The Second World War became the largest tragedy and humanitarian catastrophe in the history of the mankind. The war led to enormous destruction, millions casualties and the war affected the entire world. At the same time, World War II could have been prevented if one of the major inspirer of the military conflict between leading powers of the world, Adolf Hitler, was stopped or, at least, faced the opposition from the part of the leading world’s powers such as the UK. In stark contrast, political leaders of the leading powers of the world, including UK’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, did not simply fail to prevent the strengthening of the power of Adolf Hitler, but also contributed to the strengthening of Nazi Germany and, thus, provoked the outbreak of World War II. In such a way, it is necessary to lay emphasis on the fact that the traditional view on the cause of World War II, according to which Hitler is the only responsible for the war, is erroneous. Instead, World War II was provoked by multiple factors, among which ambitions and aggressive policy of Hitler were enhanced consistently by the appeasement policy promoted and implemented by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and his western allies.
In order to understand the policy of Hitler and Chamberlain, before the beginning of World War II, it is necessary to dwell upon the historical background, socioeconomic and political development of Germany and the UK which, to a significant extent, influenced policies of both leaders and both countries. In fact, Hitler came to power in the 1930s which were a turbulent period not only in Germany but also in other countries of Europe, including the UK. The 1930s were marked by the financial crisis and economic stagnation which affected many countries of the world. As a result, the socioeconomic situation in Germany and the UK started to deteriorate consistently, provoking the spread of radical political movements, including the raise of the Nazi Party headed by Hitler. Het high unemployment rates, inflation, the decreasing standards of living, all these factors contributed to the pauperization of the population and radicalization of ideologies, among which fascism became one of the mainstream ideologies along with communism, which though failed to take power in Western Europe, unlike fascism which gain power in Germany, Italy and Spain.
At the same time, the radicalization of the society because of socioeconomic crisis was not the only factor that influenced the strengthening of Hitler’s position in Germany and popularization of his ideology and party. In actuality, it is necessary to take into account the historical context, which was dramatically influenced by World War I. In fact, World War I resulted in the defeat of Germany and its allies and the victory of the UK and France. In such a situation, German and British people had absolutely different views on the outcomes of the war and their post-war position. Britain managed to maintain its position as the leading world’s power, while Germany failed to regain its pre-war positions that naturally produced a negative impact on the consciousness of German people who get used to perceive their nation as one of the leading nations in the world. In addition, the defeat from the UK and France was perceived by Germans as a terrible offense to their national dignity and proud, while the British took the victory for granted and they were absolutely convinced that Germany is unable to revive and regain its positions as a leading world’s power.
In such a way, the British and Germans had absolutely controversial views on the current situation in the world before the beginning of World War I in the 1930s. Naturally, the position and beliefs of people affects consistently the policy conducted by national leaders, namely Hitler and Chamberlain. Obviously, they could not ignore the mood and feelings of people, which were affected consistently by numerous socioeconomic problems and, naturally, they could not fail to use them for their own benefits to gain a political success and take the power in their countries. In this respect, it is important to understand that Germans were dissatisfied because their socioeconomic problems and could be easily convinced that the major source of their problems is the defeat in World War I and the oppression from the part of the winners, while the British society was also dissatisfied with the socioeconomic situation in the UK. Therefore, they would not support a political leader and political power which insisted on the increase of the state expenses on the military industry and strengthening of the defensive potential of the country, because this would lead to the aggravation of socioeconomic crisis in the UK.
Thus, it is necessary to take into consideration the socioeconomic and political situation described above, in order to understand the policy and logic of Hitler and Chamberlain, who were major figures, along with leaders of other world’s powers, who provoked World War II. Hitler used the socioeconomic crisis in Germany to promote his ideology promising German people the restoration of great Germany, which was eventually defined as the Third Reich. In fact, it was an ideal vision of strong and rich Germany and Hitler actively promoted the idea that the restoration of the power of Germany in the world will lead to the consistent, qualitative improvement of the life of ordinary Germans. In fact, he used simple but populist slogans and ideas to gain the popularity and take the power in the country. However, the milestone of his ideology and promotion, which brought him to power, was the idea of the creation of new Germany as the major world’s power that naturally implied invasion of new lands, destruction of other countries, elimination of non-Arians, etc. In other words, the milestone of his ideology and political program was the idea of international aggression and expansion of Germany. Due to this ideology he took the power, through the establishment of Nazi control over all branches of power by the mid-1930s.
At the same time, the UK was suffering from a profound socioeconomic crisis similar to that in Germany. The nation was disappointed with the politics of the national government and the British readily supported Neville Chamberlain and the Conservative Party which won the elections and Chamberlain took the office in 1937 as the Prime Minister of the UK. In order to overcome the socioeconomic problems that led to the pauperization of British population, he focused on the reduction of costs and optimization of the national economy. In such a situation, he was apparently unprepared to start the new arm races and prepare to a new military conflict which can have disastrous effects on the national economy of Great Britain. Taking into consideration the ambitions of Hitler, this conflict would be inevitable if the UK opposed to his expansionist plans. At any rate, the active opposition of the UK to Nazi Germany in its plans to occupy territories of neighboring states was likely to result in the confrontation either in economic field or in the military confrontation or both.
In such a situation, Chamberlain preferred to avoid the confrontation with Germany and develop the doctrine of appeasement of Hitler, which actually implied giving in to demands of Hitler concerning the establishment of German control over the territories which belonged to small countries, mainly in Eastern Europe. In response, Chamberlain expected to appease Hitler and secure Western Europe from his aggression since, as his major demands were satisfied, Hitler would not continue expansionist policies. At any rate, this was Chamberlain’s vision of foreign policy and international relations in the late 1930s. As a result, Great Britain and its allies, namely France, agreed on the expansion of Germany by means of anschluss of Austria and annexation of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia in the result of the Munich Agreement in 1938, signed by Germany, Italy, Great Britain and France.
Eventually, such a policy of appeasement resulted in the ongoing occupation of Czechoslovakia and, overall, it led to the outbreak of World War II which started with the occupation of Poland in 1939 by Germany and the USSR.
However, even the occupation of Poland by Germany, which was apparently the direct effect of the policy of appeasement, did not change the position of Chamberlain in his foreign policy. He still was the adept of the policy of appeasement, though formally the UK as well as France were obliged and did declare the war on Germany after its occupation of Poland.
In this respect, it is important to lay emphasis on the fact that the UK had signed international agreements which guaranteed the security of Czechoslovakia and Poland. To put it more precisely, the UK and France were obliged to start the war on Germany in case of its aggression against either Czechoslovakia and Poland. However, Chamberlain ignored the international agreements and obligations of the UK. Instead, he carried on the policy of appeasement violating international agreements and preferring to sacrifice smaller states in the hope to protect Great Britain redirecting the aggression of Germany to the East.
In this respect, Chamberlain apparently underestimated his policy as well as he failed to understand that Hitler could not stop. In fact, his first successes and territorial expansion of Germany boosted his popularity among Germans, but German economy was extremely militarized and the country became a kind of military machine which would break down if the military mechanism was stopped. Therefore, German needed huge resources and enlargement of its territory to keep Germany economy growing or, at least, functioning stably, while refusal and appeasement of Hitler meant the ruin of his political career because he would be hardly able to maintain his popularity, if German economy fell into a profound crisis again. In such a situation, the ongoing aggression was the only way for Hitler to stay in power. Hence, the policy of Chamberlain proved to be absolutely ineffective.