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Appeasement Defined

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From William Manchester’s The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill; Alone: 1932-1940:

Appease  vt Pacify, conciliate: esp: to buy off (an aggressor) by concessions
usu. at the sacrifice of principles — appeasable adjappeasement n
appeaser n

So defined, the word implies a slur, but Eden had used it in its original meaning — to bring to peace, pacify, quiet, or settle.  In that sense it has been in the language for five centuries and appears in Chaucer, Spenser, and Samuel Johnson.  Churchill had employed it after the general strike of 1926 in describing his approach to the negotiation of a settlement between miners and the owners of coalfields.  As an aspersion, however, it had been introduced in the House of Lords on November 5, 1929.  The speaker had been the dying Lord Birkenhead, F.E. Smith.  Condemning Britain’s conciliatory tactics towards advocates of Indian independence, F.E. called them “appeasers of Gandhi.”  Eventually, Telford Taylor notes, “the word became a symbol of weak and myopic yielding when resistance would be bolder and, in the long run, safer.”

Churchill used it as a stigma in 1933, when the coalition’s determination to meet the German dictator’s demands became clear to him.  Appropriately, the first cabinet minister to rebuke Churchill outside the House for his attack on MacDonald was the man who would become known to history as the archpriest of appeasement.  Speaking to his Birmingham constituency on March 24, Neville Chamberlain deplored Churchill’s abuse of his talent “to throw suspicion and doubts in the minds of other Governments who have not expressed such feeling.”  He declared it England’s duty to make “every effort,” exert “every influence,” and act as mediators” to preserve the peace by reconciling estranged countries.  The British government wanted to avoid all wars between nations because –and this was a typical Chamberlain touch– “they thereby destroy the possibility of markets for ourselves.”

Appeasement became evangelical; indeed, for some the line between foreign policy and religion became blurred.  Thomas Jones denounced Vansittart’s hostility toward the Nazis; Baldwin commented: “I’ve always said you were a Christian.”  Rage, wrote Margot Asquith, the widow of the prime minster, should be met with Christian love.  “There is only one way of preserving Peace in the world, and getting rid of yr. enemy, and that is to come to some sort of agreement with him — and the viler he is, the more you must fight him with the opposite weapons than his.” She concluded: “The greatest enemy of mankind today is Hate.”

As for mistreatment of the Jews — some said this and some said that.  After all, no one could deny that Jews were, well, different.  Churchill, an ardent Zionist since 1908, could speak for himself, but here as in so many ways he was unrepresentative of England’s upper classes.  This was over ten years before the Holocaust….


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