Changing Interpretations- appeasement (summary)

Interpretation 1- Well done Chamberlain

Popular majority view (1937-38) 

Chamberlain kept the spectre of war at bay for as long as he could. He gave peace a chance. 

During this period most people approved of Chamberlain's actions:

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Interpretation 2- The Guilty Men

Popular and political view (1939-1948)

Appeasement was a foolish, cowardly and immoral policy that strengthened the dictators and weakened Britain. 

People felt ashamed, attitudes began to turn against appeasement. They got stronger once the war broke out. As the war went badly people were shocked + afraid that Germans might invade. Chamberlain became the scapegoat. 

- Chamberlain resigned and Churchill became the new prime minister
- 'Guilty men' was published in 1940 by Cato. It was seen as a personal attack on Chamberlain and his policies.
- Beaverbrook was one of the men who wrote 'Guilty Men' when Churchill became prime minister he asked Beaverbrook to join the government.
- Lord Halifax  (an appeasement supporter) believed that Britain should make peace with Hitler, later he was voted out of government

Appeasement became a dirty word, no political leader would ever want to be accused of.

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Interpretation 3- The Appeasers misjudged Hitler

Orthodox view (1948-1960s)

Appeasement was a terrible misjudgement and miscalculation even if it was based on good motives.

After WW2 Churchill lost the general election but he remained an influential figure. He spent his time writing 'The Gathering Storm'.

He took a softer line than 'Guilty Men'- he was critical of appeasement but didn't say Chamberlain was weak or immoral.

The Churchill Factor: He wanted to leave a good legacy for himself and remembered well.

The Cold War: Churchill was concerned by the USSR and saw it as a threat. He believed the USA and its allies should stand up to Stalin to avoid repeating history.

- His book 'The Gathering Storm' was a bestseller and still in print today

There were very few challenges to this interpretation at the time. 

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Interpretation 4- Rehabilitating Chamberlain

Academic Revisionist view (1960s-1990s)

Chamberlain was in an impossible position and he did the best that could have been done under the circumstances.

- Churchill's opinion remained popular with the public and politicians 

AJP Taylor in 1961 argued that Chamberlain couldn't be blamed for not knowing what Hitler would do. This wasn't really accepted but it started a revisionist process.


  • Radical thinking: the 60s was a time when many traditional views in society were questioned
  • Vietnam War: the USA's dislike of appeasement had brought them into this war that was going badly, Britain could have ended up in the same position.
  • New British sources: 1958, the government passed the Public Records Act, official government records could be studied. They could realise the concerns that Chamberlain faced e.g. economic problems, the USA was still isolationist and the fear of the USSR.
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Interpretation 5- Chamberlain Back On Trial

Academic counter-revisionist view (1990s-2000s)

Chamberlain himself was part of the problem. His own personality and assumptions meant he couldn't deal satisfactorily with the situation.


  • C- overrated his own abilities + importance he thought could talk Hitler into being reasonable
  • C- failed to understand Hitler because he couldn't change his own views about IR
  • Chamberlain ignored the advice of many of his officials and colleagues
  • Chamberlain did betray Czechoslovakia in 1938 and he should be held responsible for that

Context: The Historical debate: Some historians believed the revisionist interpretation let C off the hook. it's historians job to disagree with and refine earlier interpretations. New Soviet sources: In 1898 the cold war ended and archives form USSR + Germany available.

- What other alternatives did Chamberlain have?

Historian, Niall Ferguson, used a computer simulation called 'The Calm and the Storm' to test alternatives.

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Some dates aren't correct. would prefer if there was more detail referring to context and historians to refer to.

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