The policy of appeasement had reached its heights by the period between 1936 and 1939. It was felt by many to be the best policy at the time, as it allowed Britain to buy herself some valuable time in order to delay the inevitable war. Opposition during 1936, when appeasement was first seen as really taking the forefront of foreign policy, was small and weak. However it was by 1939 that the opposition had swelled gradually under opposition leaders such as Churchill to the point where there were only few people who truly believed that a long-lasting period of peace would arise from this idea of appeasing the enemy.
Over this period of time, both public opinion and Parliamentary opinion would lean towards the opposing side, based a series of factors that had changed in this 3 year span of time. A poorly-prepped military and defense services, a lack of trustworthy allies, Hitler’s legitimate claims and a change in public opinion all contributed towards a shift in beliefs. Opposition to the policy of appeasing militaristic powers began to grow after Hitler took power in Germany and it became clear to many in Britain that he would carry out his expansionist aims.
Some of appeasement’s most vocal opponents came from within government, from people such as Winston Churchill and the Labor party, more significant was the publics strong anti war stance beginning to slowly shift as they learnt more of Hitler and the rise of fascism. However this did not mean that they were strongly in favor of pursuing war with Germany as Chamberlain was greeted like a hero when he returned with “peace for our time” following the Munich Agreement.
Having already known of how crippling the economic costs were following WW1 the idea of pursuing conflict with another foreign power was considered unacceptable. This was compounded by the fact that events occurred so soon after the Wall Street Crash, Britain simply could not afford another major loss of her monetary funds in order to prepare for war. Appeasement was believed to be the answer to Britain’s needs, by deploying a policy of appeasement Britain could use the time it gained to find allies and develop British defenses and technology. By 1936 intelligence reported that German rearmament was already under way and that Britain had to get its armaments up to a sufficient standard.
However in order for armament spending to increase the Government would have to raise taxes and focus their spending upon military. A raise in taxes would also inevitably lead to public outcry and loss of government support. Even if sufficient funds were acquired in order to reach the amount of armaments needed there was only one working armaments factory in the whole of Britain that could produce weapons fit for modern warfare. Due to the Ten Year Rule the state of Britain’s armed forces was essentially desolate, this meant that much of Britain’s armed forces required updated weaponry if it ever were to stand a chance against Hitler’s formidable Third Reich.
For example Spitfires and radar were rather new to the world of air defense systems, however they were in short supply at the beginning of 1936 despite it being British technology. Spending focus upon defenses was suggested by the Inskip Report as opposed to any other offensive tactics. However, after 1938 the readiness of the British army had certainly improved, and Chamberlain had confidence that if war was to come, Britain would be ready to take Germany on.
German power had been exaggerated greatly, especially the power of the Luftwaffe through propaganda and the sheer numbers who attended the infamous Nuremburg Rallies. The time bought with appeasement had consequently allowed Britain to build up a strong naval blockade in order to strengthen its naval security and rearmament spending increased sufficiently. During this period the Territorial Army had also doubled in size. Appeasement provided Britain with extra time to develop her armaments and develop a defense plan in preparation of the oncoming war. There was little opposition to this from the officials in Parliament, however as the military and defense services were brought back to their former strength, the idea of opposition started to re-emerge.
One of Britain’s key aims during the period was the perpetual search for a strong ally, by averting the war through appeasement, Britain had given herself time to try and ally her herself with the USA. While the USA may have followed an isolationist policy she was still the largest power in the world and would have been a strong diplomatic and military ally. France was something of a wreck, thanks to Britain’s doing, and had tried her best to prepare herself for German invasion by creating the Maginot Line the previous decade.
Britain’s desire for allies had even turned eastwards in the direction of the USSR, who until that point had only been seen as a need to allow Germany to rearm. However, the Communist nation could have helped the Western powers against Germany and Japan in the Far East. At first appeasement was used to try and gain favour with any potential allies. However, as opposition grew the lack of emerging allies forced Britain to try ‘kindling’ a relationship with the USSR.
It was believed by many, specifically Chamberlain, that Hitler had legitimate claims for his conquests in Europe. The reoccupation of the Rhineland was enough to be seen as a legitimate grievance even though it was outlawed in 1919 at Versailles. Despite this, Britain did not see her as a sufficient threat just yet and refused to act upon the reoccupation. By 1936 Germany had gained the status of ‘Ultimate potential enemy’ and this led to a concern that Germany would be enticed by Italian and Japanese expansionist aims, and considering they were also ‘UPEs’ this could spell further disaster for Britain. With the Mediterranean under threat and the Suez Canal with it and the Empire in the Far East under constant vigilance, trade and the Empire’s safety were put as higher priorities than Germany.
Even the union between Germany and Austria had little effect, the Anschluss was not opposed by Chamberlain, considering that that a staggering amount of those in Austria rejoiced at the idea of being reunited. Rather than try to cause conflict by splitting them up, appeasement allowed them to get back together without much trouble. This act of appeasement found little opposition within Parliament, however as 1938 approached opposition started to gain a foothold, Hitler’s reactions were becoming increasingly aggressive- Kristallknacht had shown a far darker and more menacing side to the dictator and had displayed to many the true extent of the oppressive regime within Germany.
This was seen as a repeat of The Night of the Long Knives four years previous. Hitler’s grievance at first seemed to be legitimate and therefore was a driving reason as to why Britain continued to appease Germany. Nevertheless as his tactics became more aggressive and he started to threaten the surrounding countries it became apparent that appeasement no longer satisfied him, this led to critics of Chamberlains policies such as Churchill developing a larger power base against appeasement.
British public opinion swayed greatly throughout the period and vastly impacted British foreign policy. Although the fear of rearmament was strong in the public opinion, it was the additional fear of the outbreak of war that started to swing their opinions towards appeasement during 1936-38. The Spanish Civil war had provided a glimpse of what future warfare would be like, and the terrifying realization of the destructive power one country could inflict on another was nothing like what had been previously experienced. In 1937, Guernica had showed the devastation that could be brought about by terror-bombing. This served as another reason why appeasement should be maintained as it was considered a more sound option than sparking a war, this was something that the public supported wholeheartedly.
However it was clear that attitudes had started to change as 1938 approached. Opinion polls had gradually started to show support for other methods, as shown in the 1938 poll which asked what Britain should do if Germany acted hostile to Czechoslovakia as a large proportion of polls suggested that Britain should rearm and prepare for conflict. Still highly influenced by public opinion, Government policy seemed to switch to a more anti-German undertone. This switch was seen in the increased rearmament revenue expenditure in 1938. The public now wanted Britain to take on a stronger stance against Germany and this resulted in increased pressure upon Chamberlain to boost the army’s numbers.
At first public opinion was strongly in favor of appeasement, this was due to reluctance of diving into another war war. However when war was no longer avoidable, it was within public interest that Britain prepare for war in any way she could. Opposition to appeasement did increase between 1936 and 1939, but at a steady pace. Appeasement was originally pursued in order to protect British interests; the protection of her Empire, finding suitable allies, and preparing for war via defense and military spending, as well as to prepare the public that war was coming.
Opposition to Hitler and the appeasement of Germany did increase between 1936 and 1939, but at a steady pace as the true aims of Hitler became evident and it became clear that the British government could not make him back down. In parliament the stance of the labour party had changed drastically from favouring. The public’s willingness to support independent states at this time shows that it was Hitler’s continued actions in 1938 that pushed many people into opposing appeasement or even advocating war.
Churchill was used as a figurehead in which opposition to appeasement could rally behind. Appeasement was originally pursued in order to protect British interests; the protection of her Empire, finding suitable allies, and preparing for war via defense and military spending, as well as to prepare the public that war was coming, however towards the end of the period when Hitler started to set his sights on further expansion the mood changed in Britain and appeasement was no longer a feasible option.