In 1938 most British politicians and the public still believed in a policy of appeasement to avoid war with Germany. There was still also a strong pacifist feeling and many people did not want a repeat of the First World War, as they had lost many close relatives. The Oxford Union debate in 1935; showed most of the public favoured disarmament, which meant they thought war wasn’t an option. Also the British people wanted more money and resources spent on social welfare, which meant improving the standard of living, and if Chamberlain had decided to go to war in 1938, he would have looked very foolish because he would have gone against public opinion, his own foreign policy and other members of parliament.
Britain was losing its grip on its empire and it wanted to preserve it. The British military was everywhere and therefore it was a long way away from home. Britain couldn’t really afford another war, as it was stilling paying debts to the USA and was still recovering from the Wall Street Crash, as well the Great Depression.
Many people still had sympathy for Germany because they felt the Versailles Treaty was very harsh and that Hitler should be allowed to take back certain areas such as the Sudetanland and the Rhineland, which had a lot of Germans living in them. Also the German army had been limited and the navy and airforce were taken away and by 1938 Germany was military quite strong and Chamberlain in particular knew he could do nothing to stop Hitler taking certain areas.
Also some politicians thought that if Germany prospered then the Russians were less likely to spread further into Europe. Many people still didn’t know what was going on inside Germany and many feared the Communists more. People in Britain knew that if the Western countries (Germany, France, Britain) went to war, the Russians might decide to take advantage of the situation.
Also Britain’s Dominions weren’t going to help, if she went to war and its allies like France were weak and unprepared. Also the French government was unreliable and unstable and if Britain went to war the French government could elect another prime minister who might decide to compromise with Germany. The USA was still isolationist and would not help Britain in a war, and it didn’t join the war until December 1942.
Britain was unprepared for a war militarily and Chamberlain needed time to build it up so signing the Munich Agreement, helped to prevent a war in 1938. Also Britain was an island and needed a large navy to protect its seas, because most ships were far away.
The British politicians feared aerial bombing because the German airforces, the Luftwaffe, were very strong and Britain’s airforce was very weak. The RAF told Chamberlain they would not be as ready until 1939, so appeasement was necessary. The reason why so many British people feared aerial bombing because of what happened in the Spanish Civil War, in Guernica and Madrid, where many innocent civilians were killed.
Most of the Conservative party, the Cabinet Foreign Policy Committee and other politicians followed Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement and so technically they were ready to give Hitler and part of Eastern Europe he wanted because there was nothing they could do stop him.
On September 15th 1938, Chamberlain met Hitler at Berchtogaden and Hitler made it very clear that he would fight to regain the Sudetanland and Chamberlain agreed that areas with the population over 50% German should become German. Chamberlain was being realistic and knew that it wasn’t worth going to war over Czechoslovakia and he pressurized the Czech government into handing over the Sudetanland, as well as convincing the French it wasn’t worth going to war over Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain also went to Mussolini to see if he could influence Hitler and moderate him to prevent an outbreak of war.
On the 22nd and 23rd of September, Hitler met Chamberlain at Badgodesburg and demanded all of the Sudetanland to be handed over by the 28th September 1938.
Within the government there was a little bit of tension because Duff Cooper the 1st Lord of the Admiralty was in favour of mobilisation and the French primeminister Daladier was opposed to giving concessions. Chamberlain finally convinces the French that handing over the land to Hitler is best option and as Czechoslovakia was a successor state, he tells the Czechs that Britain made their country and so Britain could dismantle their country as well. Also Chamberlain was arrogant and he thought he could persuade Hitler on his own and nobody knew that Czeckslovakia’s military was stronger than they thought at the time and therefore could have put up a bigger struggle.
On 30th September 1938, Britain, France, Italy and Germany attended the Munich Conference and Russia was not invited as the Western powers distrusted her. ‘Rump’ Czechoslovakia was handed to Germany and Hitler signed a personal promise that Germany would not fight Britain
By signing the Munich Agreement Chamberlain bought time for the military to prepare for war, he kept Hitler busy with by giving concessions and avoided a war at the time.