AskDefine | Define appeasement

Dictionary Definition

appeasement n : the act of appeasing (as by acceding to the demonds of) [syn: calming]

User Contributed Dictionary



  • a UK /əˈpɪiz.mənt/ @"pIiz.m@nt/


  1. The state of being appeased; the policy of giving in to demands in order to preserve the peace.
    • 1941: Roosevelt, Franklin, White House Correspondents' Dinner
      This decision is the end of any attempts at appeasement in our land; the end of urging us to get along with the dictators, the end of compromise and the forces of oppression.

Related terms

Extensive Definition

Appeasement, literally: calming, reconciling, acquiring peace by way of concessions or gifts (the verb 'to pay' also goes back to the Latin 'pax' = peace). Most commonly, appeasement is used for the policy of accepting the imposed conditions of an aggressor in lieu of armed resistance, usually at the sacrifice of principles. Usually it means giving in to demands of an aggressor in order to avoid war. Since World War II, the term has gained a negative connotation in the British government, in politics and in general, of weakness, cowardice and self-deception.
A famous example is Neville Chamberlain's foreign policy also known as Munich Agreement during the period 1937-1939, when he pursued a policy of appeasement towards Adolf Hitler's expansionist ambitions.

Different views on appeasement

The meaning of the term "appeasement" has changed throughout the years. According to Paul Kennedy in his Strategy and Diplomacy, 1983, appeasement is "the policy of settling international quarrels by admitting and satisfying grievances through rational negotiation and compromise, thereby avoiding the resort to an armed conflict which would be, expensive, bloody and possibly dangerous." It gained its negative reputation for its use in the build up to World War II. It had previously been employed by the British government successfully in the Treaty with Ireland 1921.
Further quotations:
"At bottom, the old appeasement was a mood of hope, Victorian in its optimism, Burkean in its belief that societies evolved from bad to good and that progress could only be for the better. The new appeasement was a mood of fear, Hobbesian in its insistence upon swallowing the bad in order to preserve some remnant of the good, pessimistic in its belief that Nazism was there to stay and, however horrible it might be, should be accepted as a way of life with which Britain ought to deal." Martin Gilbert, The Roots of Appeasement, 1968.
"Each course brought its share of disadvantages: there was only a choice of evils. The crisis in the British global position by this time was such that it was, in the last resort, insoluble, in the sense that there was no good or proper solution." Paul Kennedy, Strategy and Diplomacy, 1983.
"The word in its normal meaning connotes the Pacific settlement of disputes; in the meaning usually applied to the period of Chamberlain's premiership, it has come to indicate something sinister, the granting from fear or cowardice of unwarranted concessions in order to buy temporary peace at someone else's expense." D.N. Dilks, Appeasement Revisited, Journal of Contemporary History, 1972.
The majority of the Conservative party in Britain in the late thirties were in favour of appeasement. This was mainly because they considered that Hitler would be satisfied with gaining control of parts of Central Europe. Churchill was relatively isolated in believing that Germany could be a threat to the British Empire.
There was a strong appeasement lobby among the English establishment in the late 1930s. Hitler had developed a plan to invade England and replace George VI with his older brother Edward (Edward VIII) who was pro-Nazi and had abdicated in 1936).
However, appeasement has also been deemed successful by many historians; as with the 'bought' year of 1938-39. During this time, Britain rapidly increased military production. the sacrifice of Czechoslovakia thereby allowed the protection of the British Isles. It must, also be pointed out, that in turn, Nazi Germany was able to significantly boost its military power in the time thus granted; and quite possibly to a greater extent than the Allies, particularly since the annexation of Czechoslovakia gave the Third Reich access to well-developed Czech industrial resources and significantly improved the Reich's strategic standing.
As said by Winston Churchill:

Differing views of appeasement prior to World War II

Appeasement in the popular mind is often linked with Chamberlain and World War Two. This is a multifaceted debate over whether the pursuing of the appeasement policy did bring about the outbreak of war in 1939. Appeasement had popular public support in Great Britain during the 1930s, and reached its height with the Munich Crisis of 1938.
In 1940, three British journalists writing under the pseudonym of Cato published their book Guilty Men. Their "traditional" view damns the policy of appeasement. The book defines appeasement the "deliberate surrender of small nations in the face of Hitler's blatant bullying." This negative view contributes much towards the association of appeasement with cowardice. In British public opinion, war had to be avoided, but orthodox historians have tended to overlook this, stressing that both appeasement and the Treaty of Versailles failed to keep the peace. Instead, the generation of the 1920s and 30s was blasted as being 'disillusioned'. Chamberlain was vilified as being unrealistic to follow the policy of appeasement when it had little chance of success in any case. His political rival, Winston Churchill, used the ultimate failure of the appeasement policy to highlight the corruption of Chamberlain's Conservative government and in order to heighten his own political prestige. It is obvious, however, that Churchill did not think that appeasement was at fault, but rather the person who was implementing it.
The revisionist school of thought emerged in the 1950s, as a new generation of post-war historians came into the field. While orthodox historians tended to presume that appeasement was unworkable given the likes of Hitler, historians such as A.J.P. Taylor argued that appeasement cannot fully be blamed for the outbreak of World War II. Taylor argued that Hitler may not have had a 'blueprint' for war. Appeasement was an active policy, and not a passive one; allowing Hitler to consolidate himself was a policy implemented by 'men confronted with real problems, doing their best in the circumstances of their time'. The previous negative perspectives of appeasement were permitted to develop into a rational response to an unpredictable man (Hitler) that was diplomatically and politically suitable at the time. Some historians have also argued that at the time of Munich, Britain and France were not militarily ready to confront Germany so, although the Treaty was meant to secure peace, it also bought time.
Counter Revisionist
The 'counter-revisionist' stage came about in the early 1990s, whereby historians are evaluating specific aspects of appeasement, its origins, and how it was implemented. This takes a much more rational and balanced view, concluding that appeasement was probably the only choice for the British Government in the 1930s, but it was poorly implemented, carried out too late, and was not enforced strongly enough to constrain Hitler's demands. Appeasement was a viable policy, considering the strains that the British Empire faced in recuperating from World War I. From here many argue that a decline in British national identity led Chamberlain to adopt a policy suitable to Britain's cultural and political needs. McDonough is an important counter revisionist who describes appeasement as a crisis management strategy that tried to encourage Hitler to solve his grievances peacefully and that in fact “Chamberlain's worst error was to believe that he could march Hitler on the yellow brick road to peace when in reality Hitler was marching very firmly on the road to war”.



  • Alex Alexandroff and Richard Rosecrance, "Deterrence in 1939," World Politics, Vol. 29, No. 3. (Apr., 1977), pp. 404-424.
  • Robert J. Beck, "Munich's Lessons Reconsidered," International Security 14 (1989) in JSTOR
  • John Charmley, Chamberlain and the Lost Peace (1989)
  • Richard Cockett, Twilight of Truth: Chamberlain, Appeasement, and the Manipulation of the Press (1989).
  • Christopher Hill, Cabinet Decisions on Foreign Policy: The British Experience, October 1938-June 1941 (1991)
  • James Levy. Appeasement and Rearmament: Britain, 1936-1939, (2006)
  • Frank McDonough, Richard Brown, and David Smith. Hitler, Chamberlain and Appeasement (2002)
  • Peter Neville. Hitler and Appeasement: The British Attempt to Prevent the Second World War (2005)
  • Gaines Post Jr.; Dilemmas of Appeasement: British Deterrence and Defense, 1934-1937 Cornell University Press. 1993
  • G. C. Peden, "A Matter of Timing: The Economic Background to British Foreign Policy, 1937-1939," History 69 (1984)
  • Stephen R. Rock. Appeasement in International Politics (2000)
  • Donald Cameron Watt, How War Came: The Immediate Origins of the Second World War, 1938-1939 (1989).
  • Robert Paul Shay, Jr., "British Rearmament in the Thirties: Politics and Profits" Princeton University Press" (1977).

See also

  • Appeasement of Hitler - one of the most significant and best-known cases of appeasement in history during the inter-war period of the 1930s
  • Danegeld - The term has come to be used as a warning and a criticism of paying any coercive payment whether in money or kind.
  • Finlandization - the influence that one neighboring powerful country can have on the policies of a smaller nearby country

Further reading

  • British Politics and Foreign Policy in the Age Of Appeasement, 1935-1939 - R.J.Q. Adams
  • British Foreign and Imperial Affairs, 1919-39 - Alan Farmer (2nd Ed.)
  • British Foreign Policy 1919-39 - Paul W Doerr
  • British Appeasement in the 1930s - William R Rock
  • Churchill - Roy Jenkins
  • Baldwin - Roy Jenkins
  • Anthony Eden: A Life and Reputation - David Dutton
  • Eden - D. R. Thorpe
  • Europe and the Czechs - Penguin Books Shiela Grant Duff, September 1938
  • Neville Chamberlain - David Dutton
  • The Fascist Challenge And The Policy Of Appeasement edited by Wolfgang J. Mommsen and Lothar Kettenacker, London : G. Allen & Unwin, 1983 ISBN 0-04-940068-1.
  • The Parting of Ways - A Personal Account of the Thirties. Peter Owen, 1982, ISBN 0-7206-0586-5
  • Munich : Prologue to Tragedy - Sir John Wheeler-Bennett, New York : Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1948.
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Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Eisenhower Doctrine, Monroe Doctrine, Nixon Doctrine, Truman Doctrine, United Nations troops, abatement, allayment, alleviation, analgesia, anesthesia, anesthetizing, assuagement, atonement, balance of power, brinkmanship, calming, coexistence, colonialism, compromise, conciliation, containment, deadening, detente, deterrence, diminishment, diminution, diplomacy, diplomatic, diplomatics, dollar diplomacy, dollar imperialism, dulcification, dulling, ease, easement, easing, easing of relations, expansionism, foreign affairs, foreign policy, good-neighbor policy, imperialism, internationalism, isolationism, lessening, lulling, manifest destiny, mediation, militarism, mitigation, mollification, nationalism, neocolonialism, neutralism, nonresistance, numbing, open door, open-door policy, pacification, palliation, peace offensive, peace-keeping force, peaceful coexistence, peacemaking, peacemongering, placability, placation, preparedness, propitiation, reduction, relaxation of tension, relief, remedy, salving, shirt-sleeve diplomacy, shuttle diplomacy, softening, soothing, spheres of influence, subduement, the big stick, tough policy, tranquilization, world politics
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