"Peace in our Time" (WWII Series)

Discussion in 'Education' started by Xenophon, May 8, 2009.

  1. Xenophon
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    Xenophon Gone and forgotten

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    This series of articles is actually requested, so let's start with a major cause of WWII

    Policy of Appeasement, and the Hopes of war prevention

    Since the second world war there has been a continuing debate over who should chiefly bear the blame for allowing Hitler to get away with numerous aggressive acts he committed between 1933, when he became chancellor of Germany, and September of 1939, when the Allies cried "Enough!", and declared war. Outside Germany itself, the finger of accusation is often pointed at those in Britain and France who upheld polices of appeasement. One man in particular is seen as the figure-head of the policies. Neville Chamberlain, Britain's Prime Minister from May 1937 until May 1940.

    The roots of appeasement go back to World War I and the Treaty of Versailles. Among many British leaders there was a strong sentiment that Germany should not be trampled in defeat. As Germany's regeneration under Hitler gathered pace, this belief was transformed into one of keeping the lid on the Fuehrer's racist and territorial ambitions by any means other than the use of force.

    Nor were the British alone in this feeling. As Sir Eric Phipps, ambassador in Paris, reported in September 1938, "all the best in France is against war, almost at any price". Another ambassador, Sir Nevile Henderson, Britain's man in Berlin, was similarly convinced that the Anglo-French allies should not oppose Hitler by force of arms. In his view, an Anglo-German entente was the end to be aimed for; if, in the process, it encouraged Hitler to strike eastwards against the 'Bolsheviks', so much the better.

    The Munich agreement at which Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier, his French counterpart, agreed in effect to sacrifice Czechoslovakia, is usually seen as appeasement's darkest hour, it's symbol the notorious 'peace for our time' paper displayed by Chamberlain on his return to Britain. The Rhineland, Sudetenland, oppression of the Jews, rearmament on a grand scale....thanks to the policies of appeasement. Not until the issue of Danzig and the Polish corridor arose were the proponents of appeasement forced to consider taking a firmer line. In March 1939, the British government pledged 'all her forces and resources' to help Poland. The French gave a similar undertaking. But it need not have come to this, if they had acted earlier, so let's take a look at the Munich Agreement, and see how appeasement led directly to World War II.

    The Munich agreement

    "Bloody fools!" muttered Edouard Daladier, the French Prime Minister in early October 1938, when he returned home to be greeted as a savior of peace after signing the Munich Agreement. Neville Chamberlain arriving in London around the same time, was received by equally jubilant crowds. He declared that the agreement signed at Munich with Hitler and Mussolini, the dictators of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, ensured 'peace for our time'. In the event, Daladier's reaction was far more realistic.

    The Munich crisis began in November 1937, when Hitler determined to seize Czechoslovakia. Since the Treaty of Versailles (1919), Czechoslovakia had included the former German territory of Sudetenland and it's three million German-speaking inhabitants. Hitler began undermining Czech rule there by stirring up Sudetenlanders, fabricating and publicizing Czech 'atrocities' against them, and then threatening the Czech President, Edouard Benes. Benes ordered partial mobilization, and so enabled Hitler to protest against Czechoslovakia's 'aggressive' intentions.

    As the crisis mounted, the British became worried that France, which was allied to Czechoslovakia, would go to war against Germany. In an attempt to reduce the political temperature, the British persuaded the fearful and reluctant Czechs to give Hitler half of their German-speaking territory. German forces were already mobilizing for an assault set for October 1st when Chamberlain delivered the news to Hitler, only to be told it was not good enough. War, it seemed, was only just diverted by the intervention of Mussolini who, at Chamberlain's request, got Hitler to agree to a four-power conference. Czechoslovakia, who's fate would be decided by the conference, was not one of the powers.

    Chamberlain, Daladier, Hitler and Mussolini met at Munich on 29th September and the next day, signed an agreement under which the Sudetenland was detached from Czechoslovakia and occupied by German forces. Their presence left the rest of Czechoslovakia wide open to the invasion which took place in March, 1939, only six months after the Munich agreement. Let us now look at the actual agreement, which Germany so swiftly broke, while the allies did nothing, as this shameful episode moved along.

    The deal that broke the Czechs

    Hitler's insistence on reclaiming German-speaking Sudetenland forced the French and British into a series of scrambling efforts at compromise. If the Czechs were to be betrayed, let them be betrayed as slowly as possible-this seemed to be the attitude of Chamberlain and Daladier.

    On 23 September matters came to a head when Hitler issued his Godesberg Memorandum, laying down his implacable terms. Because 'the situation has become completely intolerable for the Sudeten German people and, in consequence, a danger to the peace of Europe', Hitler demanded that all Sudetlands 'be handed over to Germany on the 1st of October'. If the Czechs resisted, there would be war. If the French and British kept to earlier promises and supported the Czechs, the resulting war would engulf Europe the appeasers believed.

    After vigorous consultations among various camps, the Munich Agreement was signed by Adolph Hitler, Neville Chamberlain, Edouard Daladier, and Benito Mussolini. It's contents were immediately published, at 0200 on 30th September. the Agreement showed how little Franco-British leaders had achieved, for in only one respect did it modify the Godesberg Memorandum-the period of occupation was extended from one to ten days.

    Under the Agreement the 'cessation of the Sudeten-German territory' would begin on 1st October and be completed by the 10th 'without any existing installations having been destroyed' (this was to be the responsibility of the Czech Government). Evacuation would be supervised by an international commission. This body would also determine the new frontiers, and a German-Czechoslovak commission would 'consider was of facilitating the transfer of the population'.

    In an Annexe of the Agreement the British and French pledged to guarantee the 'new boundaries of the Czechoslovak State against unprovoked aggression', and the following day Hitler and Chamberlain signed yet another piece of paper in which they confirmed 'the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again'. Six months later Hitler marched unopposed into Prague, and the Czech nation ceased to exist.
    Britain and France did nothing.

    [​IMG]
     
  2. Xenophon
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    Xenophon Gone and forgotten

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    Not a single comment on this one, oh well.
     
  3. Iriemon
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    Iriemon VIP Member

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    I'll play, this is an interesting topic. My comments:

    First, by jumping to the appeasement era, you skip over a whole bunch of stuff that are arguably important causes of WWII.

    Fertile conditions for the creation of a Nationalistic leader in Germany

    The first is the end of WWI. Though the origins of WWI were much less blameworthy than WWII, and although the Germans never retreated into their own country, they were forced to sign a truce that was terribly one sided. It required Germany accept blame for the war, cede huge portions of its terroritory (including Alsace-Lorraine and a big chunk of what had been historic Prussia to the East), disarm, and also make huge war reparations.

    This great insult to German pride guaranteed a large group of discontents in German society who felt Germany was mistreated and betrayed, and generated a natural base of support for a leader who would promise to redress these insults and wrongs.

    The huge reparations ensured that the German economy would suffer, and combined with the Great Depression, resulted in the virtual collapse of the German economy in the early 30s, characterized by hyper inflation. Economic desparation combined with a greatly wounded national ego combined to create a fertile soil for a demogouge who could play to national pride and promise to redress the wrongs and get Germans back to work again.

    Thus, the insulting and arrogant conditions placed on Germany by the Western allies (Wilson's protests were ignored) were a definite ingredient in the soup that created the conditions for a demogouge like Adolph Hitler coming to power.

    It is also a reason why the diplomacy of appeasement was followed. As your article pointed out, many leaders in Britain and France in the '30s realized that the conditions that had been imposed on Germany were onerous and unfair, and that was a reason why they were willing to stand back as some of these conditions were broken. First repayments stopped, then Germany began to rearm, then reoccupy its own territory. These actions were taken which remedied arguably unjust conditions imposed after WWI, which the western leaders were willing to excuse. But the unfortunate side effect was that Hitler became emboldened when these actions were unchallenged, causing him to mistake the Western allies excuse of unfair WWI conditions for lack of resolve when Germany invaded Poland in 1939.

    Other factors to consider. WWI was a truly horrendous event for Europe, far more than America. Millions of her young men died. It is completely understandable that Britain and France would do anything reasonable to try to avoid that horror again. They failed, it is true, because the conditions of damaged German pride resulted in the rise of a leader whose goal was to correct that damaged pride, and because Hitler mistook excuses of WWI armistice conditions for lack of resolve. But that is the advantage of hindsight. Was it not worth the diplomatic effort, at least? If they had succeeded, 20 million people might not have died in WWII.

    Would WWII have been avoided had Britain and France declared war in 1937 or 1938?

    The response to this is that if Britain/France had put their foot down at some earlier time, WWII would have been prevented. But that is to a large part speculation, and questionable speculation at that, IMO. We know for a fact that Britain and France did put their foot down in 1939, with Poland, and the world still got WWII.

    But it would have been different had they done so earlier, comes the cry. Would it have been different had Britain or France declared or threatened war in '37 or '38? That is speculation. In '37 and '38 Germany was weaker, true, but so were Britain and France. Neither was ready to fight a war in '37 or '38, or really in 1939 for that matter. During '37-39 both Britain and France were rapidly developing their armed forces as well. Whether a British/French declaration of war when German entered the Sudatenland or Prague would have prevented WWII or just started it a little earlier -- or alternative postponed the confrontation until later -- is not at all clear.

    So in summary, while the failure of diplomacy and appeasement can be blamed in hindsight, the onerous WWI armistice conditions arguably had a greater impact on the reasons for WWII, and whether a change in policy by Britain and France from the apeasement/diplomacy efforts they made prior to Sep 1939 would have avoided war is simply speculation.
     
    Last edited: May 11, 2009
  4. Iriemon
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    Iriemon VIP Member

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    Guess there aren't a lot of WWII buffs on the board.
     

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