Why did Britain appease Germany and Italy, but not Japan?

Admiral Beez

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Toronto, Canada

Britain's policy of appeasement

Definition of appeasement

Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister, was keen to avoid war. He believed this could be achieved through the use of negotiation, agreements and diplomacy. His policy was to appease Hitler, which usually meant giving in to Hitler's territorial demands.

Examples of appeasement

This included Britain not 'getting tough' on Germany when it rearmed and invaded the Rhineland, and its invasion of Czechoslovakia. The most famous example of appeasement is Chamberlain signing the Munich agreement which resulted in Germany taking the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain hoped this would be the end of Hitler's demands, although other politicians such as Churchill warned otherwise.
 

Admiral Beez

1st Lieutenant
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Toronto, Canada
But why did Britain take such a hardline with Japan, which was demanding recognition of Manchukuo? Given the isolationist US, it seems a likely opportunity for British appeasement. Certainly Australia was pushing London to recognize Manchukuo.
 

pbehn

Lieutenant Colonel
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Oct 30, 2013
Chamberlain was keen to avoid a war he couldnt win, in fact at the time of the invasion of Czechoslovakia and Munich he couldnt actually fight a war. What he did both before and after shows he knew war was coming.
 

ThomasP

Tech Sergeant
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midwest USA
I think it has been shown that Chamberlain was buying time for the UK to prepare for war as much as he was appeasing Germany. Germany was a serious threat to the UK homeland, maybe (probably?) not existential, but much more so than Japan. Japan was 'only' a threat to the colonies and some of the distant Commonwealth. If the UK falls (or becomes neutered) the colonies and (most of?all of?) the Commonwealth countries become relatively easy pickings, hence the initial focus on the ETO & MTO in concert with the protection of the Atlantic shipping route. If the UK falls the rest of the Empire falls.

Also what pbehn said. :)
 

GreenKnight121

Senior Airman
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Mar 16, 2014
Britain also knew that the US (even with its so-called "isolationist tendencies") was concerned about Japanese expansion, and would also hard-line its response to such activity.

Remember that US missionary efforts in China were widespread at the time, and their reports of Japanese brutality commonly reached a large portion of the American population, which created public support for pushing back against Japan.

So Britain felt that it could take that hard line because it had a nation fully its equal in the Pacific standing beside it supporting that stance.
 

Thumpalumpacus

1st Lieutenant
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Feb 5, 2021
Tejas
I agree that the answer lies in distance. The Brits weren't threatened directly by Japan except at Singapore. I haven't read the full scope of the Atlantic meeting between Churchill and FDR, but I wonder if some horse-trading between "Germany First" involved FDR saying "Don't worry about the Pacific, we'll handle that until you're on your feet again" or something to that extent.
 

CAC Woomera

Airman
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Nov 23, 2022
Australia
A lot of what I could say has already been said and that a lot of it also falls on distance. Could also say Japan was the US's problem to deal with. I think it gets really interesting taking into account how Britain did still held colonies Asia that got attacked and countries like Australia and New Zealand which held strong ties to England at the time. I'd assume part of it fell on by then Britain actually also held resources to fight and good enough supplies, as did the US I believe and we were already at war, it may well have been inevitable Japan would enter due to being allied with Germany and Italy and something to appease them wouldn't have been worth it.
Sorry this is kinda muddled, I haven't fact-checked stuff like when Japan declared war on the allies and I'm just running purely off memory
 

GrauGeist

Generalfeldmarschall zur Luftschiff Abteilung
A lot of what I could say has already been said and that a lot of it also falls on distance. Could also say Japan was the US's problem to deal with. I think it gets really interesting taking into account how Britain did still held colonies Asia that got attacked and countries like Australia and New Zealand which held strong ties to England at the time. I'd assume part of it fell on by then Britain actually also held resources to fight and good enough supplies, as did the US I believe and we were already at war, it may well have been inevitable Japan would enter due to being allied with Germany and Italy and something to appease them wouldn't have been worth it.
Sorry this is kinda muddled, I haven't fact-checked stuff like when Japan declared war on the allies and I'm just running purely off memory
One of the main drives of Imperial Japan, was to rid Asia of Western colonies (French, British, Dutch, U.S. and to a much lesser extent, Portugal) under the auspices of the "Greater East Asia Co-Prosparity Sphere).
 

swampyankee

Chief Master Sergeant
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Jun 25, 2013
US isolationism was largely directed towards intervention in Europe; the isolationists rarely, if ever, objected to intervention in the Caribbean, Latin America, or China.

Regarding Britain's policies: Italy was viewed as a threat to the UK's ability to communicate with India, the most important of the British imperial possessions. As to Germany, it's complicated. The UK could not effectively intervene in favor of Czechoslovakia (nor, shortly after, Poland), plus there was Britain's internal politics, parts of which approved of Hitler due to his anti-bolshevist stand (and didn't particularly care about his antisemitism), and parts of which were opposed to intervention on continental Europe. In my opinion, British appeasement started well before Munich, with the Anglo-German Naval Agreement and the associated willingness of the British government to accede to German violations of the peace treaties ending WW1.
 

GTX

Master Sergeant
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Dec 18, 2015

Britain's policy of appeasement

Definition of appeasement

Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister, was keen to avoid war. He believed this could be achieved through the use of negotiation, agreements and diplomacy. His policy was to appease Hitler, which usually meant giving in to Hitler's territorial demands.

Examples of appeasement

This included Britain not 'getting tough' on Germany when it rearmed and invaded the Rhineland, and its invasion of Czechoslovakia. The most famous example of appeasement is Chamberlain signing the Munich agreement which resulted in Germany taking the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain hoped this would be the end of Hitler's demands, although other politicians such as Churchill warned otherwise.
While people might like to 'beat up' on Chamberlain, one has to also remember that neither Ramsay MacDonald (PM from 5 June 1929 – 7 June 1935) or Stanley Baldwin (PM from 7 June 1935 – 28 May 1937) before him were big advocates of it either. Remember also that Chamberlain only became PM at the end of May 1937 only ~2½yrs before the war started.

More to the point though, I believe they were dealing with the economic situation and a hope to avoid another major war so soon after the 1914 - 1918 conflict. The benefit of hindsight is a wonderful thing but during the late '20s/early '30s with heavy debt repayments, the Great Depression and the memories of WW1 very fresh in their minds, no one really had either the appetite or ability to consider major rearmament much earlier than they did. Therefore, what some might disparaging refer to as appeasement could also be considered as doing what was necessary to both avoid conflict and to buy time.

In the case of Baldwin, I believe the following comment from him to Chamberlain in 1938 sums up well some of the thinking: "If you can secure peace, you may be cursed by a lot of hotheads but my word you will be blessed in Europe and by future generations".
 

Thumpalumpacus

1st Lieutenant
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Feb 5, 2021
Tejas
In the case of Baldwin, I believe the following comment from him to Chamberlain in 1938 sums up well some of the thinking: "If you can secure peace, you may be cursed by a lot of hotheads but my word you will be blessed in Europe and by future generations".

That was a big if considering who they were negotiating with, and the bargaining power Britain actually carried at the time.
 

Admiral Beez

1st Lieutenant
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Oct 21, 2019
Toronto, Canada
I agree that the answer lies in distance. The Brits weren't threatened directly by Japan except at Singapore.
Which explains why the Australians were so eager for Britain to recognize Manchukuo. Japan was one of Australia's largest trading partners outside of Britain, and there were increasing economic ties between Australia and Japan.


"Even as the Manchurian crisis unfolded and a rift emerged in the interwar global order, Australia continued to explore avenues for economic and diplomatic engagement with Japan. In 1934, Prime Minister Latham led Australia's first diplomatic mission outside of the British Empire—the Australian Eastern Mission. Although Latham visited other East and Southeast Asian nations, Japan was the true focus of his attention."

Had Britain and the Empire appeased Japan by recognizing Manchukuo in 1935, would this have led to Japan to double down on its anti-West expansionist plans, or try to find a different path? And what is the reaction in Washington to what must seem like an affront equal to Britain not warning the US of its postwar Suez invasion.
 

Thumpalumpacus

1st Lieutenant
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Feb 5, 2021
Tejas
Had Britain and the Empire appeased Japan by recognizing Manchukuo in 1935, would this have led to Japan to double down on its anti-West expansionist plans, or try to find a different path?

I suspect it would have encouraged the hardliners in the Japanese Army to go further. Remember, these are the same extremists who forced a fait-accompli onto the nation in 1937 at the Marco Polo Bridge. They carried more heft in the higher reaches of the government, and even in the lower reaches attempted a coup in Feb 1936 that nearly succeeded. The more-moderate Navy admirals, while having a good bit of power, could not push their policies through as it was.

It seems to me then that appeasing the hard-liners would strengthen them even more.

And what is the reaction in Washington to what must seem like an affront equal to Britain not warning the US of its postwar Suez invasion.

That would require careful diplomacy on the part of the UK, and yes, a heads-up, or even prior consultation, would be smart. Even so, Americans had the luxury of ideology ... or so we thought.
 

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