Not happy with the Anglo-French solution, Hitler demanded that German troops be permitted to occupy the entirety of the Sudetenland, that non-Germans be expelled, and that Poland and Hungary be given territorial concessions. After stating that such demands were unacceptable, Chamberlain was told that the terms were to be met or military action would result.
Through your studies, you should already be familiar with the main causes of World War Two (German bitterness about Versailles; weaknesses of the League of Nations; the impact of the Depression; the rise of aggressive dictatorships in Japan, Italy and Germany; the policy of appeasement led by Britain and France).
Hitler blamed the German politicians for signing the Treaty of Versailles as he thought Germany could have avoided it and the problems it presented Germany with.
Traveling to Berchtesgaden on September 15, Chamberlain met with the German leader. Controlling the conversation, Hitler lamented the Czechoslovak persecution of Sudeten Germans and boldly requested that the region be turned over. Unable to make such a concession, Chamberlain departed, stating that he would have to consult with the Cabinet in London and requested that Hitler refrain from military action in the meantime. Though he agreed to this, Hitler continued military planning. As part of this, the Polish and Hungarian governments were offered part of Czechoslovakia in return for allowing the Germans to take the Sudetenland.
Following the Anschluss with Austria, Czechoslovakia was next on Hitler’s agenda. Assured by his previous successes, Hitler demanded for the incorporation of the Sudetenland into the Third Reich. The Sudetenland was the wealthiest and the most industrialized region of Czechoslovakia, with the largest population of German minorities living outside Germany. In support of the Sudeten Nazis led by Henlein, Hitler caused a widespread political turmoil with his propaganda campaign. Afraid that a war might breakout, the appeasers called on the Czech President, Benes to make compromises with Hitler. Hoping to resolve the issues, Chamberlain met Hitler on three separate occasions. At Berchtesgaden, Hitler honored Chamberlain’s proposal that there would be self-determination for Sudetenland. However, at Godesberg, Hitler demanded the immediate impartment of Sudetenland into the Third Reich. Unwilling to compromise any further, Chamberlain returned to Britain and ordered the armed forces to prepare for war. At the Munich Conference, the Big Four gave in to Hitler’s harshest terms. The Czechs, on the other hand were forced to sign the agreement. Chamberlain then signed another pact with Hitler, stating that the two nations would never go to war again. As Hitler invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, it was clear that the policy of appeasement was a failure. Hitler “had now reached the limits of what the appeasers were willing to tolerate from him”. Despite the rising tension, Hitler took a risk and invaded Poland. When he ignored the ultimatum issued by Britain and France to stop his invasion of Poland, the appeasers declared war on Germany.
Since an economically strong Germany was essential to achieve economic stability in Europe, appeasement seemed appealing as it would not only strengthen the German economy but also put an end to the political instability within Germany. Furthermore, Britain would also benefit from trading with a financially strong Germany. Besides, since most of the British still bared in mind the destruction and atrocities caused by the Great War, there was a “widespread appeal of pacifism” in Britain. Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement was therefore widely supported by the British as it was seen as a way to prevent another devastating war from taking place. Furthermore, as the League of Nations was proven to be unsuccessful in the preservation of peace, Chamberlain believed that only a personal diplomacy between leaders could resolve conflicts. Besides, as Chamberlain and other Conservatives feared Communism more than Nazism, they hoped that Hitler would stop the spread of Communism to the West. This was especially so during the 1930’s when Stalin’s Russia was strengthening due to rapid industrialization.
Having moved towards an expansionist policy in late 1937, Hitler began assessing the situation to the south and ordered his generals to begin making plans for an invasion of the Sudetenland. Additionally, he instructed Henlein to cause trouble. It was Hitler's hope that Henlein's supporters would foment enough unrest that it would show that the Czechoslovakians were unable to control the region and provide an excuse for the German Army to cross the border. Politically, Henlein's followers called for the Sudeten Germans to be recognized as an autonomous ethnic group, given self-government, and be permitted to join Nazi Germany if they so desired. In response to the actions of Henlein's party, the Czechoslovak government was forced to declare martial law in the region. Following this decision, Hitler began demanding that the Sudetenland immediately be turned over to Germany.
Although the policy of appeasement is often associated with both the British and the French, it is important to note that in the beginning, the French did not always support appeasement. Unlike Britain, France was more interested in ensuring her national security and the suppression of Germany. The French strongly believed that in order to preserve the peace in Europe, Germany had to be severely weakened. However, as France was significantly weakened and divided as a result of much political upheaval caused by a constant change in governments, the French subsequently subscribed to Britain’s policy of appeasement.
When The Great War came to an end in November 1918, the suffering of the nations involved was so appalling that many hoped never to repeat such an experience again. The fact that the Second World War took place just twenty years later is indeed intriguing. Until now, the debate on who is to be blamed for causing the war is still on, with many historians coming to different conclusions. There were three prominent underlying factors from the 1920’s onwards that can be evaluated when discussing the causes of the war. They are the Treaty of Versailles, the weakness of the League of Nations and the world economic crisis of the early 1930’s. In short, these factors formed the basis for the starting of a war by providing a tense atmosphere in Europe. However, the Treaty of Versailles and the weakness of the League could only be responsible to a limited extent as Europe in the mid 1920’s was on the road to recovery, with peaceful foreign policies that could have prevented war. Clearly, more major factors were needed in order for a war to breakout. In fact, the three main parties responsible for causing the war were the appeasers (British and French), the Soviet Union and Hitler. In addition, the different viewpoints of historians are also compared in the course of this investigation.
In the eyes of the appeasers, the policy of appeasement was intended strictly to preserve peace in Europe. However, this was misinterpreted by Adolf Hitler, who in turn saw it as a weakness of Britain and France. In 1933, Hitler came into power with a goal to make Germany into a great power again. Through his foreign policies, Hitler hoped to achieve this by overthrowing the Treaty of Versailles, strengthening the armed forces, recovering lost territory and uniting all Germans within the Reich. This ambition of his was another factor that played a critical role in the outbreak of the war.
As such, the French government followed the path set by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who believed that the Sudeten Germans' grievances had merit. Chamberlain also thought that Hitler's broader intentions were limited in scope and could be contained. In May, both nations recommended to Czechoslovakian President Edvard Beneš that he give in to Germany's demands. Resisting this advice, Beneš instead ordered a partial mobilization of the army. As tensions grew through the summer, Beneš accepted a British mediator, Lord Runciman, in early August. Meeting with both sides, Runciman and his team were able to convince Beneš to grant the Sudeten Germans autonomy. Despite this breakthrough, the SdP were under strict orders from Germany not to accept any compromise settlements.