How did appeasement cause World War II?

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pholland14 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Appeasement was the name given to the policy taken by France and Britain toward Adolf Hitler's regime during the late 1930s in the period right before WWII. Both Britain and France believed that if they gave Hitler what he wanted, that he would stop acquiring territory and Europe could avoid war.

Hitler used nationalism to make his initial claims. He claimed that Austria had many German-speaking people who wanted to become part of Germany; therefore, he annexed Austria. He also claimed that the Sudetenland was taken from Germany unfairly and many people of German ancestry wanted to be rejoined with the mother country. The Czechs refused to give up this land, but Hitler took it anyway. It was at this point that British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain stepped in and met with Hitler to ask him about his goals. Hitler stated that he would stop annexing territory and that he was only trying to reunite the German people. Chamberlain flew back to London claiming that he had achieved "peace in our time." Soon after this, Hitler annexed the rest of Czechoslovakia.

Leaders in Britain such as Winston Churchill started speaking out against the politics of appeasement, stating that Hitler would never be appeased and that, by not taking a stand, the leaders of Western Europe were only emboldening Hitler.  Appeasement ended on September 1, 1939 when Hitler invaded Poland, thus officially beginning WWII.  

tlsenor | Student

The policy of Appeasement was that followed by Britian and France in the 1930s, during the lead-up to the Second World War. The policy rested on the idea that by giving in to Hitler's territorial claims in Europe, his ambition for expansion could be satisfied and checked without the need for another major European war, as most all nations in Europe were anxious to avoid another traumatic, bloody conflict on the scale of the First World War.

Many of Hitler's initial claims were based on the idea of national self-determination, itself an idea that gained acceptance in the aftermath of World War I, arguing that ethnic Germans should be able to live under a German government, within the borders of Germany. This process began with the German annexation of Austria in 1936, which capitalized on Germans living in Austria, with the help of outside intereference by Hitler an the Nazis in influencing the Austrian government and Austrian public opinion. This event, known as the Anschluss, was expressly forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I, but other European powers paid little-to-no notice of the event. This convinced Hitler that he could expand more aggressively without fear of interference from Western European powers.

The next attempt, however, provoked an international crisis in 1938 when Hitler demanded annexation of the Sudetenland, a mountainous area in the former Czechoslovkia on the German border. Again, the reasoning for this was that the region was predominantly ethnically German and therefore should belong to Germany. This time, however, Britain and France took notice when the Czech government refused to ceded the territory and Germany responded by taking steps toward war. Realizing that the only way to defend Czechoslovokia would require an invasion of Germany and therefore a general European War, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain held an emergency conference with Hitler (which later included France and Italy), to stave off conflict.

The Munich Conference resolved with the ceding of the Sudetenland by Czechoslovokia to Germany, with assurances from Hitler that his aims for European expansion were fulfilled. Convinced that the settlement was final, Chamberlain famously stated that they had achieved "peace in our time." However, in early 1939 Germany occupied the remainder of Czechoslovokia, infuriating Britain and France, causing them to finally realize that Hitlers ambitions would not be checked through negotiation. Yet the ease with which Hitler accomplished this further convinced him that Britain and France would do nothing when he attempted further expansion into Poland.

The policy of appeasement ended in September 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland and Britain and France, this time refusing to give into Hitler's territorial claims, declared war on Germany, officially beginning the Second World War in Europe.

The role of appeasement in the lead-up to the Second World War is that of a policy which only encourange and emboldend Hitler, allowing him to expand to the point where stopping Nazi Germany would require several more years' of warfare that was arguably far worse than the First World War, which is ironicially the very outcome the policy of appeasement sought to avoid.

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