Why did appeasement fail to prevent the outbreak of war in 1939?

AQA Modern World History GCSe revision notes based on the syllabus.

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  • Appeasement is the policy of making concessions to a potential aggressor in order to preserve peace.
  • Appeasement was carried out by the British and French towards Hitler. In essence, this policy was designed to give Hitler almost anything he wanted, in return for his promise that he would not go to war.
  • There were other reasons for the policy of appeasement. Firstly, everyone thought that they could not repeat the horrors of the First World War. Secondly, Britain was not sure if her allies (the USA) and empire would help in another war. Next, they has their own economic problems to deal with.
  • Some people even think that Chamberlain and Daladier were, to some extent, in favour of Hitler. They thought that it was good that he was standing up to Communism and they also thought that the Treaty of Versailles was extremely unfair.
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The Sudetenland

  • In May 1938, Hitler made it clear that he wanted to take the Sudetenland.
  • There were many German people in the Sudetenland, so Hitler wanted to fulfill his policy of Lebensraum.
  • The French and British agreed to protect Czechoslovakia if Hitler invaded.
  • On 15th September 1938, Chamberlain flies to meet Hitler in Germany to discuss potential peace. Hitler was happy to compromise: he only wanted some of the Sudetenland, and wanted a plebiscite so the people could decide.
  • Chamberlain believes that these new demands are reasonable because the people are deciding their own fate and the Treaty of Versailles states that self-determination should be achieved.
  • On 19th September, Britain and France put Hitler's demands to Czechoslovakia.
  • On 22nd September, Hitler actually wants more of the Sudetenland; he goes back on his words.
  • Hitler changed his demands because he believed that the Czech government was mistreating the Germans in the Sudetenland and he intended to 'rescue' them by 1st October.
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The Munich Agreement

  • On 29th September, Hitler invited Chamberlain, Daladier and Mussolini to a conference in Munich.
  • After discussions, the leaders produced the Munich Agreement. This agreement gave the Sudetenland to Germany, but guaranteed the safety of the rest of Czechoslovakia.
  • The Czechs and Russians were not invited to the conference.
  • Chamberlain flew home to a hero's welcome after seemingly preventing a war.
  • Some historians feel that the Munich agreement was a 'sell-out' because it totally disregarded the word of the Czechs. The leaders are seen to put their own country's needs before that of Czechoslovakia.
  • However, at the time many people felt that it was a triumph as it stopped the prospect of another World War; it stopped Hitler in his tracks as he agreed not to invade anywhere else.
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The Nazi-Soviet Pact

  • In March 1939, Hitler took over the rest of Czechoslovakia; Britain and France did nothing.
  • In 1934, the USSR joined the League of Nations, and they also signed a pact with France in 1935 against Hitler, but the USSR never trusted the French because they hadn't done anything when the Rhineland was being remilitarised, and that was on their border.
  • Stalin had been very worried about the German threat to the Soviet Union as Hitler had openly stated his interest in conquering the Russian land as well as overpowering Communism. It was in this fear that the USSR made a pact with Hitler in August 1939. This stated that they would not attack each other and they would share Poland.
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