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Appeasement & Detente

- Abstract

APPEASEMENT became a dirty word in the 1930′s. It had been, for centuries, a perfectly clean, even a virtuous term. How could a word that had meant peace and conciliation turn into its opposite? The transformation came when it began to be used in connection with the concessions to and deals made with the fascist dictatorships in the 1930′s. The turning point was probably the speeches by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in the House of Commons on October 3 and 6, 1938. Just back from Munich, where he had agreed to tear off a vital part of Czechoslovakia and hand it over to Hitler’s Germany, he spoke exultantly about “our policy of appeasement,” of which the Munich agreement was to be only the first step. He looked forward to “the collaboration of all nations, not excluding the totalitarian states, in building up a lasting peace for Europe.” The “real triumph,” he said, was the execution of “a difficult and delicate operation by discussion instead of by force of arms.”

A year later, force of arms instead of discussion made it almost impossible to say the word “appeasement” without shame and loathing. The word, of course, was not to blame. But why had it been misused? Why did it turn into such a ghastly mockery? Clearly-though this is not the whole story-because appeasement could not appease the unappeasable. In those circumstances it was betrayal and capitulation on the installment plan. The stench of the Munich agreement might not have been so sickening if it had been recognized for what it was. What made it so unbearable was its glorification, such as this memorable tribute in the London Times: “No conqueror returning from a victory on the battlefield has come home with nobler laurels than Mr. Chamberlain from Munich yesterday.”

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