A practical demonstration with elements of Role Play
(an activity designed to develop pupils’ understanding of some of the issues involved in making retrospective judgements.)
How easy it is to apply hindsight to appeasement! And how frequently do pupils dismiss British and French politicians of the 1930s, with ill concealed impatience, even contempt, as people who did not do the obvious thing in the face of a bully This activity is designed to give pupils a sense of the domestic pressures upon the politicians of Britain and France during the appeasement years, and an appreciation of the so called ‘fog’ surrounding any decisions dependent upon an assessment of the military strength of a potential adversary. By placing the pupil in the decision making hot seat and providing he or she only with the information available to the leaders of Britain and France appreciation is rapidly gained that opposing Hitler’s move into the Rhineland was not at all the obvious course of action to follow in 1936. It works best if set before any study of appeasement has taken place.
To enable pupils to appreciate the context within which the politicians of the day were operating and thereby to enable pupils to approach sources dealing with appeasement with a more balanced starting point. Addresses therefore AO3 ‘ comprehend analyse and evaluate, in relation to the historical context, how and why historical events, people, situations and changes have been interpreted and represented in different ways.’
- Issue each pupil with a military strength card. G symbolises a unit of German troops. F a unit of French, and B a unit of British. Emphasise that the pupil must show the card to nobody. In fact the cards are overwhelmingly French reflecting the military balance at the time, but the pupils don’t know this: and nor could the leaders of Britain and France be certain of it at the time!
- Divide the class into two. The pupils in one half are each taking on the role of the President of France; those in the other half that of the PM of Great Britain . Each pupil bears that burden alone and must not confer when asked to consider his or her position.
- Give each pupil the appropriate context sheet outlining the factors that he or she must take into account when choosing a course of action.
- Assume a newsflash voice and say “ This morning German troops crossed the river Rhine in apparent force with seemingly well equipped troops. Those troops have now taken up position in the Rhineland ; this is indisputably German territory but the move is clearly against the terms of the Treaty of Versailles.”
- Give each pupil five minutes to decide what he or she is to do and to prepare a justification for that decision. Emphasise that there are only two choices: oppose Hitler or accept that German troops may stay in the Rhineland .
- After the five minutes is up ask the French which ‘presidents’ have decided to oppose Hitler. Ask two of those with their hands up to justify their decision. Then ask who has decided to accept the position – again with a justification from two. Do the same with the British. Encourage discussion and challenge of the justifications.
- Decision time. What actually was the military balance? Ask all pupils holding an F card to stand. Then those holding a B. The vast majority of the room will be standing. Tell these to sit down then ask the three or so holding G cards to stand! It rapidly becomes clear that, if challenged, the German advance could not have succeeded – in fact the German Army had orders to retreat had any move been made by the French forces.
- Now discuss. Why, then, did so many pupils decide not to oppose the German move. Many will have done just that as even the most ‘gung ho’ classes would have been held back by the context in which they were forced to operate, and any pupil who selected on the basis of ‘just wanting to fight them’ will have been exposed when asked to justify.
- Move on to look at sources on the crisis with your thoughtful class.
Context sheets and cards for the Rhineland Simulation
- You lost nearly two million men in the Great War.
- Your economy is in bad shape.
- There are political riots on your streets daily.
- You are not sure if the British will support you.
- The Rhineland is indisputably part of Germany.
- The German army appears very strong.
- You lost nearly a million men in the Great War.
- Your economy is in bad shape.
- You have just signed a naval treaty with Germany.
- You can’t see how a militarised Rhineland is any threat to Britain.
- You don’t trust the French to fight.
Military Strength Cards. Suggested proportion of relative units