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.
Chamberlain’s 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 1920’s. 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.
Chamberlain’s 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.
Chamberlain’s 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 Chamberlain’s 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 Hitler’s 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 Chamberlain’s efforts to gain more time to advance his own military might.
There were other significant factors concerning Chamberlain’s 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...