Appeasement is easier to criticise as an
abstract concept than a concrete reality. Faced with a case study in
decision-making and freed from the ‘enormous condescension of posterity’,
students are confronted with the stark realities of power. If the job
of the historian is to understand the peoples of the past better than they
understood themselves, then the job of a role-play is to try and recapture
the difficulties faced by those without the advantage of hindsight.
Above are the key members of the
British Cabinet at the time of the Abyssinian Crisis. These are the men who
were faced with the difficult decision of how to respond to Mussolini’s
invasion. At the end of the Second World War they were condemned as the
‘Guilty Men’, responsible through their policy of appeasement, for the
failure of Britain to stand up to the dictators.
It is the 5th October 1935. The
Prime Minister has called an emergency meeting of Cabinet to deal with the
question of Italy’s invasion of Abyssinia two days previously. Each of his
Ministers has been briefed by their department and are ready to report back
to the PM. At the end of the meeting the PM will sum up what will be the
The class will be divided into
groups of four or five. (Four if the teacher plays the role of PM.) Each student is to research the attitude of their allocated
Cabinet minister and his department of state and prepare their 'brief' for
the emergency meeting. There are questions to guide you but these should not
limit your research. Tradition dictates that the Prime Minister will call
on the Foreign Secretary to speak first but after that discussion should be
improvised under the guidance of the PM. When everyone has had their say, it
is the job of the PM to summarise the views of the meeting and reach a
conclusion that all members of the Cabinet will defend together in public.
This is called 'collective responsibility'. The
motivation behind collective political decision-making is multiple and
complex. It is no longer enough to castigate the British Cabinet for their
failure to respond adequately to the moral outrage of Italy’s invasion of
Abyssinia. The Second World War is not inevitable in 1935 and Abyssinia is
not a first step towards anything.
Click on your allocated
character to begin your research.
Videos of previous role-plays
Print friendly versions:
Minister briefing notes,
Prime Minister notes. and
Prime Minister questions