The Support of the Appeasement of Hitler by the British Mass Media

The Support of the Appeasement of Hitler by the British Mass Media

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The Support of the Appeasement of Hitler by the British Mass Media


Appeasement was the conciliatory policy adopted by Britain and France
towards the aggressive foreign policy of Nazi Germany in the years
preceding the Second World War. In Britain it is normally associated
with the Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain but was also followed by
Stanley Baldwin. It has been argued by historians such as Richard
Cockett that the press in Britain was manipulated by Whitehall -
especially during Chamberlain’s years as Prime Minister – to publish
only pro-appeasement articles and news and therefore “no alternative
to the policy of appeasement was ever consistently articulated in the
press.”[1] It is indeed partly true that Chamberlain was a master of
press manipulation and the BBC broadcasts were closely monitored by
the Foreign Office. However it would be incorrect to assume that all
of the press was pro-appeasement and there were dissenting voices. One
must also examine in part the role that Hitler played in attempting to
control the news that foreign correspondents in Germany sent back to
their publications.

In order to examine why some publications such as The Times followed a
policy of appeasement one needs to look why at why politicians, like
Chamberlain, were convinced that it was necessary. The actual policy
of appeasement was a reversion to the traditional foreign policy of 19th
century Britain where she had felt it necessary to avoid getting
entangled in the affairs of Europe. Many felt that Britain was simply
not ready for another war, economically she was struggling through
depression in the early 1930s and at that stage simply could not
afford to rearm. It was also during this period that the Empire was at
its most troublesome with uprisings occurring in the Middle East and
India, as well as having to deal with Italian and German expansion,
Britain faced threats to her Asian interests from Japanese
expansionism. Negotiating with Germany, the greatest and closest of
these threats, appeared to be a prudent policy. There was also an
unrealistically high fear among politicians about the destructive

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power of aerial bombardment and the effect that would have on
civilians and many Britons remembered the horrors of war not a decade
before. Public opinion was anti-war and many felt that the Versailles
Peace settlement had been unduly harsh. Philip Taylor point out that
despite Germany’s expansion it was not until 1939 when she invaded
Czechoslovakia that appeasement was dropped overnight.

Richard Cockett maintains that it was “due to the incestuous
relationship between Whitehall and the press that developed during the
1930s that meant that the press could infact do nothing but help
Chamberlain pursue appeasement.”[2] Cockett blames the lobby system on
many journalists’ willingness to follow Chamberlain’s policy of
appeasement. During Baldwin’s premiership, ministers including
Chamberlain had exclusive access to the lobby. Cockett points out that
Chamberlain was adept at handling the lobby and that they were
“honorary members of a power establishment and ex-officio members of a
political system.”[3] Any journalists who expressed suspicions about
Hitler’s or Mussolini’s intentions or Chamberlain’s point of view
would be excluded by Chamberlain from access to other news, as was the
privilege of the lobby. In addition to the journalists, cabinet
ministers had close relationships with editors and proprietors as
well. Lord Halifax was close to Geoffrey Dawson the editor of The
Times and Richard Cockett points out that throughout the 1930s,
“Dawson was privy to more cabinet thinking and secrets than most
members of the government… it was not for nothing that The Times was
taken to be a semi-official conduit of the British government
thinking.”[4]

It is clear that Nazi propaganda had some effect on the articles
published in British and other foreign newspapers around the world.
However one must note especially in the case of the Daily Express that
Beaverbrook himself was not an admirer of Hitler and he was
anti-fascist. The Daily Express like The Times seemed pro-appeasement,
indeed Richard Cockett points out that Beaverbrook was himself on very
good terms with Lord Hoare. During the Czech crisis in 1938 when
Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia Beaverbrook wrote to Lord Halifax and
said that the newspapers “were all anxious to help the Prime Minister
and help you but we are all in great need of guidance.”[5] The Daily
Express was certainly not alone in praising the Munich Agreement as a
triumph for peace. Beaverbrook himself, although anti-fascist and no
admirer of Hitler, felt that isolation was the way Britain should
take. He felt that she should rearm and his biographer A. J. P Taylor
points out that “he often said a European war was possible and even
likely. What he insisted on was that Great Britain need not be
involved in this war, provided that she kept clear of European
alliances and built up her armaments … he was not a timid appeaser. He
was emphatically not a sympathiser with fascism.”[6]

The press was not however the only media outlet at this time and the
BBC was perhaps more guilty than the press, to a certain extent, of
towing the government line regarding appeasement. Rex Leeper of the
foreign office “realised that with a degree of openness and flattery
diplomatic correspondents could be welded into a cohesive body who
could always be relied upon to put a Foreign Office point of view in
the press.”[7] In October 1933 when Germany walked out of the League
of Nations, Vernon Bartlett “pleaded over the air for greater
understanding of the German viewpoint and suggested that Britian and
her allies were as much to blame for Germany’s action as Hitler.”[8]
In early 1938 the BBC ran a series of talks entitled “The Way of
Peace” discussing pacifism and isolationism.


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[1] Richard Cockett, Twilight of Truth, p 188

[2] Richard Cockett, Twilight of Truth, p.1

[3] Richard Cockett, Twilight of Truth p.7

[4] Ibid p.12

[5] Richard Cockett, Twilight of Truth p.75

[6] A J P Taylor, Beaverbrook, p.343

[7] Richard Cockett, Twilight of Truth, p.16

[8] Philip M Taylor, British Propaganda in the Twentieth Century, p.99
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