Assignment #7-1 World War II: Axis Triumph
Germany Under Hitler
In 1938, Germany was a total dictatorship under the Nazi Party and Chancellor Adolf Hitler. Although the
1919 Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I had imposed strict disarmament terms on Germany, by
the late 1930s, Hitler had dropped all pretense of observing the terms of the treaty. He began not only to
rebuild his military rapidly, but also to speak openly of Germany’s need for
, or “living space.”
In March 1938, offering little in the way of justification, Nazi troops took control Austria, which put up no
resistance. Hitler claimed that the annexation was supported by his doctrine of
, or natural
political unification of Germany and Austria. Though gravely disturbed, Britain and France took no action.
Shortly thereafter, Hitler demanded that Czechoslovakia cede to Germany the Sudetenland, a territory
along the German-Czech border. Hitler accused the Czechs of repressing the large German population there
and asserted that the territory rightly belonged to Germany.
The September 1938 Munich Conference was called to address the situation; ironically, Czechoslovakia
was not present. After several rounds of negotiation, and despite their own treaties with Czechoslovakia,
Britain and France agreed to give in to Hitler’s demand, as long as he agreed not to seize any further
European territory. Hitler did sign an agreement to that effect, promising no further invasions.
After taking the Sudetenland, however, Hitler ignored the agreement and proceeded to occupy most of
western Czechoslovakia, along with several other territories in eastern Europe. Britain and France again
took no action. This policy of appeasement of Hitler’s demands, which was advocated primarily by British
prime minister Neville Chamberlain, has been much criticized as paving the road to World War II.
The Consequences of Appeasement
The decisions made by the Allied nations leading up to World War II, as well as those of the first six
months or so after the war began, have dumbfounded historians ever since. The appeasement of Hitler, in
particular, has been so often held up as an example of how
to deal with a rising dictator that it has
become a stereotype.
However, although it may be obvious in hindsight that Hitler should not have been appeased, the actions of
Prime Minister Chamberlain must be considered within the context of the time. Europe was still recovering
from World War I: many of the countries of Europe were adjusting to new parliamentary governments, and
the newly created League of Nations was a new force in international affairs. Few European leaders
understood the full scope of Hitler’s intentions, and a decision to go to war would have been hugely
unpopular in countries, such as Britain and France, that had been so devastated in World War I. Indeed,
many sincerely believed that the very concept of war had become obsolete.
The German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact