Britain’s policy of conciliation was a major factor in the way in which they dealt with international matters whether it be regarding Hitler or Mussolini, but did public opinion play a major role in this non confrontational way of dealing with things. The general consensus after the horrors of WW1 was never again, and the British public made it clear that any government who was aggressive would not be re-elected, but, was this the only factor that made Britain choose this conciliatory foreign policy?
Public opinion in 1933 was still as it had been since the end of WW1 very much against war, millions of men in their prime were cut down and a as a result women were left widowed and children fatherless, it therefore seems hardly surprising that people weren’t in favour in a reoccurrence of this. Politicians were aware of this and in most cases shared the same concerns as the British public and therefore made it clear that they would not rearm and spending on the military would be cut, and took up this conciliatory policy. In some ways the government had no choice if they did not do what the people wanted them to do they wouldn’t get re-elected. A clear example of this came in 1933 in an east Fulham by-election 1 week after Germany left the disarmament conference when there was a 25% swing against the government in favour of labour who put forward a totally pacifist candidate, the British people wanted peace.
I also think that especially in the case of Hitler, the British government sympathised with most of Hitler’s action up until 1939. For example in October 1933 when Hitler walked out of disarmament talks in Geneva Hitler refused to disarm because France also a member refused to do so, which seems reasonable. Also in march 1938 the union with Austria (Anchluss) it was fair that they should unite as Austrians wanted to be part of Germany and under national self determination this surely should be allowed. It was only in March 1939 when Germany went into Czechoslovakia without permission that Britain gave Germany an ultimatum. Every event up until this point seems a reasonable why should Germany disarm is France isn’t going to, 90% of Austrians wanted to be German etc.
In respect to Mussolini and example of the British governments lack of confrontation came when Mussolini invaded Abyssinia. By the covenant of the League of Nations the government should have imposed economic sanctions and an aggressive state like Italy. But these would have been largely ineffective as the USA would have taken the trade. Britain didn’t go to war with Italy for many reasons mainly because they wanted to preserve the Stresa Front, a pact between France, Britain and Italy. Also because neither the backbenchers nor the public would have let thousands of men in their prime for a country that no one cared about and was largely corrupt.
The Wall St Crash of 1929 which led to the great depression hit Britain and indeed most of the world very hard. Millions were left out of work due to the virtual collapse of international trade and as a result many were left malnourished starving or homeless. Many people had no jobs and thus had to way to support their family s they were earning no money so started to claim benefits. Phillip Snowden and Neville Chamberlain both supported the theory of classical economics whereby you try to balance the county’s budget. This incurs no borrowing and all of the available capital went to help to rebuild industry, the expenditure would be cut as much as possible and cut taxes to help businesses survive. The effects of the depression were not relieved until 1933 and still many were suffering and therefore the government could not afford to be confrontational as they had no power to back up their threats in the need come, much of the army was dissolved due the economic policy and the defence budget was 1/3 of what it was in 1919. Even if the government did have any spare money it would go toward either helping businesses and giving better welfare to people most badly hit by the depression.
There was also a general consensus within Britain that Germany had been hard done by in the past. By the 1930’s WW1 was seen by most to be an accident and that it was not really anyone’s fault, but Germany was still paying the price due to the treaty of Versailles. Because of the treaty Germany had faced both social, economic and political problems namely during the 1920’s. An example of this is the hyperinflation in Germany which was caused primarily as a result of the very harsh reparations clause, which put a strain on the German economy and, the French invasion of the Ruhr. Many of Germany’s woes came as a result of the treaty of Versailles and many thought that it was good that Germany was beginning to prosper and looked strong under Hitler’s new government, as they could not have known about his secret programmes.
Another factor that I feel may have added to Britain’s conciliatory efforts toward Hitler especially was the fact that they had no idea about Hitler’s racial policies, lebensraum, and that Hitler ultimately wanted to go to war. Hitler wanted the racial restructuring of Europe but this was never spoken about until much later, for nearly all of the 1930’s it was kept a secret that concentration camps were being set up and Hitler planned to make Aryans the master race. When it became clear that Hitler would carry on taking over land of other countries e.g. Czechoslovakia Hitler declared war on Germany. The British government was not to know these secret ideals that Hitler had and even that he would try to implement them, if this would have been known them I am sure that the government would have declared war or taken the necessary action earlier, but because they were kept a secret the Government did not feel the need to confront him.
In 1934 Britain under Neville Chamberlain started to re arm, it was kept a secret by hiding the money spent through other headings, but the re armament was slow as only small amounts of money could be hidden and Britain still had not completely recovered from the depression as thus there was not as much money coming in from taxes as the economy was not at full flow. Also Britain’s army due to the reforms due the depression was very small in comparison to Germany’s as money had to be saved. It therefore made sense that the government should try to stall Hitler so that they would have the time and money in order to fight him if the need come. They could not threaten Hitler with war if they didn’t have a hope of winning it.
In conclusion I think that there was no main reason for the British governments on the 30’s not standing up to Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. I believe that it was more of culmination of factors that made the governments concede to conciliation, I believe that untimely they hoped that Hitler would curb his behaviour, and if not they were just biding their time. It is important to remember that the governments didn’t know that Hitler always wanted or about his plans for racial purity and world domination, if this was known their action surely would have been swifter. In regards to Mussolini I believe that the Britsh government didn’t deem it necessary to go to war over a state of no great importance it would have achieved nothing apart from kill many men. It is undeniable that public opinion played a role solely for that fact that the governments didn’t want to dissatisfy the public thought fear of no getting re elected, but not crucial.