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Why Did Britian Go to War with Germany in 1939 Instead of 1938

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Why did Britain go to War with Germany in September 1939 rather then September 1938?

"If ever that silly old man comes interfering here again with his umbrella, I'll kick him downstairs and jump on his stomach in front of the photographers"1. This quote by Adolph Hitler regarding British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain sums up perfectly how Hitler felt about Chamberlain's diplomatic strategy of appeasement which culminated in the Munich Agreement of September 1938. The British and French declaration of war on Germany on 3 September 1939 can be seen as a direct reaction to Germany's invasion of Poland on 1 September, but should more accurately be considered to represent the final collapse of this strategy pursued between the combatant nations of WWI since the 1918 Armistice.

In many respects, appeasement failed due to the conflicting objectives of the participants - a determination to restore the lands, status and power of the 'Germanic' races by force if necessary was opposed by an Anglo-French determination to avoid a return to the industrialised slaughter of the First World War at almost any cost.

In hindsight, this strategy of appeasement served only to defer the almost inevitable outbreak of war and has since been portrayed as misguided and naive in the context of aggressive Nazi expansionism. However, the policy of appeasement was based on a number of social, military, political and economic considerations which prevailed in Britain and France in the inter-war period. All of these considerations were shaped by the experiences of each nation in the period during and after the First World War.

Divided public and political opinions in each of the major European states, but more particularly in Britain and France - were reflected in political hesitancy and passivity which ultimately facilitated a gradual slide towards all-out war. Anglo-French anger at German expansions in Austria, the Sudetenland, the Rhineland, Lithuania and Poland was not universal, and in fact was tempered by admiration for the apparent success of Hitler's economic policies and the underlying feeling in some quarters that Germany was merely reclaiming its rightful territories and people in the Rhine, Austria and the Sudetenland. From 1933 there was positive press in Britain for Hitler. The Berlin Olympics in 1936 had been successful in raising his profile. He was also on friendly terms with Duke of Windsor and ex-prime minister David Lloyd George.

Just as large swathes of the British and French public had been traumatised by the experience of the First World War and disillusioned with their political leaders in the aftermath of the War and the global economic depression of the late 1920's, German society had become embittered and united in resentment towards the victorious States. The scale of the reparations to the allies, the loss of German colonies and industrial peripheries, and the partial loss of military and political sovereignty imposed by the Treaty of Versailles was a convenient rallying point for German political organisations who sought to capitalise on the pent-up anger of the German people. Following his election in 1933, Hitler's ability to ignore the Treaty while restoring German economic and military strength made him a unifying and inspirational leader and created a receptive audience for increasingly aggressive and expansionist Nazi propaganda.

Since the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, Western Europe had been concerned by the possible spread of Communism throughout Europe. Indeed communist and socialist parties were enjoying considerable success in France, Italy and Germany after WW1. The Spanish Civil War 1936-39 in particular had revealed the potential dangers of the spread of Socialist ideologies in Europe and was observed with alarm by European governments. In this context, western Allied governments considered Germany to be a buffer against possible Soviet expansionism and accordingly political opposition to German rearmament was muted.

The Munich Agreement, signed on 30th September 1938 was in direct response to Nazi pressure for reunification with the Sudeten Germans of North Western Czechoslovakia from-late 1937. Czechoslovakia could not be abandoned as easily as Austria and the Rhineland, having established military alliances with both France and Russia by that time.

General Ismay of the British military advised the British cabinet on 20th September 1938 that it was thought that the absorption of Czechoslovakia would make Germany more formidable, and that Germany's air force was superior to France and Britain. If Britain waited for another 6-12 months they would be in a better position to win a war. Czechoslovakia had almost certainly been abandoned even before negotiations with Hitler had started.2

How horrible, fantastic, incredible it

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