Could the Second World War have been prevented? In the 1930s the stability of Europe was endangered by rapacious dictators, while Japan threatened Western interests in the Far East. The United States had withdrawn from international affairs and the Soviet Union was thought to be untrustworthy, so it was left to Britain and France to restrain the insurgents through conciliation and concession. Belatedly, after several retreats, Britain and France committed themselves to defending Poland, though they did so reluctantly and were in no position to offer much practical assistance. Only months after war broke out, France collapsed, as much as a result of internal weakness as external assault. Thereafter Britain stood alone. At the last possible moment, with a new leader, Britain found the resilience to defy Hitler.
In hindsight, it appeared that the policy of appeasement had been doomed from the start. Hitler had always planned a war and Mussolini would follow on his coat-tails. Truckling to their demands only encouraged their aggression. The road to war was clear, the motives of the dictators obvious.