After the Anschluss (uniting of Germany an Austria), Czechoslovakia was trapped in a pincer-shaped Germany. Hitler openly admitted he wanted to gain control over the Sudetenland , as there were many native Germans living there at the time. He said that he needed to ‘rescue’ his Germans by October 1 and this left Europe on the brink of war. This also worried the Czechoslovakian leader Benes, as he knew that without the heavy industry and armaments works in the Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia would be defenceless.
He appealed to Britain and France for help, but it was not received. Hitler had just held a military parade in Berlin, and hardly any people turned up, which made him worry whether he would be able to take the Sudetenland by force, so he decided to try and portray himself as a peaceful leader that could be reasoned with. Mussolini was keen to play a part in any conference that would take place as he also wanted to be seen as a peaceful leader, to gain popularity amongst the other European countries.
So, on the 29th September the leaders of Britain, France, Italy, Czechoslovakia and Germany met together in Munich and, finally, after much negotiation, decided to give Hitler what he wanted. They did this without being approved by the USSR or Czechslovakia and the next morning, Hitler and Chamberlain made a joint declaration which Chamberlain described as something that would bring peace for the time. There were many reasons for Chamberlain’s signing the agreement, and they started with the economy; Britain had been hit hard by the first world war and its economy was shattered.
Britain could not afford to go to war, as the training, equipment would be too expensive. There was also a large redundancy problem and inflation, which seemed a priority over stopping Hitler. Another factor that provoked Chamberlain into signing the agreement was that Britain no longer had the support from Italy, a result from the Berlin-Rome Axis, and so Britain did not feel militarily capable to oppose Hitler. Britain, France and Germany had managed to set up a steadily increasing trade and any war between them would disrupt that, causing more of a recession.
The economical problems made problems for the military side to the issue because if Britain could not fund a war, they could not fight at full strength, and after Hitler made the Anschluss, his military and economic power had rocketed, leaving France and Britain weak in comparison. The USA had assured Britain that she would not intervene if any war should break out in Europe (this was the isolationist policy). Another clever move that Hitler made was to make it seem like he had a large military power, when in fact he was relatively weak still.
Nevertheless, Britain and France were fooled and this added to their list of qualms for going to war. Britain and Germany had formed the Anglo-German Naval Treaty in 1935, which did not include France, so France felt weak in that respect as well. There was speculation as to whether communism in the East was going to spread, and Hitler was seen as a useful barrier to any trouble that could arise. All these issues were valid reasons for signing the Munich Agreement.
There were also political reasons for signing the agreement: there was some speculation within Britain as to whether the public would support another war( a poll from March 1938 states that only 33% were in favour of a war)and politicians did not want to risk losing their popularity if the public did not want a war. The League of Nations, which was originally set up to combat any other problems with Germany that may arise, had broken up, losing America (the greatest military power at the time) and so there was no working mechanism for other countries to support a stand made against Hitler’s ambitions.
The reasons that probably would have seemed most difficult to deal with were Chamberlain’s personal and moral reasons for signing the treaty; Chamberlain had always felt that the Treaty of Versailles had been too harsh on the Germans, and that it was unfair to put all the blame of the First World War on one country, and this made him feel that it was reasonable enough for Hitler to want to ‘rescue’ his Germans in the Sudetenland. Chamberlain, having previously been a businessman, felt that he could trust Hitler, which made him believe him when he said that The Sudetenland was ‘the last territorial claim I have to make in Europe’.
Another thing to remember is that people at the time did not have any idea of Hitler’s evil intentions, and it only seems stupid of them to want appeasement to us, because we see all the events that occurred in hindsight. The British, and indeed French, public did not want to lose another generation to war, and they felt that if Hitler could just be given what he wanted, then he would not cause any more trouble, perhaps out of respect if not anything else.
Chamberlain once said in a personal statement ‘War wins nothing, cures nothing, ends nothing,’ and it was on these grounds that he decided it would be better to appease Hitler. He did not sign the Treaty out of cowardice, but out of desperation to avoid war. He sincerely trusted Hitler as a businessman and believed him to be an honest man. The fact that this turned out to be quite different was not Chamberlain’s fault as he had never dealt with people like Hitler before. He was a politician of integrity, it’s just a shame that he could not see that Hitler was not.