By Michael Bobadilla, Foothill College

  From the Internet Book, Western Civilization

During the 1930's, while the entire world reeled from a severe economic depression, Adolph Hitler was slowly retooling the German war machine. The European superpowers, France and Britain, themselves hit hard during the depression, like negligent parents, laid down their rules of how Germany should be run with the Treaty of Versailles after World War I. Yet their eyes focused on their own affairs. And then Hitler raised his demands resulting in the Munich fiasco.

There are many different reasons for the British and French to take such an apathetic stance on their actions with Germany. An entire generation of men were lost during the first World War, and neither country wanted to see that kind of loss of life and mass destruction again. Also, internal problems within each country limited its ability to keep a watchful eye on Germany. Other conflicts in neighboring Spain and distant China also kept the eyes of the British and French on different horizons.

The key parts to Britain and France's method of appeasement include letting the Germans restock their weapons unchecked and allowing Germany to have the Sudetenland at Munich in 1938. Germany's weapons and armament, by 1939, were as powerful, if not more, than the British. However, accords made in the Treaty of Versailles about German rearmament were not policed. The compromise in Munich in 1938 was a political, strategic, and moral victory for Hitler. Hitler showed that he could take what he liked, and the great powers of the West, could not and would not do anything about it.

Although Britain's and France's acts of appeasement to the Germans are appalling, the events that were allowed to follow are even more appalling. While some may view that these events gave the West valuable time to prepare for war, this theory holds some problems. If the appeasement and resolve in Munich gave the West valuable time to prepare for the war, why was France so easily overrun by the Germans? Should not the appeasement have given them time to prepare for war? It appears that it did not. If this idea were true, the Germans should have been defeated rather easily.

What really occurred was the worst war this world has ever had and the realization of a nightmare of a megalomaniac dictator, all of which could have been prevented. Europe lay in ruins, France taken over, and sixteen million dead; due in part to the inaction of Britain and France.

Could these horrible events have been avoided? The answer is yes and no. The devastating effects on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles and aftereffects of World War I set the table for another great conflict. However, if these were the seeds for the second great war, they were nurtured and raised by the neglectful actions of the British and French. Had they kept the eye on Germany as they said they would, Hitler would not have been able to amass such a destructive killing machine.

December 1997

Western Civilization:  The Modern World