Does appeasement look so bad, 70 years on? - U2 Feedback

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Old 08-30-2009, 06:34 PM   #1
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Does appeasement look so bad, 70 years on?

It is 70 years since war broke out in 1939, but historic questions remain. “Appeasement” is still a dirty word, but so is “war-monger”. President Bush repeatedly used the memory of Winston Churchill in 1940 to justify his wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Revisionist historians question whether Neville Chamberlain, the architect of the 1930s appeasement policy, had any choice. One witness was Sir Nevile Henderson, who published his account in Failure of a Mission.
We are all familiar with a collective portrait of the Nazi leaders derived from Hitler’s last days in the bunker and the Nuremberg Trials. Henderson’s book was written in the period immediately after the war had begun, even before the fall of France. May 1937 seen from April 1940 is very different from May 1937 seen from our postwar perspective.

“Hitler had been in power for over four years, and during that period had achieved gigantic progress in the military, industrial and moral reorganisation of Germany. It was patent that she could no longer be coerced except by the actual use of force . . . Germany was being militarised from the cradle to the grave.”

Hitler stated: “If the British Government would consider these ideas, a blessing for Germany and also for the British Empire might result. If it rejects these ideas there will be war.” There was war.

The conclusion seems to be that war could not have been avoided in 1939, because Hitler could never be trusted and because he actually wanted a war. At least the British public knew that Chamberlain had wholly devoted himself to his failed mission of peace. Perhaps Chamberlain was the right Prime Minister in 1937, as Churchill certainly was in 1940.
Does appeasement look so bad, 70 years on? | William Rees-Mogg - Times Online

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Old 08-30-2009, 06:47 PM   #2
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Things are always complex. I'm sure I've read that Chamberlain was attempting, at least in part, to buy time with his activities. Here's another thing: the British Empire, after the First World War and the Depression, was like a very impressive ship gutted below the waterline. You can imagine how the prospect of another war would have gone down in 1937 or 1938.

Also, I stand to be corrected, but I believe the buildup in Britain's air power did not begin under Churchill, but considerably before he took office. So somebody must have meant business, regardless of statements made in public.

Churchill was right about Hitler, and he was the right person for 1940. I'm not sure what else he was right about in his life, though.

The real problem with the appeasement line is how badly it is misused, and in contexts where it is not appropriate. Every attempt to turn a potential war into a holding pattern of talking at diplomatic tables, is not necessarily dishonourable.
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