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Realistic Option for Chamberlain in 1938 Essay

Asses the view that appeasement was the only realistic option for Chamberlain in 1938

Appeasement was the British foreign policy adopted by Chamberlain in the wake of World War Two. This policy was seen as cowardice and Chamberlain received huge criticism for maintaining it throughout the road to war and died with the title of the man who was too coward to stand up to Hitler and his Nazi Germany which led to World War One. Churchill, a very strong opponent of appeasement, notoriously said “An appeaser is one who feeds the crocodile hoping it will eat him last”[1]. However it wasn’t till the late 1960s that official Government documents on the subject were publically released which created a new view on Chamberlain and appeasement and that it was the only realistic policy for Chamberlain and Britain to pursue.

One argument is the view that appeasement was the only realistic option because public opinion supported it and for Chamberlain to lead Britain to war would go against public favour. The First World War savaged Europe and Britain was hit very hard in terms of Human losses. Many families lost men within the family and left psychological scars nationwide. Chamberlain was therefore desperate to avoid another war on the continent at all costs. If Britain was to go to war they would have to rearm and build on their armed forces which had been neglected since world war one.

However public opinion was that if Britain was rearming then they would be preparing for war, which was incredible unpopular. Evidence of this was in east Fulham by-election of 1933 the conservative who advocated rearmament turned a majority of 14,000 into a defeat by 5000 at the hands of his labour approach who supported disarmament. This illustrated the political affect that rearmament and policies that move towards War had which was a reason as to why Chamberlain saw appeasement as the only realistic option.

Historian Howarth exemplifies this in his book by saying “chamberlains desire to avoid war matched the anxiety of the British people about being bought into a conflict like that of 1914-1918”[2]. Chamberlain wanted to represent and pursue the population’s interests, and in going to war he felt that he would have portrayed them incorrectly. When the opportunity of going to war with Germany with the support of Czechoslovakia he stated “a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing”[3]. This insinuated that he was not prepared to risk British lives and go against public opinion for a nation on the other side of Europe of which Britain had not previously been closely tied with. Therefore appeasement was once again the only realistic option.

On the other hand it can be argued that Chamberlain was appointed the Prime minister of Britain and should therefore know Britain’s best interests and should not be influenced by public opinion if it was against Britain’s security and wellbeing. Chamberlain knew the situation far greater than the populace of Britain and should therefore make the best informed decision without being influenced by public opinion. Simon Peaple enforces this by stating “newsreels and press reports provided only limited coverage of the crisis, so public opinion on the matter was limited”[4] . This therefore insinuates that the public did not have a great enough understanding to influence the decision of a well informed Prime minister.

Churchill, Chamberlains biggest opponent in office and biggest critic of appeasement said in one of his speeches “I have been told that the reason why the government has not acted before was that public opinion was not ripe for rearmament. I hope that we shall never accept such a reason as that. The government has been in control of overwhelming majorities in both houses of parliament. There is no vote which would not have been accepted wither overwhelming strength”[5]. This speech by Churchill comments that public opinion should not have influenced government foreign affairs nor should they influence a decision to rearm in the interests of national security especially when the Government in power had the vast majority and could have passed any law that was seen as suitable for Britain and therefore appeasement was not the only realistic policy in terms of public support.

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[1] Churchill speech
[2] 20th century history 1979 by Howarth
[3] Chamberlain speech
[4] European diplomacy 1870-1939 by Simon Peaple
[5] Churchill speech on public opinion on the 22nd may 1935


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