Aspects of British Political History, 1914-1995

By Stephen J. Lee | Go to book overview

10

FOREIGN POLICY AND APPEASEMENT 1933-9

The politicians most directly associated with appeasement were the three prime ministers of the 1930s: Ramsay MacDonald (1929-35), Stanley Baldwin (1935-7) and Neville Chamberlain (1937-40), along with their Foreign Secretaries: Sir John Simon (1931-5), Sir Samuel Hoare (1935), and Lord Halifax (1938-40).

This chapter will consider the origins of appeasement as deliberate policy and its applications over Italy, Spain and Germany. The main emphasis will be on detailed examination of the controversial policy of Chamberlain between the Munich settlement of September 1938 and the declaration of war on Germany twelve months later.


THE ORIGINS OF APPEASEMENT

It is tempting to think of appeasement as a policy which originated in the 1930s as a response to the military threat posed by the dictatorships, and as a replacement for the earlier 'stand firm' policy embodied in collective security. This end-on chronological view of collective security and appeasement is, however, simplistic. There was, rather, an overlap between the two. Collective security had never, for Britain, been a total commitment and there had always been reservations and loopholes which might be seen as incipient appeasement. These reservations rapidly increased during the 1930s. Appeasement did not, therefore, suddenly appear as an alternative to collective security. It coexisted with collective security, grew out of it and eventually replaced it.

There had always been an undercurrent of appeasement in Britain, stemming from the First World War, during which the Union of Democratic Control (UDC) had been established. Comprising a number of MPs and others from the Labour and Liberal parties, this played some part in preparing the British public to accept the policy of appeasement.

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