Appeasement did not spring from military weakness. 1930s Britain was well armedby David Edgerton / February 26, 2006 / Leave a comment
Published in February 2006 issue of Prospect Magazine
Since 1945, every British military intervention abroad has been justified by the invocation of a particular history of the interwar years. The terms “appeasement,” “Munich,” and “Hitler” are deployed to convince doubters of the wisdom of campaigns against Nasser, Galtieri, Milosevic and Saddam Hussein. Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair have been particularly keen on learning the lessons of their own versions of history.
When Blair presented his notorious Iraq WMD dossier to the House of Commons on 24th September 2002, he said that we knew, “from our history that diplomacy not backed by the threat of force has never worked with dictators and never will work.” And one crucial element in assumptions about appeasement is that it was the consequence of, and perhaps justified by, military weakness. Central to our image of the 1930s is a disarmed Britain, whose “guilty men” (as Michael Foot and others called them in a famous polemic in 1940) not only appeased Hitler but kept arms spending down and then failed to rearm adequately.