Was Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement policy best for Britain’s national interests?

Was Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement best for Britain's national interests

Photo story (Clockwise from top left): (1) Neville Chamberlain, British Prime Minister of UK from May, 1937 to May, 1940 (2) Chamberlain speaking to interpreter of Hitler, Paul Schmidt at Godesberg, Germany in September, 1938. (3) Chamberlain delivers peace speech while holding on the paper signed by himself and Hitler on his return from Germany to England.

Arthur Neville Chamberlain, the British Conservative politician and Prime Minister of United Kingdom from May, 1937 to May, 1940, is widely known for his appeasement policy in foreign affairs. During the 1930s any European country that aspired to avert war with the German and Italian dictatorships keeping in mind the horrific incidents of WWI was considered as follower of this policy. Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement policy included his signing of Munich Agreement in 1938, which conceded German inhabited Sudetenland territory of Czechoslovakia to Germany. But is it fair to malign the British prime minister? Was there any better option back then?

The www.bbc.co.uk reports:

Republican senator for Texas, Ted Cruz recently claimed that Neville Chamberlain once told the British people ‘Accept Nazis. They will dominate Europe but that is not our problem’.  Such disparaging reference reflects an established conventional concept widely propagated by Chamberlain’s critics after his fall from premiership in May 1940.

75 years ago, in the early hours of 30th September, 1938, the Munich agreement was signed. Chamberlain wanted to conciliate Germany and sought a partnership with it in a stable Europe. At Munich, Britain and France agreed the transfer of Sudeten region of Czechoslovakia to Germany against Hitler’s increasing hostile threats of military action. Chamberlain’s hopes of averting catastrophic war by appeasing Hitler were shattered within four months.

Chamberlain’s popular ‘peace for our time’ declaration after returning from Munich was proved to be a foolish statement. He confessed at the outbreak of the WWII, ‘everything I have hoped for & believed during my public life, crashed into ruins’.

But his decision making was influenced by the problems he faced during the 1930s. A quarter territory of the world was being defended by Britain with a depleted military capability. There were fears that threatening Germany at that time would have provoked Germany, Japan and Italy to destroy the British Empire. Chamberlain was also facing the lack of commitments from powerful allies which he had mentioned in January, 1938. He said that they had to adjust the foreign policy differently in the absence of powerful allies and until the completion of their armaments.

The German invasion of Poland began on 1st September, 1939. 2 days later, Britain declared war on Germany. Chamberlain led UK through the first eight months of WWII. On 10th May, 1940, after the Allied forces were forced to retreat from Norway, Chamberlain resigned from his premiership as the Liberal and Labor parties refused to join the Government headed by him. On 9th November, 1940, six months after resignation, Chamberlain died of cancer.

Few days before his death, Chamberlain wrote that he was not disturbed about his personal reputation and that ‘without Munich (Agreement) the war would have been lost & the (British) Empire destroyed in 1938’.

Mohammad Rafi Saad

Mohammad Rafi Saad is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE