allies then engaged in a critical miscalculation by counting on Hitler as a peace crony during the Munich agreements while Hitler was indeed marching earnestly on the road to destruction and war.

But all is not lost on the allied premiers who oversaw the Munich agreements. Counter-revisionist theorists argues that the foreign policy of appeasement was most likely the only choice left for the British government of the 1930’s to follow (Bullock, 152-153). According to them the premiers erred in the implementation phase by allowing Hitler more than the needed space to operate in. The intervention came rather too late, and its execution was not enforced firmly enough to curtail Hitler’s demands and his ‘big boy’ attitudes (Mommsen & Kettenecker, 25-57). Analysts feel that the situation could have been against Hitler thereby stopping him in his tracks if proper implementation of the appeasement policy was carried out. If handled properly, it could have been one of the most effective crisis management strategy used to encourage Hitler to resolve his personal or nationalistic complaints peacefully.

As a result, three of the four commonly mentioned factors that led to World War 2 are linked to Hitler and Nazi Germany. The first is fascism, or the dependency of external aggression and militarism as a foreign policy (Howarth, 5). As described above, fascism was a typical German trademark during that time. The breakdown of the Treaty of Versailles that formed the basis for the establishment of the League of Nations also served to precipitate the war. Again, German, through Hitler was at the centre of this discord. In open defiance to clauses contained in the league covenant, Hitler went ahead to remilitarize the Rhineland. Open abuses of International systems formulated by the League of Nations, done by Germany and Japan, led to a full-scale war that came to be known as World War Two. The other factor that contributed to the commencement of World War 2 was the Global Depression of the 1930’s.

The policy of appeasement could therefore be said to be one of the factors that directly led to a precipitate in world politics that eventually led to full scale war between western allies and German and its allies, including Japan, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey (History on the Net (2007). The policy could have been designed for all the right reasons. Indeed, its chief architects were of the view that global conflicts could be resolved using other peaceful ways rather than war, seen as irrational and expensive. The policy depended on rationalism – that the aggressor won’t make any more irrational demands once the deal was done. In this case, the policy was used on an individual with predetermined motive of starting a war, and its implementation phase was deeply flawed. This occasioned the Second World War.


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