DIVIDING THE DICTATORS: THE ITALIAN DIMENSION IN BRITAIN'S POLICY OF APPEASEMENT, 1933-1940
Utilizing sources such as British Cabinet, Foreign Office, and Prime Minister's papers, published documents, Parliamentary records, diaries, and memoirs, this study analyzes the formation and implementation of Britain's policy toward Italy during the period 1933-1940. The entire focus of this analysis is directed toward Britain's appeasement tactics since Italian initiatives, reactions, and opinions are solely viewed from the standpoint of their impact upon the thinking of British officials. In essence, British leaders believed that prospects for the preservation of peace in Europe would be enhanced by the cultivation of cordial Anglo-Italian relations. More specifically, they reasoned that the existence of harmonious relations between Britain and Italy would prevent Mussolini from joining Hitler in a collective pursuit of aggrandizement. At first, it appeared that Britain's plan to divide the dictators would be quite effective. For instance, after the assassination of Austria's Chancellor, Engelbert Dollfuss, in July, 1934, Mussolini sent four Italian divisions to the Brenner Pass as a direct warning to Hitler that Italy would not tolerate a German absorption of Austria. In addition, at the Stresa Conference of April, 1935, Italy joined Britain and France in condemning German rearmament. Throughout the next five years, however, Britain's relations with Italy deteriorated. From the Ethiopian crisis to Italy's entry into the Second World War on 11 June 1940, the Italians provided the British with a series of irritations. For example, Italy conquered Ethiopia, established the axis with Germany, aided the Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War, acquiesced in the Anschluss, violated the provisions of the Anglo-Italian accord, demanded territory from France, conquered Albania, signed a military alliance with Germany, and terminated its non-belligerent status in the war in spite of numerous economic inducements offered by Britain. Despite all these setbacks, Britain did not abandon its policy of cultivating amicable relations with Italy until it became obvious that Italy was not about to cooperate consistently with Britain in an effort to preserve tranquil conditions. Eight years of British appeasement measures, therefore, had ultimately failed to avert a confrontation with Italy. In evaluating the nature of British policy, the advocates of appeasing Italy were not merely a collection of cowards who feared a military encounter. The appeasers believed that Mussolini simply could not continue to pursue personal glory at the expense of the long-range interests of Italy. These arguments possessed some merit until Italy accepted the Anschluss. After this, Britain's entire orientation toward Italy should have been modified since Italy's behavior had demonstrated that Britain's special efforts to maintain cordial ties with Italy were not producing the desired results in international politics. The persistence of the policy of appeasing Italy in spite of several major disappointments was primarily traceable to the determination of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and Foreign Secretary Viscount Halifax to prevent Italy from becoming a direct opponent of Britain. In conclusion, the tenacity with which the appeasers clung to their beliefs concerning Italy reflected both the sincerity and the shortsightedness of their thinking.
HARVEY JOSEPH SOBOCINSKI,
"DIVIDING THE DICTATORS: THE ITALIAN DIMENSION IN BRITAIN'S POLICY OF APPEASEMENT, 1933-1940"
(January 1, 1980).
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