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  • Appeasement, Then and Now

    Posted by David Foster on October 26th, 2013 (All posts by )

    The Prime Ministership of Neville Chamberlain is closely associated with the word “appeasement.” The policy of appeasement followed by Britain in the late 1930s  is generally viewed as a matter of foreign policy–the willingness to allow Germany’s absorption of other countries, first Austria and then Czechoslovakia, in the desperate but misguided hope of avoiding another war.

    But appeasement also had domestic as well as foreign policy aspects. In a post several years ago, I quoted Winston Churchill, who spoke of  the unendurable..sense of our country falling into the power, into the orbit and influence of Nazi Germany, and of our existence becoming dependent upon their good will or pleasure…In a very few years, perhaps in a very few months, we shall be confronted with demands” which “may affect the surrender of territory or the surrender of liberty.” A “policy of submission” would entail “restrictions” upon freedom of speech and the press. Indeed, I hear it said sometimes now that we cannot allow the Nazi system of dictatorship to be criticized by ordinary, common English politicians.”

    Churchill’s concern was not just a theoretical one. Following the German takeover of Czechoslovakia, photographs were available showing the plight of Czech Jews, dispossessed by the Nazis and wandering the roads of eastern Europe. Geoffrey Dawson, editor of The Times, refused to run any of them: it wouldn’t help the victims, he told his staff, and if they were published, Hitler would be offended.

    I’ve just finished reading Niall Ferguson’s War of the World, and this book contains much more information about appeasement in British domestic society and politics. Some excerpts:

    (Times Berlin correspondent Normal Ebbut) wrote regularly on…the (Nazi) regime’s persecution of Protestant churches. As early as November 1934, he was moved to protest about editorial interference with his copy, giving twelve examples of how his stories had been cut to remove critical references to the Nazi regime.

    and

    The Times was far from unique in its soft-soap coverage of Germany. Following his visit in 1937, Halifax lobbied near all the leading newspaper proprietors to tone down their coverage of Germany…The government succeeded in pressuring the BBC into avoiding ‘controversy’ in its coverage of European affairs…Lord Reith, the Director-General of the BBC, told Ribbentrop ‘to tell Hitler that the BBC was not anti-Nazi’…Pressure to toe the line was even stronger in the House of Commons. Conservative MPs who ventured to criticize Chamberlain were swiftly chastised by the whips or their local party associations.

    and

    At around the time of the Abyssinian crisis, the historian A L Rowse–who was just thirty-four at the time of Munich-recalled a walk with (Times publisher Dawson) along the towpath to Iffley, in the course of which he warned the older man: ‘It is the Germans who are so powerful as to threaten the rest of us together.’ Dawson’s reply was revealing: ‘To take your argument on its own valuation–mind you, I’m not saying I agree with it–but if the Germans are as powerful as you say, oughtn’t we to go in with them?

     

    (Dawson’s “oughtn’t we to go in with them?” remark is pretty much the direct opposite of what William III said in 1672 when he was defending Holland against vastly superior armies. After being advised to surrender and asked “don’t you see your country is lost?”, he replied “It is indeed in great danger, but there is a sure way never to see my country lost, and that is to die in the last ditch.”)

    And what of America…and Britain…and the rest of the Western world in 2013? In our case also, it seems that appeasement has extended beyond foreign policy matters and begun to encompass the intimidation of domestic discourse concerning the danger of radical Islamic terrorism. Immediately in the aftermath of the Benghazi attacks, Hillary Clinton was quick to blame those attacks on an obscure American filmmaker exercising his right of free expression and call for that filmmaker’s arrest…very, very similar to those appeasers Winston Churchill called out  for saying that that “we cannot allow the Nazi system of dictatorship to be criticized by ordinary, common English politicians.”

    And Senator Lindsay Graham, in response to a 2011 Koran-burning incident, appeared to be suggesting legal sanctions against such symbolic speech, saying:

    I wish we could find a way to hold people accountable. Free speech is a great idea, but we’re in a war. During World War II, we had limits on what you could say if it would inspire the enemy.

    Graham is here using the word “inspire” in an odd and misleading way, seeking an excuse to suppress the free expression of Americans who say anything judged “offensive” to anyone who might take hostile action against the U.S. on the grounds of such hostility…which is just what one might expect of an appeaser.

    There are hundreds, probably thousands, of present-day examples of appeasement throughout the Western world. As I noted in a post just a few months ago, for example:  Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer have been banned from entering Britain The reason? Fear that they might say something offensive to Muslims….especially those Muslims of the extremist and violence-prone stamp. At the Guantanamo Bay detention facility , inmates were unhappy that the treadmills provided for exercise were “Made in America.” So they were replaced with treadmills made in Muslim countries.  And even worse: since detainees objected to the sight of the American flag, it is no longer raised at Guantanamo anywhere the inmates can see it. In Germany, a  female Muslim student at the University of Duisburg-Essen ripped down parts of a graphic novel exhibit, which included the work of the internationally known Israeli artist Rutu Modan. Journalist Pascal Beucker says that  the university’s management remains puzzled over the student’s conduct. Indeed, they were so puzzled that: “As a result of the student’s handiwork, school officials promptly closed the exhibit.”  What about the vandal?  ”The university management said it would conduct a conversation with the Muslim student about her conduct and reserves the right to take legal action against her…”

    Domestic appeasement policies, of the type seen in Britain in the 1930s and being seen in America and other places today, exist at the intersection of cowardice and authoritarianism. They reflect an unwillingness to resist violent or otherwise-threatening enemies of civilization while at the same time eagerly stepping on the rights of fellow citizens. There are a disturbing number of people–especially among politicians and university administrators, but also among media types and elsewhere in society–who exist at this intersection point.

     

     

    27 Responses to “Appeasement, Then and Now”

    1. Michael Kennedy Says:

      Britain is especially prone to limit speech and the Muslims almost run the country. A few years ago, an imam was able to obtain a second council house for his wives, all at tax payer expense. Labour was pretty successful at importing a new voting population from Pakistan when it was in power. Entire villages were reconstituted in Britain with young men seeking to import wives from the same village in Pakistan. For example.

    2. David Foster Says:

      Britain is now apparently close to imposing a new set of restrictions on freedom of the press:

      http://pjmedia.com/blog/new-regulations-threaten-freedom-of-the-press-in-uk/?singlepage=true

      American leftists are no doubt envious.

    3. Mike Doughty Says:

      David, this is an excellent post. What is so very frustrating about appeasers is that they seem to think, against all reason and experience throughout history, that it will actually work. Of course, all it does is embolden those being “appeased”.

    4. Michael in Pennsylvania Says:

      David,

      Your mention of historian A.L. (Alfred Leslie) Rowse is noteworthy.

      Readers might find these excerpts – from his book, “Appeasement – A Study in Political Decline, 1933-1939” of interest, if not – alas – pertinence. (Numbers denote page(s) in 1963 W.W. Norton paperback edition.)

      “I sometimes wonder whether more harm is done in the world by criminals or by good, moral men who lend themselves to their purposes.” – 9

      “But these people would not believe the facts themselves when they were given them – they preferred to lead the country, with continuous electoral success, in their illusions.” – 12

      “One thing that Amery and I agreed about in our frequent conversations in college was the fundamental dishonesty of the National Government: they were dedicated, with vast electoral majorities, to not letting the real issues penetrate through to the electorate.” – 14

      “There were several things that united them. They were ‘men of peace’; i.e. no use for confronting force, or guile, or wickedness. That they did not know what they were dealing with is the most charitable explanation of their failure; but they might at least have taken the trouble to inform themselves. There were plenty of people to tell them, but they would not listen. They all shared a non-conformist origin, and its characteristic self-righteousness – all the more intolerable in the palpably wrong; to the historian they are significant elements. One way or another they had none of the 18th-century aristocracy’s guts – they were middle-class men with pacifist backgrounds and no knowledge of Europe, its history or its languages, or of diplomacy, let alone of strategy or war. … The plain truth is that their deepest instinct was defeatist; their highest wisdom surrender.” – 14-15

      “I remembered Goethe: ‘There is no man so dangerous as the disillusioned idealist.’ I had read Mein Kampf, indispensable to understanding Hitler and the upsurge of irremediable evil he elicited and directed. Not one of these people in England was capable of reading Mein Kampf or did, or would listen to those who could tell them.” – 31

      “‘War wins nothing, cures nothing, ends nothing,’ had been the burden of his [Neville Chamberlain] all along. Mere pacifist cliches, ignorant and untrue. Unfortunately history has often shown the contrary to be correct. The Napoleonic war and Trafalgar won a century of complete and blissful security for this country; Waterloo ended the century-long attempt of France to dominate Europe; as the war we were just about to enter ended the similar attempt of Germany. As for cure, nothing but war could now end Hitler and the Nazis. Really, these people who had been in charge of our destinies throughout that decade, and had led us to this, should not have corrupted themselves and the nation by talking such nonsense.” 104-106

      “Even so, the empirical habit of mind, that considered itself so much more practical – E.H. Carr, in his writings at the time thought these people more ‘realist’ in their estimate of Hitler! – need not have equated itself with ignorance. Not one of these men in high place in those years ever so much as read Mein Kampf, or would listen to anybody who had. They really did not know what they were dealing with, or the nature and degree of the evil thing they were up against. To be so uninstructed – a condition that arose in part from a certain superciliousness, a lofty smugness, as well as superficiality of mind – was in itself a kind of dereliction of duty.

      They would not listen to warnings, because they did not wish to hear. And they did not think things out, because there was a fatal confusion in their minds between the interests of their social order and the interests of their country. They did not say much about it, since that would have given the game away, and anyway it was a thought they did not wish to be too explicit about even to themselves, but they were anti-red and that hamstrung them in dealing with the greater immediate danger to their country, Hitler’s Germany.

      [I wonder if the following passage is as relevant to the United States - let alone "the West" - of 2013, as it was to Great Britain in the late 1930s:]

      They did not have the hereditary sense of security of the state, unlike Churchill, Eden, the Cecils. Nor did they have the toughness of the 18th-century aristocracy. They came at the end of the ascendancy of the Victorian middle-class, deeply affected as that was by high-mindedness and humbug. They all talked, in one form or another, the language of disingenuousness and cant; it was second nature to them – so different from Churchill. This, and the essential pettiness of the National Government, all flocking together to keep Labour out, was deeply corrupting, both to them and the nation. It meant that they failed to see what was true, until too late, when it was simply a question of survival.

      What I have under observation, then, in all those years was a class in decadence. These eminent specimens of it, be-ribboned and be-coroneted – all except Dawson, who, as editor of The Times, was above such things – with the best will in the world well-nigh ruined their country and reduced it to a second-rate place in the world.” 116-118

    5. S O Says:

      “The Prime Ministership of Neville Chamberlain is closely associated with the word “appeasement.” The policy of appeasement followed by Britain in the late 1930s is generally viewed as a matter of foreign policy–the willingness to allow Germany’s absorption of other countries, first Austria and then Czechoslovakia, in the desperate but misguided hope of avoiding another war.”

      Britain did not ‘allow’ Germany to absorb (annex) other countries, ever. In fact, these two actions (which happened in quick succession) ended the appeasement policy and the final arms race sprint began. Britain and France had even without inclusion of their colonial and dominion empires a superior combined industrial output and soldier recruitment base. The annexation of Austria brought four division to Germany, the annexation of Western Czechoslovakia brought the equivalent of 20 divisions worth of equipment to Germany. It was a reasonable expectation to think that choosing a few years arms race over immediate war would actually improve the odds for the UK and France.

      By the way; Austria was considered ‘German’ at that time as much as East Germany was considered ‘German’ during the Cold War. There were still two options for a ‘united’ Germany; The Small German solution under Prussian leadership and exclusion of Austria (done in 1870) and the Great German solution (both actual titles; kleindeutsch/grossdeutsch) with inclusion of Austria. So watching the Annexation of Austria without going to war immediately was much less unethical back then than people of 2013 would think.

      Furthermore, the early stages of what’s nowadays known as appeasement were normalisation treaties. Some harsh Versailles treaty conditions were relaxed and replaced by new treaties 15+ years after the war. The failure wasn’t that they did so, but that they hadn’t given this to the late 20′s social democratic chancellor of Germany. Such foreign political success could have saved the entire Nazi episode.
      So the problem was timing coupled with too much bone-headedness in the 20′s.
      well, that and the fact that some agreements were plain stupid, such as a naval treaty allowing ocean-going subs and the agreement to the annexation of Czech border regions (majority German areas) instead of establishing inner autonomy there.

    6. David Foster Says:

      SO…”By the way; Austria was considered ‘German’ at that time as much as East Germany was considered ‘German’ during the Cold War.”

      Austria had never been part of the Germany politically, whereas East Germany obviously had. If a common language made Austria “German,” then Canada by the same logic would be ‘American,’ using ‘America’ in the sense of the United States.

    7. S O Says:

      Actually, Austrian archdukes held the title of emperor of Germany in the Holy Roman Empire of German nationality (1st Reich) for hundreds of years and Austria had been part of that empire and the Kingdom of Germany / Regnum Teutonicm for about 900 years. People in Central Europe were fully aware of this fact back in the 30′s.
      http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4d/HRR_10Jh.jpg

      Noteworthy: What anglophone people know (if at all) as Holy Roman Empire was and is in Germany often known as Heiliges Römisches Reich Deutscher Nation (Holy Roman Empire of German Nationality), or Sacrum Romanum Imperium Nationis Germanicæ. This title was from the 15th century and now guess whether Germans and Austrians learned this long form or the short form at school. Hint: Even as of today, we learn the long form.

      Central Europe is not and was not a country of people who can trace their roots to immigrants as Canada or the United States. Language defined ethnicity almost without exception (Switzerland, Serbo-Croatian language) in Europe, and the Austrian dialect was and is clearly in the same language as other German dialects.

      The vast majority of Germans and Austrians was still aware of the concepts of the small and great German solutions for unification. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_question
      Austria was not ethnically different from Germany and its annexation not an offence of the same level as the annexation of the Czech lands (albeit there were huge German minorities as well). It was a national unification event under ugly leadership and circumstances.

      The annexation of Prague with its Skoda and Tatra factories as well as with a substantial military arsenal was a much bigger event, and it meant the end for appeasement. Neither British nor French ever tolerated that move.

    8. T.K. Tortch Says:

      Re the failure of various British Establishment politicians and figures to read Hitler’s book and take him at his word, I’m reminded of two things.

      First, that many Germans who did read Hitler’s book still didn’t take what he said seriously, all the way up to the point it didn’t matter what they thought of him anymore. I guess they thought he was talking in metaphor or something.

      Second, that so many were (and are) capable of reading Marx, Engels, Trotsky – so many of the early Socialist thinkers – and ignore or explain away the ranting eliminationist rhetoric they lapse into, the implied violence necessary to achieve their social aims, and their apparent comfort with that necessity.

    9. MikeK Says:

      “It was a reasonable expectation to think that choosing a few years arms race over immediate war would actually improve the odds for the UK and France.”

      That was not their reason for allowing Hitler to keep his delusions of destiny. The Second World War was a continuation of the first. As Foch said in 1919, “This is not peace. It is an armistice for 20 years.”

      Appeasement was justified by the guilt over the 1919 treaty. That was not its source. The only reason why Britain was able, by the skin of its teeth, to build enough of the RAF and the infrastructure to win the Battle of Britain, was Churchill’s intelligence service spying on his own government. He was able to shame some members into rejecting Baldwin’s arguments. It was Baldwin, not Chamberlain, who nearly ended the Empire. Chamberlain was, somewhat like Obama, completely ignorant of the world outside his own country. At least he meant well, which was unlike Obama, I fear.

    10. dearieme Says:

      “if the Germans are as powerful as you say, oughtn’t we to go in with them?” – I should hope that some people did ask that question; they would have been remiss in their duty if, for example, the bureaucrats at the Foreign Office had not asked that. It’s an interesting question what, given the evidence available to them, they might reasonably have concluded.

    11. dearieme Says:

      ‘What is so very frustrating about appeasers is that they seem to think, against all reason and experience throughout history, that it will actually work. Of course, all it does is embolden those being “appeased”.’ Does that apply to those who appease the USA?

    12. David Foster Says:

      Re Czechoslovakia…it is true that at the time of Munich, Britain wasn’t in all that great a military position. But if:

      1) The Czechs had been encouraged to resist, rather than being thrown to the wolves….and remember, they had not only a nontrivial army and a well-constructed fortress line, but also a large armaments industry, and

      2) The French had launched an attack on German from the West, and

      3) The Royal Navy had begun interdicting German merchant shipping…and I don’t think there’s much question that they could have brought Germany’s sea-borne exports and imports to a halt, then

      the odds are high that Hitler would have been overthrown by his own military.

      One of the main reasons why these actions weren’t taken is extreme over-rating of Germany’s strategic bombing capabilities, which seem to have been viewed as something like the Martian invaders in War of the Worlds.

    13. David Foster Says:

      Daniel Greenfield on Nazi expansionism THEN, and Islamist expansionism NOW:

      LINK

      Islamist intimidation of Western societies would not get very far without collaboration of Western elites, which is largely driven by “progressive” perception that they can use fear-inspired “sensitivity” as a wedge to break the spirit of civil society and thereby further the imposition of top-down solutions.

    14. dearieme Says:

      ‘Austria had never been part of the Germany politically … If a common language made Austria “German”’: the gist of what you say here is so hopelessly wrong-headed that I am impressed by the mildness of SO’s correction of it.

      Another point: I’m always perturbed by how few discussions of appeasement make clear just how impeded an anti-appeasement government would have been by the many years of successful “disarmament” politics in Britain. I suppose that is because The Left will always try to label the Tories as appeasers, without admitting the malign effects of their own policies.

      One thing that some Americans seem to find hard to apprehend is just how badly France and Britain had been affected by the previous war – for Americans it had been a bit of a short stroll, largely imposed by Wilson’s iron whim; for us and the Frogs it was a very different matter. (And for the Serbs and Belgians, for instance, even worse.)

    15. David Foster Says:

      Germany was really not a nation at all, rather a collection of states, until the German unification of 1871, which definitely did not include Austria.

      Dearieme…” I’m always perturbed by how few discussions of appeasement make clear just how impeded an anti-appeasement government would have been by the many years of successful “disarmament” politics in Britain. I suppose that is because The Left will always try to label the Tories as appeasers..”

      Indeed…Labour politician Arthur Greenwood, who denounced Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement at the time of the invasion of Poland, had earlier (in 1935) denounced Chamberlain for spending *too much* money of re-armament.

    16. Gordon Walker Says:

      The appeasement policy with respect to Czechoslovakia deprived that country of its defenses and lead to its inevitable collapse and the loss of support from other powers in central Europe.
      That it gave a breathing space for allied rearmament is doubtful since Germany probably out-raced us.

      With hindsight the armistice that ended the First World War was a mistake; the German army was on the point of being routed and could have been destroyed, the Saar and the Ruhr devastated and Berlin occupied.
      Hence no Second World War!

      Or with total cynicism Germany could have been left with its ill gotten gains in Russia and left to complete the “Drang nach Osten”.
      So no Soviet Union!

    17. MikeK Says:

      “The Czechs had been encouraged to resist, rather than being thrown to the wolves….and remember, they had not only a nontrivial army and a well-constructed fortress line, but also a large armaments industry, and…”

      There is a credible argument that the Czechs alone could have taken on the Germans of 1938. Their weakness was the fact that Sudetenland was between the major portion of the Czech people and Germany and was a fifth column. Even so, the Germans were not ready.

    18. David Foster Says:

      Michael in PA citing A L Rowse citing Goethe: “‘There is no man so dangerous as the disillusioned idealist.’

      Indeed, and this is one thing that is frightening about the dramatic loss of confidence in government, and other institutions, in our own time. When the naive Obamian idealists realize that they have been taken in…and adopt a “plague on both your houses” view toward American politics in general…what comes next?

    19. TMLutas Says:

      There is a major difference between then and now. The information age drastically reduces the ability of the government to put the populace to sleep and to keep information from them. Web 3.0 is likely to increase that effect by orders of magnitude. But this will only become decisive if we actually do the ground work of assembling the facts, creating the reports and dashboards, and coding the killer apps that will bring sufficient information to the current low information voters and wake them up.

      So far, we are largely absent from this field.

    20. dearieme Says:

      “Re the failure of various British Establishment politicians and figures to read Hitler’s book and take him at his word”: sadly, until 1938 many German Jews didn’t take him at his word either.

    21. David Foster Says:

      A slight ray of hope: here’s a clip in which Bill Maher (!!!!) critiques the liberal unwillingness to criticize anything said or done by a Muslim:

      LINK

    22. pst314 Says:

      Michael Kennedy “Labour was pretty successful at importing a new voting population from Pakistan when it was in power.”

      What does the British Left think is going to happen as Muslims become gain more and more political power?

      Recalling what happened to the Left in Iran, one would expect the British Left be leery about importing a large population of radically hostile and intolerant people.

      Did the Left think that the Muslims were going to become good little secular socialists? Do they think so today? Are they not thinking at all? Or do they not care about the consequences as long as the existing Britain is brought low?

    23. slumlord Says:

      So much forgotten by the passage of time.

      Firstly, the First World War left profound psychological wounds in Europe. No one wanted to fight another war. There was real jubilation by the English when Chamberlain came back from Munich. Watch the old newsreels and you will see. In fact, one could regard Munich as akin to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Churchill was one of the few who to fight and was regarded by all and sundry as a warmonger. The parallels with Le May are eerie.

      Secondly, the Fabian Left in Britain and its sympathisers were controlled by Moscow, who wanted to keep the peace. The Ribbentrop-Molotov pact was soon to be revealed. Orwell’s writing of the times shows just how loopy the British Socialists were.

      Thirdly, there was a lot of sympathy for Hitler in Britain. People tend to forget the Fascism was the “in thing” for a lot of the unthinking conservative establishment in Germany. Many saw Hitler’s Germany as a disciplined, progressive and englightened country. Hitler’s got quite a sympathetic coverage in this popular Magazine.
      Could you imagine Homes and Gardens doing a spread on one of the Iranian Ayatollah’s houses? I think there are a lot of other people besides Germans who would like to forget their enthusiasm for “Der Fuhrer.”

      The fact is that the Britain of 1914 wanted to fight Germany and the Britain of 1939 didn’t. “Plucky Britain” was dragged kicking and screaming to the fight only when it was obvious that there was no other way out. It wasn’t just a few politicians that were cowardly, it was the people as well.

    24. David Foster Says:

      “Could you imagine Homes and Gardens doing a spread on one of the Iranian Ayatollah’s houses?”…not much of a stretch, considering this Vogue story:

      LINK

    25. David Foster Says:

      A rather extreme example of appeasement of the “it’s their culture so it must be OK” type…

      Londoners sign petition supporting female genital mutilation

    26. Bill Brandt Says:

      The difference between appeasement of the British variety and today with us is that it is “political correctness” and the thought that “all cultures are equal” – as has been mentioned in the previous comments.

      I found an interesting book that detailed how the Nazis gradually – in the space of just a few years, controlled thought in Germany.

      http://www.amazon.com/In-Garden-Beasts-American-Hitlers/dp/030740885X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1383031976&sr=8-1&keywords=garden+of+the+beasts

    27. Michael Kennedy Says:

      “People tend to forget the Fascism was the “in thing” for a lot of the unthinking conservative establishment in Germany. Many saw Hitler’s Germany as a disciplined, progressive and enlightened country.”

      There was quite a bit of Fascism in the New Deal. It’s interesting to read about Wendell Willkie’s struggle with TVA and David Lilienthal . It made Willkie a Republican.