The term appeasement policy ( appeasement policy , from English to appease , French apaiser , 'soothe', 'appease', 'calm down') describes a policy of concessions, restraint, appeasement and accommodating aggression in order to avoid war. The policy of the British government towards National Socialist Germany is so called, with a negative assessment associated with it. Since the Second World War the term has had an exclusively negative meaning. It is a political slogan used to describe a policy of constant indulgence towards dictators, especially towards totalitarian states.
Appeasement politics in a European context
The "appeasement", as it was practiced in the 1930s by British and French politicians, especially Neville Chamberlain , literally meant "pacification". It assumed that in an unfamiliar foreign regime there would be “hawks” and “doves” in the political establishment who were in competition with one another. You can strengthen the pigeons through concessions, often through concessions in the economic area. In Germany they thought of the Reich Minister of Economics Hjalmar Schacht or the Prussian Prime Minister Hermann Göring . A course of political confrontation, on the other hand, would strengthen the position of falcons such as Reich Minister for Foreign Affairs Joachim Ribbentrop or Reich Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels .
In a narrower sense, the term stands for the policy of appeasement of the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and a group of British politicians, the so-called Cliveden clique , who had tolerated the incorporation of the Sudetenland into the German Reich in 1938 in the Munich Agreement . to avert a war in Europe . Chamberlain thus continued the foreign policy of his predecessors Ramsay MacDonald and Stanley Baldwin . At the Lausanne Conference in 1932, MacDonald urged the French to give in to German demands for a revision of the Versailles Treaty , and is therefore regarded as the "father" of the appeasement policy.
One of the most important goals of the appeasement policy was a collective, contractually agreed security system of the European states, which was to be created on the basis of the League of Nations or other international treaties. The defenders of the appeasement policy therefore included representatives of European federalism such as Philipp Kerr .
Hitler's foreign policy and Britain's attitude
Immediately after the Versailles Treaty came into force as a result of the defeat in the First World War , almost all political forces in the German Reich wanted its revision , as the restrictions imposed were judged to be too harsh. After his " seizure of power " in Germany, Adolf Hitler broke essential elements of the treaty, for example through armament , the invasion of the demilitarized Rhineland and the introduction of general conscription . The UK government showed some sympathy for this policy. At that time the country was in a severe economic crisis and was not ready for any war, which the British colonies had refused at that time. The war weariness of the public is expressed in a saying by King George V , who is said to have said that he would rather abdicate and sing " The Red Flag " in Trafalgar Square than expect his country to do it again to go through a war like the years 1914-1918.
Great Britain was therefore ready to make extensive concessions to Hitler; in particular, it wanted to accept that Germany rose to become a hegemonic power in Central Europe , but on the condition that it could be incorporated into international treaties. There were no allies to be found in Western and Central Europe for a more specific policy against the German Reich, but Great Britain increased its armaments spending.
Sudeten crisis and the Munich Agreement
Great Britain did not protest against the "Anschluss" of Austria , because it regarded it as an internal matter of the German Reich and Austria due to the lack of resistance . Only when Hitler brought about the Sudeten crisis and threatened to occupy the Sudetenland (areas of Czechoslovakia that were predominantly inhabited by Germans and that were separated from Austria after the First World War) did the war seem inevitable. But at an international conference in Munich at the end of September 1938, the Western powers Great Britain and France gave in, also under the aspect that they were not yet ready for war themselves, and concluded the Munich Agreement with Hitler, which allowed him to annex the Sudeten German territories. In London it was of the opinion that it was only fair if the Sudeten Germans and Austrians wanted to give them the opportunity to join the German Reich in the sense of the right of self-determination of the peoples , just as the Poles and Czechs had been made possible in the sense of the Versailles Treaty to decide for themselves about their nationality.
"Peace for our time!"
Chamberlain came back from Munich in the opinion that he had secured the peace for the foreseeable future. After his return he proudly declared on September 30, 1938 (in a reminiscence of Benjamin Disraeli after the Berlin Congress in 1878) that he had brought an honorable peace with him: “I believe it is peace for our time. […] Now go home and sleep soundly and well. ”This attitude was not shared by all British people. During the debate in the House of Commons on October 3, the Prime Minister was interrupted by angry heckling that he should be ashamed. Chamberlain defended the abandonment of Czechoslovakia, that "small and chivalrous nation", to which he expressed his pity, with a loftier aim:
“Since I took over my current office, my main goal has been to bring real peace to Europe, to dispel the suspicions and animosities that have poisoned the atmosphere for so long. The path to calm down is long and full of obstacles. Czechoslovakia's problem is the youngest and perhaps the most dangerous. Now that we have overcome it, I believe that it should be possible to make further progress on the path to recovery and sanity. "
With the Munich Agreement, however, peace was by no means secured. Chamberlain was urged by Lord Halifax and Roosevelt to abandon his policy of appeasement. After the Wehrmacht had occupied the rest of the territory of the Czecho-Slovak Republic on March 15, 1939 without consulting the guarantee powers of the Munich Agreement , Chamberlain made a declaration of guarantee for the independence of Poland on March 31, 1939 in the House of Commons, also on behalf of the French government . On April 19, this guarantee was extended to Romania and Greece . This officially ended the appeasement policy.
After the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, France and Great Britain declared war on Germany on the basis of this guarantee, but not on the Soviet Union , which also attacked Poland on September 17. However, the Munich Agreement gave the Western powers time to force armament for the war against the German Reich. This did little to help France against the background of its defensive military leadership (see seat war ). Great Britain was ready in 1940 to successfully avert an impending German invasion. Winston Churchill in particular had caused a change in public opinion, so that the majority of British people were now determined to defend themselves in the extreme ( - Great Britain's Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain informed the British people in a radio address on September 3, 1939 that war had been declared on Germany . ).
Criticism of the British appeasement course
From today's point of view, the best-known opponent of the appeasement policy was Winston Churchill , who, particularly in the 1930s, constantly called for the armament of Western democracies and in particular Great Britain and believed that appeasement could only come from a position of strength. Contrary to what has often been stated, he always appeared in his criticism under pronounced pro-government auspices until 1938, emphasizing in particular his loyalty to Neville Chamberlain (in February 1938 he hurried to sign a declaration in parliament as the fourth of more than 400 MPs in the House of Commons which he assured to stand wholeheartedly behind the government). After all, he called the Munich Agreement “a total, unmitigated defeat”, ie “a complete, unmitigated defeat”. However, Churchill was by no means isolated with his criticism of appeasement. His position was shared by many in politics, administration, the press and the military. Other well-known appeasement opponents in Great Britain were Alfred Duff Cooper , Anthony Eden , Violet Bonham Carter , Brendan Bracken , Leopold Amery and Harold Macmillan .
With the outbreak of World War II , the view was founded that concessions would easily be interpreted as a sign of weakness and as an encouragement to even more far-reaching demands, which would make even worse follow-up conflicts likely. This view is not without controversy; Today we know that Hitler was determined to incorporate the rest of the Czech Republic, while France and Great Britain were not prepared for a new war in 1938.
The fact that the Chamberlain government broke off its policy of appeasement and declared war on Germany can be seen as a failure. Regardless of this, the time from the Munich Agreement in 1938 to the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940 gave the Royal Air Force the opportunity to prepare so well that it emerged undefeated from this battle (and Hitler rejected Operation Sea Lion ). Also z. B. the Chain Home (a chain of coastal radar stations) built and put into operation. Chamberlain had to resign on May 10, 1940, when Hitler attacked the Benelux countries and France. Chamberlain's successor was Winston Churchill, whose war cabinet included members of the Cliveden clique such as Lord Halifax .
This historical assessment partly contradicts the British historian Frank McDonough , who ties in with the theses of RAC Parker (1927-2001). He also directs his gaze on the influence that the appeasement policy had on society , the economy , the mass media as well as on the opponents of the appeasement policy.
McDonough shares the view that the policy of appeasement was arguably the only way the British government could act in the 1930s, but unlike the revisionists, McDonough believes that Chamberlain failed to implement this policy: it was, according to McDonough, to late and was not energetic enough to be able to stop Nazi Germany and Hitler.
According to McDonough, the failure of the appeasement policy is particularly linked to Chamberlain's personality (tendency to misjudge; his reluctance to listen to political opponents or his unwillingness to consider alternatives). Chamberlain was an inflexible statesman who only changed his actions when external circumstances forced him to do so. McDonough argues that this had a decisive influence on the course of the war - according to him, Great Britain and France went into the war in 1939 in a much weaker military position than in 1938, as both countries would still have been militarily superior to Hitler in 1938. In counterfactual speculation , he comes to the conclusion that Hitler could have been stopped early, but this historic opportunity was missed by Chamberlain's policy of appeasement.
Interpretation by Bernd-Jürgen Wendt
According to Hamburg historian Bernd Jürgen Wendt , Great Britain had pursued a dual strategy of "peace and rearmament", but upgraded too late and too indecisively and failed to seek an alliance with Moscow in time to deter Hitler from aggression. However, the Chamberlain administration had good reasons for this ultimately unsuccessful policy. She had been confronted with a whole series of serious internal and external problems, which she hoped to be able to solve in a long period of peace. Faced with the challenge of three totalitarian powers - in addition to National Socialist Germany, Fascist Italy and the Soviet Union, the British resources would not have been sufficient to defend the Empire. Therefore, she was forced to set priorities. Europe was perceived as the continent where Great Britain had the fewest interests to defend, which is why a peaceful settlement with Germany was attempted. The Versailles peace order had already been perceived by many decision-makers as unjust and outdated, which is why Hitler met with understanding for his revision requests if it was only carried out non-violently and through diplomatic channels. Until March 1939, however, the Chamberlain government failed to recognize that Hitler was interested in much more than a revision of the Versailles Treaty, namely the achievement of hegemony on the European continent.
Wendt opposes a one-sided view of the events from a purely political-diplomatic point of view and points to the "inextricable interlocking of political and economic motives". He also turns against the “person-bound optics”, which sees Chamberlain as a “frivolous appeaser” and “strange loner”. Chamberlain traveled to Munich for him as a representative of a conservative bourgeois class.
Wendt evaluated the British House of Commons debates and the British press at the time of the Munich Agreement, which after him show the economic background of the agreement. This debate clearly shows the connection between the Munich Agreement and the trade rivalry between Germany and England in south-eastern Europe under the heading of "dismantling international trade barriers". In England it was feared that the German "urge to the east" and a "Central Europe" dominated by Germany, two key words always used in the public debate in the German original, would not only achieve an immense position of power and become capable of war with the raw materials of Southeastern Europe . For example, Winston Churchill, a member of the House of Commons at the time, said in the Munich debate from October 3 to 6, 1938:
“The road down the Danube valley to the Black Sea , the oil and grain springs and the road that leads to Turkey are open. In fact, if not formally, it seems to me that all the countries of Central Europe, all of these Danube countries, will one by one in the future be drawn into this immense system of political power - not just military but also economic and political power - that radiates from Berlin. "
Another point after Wendt was the "political-geographical isolation" from the countries of the southeast. Churchill stated in the House of Commons on March 14, 1938 after the annexation of Austria :
“ Vienna is the center of all the connections between all the countries that made up the old Austro-Hungarian Empire , and all of the countries that lie in the south-east of Europe. A long stretch of the Danube is now in German hands. This domination of Vienna gives Nazi Germany military and economic control over the entirety of Southeastern Europe's connections by road, sea and rail. "
According to Wendt, Chamberlain in Munich, after securing the peace, was about preventing "Central Europe" from being ruled by Germany or securing certain rights to have a say, as well as laying the basis for a general agreement on the German and British zones of influence. But also to the security of the British commerce in South East Europe and the prevention of an economic war , the one by the competition inability of British heavy, ship and cotton industry and the dreaded, as a foreign trade methods designated "slot technique" of the German Economics Minister Hjalmar Schacht in danger of losing . A “political and economic lockout of Great Britain from the continent” should therefore be prevented. Chamberlain believed that England's commercial interests could be safeguarded and that there could be “space for both nations” in south-east Europe. The German Minister of Economic Affairs, Walther Funk , said in Sofia on October 14, 1938 :
“In all of this, however, we don't want to crowd out the trade of other countries. On the contrary, the new trade route (meaning the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal ) will increase trade between the Southeast and other western and northern European countries. "
Wendt, however, doubts Chamberlain's sense of reality in this belief.
Use of the term after 1945
Appeasement as an argument
The obvious failure of the appeasement policy in 1939 is used again and again in a wide variety of starting positions as a justification when it comes to calling for a stronger approach to an “enemy” or to justify a preventive war.
In the Federal Republic of the 1970s and 1980s, conservative commentators compared the Ostpolitik of the social-liberal coalition and later the behavior of the peace movement towards the Soviet Union. In the GDR, on the other hand, it served as an accusation against western politicians of being too accommodating to old and neo-Nazis .
The argument also appeared in the Falklands War (1982) and before the Second Gulf War (1990), the Kosovo War (1999) and the Iraq War (2003). It is also expressed in connection with the so-called clash of civilizations .
Appeasement to Islamism
Since the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001 Western society is always appeasement policy towards Islam accused ism. The journalist Henryk M. Broder pleads in his 2006 book Hurray, we capitulate! From the desire to give in to the emphatic defense of freedom of expression and the unreserved condemnation of Islamist attacks and turns against what he sees as the wrong public image of the Islamists . In connection with what he believes to be too lenient treatment of Islamic immigrants in Germany, Broder speaks of "hostility towards the nation ": A new phenomenon is that "some migrants despise the society they have come to." The Muslim political scientist and historian Hamed Abdel-Samad criticizes politics of appeasement towards Islamism, while at the same time fears of the population about Islam are hidden from the political debate - only this behavior turns into resentment in the German population. Chancellor Merkel used this term on the occasion of the Munich Conference on Security in February 2006 to warn against improper handling of Iran .
- John F. Kennedy: Why England slept. 1981.
- Tim Bouverie: Appeasing Hitler. Chamberlain, Churchill and the road to war . London: The Bodley Head, 2019 ISBN 978-1-84792-440-7 .
- Parks M. Coble: Facing Japan - Chinese Politics and Japanese Imperialism, 1931-1937. Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University, 1991, ISBN 0-674-29011-9 .
- Robert Crowcroft: The End is Nigh. British Politics, Power, and the Road to the Second World War . Oxford University Press, 2019 ISBN 978-0-19-882369-8 .
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- Frank McDonough : Neville Chamberlain, Appeasement, and the British road to war. Manchester University Press, 1998, ISBN 0-7190-4832-X .
- Frank McDonough : Hitler, Chamberlain and appeasement (Cambridge Perspectives in History). Cambridge University Press, 2002, ISBN 0-521-00048-3 .
- Gustav Schmidt: England in crisis. Outlines and foundations of the British appeasement policy (1930–1937). VS Verlag, Wiesbaden 1981, ISBN 978-3-322-93590-8 .
- Bernd Jürgen Wendt:
- Economic appeasement. Trade and finance in British policy on Germany 1933–1939 . Düsseldorf 1971.
- Appeasement 1938 - Economic Recession and Central Europe. European Publishing House, 1966.
- Hans-Jürgen Schröder: Economic Appeasement. British and American policy on Germany before the Second World War. (PDF; 7.9 MB) In: Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte , 1982, pp. 82–97.
- Harold James : History of Europe in the 20th Century. Fall und Aufstieg 1914–2001 , Munich 2004, ISBN 3-406-51618-1 , p. 170 f.
- Richard Aldous: The Lion and the Unicorn. Gladstone vs. Disraeli . Pimlico, London 2007, p. 286.
- "I believe it is peace for our time ... Go home and get a nice quiet sleep". Quoted from EuroDocs: Online Sources for European History , accessed on August 10, 2014.
- "Ever since I assumed my present office my main purpose has been to work for the pacification of Europe, for the removal of those suspicions and those animosities which have so long poisoned the air. The path which leads to appeasement is long and bristles with obstacles. The question of Czechoslovakia is the latest and perhaps the most dangerous. Now that we have got past it, I feel that it may be possible to make further progress along the road to sanity. " Peace in our time. Speech given in Defense of the Munich Agreement, 1938 Neville Chamberlain on wwnorton.com; accessed on August 10, 2014).
- Cf. Alexander Lüdeke: The Second World War. Causes, outbreak, course, consequences. Berlin 2007, ISBN 978-1-4054-8585-2 , p. 69.
- The influence of RAC Parker on McDonough's work on appeasement politics can also be found in: Frank McDonough: The Conservative Party and Anglo-German Relations. 1905-1914. Palgrave Maicmillan, 2007, foreword, p. VIII.
- Frank McDonough: Neville Chamberlain, appeasement, and the British road to war. Manchester University Press, 1998, ISBN 0-7190-4832-X .
- Frank McDonough: Hitler, Chamberlain and appeasement (Cambridge Perspectives in History). Cambridge University Press, 2002, ISBN 0-521-00048-3 .
- Bernd Jürgen Wendt: Germany's way into the Second World War . In: Clemens Vollnhals (Ed.): Wehrmacht - Crimes - Resistance: Four contributions to the National Socialist Weltanschauung war. Hannah Arendt Institute for Research on Totalitarianism. Dresden 2003, p. 14 ff. ( Hait.tu-dresden.de (PDF) accessed on August 10, 2014).
- Bernd-Jürgen Wendt : Appeasement 1938. Economic Recession and Central Europe (= Hamburg Studies on Modern History , Volume 5). European Publishing House, Frankfurt am Main 1966.
- Wendt, Appeasement 1938 , p. 108.
- Wendt, Appeasement 1938 , p. 66.
- Wendt, Appeasement 1938 , p. 103.
- Anne Will and the German hostility towards foreigners. In: Die Welt , February 11, 2007.
- Hamed Abdel-Samad: Muslims are too sensitive: In Europe, a muzzle is made faster than any counter-argument. In: Der Tagesspiegel. December 1, 2009.
- Hans Monath: Peres in Berlin. High expectations from Israel . Zeit Online , January 2010; accessed on August 10, 2014.