CHAMBERLAIN AND APPEASEMENT
When studying Arthur Neville Chamberlain, it is at least as important to understand his personality, as well as his political achievement. The Prime Minister of Great Britain between 1937 and 1940, he was an intensely idealistic man, one who believed that he alone could bridge the gap between Germany and the rest of the World. His subsequent policies of appeasement towards Nazi Germany, a policy based upon pragmatism, fear of war, or moral conviction that lead to the acceptance of diplomatically imposed conditions in lieu of warfare, forever characterized Chamberlain as a most central figure at the diplomatic crossroads leading towards World War II.
Chamberlains father, Joseph, had been the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, so young Neville found himself subjected to strong political opinions throughout his youth. He worked his way through the ranks of British government, becoming a Member of Parliament in 1918, and going on to become Chancellor of the Exchequer in the National Government headed by Ramsay MacDonald for much of the 1920s. Chamberlain finally rose to the office of Prime Minister in 1937. His lifetime dedication to politics made him a shrewd politician, but his relatively rapid success could also be viewed as a contributing factor towards his developing overconfidence.
Chamberlains impact on foreign affairs was vast and direct upon his rise to power. He changed the foreign policy dynamic from a slow and passive policy of non-intervention, to a much more pro-active policy of appeasement. Chamberlain believed that Germany had been badly treated by the Allies after it was defeated in World War I. Therefore, he thought that the German government had legitimate grievances, and that these needed to be addressed. By agreeing to some of the demands being made by Adolph Hitler of Germany and Benito Mussolini of Italy, he earnestly believed that he could avoid a European war.
Chamberlains enthusiasm, conviction in his beliefs, and the fact that he would not listen to criticism, led him to pursue appeasement with a nearly unlimited spirit. This would have been noble had it not been for another problem which was also caused, in part, by Chamberlains enthusiasm to pursue appeasement. In his rush to stamp his name on the appeasement process, Chamberlain was too eager to foster good relations with Germany and her allies. To this end, he was too happy to take Hitlers personal assurances that Germany also wanted peace, so long as somebody could regulate its terms. It is certainly not beyond belief that Hitler, indeed, may have played upon the confidence and determination of Chamberlains efforts to gain more time to advance his own military might.
There were other significant factors concerning Chamberlains eagerness to initiate the appeasement process. The overestimation of the speed of German rearmament, and the possibility of areas such as in the Mediterranean and in Japan affecting a major conflict, were also deciding factors in shaping Chamberlains choices. It was widely believed that if any one of those places broke into war, then at least one of the other two would also fight. In light of this theory, it was imperative for Britain to secure new trade routes in Europe, as well as to create enough time to finish rearming the unprepared British forces. By making concessions with Germany and Italy, Chamberlain saw the quickest, and in his opinion, the best way for Britain to achieve these goals.
When Chamberlain came to power, he followed Prime Ministers McDonald and Baldwin, who had viewed Great Britain as a true super power. This attitude had led to an isolationalist foreign policy, and a lack of new trade routes being formed. Chamberlain was a seasoned political campaigner, and could see Britains position for what it was: tied to America, not active in trade with Europe, and ill prepared for the conflict which many saw as inevitable in the near future. This was fuelled by a report from the British Chiefs of Staff in January 1938 which observed that Naval, Military and air forces in their present stage of development, are still far from sufficient to meet our defensive commitments, which now stretch from Western Europe, through the Mediterranean to the Far East. We cannot foresee the time
Arthur Neville Chamberlain
CHAMBERLAIN AND APPEASEMENT