An Honourable Policy Pursued by Honourable Men Essay
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When Neville Chamberlain came to power in 1937, he was left with the problems of Nazi Germany to deal with. Chamberlain stuck to a policy of appeasement, making peace in Europe his main aim. He went to new lengths to try and prevent war, such as flying to Germany and discuss problems in person (shuttle diplomacy) which had not been done before. For his efforts in trying to keep the peace, perhaps Chamberlain was an honourable man. However there were weaknesses to his approach, such as his arrogance in refusing to listen to his Foreign Secretary Eden, which may be important factors to why appeasement inevitably failed.
If not honourable, then appeasement was certainly a logical policy to undergo initially. Not only was Great Britain economically unprepared for a war, but the vast majority of British people did not want another war. World War I was said to be the ‘war to end all wars’, so preventing another war was certainly a logical decision, perhaps even a moral one. At this time there was also unrest in the Far East involving Britain’s colonies. Britain was certainly not in the position to get involved in conflicts in the far east and in Europe. Neville Chamberlain said himself; “war wins nothing, cures nothing, ends nothing”, therefore appeasement seemed the most obvious solution.
As a politician Chamberlain had his strengths. From the outset he never did trust Hitler or Mussolini, which means he was not totally unaware of their danger. Had Chamberlain made decisions involving Hitler or Mussolini without being aware of their aggressive natures, he would undoubtedly have been a naï¿½ve and somewhat stupid politician.
However he was careful in his decision-making and made it clear how little he trusted Hitler. Chamberlain also surrounded himself with people he knew, and who supported his ideas. His original foreign secretary, Eden, did not agree with Chamberlain’s approach, and they did not get on. Chamberlain put his faith in someone he knew, Lord Halifax, to partake in diplomatic talks with Hitler in Germany instead of Eden. Although this was undermining Eden, it could be argued that without full support, a government is essentially weak. Having a weak government at this time would be just the thing Hitler would look for. Therefore Chamberlain was not wrong to ensure he had a team of people all working toward the same goal.
Chamberlain’s ‘Plan Z’ is definitely commendable, as it shows the lengths he went to, to work out Hitler’s plans and try and keep the peace. Chamberlain flew to meet Hitler in Berchtesgaden which had not been done before in British politics. Hitler wanted to reclaim the Sudeten land, and Chamberlain agreed. Although some critics would view this as giving in and encouraging Hitler to make more demands, in the short term it was a good decision. Very few people were prepared to go to war over the Sudeten land, including France who even had an alliance with Czechoslovakia.
The reality of it was that the Sudeten land was a predominantly German area, and had originally been part of Germany until the Treaty of Versailles. Most people living in the Sudation land actually wanted to be part of Germany again too. Therefore most people believed it was rightfully Germany’s anyway, and giving the Sudeten land to Hitler was a far more logical decision than going to war over it. When Chamberlain returned from Germany after his third visit, he returned with a signed agreement saying that Germany and Britain did not want to go to war with one another again. At the time, Chamberlain was seen as a hero, and in the short term, he was, as he had managed to prevent war from breaking out again.
Chamberlain stuck to his view on preventing war, despite making alliances which would suggest otherwise. Britain’s alliance with Poland can be seen as honourable as it was not only promising to protect Poland if it were to be invaded, but instead of encouraging war, it acted as a deter to Hitler. Although appeasement eventually failed, Neville Chamberlain was certainly honourable in his efforts to try and keep the peace in Europe.
However, there were definite weaknesses to Chamberlain’s character and some of his actions. Although Chamberlain made clear how little he trusted Hitler, there were certain incidents which should have shown him that Hitler was unappeasable. Even before Chamberlain came to power, Hitler made clear he was more than a little untrustworthy when Eden in 1936, sent him a questionnaire asking him on his exact terms and demands in Europe, and Hitler never replied. Hitler and Mussolini later together helped in the Spanish Civil War to bomb certain cities, which would look more like practice for a later war as opposed to the actions of men interested in appeasement. In 1937, when Eden said that Germany could chose between co-operation and force, and should they choose co-operation “there is nobody in this country that would not assist whole-heartedly to remove misunderstandings”, Hitler replied “This is not possible until Germany is treated equally”.
By equality Hitler probably meant scrapping all the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. This response shows that Hitler was not interested in peace, but fighting for what he wanted, which should have shown Chamberlain he was not interested in appeasement. Maybe this should have made Chamberlain realise that appeasement was a weak policy where Hitler was concerned. Perhaps the most alarming indication that Hitler was unappeasable was the fact that he signed the Munich agreement without reading it through thoroughly. Instead of making Chamberlain notice how insignificant this therefore made the Munich agreement, he returned to Britain as a ‘hero’. This makes Chamberlain seem much more of a naï¿½ve politician than an honourable one. Instead of pursuing with appeasement when Hitler seemed less than dedicated to it, Chamberlain should have concentrated more on rearmament and gaining allies in preparation for a war which was imminent.
Chamberlain was right to an extent to surround himself with people willing to work towards the same goals, and who believed in the same as him, as without this a government is essentially a weak one. However Chamberlain was not willing to listen to opinions of people that disagreed with his in any way. This is a weakness for any politician, as politicians need to work together and point out possible improvements in each other’s ideas. Chamberlain was not honourable in sidelining his foreign secretary Eden, as this was a sly move. Eden was interested in making allies, whereas Chamberlain was interested in lessening enemies. Instead of listening to each other and coming to a compromise, Chamberlain deliberately undermined Eden when he sent his close friend Lord Halifax to Germany for diplomatic talks with Hitler. Not only did he fail to consult Eden on this matter, but it was Eden’s job as a foreign secretary to have talks with Hitler, not Halifax’s.
Halifax was more of a civil servant than a politician as were many of the men in Chamberlain’s cabinet. Halifax even failed to recognise Hitler when he met him. This was therefore not only a sly decision to make, but also a foolhardy one, which could have ended disastrously, as Halifax did not have the skills or knowledge that Eden had. This shows Chamberlain in a far less honourable light. Both Chamberlain and Eden showed how childish and unprofessional they were when they had a meeting with Grandi, and quite openly rowed to the extent that the following day, Eden resigned. If Chamberlain had any integrity he would have at least have spoken to Eden in private and tried to find a compromise. Showing a public display of discontentment within the British government could also have made Britain look weak, as so an easy target of Hitler and Mussolini.
Chamberlain and Eden both wanted what they believed was best for Britain, however Chamberlain was arrogant in his refusal to listen to Eden’s professional opinion. As the two of them were unable to come to any agreement, this shows how stubborn they both were, or at least how arrogant Chamberlain was in not listening to his own foreign secretary and effectively forcing him out of office. Another foolish and somewhat arrogant decision Chamberlain made, was to refuse to partake in an international conference proposed by President Roosevelt of the USA. This conference was designed to try and solve the current problems and unrest in Europe.
However Chamberlain believed the only thing that Britain could rely on from the USA was “words”. However Chamberlain’s response was instantly dismissive which could have proved dangerous as the USA was a strong ally to have. Chamberlain was against the idea of America taking the credit for solving the problems in Europe, which at this time was a rather childish attitude to take, as preventing a dictator from causing a second full-scale war was a far more pressing issue than a battle of reputations and pride. As Stanley Baldwin rightly said, Chamberlain had “a naï¿½ve confidence in his own judgement and powers or persuasion”. This shows how Chamberlain was not entirely honourable.
Many see. the policy of appeasement as a failure as Hitler seemed the character to fight for what he wanted, not have it given to him. Perhaps the policy of appeasement made him even more aggressive, as Hitler did not want to negotiate terms on land which he believed was rightfully his. Chamberlain seemed to go out of his way to accommodate Hitler’s demands, which some believe encouraged Hitler to make new demands. Many believe the Munich agreement was a disaster, as Hitler could have been stopped if Britain had declared war in 1938. Chamberlain also failed to build a Grand Alliance between the USSR and USA. Hitler failed to take appeasement seriously, but nobody could be expected to when Chamberlain signed an alliance with Poland, as this shows even he was getting prepared for war.
Appeasement was certainly an honourable policy to the extent that it was a moral and ethical one, as it was designed to prevent war. It is easy to use hindsight to discredit Chamberlain’s attempts, as war inevitably did break out in 1939. However he went to new lengths, such as ‘shuttle diplomacy’, to negotiate with Hitler, who was a difficult man to work with as Chamberlain admitted. Perhaps Hitler was always the stronger character and politician, who was determined to fight for his beliefs, not have things given to him, which could be why appeasement failed. However, Chamberlain’s attitude towards his foreign secretary Eden was incredibly arrogant. Had he worked with Eden, ensuring they built strong allies such as the USA, this could have deterred Hitler from declaring war.
This shows how Chamberlain allowed pride and reputation to dictate his politics and diplomacy. Chamberlain gave Hitler too much leeway, and should have realised sooner that Hitler was not interested in appeasement, but war. Therefore he should have put more into rearmament and ally-building sooner. Chamberlain showed great honour in his determination to try and prevent war, and in essence appeasement was an honourable policy. However appeasement was obviously failing as Hitler made more and more demands, which somehow defeats its honour. Neville Chamberlain had serious flaws to his character and dealings with appeasement which too took away from his honour, as did his and Eden’s approaches toward each other. Therefore initially appeasement was honourable, as was Chamberlain for pursuing it, but both began to lose their honour when appeasement was obviously failing, and Chamberlain was leading through naivety and over-confidence in his own judgement and powers of persuasion.