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Appeasement and the wrong lessons learned


Justin Q. Olmstead
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It occured to me the other day that maybe our leaders have learned the wrong lessons from the Munich pact. Since the end of the Second World War, American Presidents have sent young Americans into battle under the guise of not appeasing a tyrant, the latest example being President Bush's claim that we needed to invade Iraq and stop appeasing Hussein.

But was the lesson of Munich really that appeasement leads to a massive war? Could it be that leaders for the last fifty years have led their countries into battle from a bad position? In reality the question should be what did appeasement achieve. Did it buy time for those opposed to Hitler and Germany's ambitions to prepare their countries for war? Did it buy time for Germany? This then raises other questions, would Hitler have continued without the appeasement? Did the allies prepare their countries for war?

Hitler's record is pretty clear, he would have continued his policy of expansion regardless of the outcome of Munich. Americans tend to forget that they never saw the carnage the First World War left on the landscape of Europe, and the mindset of both the leaders and people of all countries involved. Having first hand knowledge of this carnage, it is clear that the leaders of Britain and France were hoping to spare their populations from having to survive a second war being fought on their soil.

So then the question is, what was the real lesson of Munich? Could it be simply that one should not announce "Peace in our time" or is there a lesson to learn at all.

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It occured to me the other day that maybe our leaders have learned the wrong lessons from the Munich pact.  Since the end of the Second World War, American Presidents have sent young Americans into battle under the guise of not appeasing a tyrant, the latest example being President Bush's claim that we needed to invade Iraq and stop appeasing Hussein.

But was the lesson of Munich really that appeasement leads to a massive war?  Could it be that leaders for the last fifty years have led their countries into battle from a bad position?  In reality the question should be what did appeasement achieve.  Did it buy time for those opposed to Hitler and Germany's ambitions to prepare their countries for war? Did it buy time for Germany?  This then raises other questions, would Hitler have continued without the appeasement? Did the allies prepare their countries for war? 

Hitler's record is pretty clear, he would have continued his policy of expansion regardless of the outcome of Munich.  Americans tend to forget that they never saw the carnage the First World War left on the landscape of Europe, and the mindset of both the leaders and people of all countries involved.  Having first hand knowledge of this carnage, it is clear that the leaders of Britain and France were hoping to spare their populations from having to survive a second war being fought on their soil. 

So then the question is, what was the real lesson of Munich?  Could it be simply that one should not announce "Peace in our time" or is there a lesson to learn at all.

"If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground."

There was a lesson, as history folded over their empire, the rhetoric of resistance became true, and in that adversity the British were like Romans.

Edited by Gregory Carlin
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It occured to me the other day that maybe our leaders have learned the wrong lessons from the Munich pact.  Since the end of the Second World War, American Presidents have sent young Americans into battle under the guise of not appeasing a tyrant, the latest example being President Bush's claim that we needed to invade Iraq and stop appeasing Hussein.

But was the lesson of Munich really that appeasement leads to a massive war?  Could it be that leaders for the last fifty years have led their countries into battle from a bad position?  In reality the question should be what did appeasement achieve.  Did it buy time for those opposed to Hitler and Germany's ambitions to prepare their countries for war? Did it buy time for Germany?  This then raises other questions, would Hitler have continued without the appeasement? Did the allies prepare their countries for war? 

Hitler's record is pretty clear, he would have continued his policy of expansion regardless of the outcome of Munich.  Americans tend to forget that they never saw the carnage the First World War left on the landscape of Europe, and the mindset of both the leaders and people of all countries involved.  Having first hand knowledge of this carnage, it is clear that the leaders of Britain and France were hoping to spare their populations from having to survive a second war being fought on their soil. 

So then the question is, what was the real lesson of Munich?  Could it be simply that one should not announce "Peace in our time" or is there a lesson to learn at all.

All politicians attempt to make use of examples from history. The “appeasement policy” employed by the UK and French governments is a common example of how politicians expose their lack of historical understanding.

This policy of appeasement was extremely popular at the time. Most people agreed with Neville Chamberlain’s radio broadcast on 27th September, 1938:

“How horrible, fantastic, incredible, it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing! I would not hesitate to pay even a third visit to Germany, if I thought it would do any good. Armed conflict between nations is a nightmare to me; but if I were convinced that any nation had made up its mind to dominate the world by fear of its force, I should feel that it must be resisted. Under such a domination, life for people who believe in liberty would not be worth living; but war is a fearful thing, and we must be very clear, before we embark on it, that it is really the great issues that are stake.”

Attacks on appeasement today, like those from George Bush, are often on the right of the political spectrum. However, at the time, only two newspapers, the left-wing Reynolds News and the communist Daily Worker, criticised Chamberlain for signing the Munich Agreement.

Right-wing politicians often quote Winston Churchill as being against appeasement and then go on to point out that he eventually replaced Chamberlain and led the victory over Nazi Germany. They never explain the actual policies of Churchill in 1938. What Churchill argued at the time was the only way to beat Hitler was for the UK and France to form a military alliance with the Soviet Union. He argued that Hitler would be unwilling to take part in a war on two fronts and would therefore bring an end to his aggressive foreign policy.

The problem for Churchill was that he could not get the support of the ruling Conservative Party for this policy. Most of the right in the UK actually supported Hitler in the 1930s. The main reason was they believed he would invade the Soviet Union and destroy communism. That is what Stalin thought and that is why he wanted to form a military alliance with the UK and France. Hitler was in contact with senior figures in the Conservative Party and was confident that the UK government would never declare war on Germany. However, when it became clear that appeasement had not worked, enough Conservative MPs abandoned Chamberlain and he was forced to declare war on Germany.

Despite his rhetoric, Winston Churchill was still willing to negotiate an end to the war in 1940. This is why the documents concerning Hess visit to the UK and the activities of groups like the Right Club have still not been released.

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/2WWappeasement.htm

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/2WWrightclub.htm

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