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How strong was British opposition to continental commitments in 1920s

Whether Britain was a strong opposition to continental commitments is an area of disagreement amongst many historians. Some argue that there was a desire shared by politicians, the foreign office and the general public to withdraw any European affairs. On the other hand, others see Locarno as a definite commitment and that Chamberlain’s policies tended to influence the cause of events.There was strong opposition to the continental commitments in 1920s, most obviously in the form of public discontentment. As a result of World War I, large amounts of anti-war literature were published, such as Sassoon’s work or The War the Infantry Knew. As a result, the general public began to see what the war was really like, as opposed to the war that was publicised by the media. This started the initial backlash in public support towards the war effort and formed a strong front against the war effort. Furthermore, Britain came out much weaker, socially and economically. As a result, this dampened the spirits of the public even more. It has also been suggested that there was not one person in the whole of Britain who did not experience some sort of loss from the First World War, e.g. every individual was either related or knew someone who died as a result of the war.Therefore, morale was at an all time low. Britain was also at a loss for their future intelligentsia, for example, nearly one third of the country’s Oxbridge University students were killed. All of these factors resulted in strong opposition to the war as a result, as the public were the ones who decided who was in power, and ultimately whether the country went to war. However, these were not the only factors that affected public opinion at home.Domestic priorities often meant that there was a strong opposition to external affairs. For example, problems at home needed to be solved before Britain attempted to solve those of other countries within Europe. The economy of Britain, which at the time was gradually falling, was much more important that European affairs at the time. Other issues, such as the unemployment crisis, meant that Britain had to focus their efforts into that specific area. For example, in 1921, there were 2.1 million unemployed insured workers. However, this only takes into account the insured workers, suggesting that the real figure could be much higher. Nevertheless, this put a strain on the economy in two ways. First of all, it meant that the economy would be relying on a much smaller base. Less money would be available for people to spend in shops, which ultimately could result in the closure of many shops. However, it could also place a strain on the economy because insured workers would need war pensions or money when they were out of work. Ultimately, it meant that the government were dealing out money but were receiving little in return. In conclusion, as Britain was facing so many economic problems, they had to focus all their effort into solving them first or face a huge backlash from the public. As a result, it meant that Britain could not afford to be involved with any external problems as they had to many of their own which needed to be solved first. This, therefore, acted as a strong opposition to taking part in any continental commitments in the 1920s.Nevertheless, there were many factors within the 1920s that suggest that the opposition to continental commitments was not strong. For example, the changing nature of welfare meant that traditional isolation was not longer viable as Britain needed a peaceful Rhineland. Furthermore, isolation was not feasible as ‘the bomber will always get through,’ as suggested by General Douhet. No matter how hard Britain tried to isolate themselves from the rest of the world, they would constantly get dragged back into affairs. Therefore, the policy of isolation tended to be a little optimistic. Furthermore, Austin Chamberlain actively pursued the policy of placating French fears and addressing German grievances. Acting as Europe’s policeman meant that Britain simply could not withdraw from foreign affairs.Locarno appeared to meet this aim by securing the borders in the west without a military alliance. Additionally, by active diplomatic involvement, some concessions were given to Germany after the Dawes Plan, such as the Inter-allied Control Commission Withdrawal in 1927 and the Young Plan in 1929. This therefore suggests that although there was not a strong opposition towards assisting in foreign affairs at all, as shown by the large amount of pacts Britain was involved in. furthermore, it also suggests that even if Britain wanted to withdraw from foreign affairs, they had little chance.Overall, in conclusion, British opposition to continental commitments in 1920s was relatively strong, as Britain did withdraw slightly from foreign affairs. For example, relations with France were never stable enough to build a Channel Tunnel in 1920, and it was presumed that relations would never be strong enough either. As a result, the French maintained the Little Entente to ensure increased protection worldwide. Furthermore, opposition to the European military remained strong throughout the period. Nevertheless, the British did not wash their hands of Europe entirely as there was a definite commitment to a diplomatic role, especially in enhancing peace, and even if they did wish to withdraw, they were already involved in far too much to isolate themselves completely.

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