Tim Bouverie, Appeasement: Chamberlain, Hitler, Churchill, and the Road to War, Tim Duggan Books, 2019, 496 pages, £14.90/$30.00. ISBN 978–0451499844
W. Mark Hamilton is author of The Nation and the Navy: Methods and Organization of British Navalist Propaganda, 1889–1914 (1986).
It is impossible to overstate the devastating impact the First World War had on the British nation and people. The loss of lives and treasure was immense, with 20,000 British soldiers killed on the first day alone of the Battle of the Somme. This enduring impact is front and center in Tim Bouverie’s Appeasement: Chamberlain, Hitler, Churchill, and the Road to War. King George V, whose reign spanned the Great War, once shouted late in his life, “I will not have another war. I will not!” It is against this backdrop that journalist and historian Bouverie provides a fascinating narrative history of the policy of appeasement and its ultimate ramifications in 1939 for Great Britain, Europe, and the world.
The scope of the book runs from when Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933 to the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. In their dealings with a revitalized Germany under Nazi control, both Britain and France pursued appeasement—a foreign policy of making concessions to avoid armed conflict—believing that Germany had been unfairly punished under the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. Underscoring Britain’s deep reluctance to fight another war, the Oxford Union approved in early 1933 the motion: “This House will under no circumstances fight for its King and Country.” In response, Winston Churchill, who was emerging with a small group of supporters as the archenemy of the appeasement policy, called the Oxford Union motion a “disquieting and disgusting symptom” of the times. Bouverie notes that because of Churchill’s aristocratic connections and high social standing, he had access throughout the 1930s to classified information about German motives that was not available to the general public. As a result, Churchill never doubted Germany’s aim to dominate Europe. Read More >
On 30 January 1933 Adolf Hitler was made Chancellor of Germany, and only a few months later, on 14th October 1933 – now 85 years ago – Germany announced its withdrawal from the League of Nations after the three Allied powers declined its request to increase its military power. The featured document this month illustrates the interwar circumstances which led to Hitler’s rise to power. The Treaty of Versailles which had brought the First World War to an end in 1919 required Germany to accept responsibility for the loss and damage caused in warfare, forcing the country to disarm, make substantial territorial concessions, and pay reparations (fixed at £6.6 billion). These arguably excessive demands, the result of the “lethargy and folly” of British and French governments, added to Germany’s resentment against the victorious Allied powers. When Germany proved unable to keep up with the reparation payments, France and Belgium invaded the Ruhr, taking control of the industry to extract the reparations themselves. The government tried to remedy the economic impact by printing more money, which led to hyperinflation. During the 1920s, the US government supported the German economy with loans in what became known as the ‘Golden Years’, but the collapse of the American economy after the Wall Street Crash during the autumn of 1929 returned Germany to high unemployment and severe poverty.
Not satisfied with only Austria, Hitler began demanding parts of Czechoslovakia, too. In September 1938, with war against Germany seeming increasingly likely, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain flew to Munich (according to a British Pathe newsreel, his first trip in an aeroplane), to meet the German leader. His aim of this ‘mission of peace’ was to secure a guarantee that there’d be no further German aggression.
On 12 March 1938, Austria was annexed into the German Third Reich. Despite pressure from both Austrian and German Nazis, Austria’s Chancellor had tried to hold a referendum for a vote on whether the Austrian people wanted to remain autonomous but a well-planned attack on Austria’s state institutions by the Austrian Nazi Party, on 11 March, meant the vote was cancelled. Power was transferred to Germany and Hitler’s troops entered Austria and on 13 March, Hitler proclaimed: the union of Austria and Germany.
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