Chamberlain Justifies Appeasement

Speech at Birmingham, 17 March 1939


On 15 March 1939, Hitler tore up the Munich Agreement and invaded Czechoslovakia.   Chamberlain expressed himself 'shocked', but his reaction - at a speech in Birmingham 2 days later - was to justify his policy of appeasement.     As you read this, you will see the reasons which - with hindsight - Chamberlain said that he used to justify appeasement to himself in September 1938:

  1. people agreed at the time

  2. Hitler's complaints about the Treaty of Versailles were reasonable

  3. war would destroy civilisation

  4. Britain could not have helped Czechoslovakia anyway

  5. if people were reasonable, all disputes between states could be resolved by discussion

  6. Hitler promised that he had no more territorial ambitions in Europe


Can you find these six reasons in following extraxt from Chamberlain's speech?


When I decided to go to Germany I never expected that I was going to escape criticism.   Indeed, I did not go there to get popularity.   I went there first and foremost because, in what appeared to be an almost desperate situation, that seemed to me to offer the only chance of averting a European war.   And I might remind you that, when it was first announced that I was going, not a voice was raised in criticism.   Everyone applauded that effort.   It was only later, when it appeared that the results of the final settlement fell short of the expectations of some who did not fully appreciate the facts-it was only then that the attack began, and even then it was not the visit, it was the terms of settlement that were disapproved.  

Well, I have never denied that the terms which I was able to secure at Munich were not those that I myself would have desired.   But, as I explained then, I had to deal with no new problem.   This was something that had existed ever since the Treaty of Versailles - a problem that ought to have been solved long ago if only the statesmen of the last twenty years had taken broader and more enlightened views of their duty.   It had become like a disease which had been long neglected, and a surgical operation was necessary to save the life of the patient.  

After all, the first and the most immediate object of my visit was achieved.   The peace of Europe was saved; and, if it had not been for those visits, hundreds of thousands of families would to-day have been in mourning for the flower of Europe's best manhood.   I would like once again to express my grateful thanks to all those correspondents who have written me from all over the world to express their gratitude and their appreciation of what I did then and of what I have been trying to do since.  

Really I have no need to defend my visits to Germany last autumn, for what was the alternative? Nothing that we could have done, nothing that France could have done, or Russia could have done could possibly have saved Czecho-Slovakia from invasion and destruction.   Even if we had subsequently gone to war to punish Germany for her actions, and if after the frightful losses which would have been inflicted upon all partakers in the war we had been victorious in the end, never could we have reconstructed Czecho-Slovakia as she was framed by the Treaty of Versailles.  

But I had another purpose, too, in going to Munich.   That was to further the policy which I have been pursuing ever since I have been in my present position-a policy which is sometimes called European appeasement, although I do not think myself that that is a very happy term or one which accurately describes its purpose.   If that policy were to succeed, it was essential that no Power should seek to obtain a general domination of Europe; but that each one should be contented to obtain reasonable facilities for developing its own resources, securing its own share of international trade, and improving the conditions of its own people.   I felt that, although that might well mean a clash of interests between different States, nevertheless, by the exercise of mutual goodwill and understanding of what were the limits of the desires of others, it should be possible to resolve all differences by discussion and without armed conflict.   I hoped in going to Munich to find out by personal contact what was in Herr Hitler's mind, and whether it was likely that he would be willing to co-operate in a programme of that kind.   Well, the atmosphere in which our discussions were conducted was not a very favourable one, because we were in the middle of an acute crisis; but, nevertheless, in the intervals between more official conversations I had some opportunities of talking with him and of hearing his views, and I thought that results were not altogether unsatisfactory.   When I came back after my second visit I told the House of Commons of a conversation I had had with Herr Hitler, of which I said that, speaking with great earnestness, he repeated what he had already said at Berchtesgaden - namely, that this was the last of his territorial ambitions in Europe, and that he had no wish to include in the Reich people of other races than German.   Herr Hitler himself confirmed this account of the conversation in the speech which he made at the Sportpalast in Berlin, when he said: "This is the last territorial claim which I have to make in Europe." And a little later in the same speech he said: "I have assured Mr Chamberlain, and I emphasise it now, that when this problem is solved Germany has no more territorial problems in Europe." And he added: "I shall not be interested in the Czech State any more, and I can guarantee it.   We don't want any Czechs any more."

And then in the Munich Agreement itself, which bears Herr Hitler's signature, there is this clause: "The final determination of the frontiers will be carried out by the international commission" - the final determination.   And, lastly, in that declaration which he and I signed together at Munich, we declared that any other question which might concern our two countries should be dealt with by the method of consultation.  

Well, in view of those repeated assurances, given voluntarily to me, I considered myself justified in founding a hope upon them that once this Czecho-Slovakian question was settled, as it seemed at Munich it would be, it would be possible to carry farther that policy of appeasement which I have described.   ...   I am convinced that after Munich the great majority of British people shared my hope, and ardently desired that that policy should be carried further.