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The Roots of Appeasement (1966) Essay

In this extract Gilbert defends the policy of appeasement and breaks with the orthodox view of Cato. Gilbert points out that appeasement was a policy that the government had adopted after the First World War and had continued to follow after the Second World War. The notable exception to this rule being Suez, which helps to underline how any other policy would be misguided. Gilbert points out that it is wrong to blame the National Government, though mainly Chamberlain, for the policy f appeasement as it was merely the continuation of a long-term policy.

It was an attempt to prevent the mistakes of the past, the First World War, being repeated again. Appeasement would help to correct the mistakes of the Treaty of Versailles, notably legitimate German grievances. It was hoped that through this peace could be achieved in Europe. It is pointed out that it was only through the “aggressive, irresponsible behaviour” that appeasement failed, not through the British government.

Gilbert also ecognises the “morality” in appeasement, suggesting that it was moral as the government had gone through all avenues to attain peace before going to war. Gilbert’s The Roots of Appeasement is an example of how the view of Cato’s Guilty Men was finally being challenged by the mid 1960s. This orthodox view had stated that appeasement was the invention of the Chamberlain government, not a long-term policy, and that it was misguided. Gilbert’s previous examination of Chamberlain’s foreign policy, with Gott, had been largely negative and in the same ein as Cato.

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Although now Gilbert, and similarly Robbin’s with his Munich 1938, thought it necessary to reassess the whole policy of appeasement (although this was nothing new as Medlicott had done this in the 1950s). Significantly, Gilbert, unlike his predecessors, like Cato or Rowse, due to his youth could look at the 1930s in purely historical terms. Through this he was not emotionally caught up in the events and his motives were less personal, giving him a clearer view and better critical vision.

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