A central theme in Stephen Poliakoff’s Glorious 39 (2009) is appeasement: the “foreign policy of pacifying an aggrieved nation through negotiation in order to prevent war.”1 To prevent a war with Germany, Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister of Britain, made major concessions to Adolph Hitler, which led to the Munich Agreement in 1938. The film reminds us that appeasement does not lead to peace—it only increases the likelihood of war.
Appeasement is making unreasonable concessions to an enemy in order to avoid a war. It is based on the hope that if you make enough concessions to an aggressor, you can secure peace, and perhaps even turn an enemy into a friend. In reality, appeasement is the naive belief that an aggressor can be reasoned with. By giving a bully what he wants, he sees that you are weak, and is emboldened to want even more.
Hector (David Tennant) is the lone voice against appeasement in the film, saying that “evil has to be stood up to.” He is critical of the British government for letting Hitler do whatever he wants “as long as he doesn’t bother us.” As a Member of Parliament who supports Winston Churchill, Hector vows to do everything in his power “to get rid of our present leadership.” Hector’s strong vocal stand makes him an enemy of the British government. To eliminate him, conspirators in the British Secret Service force him to commit suicide. Ironically, the conspirators are like the Nazis they do not want to fight. Instead of taking a stand against evil, they are guilty of evil, killing innocent people.
The actions of the conspirators parallels the problem with appeasement: The rights (and lives) of innocent people are often sacrificed in order to secure peace. To secure “peace for our time”, Neville Chamberlain allowed Hitler to annex the Sudetenland in western Czechoslovakia.2 Chamberlain’s appeasement did not prevent a war with Germany; it only delayed it.
Appeasement is weakness, not strength, and it only makes an aggressor more aggressive. What appeasers fail to understand is that if a nation wants to prevent a war, it must declare its willingness to go to war—if necessary. An aggressor is less likely to attack a weaker nation if he knows that other nations will resist him with military force. When the cost of going to war becomes too high, an aggressor is more likely to stand down.
- Encyclopædia Britannica, s.v. “Appeasement,” accessed March 6, 2015, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/30497/appeasement
- Encyclopædia Britannica, s.v. “Munich Agreement,” accessed March 6, 2015, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/397522/Munich-Agreement