I believe the idea of choosing the lesser evil to avoid the greater one is an inherently faulty concept.
You can do this once or twice, yeah, that is not an issue. However if you choose the lesser evil habitually, eventually you will end up in a situation which is worse than your original greater evil – or just as bad. I do not want to pick an example from current politics, because that would not be toward in this blog, but Dan Carlin does have a couple of interesting thought on this.
I can, however, show an example in the history: the rise of Adolph Hitler.
My argument rests on the fact is Germany could have been stopped easily before WWII broke out, but was not, because people kept choosing the lesser evil. (The greater one was seen as confrontation -armed and otherwise- with Germany.) This is absolutely hindsight, but that is the point, so bear with me.
Let’s ignore the fact why people in the 30s were reluctant to confront him. The memory of WWI was still fresh; it is perfectly understandable. As is their desire to choose the lesser evil, and keep appeasing him, hoping he will stop when he gets what he wants. Even Stalin was aware of the dangers of a new, militant Germany, and wanted an alliance with Western powers in the 30s. He was snubbed, however, as everyone else hoped these two will bleed each other, and leave everyone else alone. Back then Germany was still very unprepared for war, so a quick military push from both (or either) side would have collapsed the whole system the Nazis built up. But nothing happened, and Hitler was allowed to annex, consolidate and grow as much as his little heart desired, acquiring valuable industrial territories for further war production, growing bolder and bolder in the process. Acquiring the Czech industrial capacity also enabled him to plan for a serious war; before he had voefully little hardware. By choosing the lesser evil, the Western powers made it possible for the greater evil to manifest. Same happened in the Soviet union. Seeing how he was left alone, Stalin eventually looked for a temporary solution to gain time to prepare for the inevitable. So comes the Molotov Ribbentrop pact – again, something that lead to a greater evil in a few years, but for Stalin (and not for Poland, for sure), at that time, it was the lesser one. Or appeared to be.
But there were other consequences of the Western (and Eastern) inaction as well. There were very high ranking German soldiers plotting several coups against Hitler in the 30s; the inability of the Western powers to stand up to him (even diplomatically) meant that Hitler was insanely successful domestically, which pulled the rug from under the plotters. Had Hitler ran into a wall of resistance when he tried to run over parts (then all) of Czechoslovakia, there would have been a military coup deposing him, as it would have given the plotters an opening (just as the losing military situation did for Stauffenberg et al). Again: choosing the lesser evil led to an even greater one.
And the list goes on. By choosing the “lesser evil” options the world arrived to the global war where 60 million perished.
Now, this could not have been predicted. Chamberlain could not have known what his signature would bring. I am talking about why it was wrong for him (and others ) to choose the lesser evil, and on the long run why it seems like a self-defeating strategy. Perhaps it is something people can think about when they make their choices.