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Appeasement

Appeasement is the strategic maneuver, based on either pragmatism, fear of war, or moral conviction, that leads to the adopting a non-agressive or non-retaliative stance towards agressors.

Appeasement is probably a learned behaviour or strategy, often shaped by negative experience when aggression was used in the past.

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Appeasement of Hitler

The classic twentieth century case is that of United Kingdom Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain's government's appeasement of Adolf Hitler's Germany in the late 1930s. In this case it was in part a result of the psychological trauma of the impact of the First World War. Having witnessed the mass deaths of vast numbers of young people (many urban centres in the United Kingdom, for example, lost up to 40% of all young men; many families lost all their sons and most young male relatives), Britain like many parts of Europe was absolutely opposed to another war in any circumstances. King George V famously said that he would rather abdicate and stand in Trafalgar Square in central London, singing 'The Red Flag' (the socialist and communist anthem) than allow his country go through another war like 1914-1918.

Many leaders of Europe saw the Versailles treaty that ended World War I as unfair to Germany. They as a result perceived Hitler's rise to power and his invasion of states like the Saarland, the Rhineland, Austria and Czechoslovakia as merely the taking back of lands that could be seen as part of greater Germany. Determined at all costs to avoid war and using such moral justifications for their acceptance of Hitler's actions, they agreed to his conquests (arguing that 'Czech freedom is not worth a drop of blood'), often signing agreements which they hoped meant that Hitler, having rebuilt a greater Germany, would stop at that point, though given the scale of Hitler's rearming, there is no guarantee that halting Hitler's invasion of Czechoslovakia would have stopped the war, and it might merely have brought it forward.

An additional factor which led to Britain's appeasement of Hitler was fear of strategic bombing. In 1932 the British MP Stanley Baldwin declared that "I think it is well for the man on the street to realize that there is no power on earth that can protect him from being bombed.........the bomber will always get through." Fear of aerial bombing, stoked by apocalyptic visions such as those in the H. G. Wells book The Shape of Things to Come[?] was all-pervasive and of an intensity comparable to fear of nuclear war today.

"Peace in our Time"

Chamberlain's peace in our time deal with Hitler was internationally acclaimed and praised at home and abroad, by among others Pope Pius XI, Ireland's Eamon de Valera and the United States administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Chamberlain was acclaimed by many British people for avoiding another war that would slaughter their sons. He was greeted by cheering crowds on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, alongside King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, who themselves supported his policy, both having lost friends and relatives in the last war.

Chamberlain rearming

However while many leaders, some of whom had been in government during the First World War, were haunted by its impact and determined to avoid any war in the future, deeming all war 'futile', Chamberlain himself and his ministers were also aware of the lack of military capacity at their disposal. Part of that was the result of the belief subscribed to by many governing elites in the 1920s and early 1930s that war would no longer be an option and that military budgets could be tailored accordingly. The European cycle of wars which in the previous seventy years had produced two massive conflicts, the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the First World War (or Great War as it was often called) was thought to mark the end of old-style European conflicts. This was partly due to the horrors of 1914-1918 that were thought to haunt all Europeans; partly due to the disappearance of old militarist monarchies like the Hohenzollern monarchy of Prussia and Germany and the old system of secretive military alliances (the Triple Entente[?] and the Triple Alliance); partly due to the apparent democratisation of Europe which it was thought would mean that war could not be waged without the will of the people, and after 1918 that will would no longer be there; and partly as a result of the financial burdens fighting the Great War and rebuilding states afterwards had imposed on individual exchequers. In addition the appearance of the League of Nations raised hoped that there would now be other ways of resolving interstate disputes than military might. Because of this the old cycle of rearming for the next revenge conflict was thought to be broken. In addition, the Wall Street Collapse of 1929 and the resulting Great Depression had forced governments to rein in expenditures and provide for the increasing poverty that was hitting states. In such circumstances, a heavily funded military was thought neither politically possible nor financially viable. However, the growing instability in Weimar Germany with the rapid collapse in governments and the growing reliance on President Paul von Hindenburg's presidential decrees raised fears among some that however unpopular and financially difficult, increased military expenditure was becoming unavoidable.

Faced with the growing political and economic instability in Europe, the rise in Nazism and the increased irrelevance of the League of Nations as a means to deal with disputes, Chamberlain as British Prime Minister oversaw one of the most massive military buildups in modern history and instituted a peacetime draft. He also compromised with Hitler over the Sudetenland, largely after being advised by his generals that the United Kingdom was in no military position to fight Hitler. Although Churchill is credited with having fought the war against Hitler, it was Chamberlain's rebuilding of the depleted British military that gave Churchill and army, navy and air force capable of fighting, although popular myth continues to see Chamberlain as just an appeaser.

It is also worth noting that after Chamberlain's death, Churchill's eulogy spoke movingly and positively of Chamberlain's desire for peace.

The fear of war after the experiences of 1914-1918 and their own inadequate military capacity also led many European leaders and peoples to appease the Fascist regimes of Benito Mussolini in Italy and Francisco Franco in Spain, again in the belief that war under any cost was undesirable and wrong.

Appeasement's impact on the Second World War

It has been argued that if an overly bellicose war-enthusiasm had produced the mass slaughter of World War I, then the resulting determination to avoid war at all costs in the 1930s proved equally counterproductive, with Europe's failure to oppose Hitler leading the German Führer to believe that he could do as he pleased and no-one would threaten war in response. In this view the delay caused by appeasement increased the number of people killed when war ultimately became unavoidable.

However, this view is not without critics. It has also been argued that a strong stand by Britain and France would not have caused Hitler to back down, and that in the Sudeten crisis, Hitler was fully intent on going to war with Britain and France. Furthermore, the idea that an early war would have prevented a general war is has also been criticized. Long before the Czech crisis, Hitler had revealed his intent to become master of Europe if not the world, and many historians feel that it is unlikely that a strong stand over Czechoslovakia would have caused him to permanently renounce such ambitions.

Winston Churchill considered that it might well have been worthwhile to continue World War II after VE Day by fighting the Soviet army. The move by Western consensus to draw the line at this possibility was perceived by some as appeasement by the West towards Josef Stalin which led to the Cold War.

The Theme of Appeasement in Contemporary US Foreign Policy

In the writings of US neoconservative imperialists such Paul Wolfowitz, Norman Podhoretz[?], Elliott Abrams[?], Richard Perle, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Max Boot[?], William Kristol, Robert Kagan[?], William Bennett, Peter Rodman[?], and others influential in forging the foreign policy doctrines of the Bush administration, the history of appeasement with Hitler at Munich in 1938 and the Cold War's policies of Détente and containment (rather than rollback) with the Soviet Union and China, which they consider tantamount to appeasement at Munich, are constant themes.

In his well-publicized piece "The Case for American Empire" in the conservative Weekly Standard, Max Boot argued that "The most realistic response to terrorism is for America to embrace its imperial role". He countered sentiments that the "United States must become a kinder, gentler nation, must eschew quixotic missions abroad, must become, in Pat Buchanan's phrase, 'a republic, not an empire'" arguing that "In fact this analysis is exactly backward: The September 11 attack was a result of insufficient American involvement and ambition; the solution is to be more expansive in our goals and more assertive in their implementation".

Thomas Donnelly[?], a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), an influential conservative thinktank in Washington, in his AEI piece "The Underpinnings of the Bush doctrine" argued, "In other words, the fundamental premise of the Bush Doctrine is true: The United States possesses the means--economic, military, diplomatic--to realize its expansive geopolitical purposes. Further, and especially in light of the domestic political reaction to the attacks of September 11, the victory in Afghanistan and the remarkable skill demonstrated by President Bush in focusing national attention, it is equally true that Americans possess the requisite political willpower to pursue an expansive strategy."

Led by Norman Podhoretz[?], these neoconservatives used charges of "appeasement" to attack the foreign policy orthodoxy in the Cold War, attacking Détente, most-favored nation trade status for the Soviet Union and support unilateral American intervention in places like Grenada and Libya. These activists condemned peace through diplomacy, arms control, or inspection teams, comparing negotiations with relatively weak enemies of the United States as appeasement of "evil".

Following the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the Bush Administration has made proclamations affirming these aggressive stances.

The Bush Doctrine is a proclamation of the right of the United States to wage pre-emptive war should it be threatened by terrorists or rogue states that are engaged in the production of weapons of mass destruction such as Iraq is alleged to be doing, thus permitting pre-emptive strikes against developing threats can be seen as a change from focusing on the doctrine of deterrence[?] (in the cold war through mutually assured destruction) as the primary means of self-defense. There is some opinion that pre-emptive strikes have long been a part of international practice and indeed of American practice, as exemplified, for example, by the unilateral US blockade and boarding of Cuban shipping during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The doctrine also states that the United States "will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States." This is designed to create a deterrence to countries that seek to use military might to oppose the United States' policy.

In contrast to more conventional foreign policy experts who argued that Iraq could be restrained by enforcing No-Fly Zones and by a policy of inspection by United Nations inspectors to restrict his ability to possess chemical or nuclear weapons, neoconservatives attacked this policy direction as appeasement of Saddam Hussein. Proponents of war sought to compare their war to Churchill's war against Hitler, with speakers like United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld comparing Saddam to Hitler, while comparing the toleration shown to Saddam to the 1930s appeasement of Hitler.



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