The Policy of Appeasement: Glorious 39 (2009)

glorious-39-(2009)-large-coverA 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 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 parallel 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. 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.


  1. Encyclopædia Britannica, s.v. “Appeasement,” accessed March 6, 2015,
  2. Encyclopædia Britannica, s.v. “Munich Agreement,” accessed March 6, 2015,

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The Madness of Appeasement: Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964)

SeanceonaWetAfternoon1964spaIn Brian Forbes’s Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964), Myra Savage (Kim Stanley) persuades her husband Billy (Richard Attenborough) to commit a “savage” act: He kidnaps a young girl, and then by revealing knowledge about the girl’s whereabouts to the parents, Myra hopes to achieve fame and fortune as a medium. Billy becomes a criminal due to a long-standing habit of appeasement in his marriage.

Appeasement is giving in to the unjust demands of another person to avoid a conflict. Ayn Rand defines appeasement as “the consideration for and compliance with the unjust, irrational and evil feelings of others. It is a policy of exempting the emotions of others from moral judgment, and of willingness to sacrifice innocent, virtuous victims to the evil malice of such emotions.”1 To stop being an appeaser requires strength—the ability to say no. Billy is a weak husband, giving in to Myra’s unjust demands. He risks the physical and emotional well-being of an innocent girl to make his wife happy.

One reason Billy appeases Myra is because he is financially dependent on her. Due to his asthma, he is unable to work, making it easier for Myra to manipulate him. She tells him, “you’re weak” and “you need me.” He obeys her like a willing servant, his eyes often averted from her gaze. Myra is a bully who has her unemployed husband “whipped.”

Myra manipulates Billy so she can achieve her dream of becoming a famous medium. Because her plan involves a crime, she engages in rationalization to justify it: “the most commonly used defense mechanism, in which an individual justifies ideas, actions, or feelings with seemingly acceptable reasons or explanations.”2 Myra reasons that “what we are doing is not wrong” because “the child won’t be hurt in any way.” In Myra’s mind, the only kind of harm she can cause a child is physical, not emotional. She even convinces herself that they have not kidnapped the girl: “We’ve borrowed a child, Billy. Borrowed, borrowed. Just keep saying that.” Through rationalization, Myra convinces herself that they have not committed a crime.

Myra’s reasoning is that the ends justify the means. She tells Billy, “What we are doing is a means to an end. You agree with the end, don’t you?” She then argues, “Well, you must agree with the means.” Myra believes that if Billy agrees with her desire to become famous (the ends) then he should agree with kidnapping a girl (the means). Later, she orders Billy to kill the child: “Do it for me, Billy, so we both can be safe.” To believe that the ends justify the means is to reject any absolute standard of right and wrong. This relativistic “reasoning” allows Myra to feel no guilt for her crime.

The largest gap in Myra’s reasoning is the kidnapping plot itself. If she is a real medium, then she wouldn’t need to prove her abilities by faking them. For Myra, the truth is the opposite of truth. This is seen when Mrs. Clayton (Nanette Newman) unexpectedly arrives at the Savage’s house, and Myra becomes ecstatic saying, “She can share my truth.” Her so-called “truth” involves telling Mrs. Clayton knowledge about her daughter that she gained by abducting her. Myra engages in doublespeak, calling things the opposite of what they are.

Myra manipulates Billy to kidnap a young girl because she is insane. A woman who suffered “too much sorrow”, the death of her unborn baby shattered her mind, and became delusional—believing that she was in contact with the spirit of her dead son. Billy’s actions show how madness can be contagious. He tells Myra, “We’re mad, you and me. We’re both mad.” Billy is not mentally-ill, but appeasing his wife—submitting to her irrational demands—was an act of madness.


  1. “Appeasement,” Ayn Rand Lexicon, accessed August 15, 2013,
  2. Mosby’s Medical Dictionary, 8th edition, s.v. “Rationalization,” accessed April 27, 2015,

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