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To what extent was the failure of appeasement primarily responsible for the outbreak of World War II?
The first source used in the investigation is the book “Modern Times: A history of the modern world”, which was written by the British journalist and historian Paul Johnson and first published in 1983.
A value of the book in terms of its content is its detailed information about the “Guilty Men” thesis, as it conveys that the Allies should have taken action against Hitler in 1938 instead of surrendering diplomacy wise at the Munich Conference with the policy of appeasement. This comes from Johnson’s painstakingly, detailed and focused research. A value of the origin is that this source shows Johnson’s British perspective as a witness of the diplomacy of appeasement as he lived through World War 2 as a teenager, which will help me to explore the controversy of appeasement. A value of purpose is Johnson’s dedicated academic intent of explaining and informing about the impact of the failure of appeasement through his support of the “Guilty Men” thesis (amongst other things), which will help me to form a detailed argument about the impact of appeasement.
As Johnson became one of Thatcher’s — the leader of the conservative party in the UK from 1875-1990 — closest advisers during the 1970s, he is definitely conservative, which could potentially be reflected in his perspective of appeasement. Therefore, this potential bias from Johnson is a limitation of origin as well as content, which slightly limits the source’s significance in terms of my research question because some of his research concerning appeasement might be manipulated. Furthermore, a limitation of the content and purpose would be that the overall focus of the book isn’t fully on the causes of World War II or appeasement, which will make it slightly more difficult during my research process to identify relevant information concerning appeasement within the book.
The second source used in this investigation is Joachim Fest’s book “Hitler”, which was published in 1973 and was the first ever biography about the tyrannous dictator by a German writer.
A value of the origin is that Fest was born into a family in 1926 which opposed the Hitler regime, for example, the family refused to make Fest join the Hitler Youth. Fest is therefore able to provide a very informative, critical and emotional overview of Hitler, which affects his view on appeasement and thereby helps me to further explore the controversy of it. Additionally, a value of the content is that Fest’s point of view towards appeasement is well justified, argued and based on real historic evidence, as for example he bases his argument on the fact that Hitler himself said it was his biggest mistake to fall for appeasement instead of starting the war in 1938, which makes his book very trustworthy and academically significant for my research question. A value of the purpose is that Fest tries to prove the “Buying time” thesis, which suggests that Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement won the allies the war by saving time for them to rearm. As he is therefore intentionally discussing and evaluating the impact appeasement had on the outbreak of World War Two, I can perfectly refer to his argument during my investigation.
On the other hand, a limitation of content and purpose is that the book doesn’t specifically focus on appeasement but rather on Hitler, which will make my research process a little more challenging. A limitation of the origin is that, although Fest had access to a lot of newly published documents, he still had slightly limited access to documents concerning appeasement because some were only published after he published his book and thesis.
The impact appeasement had on the outbreak of World War II is highly controversial and is torn between two main theses. While the “Guilty Men” thesis, which is supported by Paul Johnson, suggests that the Allies should have taken action against Hitler in 19381, the “Buying Time” thesis suggests that the time gained through Chamberlains policy of appeasement eventually won them the war2. However, there are obviously other factors which had an impact on the outbreak of World War II such as the global depression, which had an incredibly detrimental impact on especially Germany.
Appeasement was the name given to Britain’s policy in the 1930s of allowing Hitler to expand German territory unhindered3 as long as it was without the use of violence. One of the main reasons of appeasement was that Britain and France were both more frightened of Communism than of Hitler, in fact they even supported Hitler in this way and furthermore also felt that the Treaty of Versailles was unfair towards Germany4. However, it was not only carried out because of pure intellect but also represented the emotions of most British and French people who have lost someone close in World War I — Chamberlain himself lost his beloved cousin — which is why appeasement was so popular at the time. It advocated the pacifistic principle: Wars have no winners, only losers5. Therefore, from the standpoint of domestic policy, there was no alternative to Chamberlain’s course6, which undeniably lowers the guilt of Chamberlain executing the policy of appeasement, but not the impact the failure of appeasement had on the outbreak of World War II. According to the “Buying Time” thesis, appeasement actually helped the Allies tremendously in winning the war by gaining very valuable extra time. Time was so valuable because Britain was not prepared for another world war7, as the equipment Britain had was out of date and they did not have sufficient numbers to keep up a long war against Germany8. This was the case because Britain was overstretched policing its empire and could not afford major rearmament9. And even though one year may not seem enough time to turn around a whole world war, “British armed forces increased in number by more than 1.5 million by the end of the year conscription was introduced ”10, which was undoubtedly a very significant and deciding factor for France and Britain to succeed in World War II. This thesis can be further supported by Hitler himself who said that it was his: “biggest mistake not to start the war in 1938“, when he was reflecting on himself at the end of World War II in his bunker11.
On the other hand, the “Guilty Men” thesis argues that France and Britain should have taken action against Hitler in 1938, which is supported by Winston Churchill’s admonition at Fulton, Missouri, in 1946, which said that “there never was a war in history easier to prevent by timely action than the one which has just desolated such great areas of the globe”12. The quote also suggests that the failure of appeasement definitely was a significant factor in the outbreak of World War II and says that better diplomacy, or rather better actions, could have prevented the most horrific event in human history completely. According to Michael Foot, Chamberlain didn’t only fail to prevent the war but even indirectly encouraged its outbreak as the concessions given to Nazi Germany fueled Hitler’s expansionism desire13.
Another factor which undoubtedly had a significant impact on the outbreak of World War II is the Great Depression, which “was the worst economic downturn in the history of the industrialized world, lasting from the stock market crash of 1929 to 1939”14. And even though the market crash occurred in the US, it had a hugely detrimental impact on Germany after US financiers halted or withdrew loans15, which were essential for the German economy after they helped to fight the big inflation in 1923. Germany was basically dependent on the cheap money from the US. This loss of investment together with the devastating effect of the Treaty of Versailles resulted in miserable living conditions for most Germans, mostly caused by unemployment. The Registered Unemployment Rate rose from 8.5% in 1929 to 29.9% in 1932 and making matters worse many of those who were employed, could only find part-time work (frequently for short periods of time). As a result, the world economic crisis deeply affected many more Germans than the 30% who were officially listed as out of work in 193216. Hitler then—arguably as an opportunist17 — exploited the economic circumstances to successfully rise to power, by promising in his 1933 Election campaign that if he gained power he would abolish unemployment18. But even before 1933 a clear correlation between the votes of the NSDAP and the unemployment rate can be identified as it went from 2.6% of votes for the NSDAP up to 37.8% in July 193219, all due to Hitler’s domestic policy aims which strongly supported the working class. All of this suggests that the Great Depression greatly helped Hitler in his rise to power who then obviously caused World War II because of his extremely expansionist foreign policy. It could even be said that without these exceptional circumstances at the time of Hitler’s rise to power, he would have never been able to become the Chancellor of Germany. Furthermore, Hitler also used the Great Depression—especially the unemployment it caused—for Aufrüstung (rearmament) by encouraging all men to join the army, who saw it as a chance to break out of poverty and their miserable daily life (caused by unemployment and the Great Depression) while serving their beloved country. Apart from helping out Hitler, the Great Depression encouraged countries to become more self-interested which destroyed the international cooperation ideal of the League of Nations20. It also forced countries to find an answer for the suddenly cut imports and exports, which was in the case of Germany (Japan and Italy) to build an empire which would secure the supply of raw materials and natural resources (self-sufficiency). The following attempts to build Empires from Japan (Manchuria), Italy (Abyssinia) and Germany (eastern Europe) resulted in increased international conflict and tension21, which unquestionably had a huge impact on the outbreak of World War II.
1 P. Johnson, (1983). Modern Times: A history of the modern world (From 1917 to the 1980s).
2 Fest, J. (1974). Hitler. Orlando, Florida, USA. : Harcourt,Inc.
3 Imperial War Museums. (2018). How Britain Hoped To Avoid War With Germany In The 1930s. [online] Available at: https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/how-britain-hoped-to-avoid-war-with-germany-in-the-1930s [Accessed 3 Dec. 2018].
4 tutor2u. (2018). Arguments for Appeasement | tutor2u History. [online] Available at: https://www.tutor2u.net/history/reference/arguments-for-appeasement [Accessed 3 Dec. 2018].
5 Wiegrefe, K. (2009). The Road to World War II: How Appeasement Failed to Stop Hitler - SPIEGEL ONLINE - International. [online] SPIEGEL ONLINE. Available at: http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/the-road-to-world-war-ii-how-appeasement-failed-to-stop-hitler-a-646481.html [Accessed 3 Dec. 2018].
6 Wiegrefe, K. (2009). Ibid.
7 Fest, J. (1974). Ibid.
8 tutor2u. (2018). Ibid.
9 Imperial War Museums. (2018). Ibid.
10 Bbc.co.uk. (2018). BBC - History - British History in depth: Conscription Introduced. [online] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/britain_wwtwo/ff1_conscription.shtml [Accessed 3 Dec. 2018].
11 Fest, J. (1974). Ibid.
12 James W. Muller, Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” Speech Fifty Years Later (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999), p. 12.
13 Foot, M. (1957). Guilty Men, 1957. Gollancz.
14 History.com. (2009). [online] Available at: https://www.history.com/topics/great-depression/great-depression-history [Accessed 10 Dec. 2018].
15 Llewellyn, J. (2019). Great Depression in Germany. [online] Nazi Germany. Available at: https://alphahistory.com/nazigermany/the-great-depression/. [Accessed 10 Dec. 2018].
16 Historyhaus.weebly.com. (n.d.). [online] Available at: http://historyhaus.weebly.com/uploads/7/1/6/6/7166903/great_depression_era_in_germany_by_the_numbers.pdf [Accessed 10 Dec. 2018].
17 Taylor, A. (1961). The origins of the Second World War. UK: Hamish Hamilton.
18 Simkin, J. (1997). Unemployment in Nazi Germany. [online] Spartacus Educational. Available at: https://spartacus-educational.com/GERunemployment.htm [Accessed 10 Dec. 2018].
19 Llewellyn, J. (2019). Ibid.
20 Johndclare.net. (n.d.). Great Depression and WWII. [online] Available at: https://www.johndclare.net/RoadtoWWII_Great_Depression.htm [Accessed 11 Dec. 2018].
21 Johndclare.net. (n.d.). Ibid.