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Reader comment on item: [Appeasement Explains] Why Europe Balks

Submitted by Alexander Boer (Netherlands), May 9, 2003 at 12:52

The relation between WWI and WWII is a major part of the History curriculum in Europe, obviously, and focuses on other mechanisms than the failure of Chamberlain's appeasement. History textbook wisdom (here in the Netherlands) tells us that WWII was in large part caused, not by war, but by an unjust, vindictive peace - the Peace of Versailles to be exact.

WWI collective "battle fatique" certainly played a part in how events unfolded in 1940, but one also has to keep in mind that Germany certainly suffered from this disease too (but the German people were ready for revenge and convinced by the Nazis that this was a fast-paced, near bloodless, "lightning war" against enemies who didn't really want to fight them).

The parliamentary enquiry here after the war into the causes of the 1940 failure concluded that lack of trust of and cooperation with France and Great Britain was the root cause - not lack of defense spending, pacifism, cowardice, fifth columns, or appeasement. It also concluded that the German attack plan succeeded with a very narrow margin, and mostly because of psychological effect (including some terror - e.g. the bombing of Rotterdam - where necessary to avoid getting bogged down). Even today perceptions of the strength of the 1940 German army are colored by Nazi propaganda.

Drawing the conclusion from WWII that the allies should have invaded Germany pre-emptively instead of "appeasing" is shallow and not really satisfactory (for Germans for instance). The real question is how to avoid Hitlers altogether. Not supporting dictators and not undermining democracies would be a start.

I don't think perceptions of WWII explain or justify the foreign policies of different countries, but I do take exception to the rather odd notion that the U.S. has learned more of WWII than the peoples that directly suffered it and/or were responsible for it.
I certainly do understand the point that extreme events like the holocaust (and Verdun, Waterloo, the Inquisition before that) are harder to attribute meaning to for the peoples involved than for distant outsiders (the U.S. can label itself "good guy" in this episode), but that does not mean that the outsider understands better.

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