The Wages of Appeasement

Appeasement – A dictionary definition might be: to yield or concede to the belligerent demands of (a nation, group, person, etc.) in a conciliatory effort, sometimes at the expense of justice or other principles.

Appeasement as a strategy is often a bad choice. It can be a catastrophic choice under certain conditions. Perhaps the most famous from the last century is the sad spectacle of the Munich Conference in 1938 and Neville Chamberlain’s worthless paper waved in the air with the declaration of “Peace in Our Time.”

Churchill’s Draft Notice

It’s understandable how this happens. Humans have a tendency to project their own emotions, values and world view onto other humans. It’s sometimes referred to as “Mirror Imaging.” The assumption that the party demanding the Danegeld is just like me can be dangerous if not fatal. There are two major problems with a strategy of appeasement. First it often gives the demanding party something which makes him stronger i.e. territory, wealth, prestige or human sacrifices for his gods. Second it sends a signal of weakness. This second part can be even more damaging than the first. Rather than mollify the demands of the aggressor it emboldens and amplifies them. If the game is zero sum or even if one side is playing it that way then each act of appeasement changes the balance of some key variable whether it is power, will or initiative.

So the structure of the system determines the efficacy of an appeasement strategy. In the anarchic system of nation states, warlords or post-apocalyptic powers, the game is played for keeps and often approaches zero sum. The nation state example is especially applicable when polar ideologies, religions or world views are in conflict. In a system built around a free market of international trade two rivals might tussle back and forth over protectionism, subsidies, and issues of national character and culture but occasional appeasement here or there as a policy prescription isn’t likely to be catastrophic. You can call it accommodation and pick your battles. Don’t be fooled though that you aren’t sending a signal by your actions. You are simply fighting in a padded arena with more room to maneuver.

The efficacy and consequences of appeasement as a strategy also depend on the interests at stake. If you remember back to the analytical framework that I discussed, the existence of a hierarchy of core values and interests makes for a great gauge. Appeasing an opponent on issues pertaining to vital national interests is perilous. But refusing to appease the Dane carries consequences and costs as well. The analytical framework helps identify those costs. Often one cost is that the sword must be bloodied. If the system within which you operate includes the use of force as an arbitrator of disputes then to ignore it as an option is to handicap yourself tremendously. I’ll leave out any exploration of the moral aspects of this topic. Moral grounds can be used for both appeasing the demands and using force to resist them. I think though that if you abjure the use of force, then given a game system within which it operates you often elect to lose the game, whatever that means.

For the human mind it is often a counter-intuitive concept. When playing the strategy game Rome: Total War you often see the following dictum during the load screen: “If you desire peace, prepare for war.” Whether or not it is truly of Roman origin, it does seem to speak a counter-intuitive truth. The costs then of not appeasing the aggressor may be high in blood and treasure. Perhaps it’s better to appease once or twice to buy time for creating a better situation to confront the aggressor? This may well be the case. Often however the aggressor is the one in the position of weakness. The aggressor depends on the lack of will to fight to advance his agenda until he is in position where demands no longer need to be made. Ultimately the aggressor will simply be able to take what he wants.

In Cults of the Wastelands you will have the opportunity to assess the value of appeasement as a strategy tool or pitfall. A messenger will arrive from the Wastelands and make a demand along with a threat. Perhaps there is no truth to the threat. Perhaps you are not in a position to risk it. Perhaps you too will refuse to send a token of earth and water to Xerxes no matter what the cost. The demands will be onerous but perhaps once met there will be no more? Perhaps you can buy some time to create an army to defend yourself. Perhaps you can refuse now. What will you decide?

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