In light of the furor over President Bush’s speech at the Knesset and the Democrat’s response, I thought it appropriate to provide a history of the appeasement that preceded World War II.
Under the terms of the first World War and the subsequent 1925 Locarno Treaty, the Germans were not allowed to militarize the Rhineland. Hitler abolished the agreement in 1935 and began to militarize. Hitler’s tiny army would have been no match for France alone, let alone Britain, and Germany’s generals feared that the two countries would react to oppose them. Germany’s War Minister, Field-Marshall Werner von Blomberg, issued orders that if the allies opposed the re-occupation of the Rhineland, German troops were to withdraw immediately.
There was no opposition from either war-wearied allied country. Hitler was allowed to gain not only an incredibly valuable military advantage, but he also achieved a huge political victory against his cautious generals. He had been right and they wrong in assessing the Allies’ weakness. But most of all, the revelation of the Allies’ shocking display of apathy and weakness would be a huge asset to Hitler over the next three years.
A major part of Hitler’s strategy to reunify Germany as a military power was the Nazi takeover of Austria. Austria had been supported by France, but that support was nowhere to be found when Austria most needed it. Germany staged a coup that, although bloodless, was completely based on genuine intimidation. Hitler essentially declared that if his Nazi movement was not given power in Austria, he would invade the country and impose it by force. The new Nazi Austrian Chancellor’s first act (12 March 1938 ) was to ask for the German army to be sent in “to establish peace and order… and to prevent bloodshed.”
The Allies sat idly by and allowed Germany to increase its power.
In May 1938 Hitler began to prepare to invade to forcibly annex the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia. As German divisions began to move in, France and Britain announced that any invasion of Czechoslovakia would be met with a military response, and Hitler backed down. But throughout the summer, the Nazis engineered a series of “incidents” in the Sudetenland which forced a response by the Czech government. Hitler, now able to present his case in terms of the safety and self-determination of the ethic Germans in the Sudetenland, again threatened invasion.
British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, went to Germany expressing his desire to discuss a peaceful settlement with Hitler. Britain and France informed the Czechoslovakians that they would not go to war over the Sudetenland and so informed Hitler. But Hitler, smelling weakness, said this was no longer enough. After more negotiations, in which Britain and France backed down entirely from their previous positions, Germany was allowed to occupy the strategically important Sudetenland beginning on 1 October 1938 – the day Hitler had fixed as the date he would have invaded should diplomacy fail – in exchange for an agreement from Hitler that this would be “his last territorial demand in Europe.”
Jan Masaryk, the Czech Minister in London, called on British Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax on the eve of the Munich Conference and said, “If you are sacrificing my nation to preserve the peace of the world, I will be the first to applaud you. But if not, God help your souls!”
Britain and France had betrayed Czechoslovakia for an empty promise, that Neville Chamberlain naively believed would bring “peace in our time.” Edouard Daladier took a more realistic view: “The fools,” he said bitterly, acknowledging the cheers of the crowds. “If only they knew what they are cheering.”
Poland and Hungary greedily took their share of Czechoslovakian land along with the Nazis in an agreement to cede territories. The land seized from Czechoslovakia had left it strategically exposed to invasion. But when it came time for Czechoslovakia to seek its share in the agreement that had been imposed upon it, they were met with elusive double talk.
It began to become increasingly obvious that the Munich Agreement of 29 September 1939 had not put an end to Hitler’s ambitions. All that the agreement had accomplished was to provide a springboard for further German advances. On 21 October 1938, Hitler issued a directive to his army to prepare for the final liquidation of the remainder of Czechoslovakia. By the end of November, Italy’s fascist dictator Mussolini publicly stated his intent to launch territory-grabbing invasions in North Africa in a speech.
A new and vicious pogrom in Germany caused revulsion. In the “Week of Broken Glass” begining on 9 November 1938, the Nazis encouraged the most brutal excesses of Germans against Jews. A cry of outrage came from the opponents of appeasement, who had criticized Chamberlain from the outset of the Munich Agreement.
During strategic conferences with his generals, Hitler gauged Chamberlain’s naivety and lack of resolve and concluded that Britain would write off Czechoslovakia without war. German generals Field-Marshall Werner von Blomberg, Colonel-General Freiherr von Fritsch, and Foreign Minister Baron Konstantin von Neurath objected, stating the “need to avoid having Britain and France as enemies.” But Hitler, emboldened by his successes and smelling weakness in the Allies, had already determined to go to war.
The Nazis forced Czechoslovakia to make concession after concession across political, military, and economic fronts. Ultimately, without allies, the Czech government was intimidated into signing a joint declaration which placed the fate of Czechoslovakia into the hands of the Fuhrer. Hitler was the only leader who was willing to fight for what he wanted. The Czech army was disbanded and its equipment taken over by the Wehrmacht, and Bohemia-Moravia was occupied. Hitler exulted, “This is the greatest day of my life! I shall go down as the greatest German in history!”
Even as the Munich Agreement was being signed, Hitler was not only planning the liquidation of Czechoslovakia, but also of Poland. Reich Foreign Minister Ribbentrop presented Poland with an impossible agreement, and then began to exert pressure on Poland to comply.
On 31 March 1939 Neville Chamberlain pronounced the death of his failed policy of negotiation and appeasement when he declared before the House of Commons that Britain had given a guarantee of immediate military support to Poland in the event of any threat to its independence. France already had a similar agreement with Poland which had never lapsed.
After Italy invaded Albania on 6 April 1939, Chamberlain pledged that Britain would fight against future Axis agression. But the French were quick to point out that Britain – which had refused to militarize – lacked the wherewithal to do much fighting. Chamberlain had gone to Germany three times to avoid a military crisis, but had done nothing to prepare his country for the eventuality of one. As an evidence of new British determination, a bill to introduce conscription was presented to Parliament. Despite staunch Labour Party opposition, the bill was passed on 27 April 1939.
In response to the British conscription bill, Hitler – who knew that Britain would not have any significant battleworthy army available throughout 1939 – made some declarations of his own. He renounced the naval accord with Britain, and renounced a 1934 pact with Poland.
William Shirer, an American journalist, wrote in his Berlin Diary, “Still much doubt here among the informed whether Hitler has made up his mind to begin a world war for the sake of Danzig [the region in Poland demanded by the Nazis]. My guess is he hopes to get it by the Munich method.”
In Russia, the Communist dictator Joseph Stalin had made several attempts to form an alliance against German aggression. But all were rejected by Britain and France, who did not trust the Russian and did not want to give Russia the equal status Stalin sought. The Nazis seized their chance. Hitler sent Ribbentrop to negotiate with Stalin, and on 20 August 1939 the Russians – who were seeking their own best interests and who could have been tempted to go either way – signed an agreement with Hitler. As part of their agreement, the two dictators agreed as to how to slice up Poland, whose invasion Hitler had fixed for 26 August.
On 22 August, Hitler summoned his senior Wehrmacht commnanders to brief them on his plans. He noted that as far as Germany’s enemies were concerned, it was providential that the men holding the reins of power were mediocre vacillators. Britain and France were in no position to go to war. The Royal Air Force was only a third of the Lugtwaffe. And it had only five or six divisions to put into the field. And France had neither an adequate army or an economy capable of fielding one. And with the pact with the USSR, Germany would not have to pursue a two-front war.
On 25 August, when Hitler met with British Ambassador Sir Nevile Henderson, he announced his plan to seize Poland, and said that any war between Britain and Germany would be Britain’s fault. The same day, he met with French Ambassador Coulonder and similarly blamed the break in French-German relations on France. It was similar to the thinking of a criminal who blames the police and the victims of his crimes for everything that followed.
On 1 September 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland. The world war which followed would consume some 72 million human lives.
In President Bush’s speech before the Israeli Knesset, he is clearly describing the mindset of appeasement on the part of the allied powers that led up to World War II. The question is whether he was consciously using this history to denounce Senator Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats.
First, the question seems to be this: was President Bush accurately describing the history of appeasement? Here are his words:
“Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: “Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.” We have an obligation to call this what it is – the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.”
It seems clear that he is correct in his historic assessment of the Nazis under Hitler, and with his description of Western leaders – whom Hitler described as “mediocre vacillators” – who pursued a policy of appeasement that ultimately served no other purpose than to allow Hitler to build his power even as it gave Allies a false sense of security.
Am I wrong in this assessment? The phrase “hell bent” could have been created to describe Hitler’s ambitions. Did Neville Chamberlain’s three separate meetings with him do anything to change his mind? Did the leaders of France and Britain recognize that they were confronted with genuine evil? did they stand up against that evil and powerfully state that they were prepared to confront it with force? Did they prepare their nations to meet that threat? Did they respond directly as soon as the violent evil that Hitler represented began to manifest itself? No. No. No. And no.
President Bush does something in his speech prior to the paragraph I quote above. He describes the fight against terrorism as “the defining challenge of our time,” as “a clash of visions” against “those who pursue a narrow vision of cruelty and control by committing murder, inciting fear, and spreading lies.” And he points out that “this struggle is waged with the technology of the 21st century, but at its core it is the ancient battle between good and evil.” He describes our enemies as remorseless murderers who “blow up guiltless guests at a Passover Seder” and “fly planes into office buildings filled with unsuspecting workers.”
He describes terrorists as evil men who have clearly stated their evil and despicable agendas to the world.
President Bush says, “That is why the founding charter of Hamas calls for the “elimination” of Israel. That is why the followers of Hezbollah chant “Death to Israel, Death to America!” That is why Osama bin Laden teaches that “the killing of Jews and Americans is one of the biggest duties.” And that is why the president of Iran dreams of returning the Middle East to the Middle Ages and calls for Israel to be wiped off the map.”
He could have also mentioned that Iran has announced that it is bent upon attaining its goal of becoming a full-fledged nuclear power, and that American military officials describe that American casualties are increasingly a direct result of Iranian weapons.
And he says, “There are good and decent people who cannot fathom the darkness in these men and try to explain their words away. This is natural. But it is deadly wrong. As witnesses to evil in the past, we carry a solemn responsibility to take these words seriously. Jews and Americans have seen the consequences of disregarding the words of leaders who espouse hatred. And that is a mistake the world must not repeat in the 21st century.”
Is the President right? Have we seen an inability to fathom genuine evil in the past lead to disasterous consequences? Can anyone sustain the argument that Neville Chamberlain fully understood the determination of Hitler to carry out his evil plans unless directly stopped by force?
Let me further say that the President has the recent history lesson learned by his own father, who was President of the United States when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. In spite of the fact that Saddam Hussein massed tens of thousands of troops and military assets on the Kuwait border, and in spite of his own clearly expressed intentions, somehow nobody believed that Saddam Hussein would actually invade (as I substantially document in Part One of my article, “Iraq War Justified“).
Evil is utterly determined to seek its own way. Evil doesn’t care about who gets hurt, or how many die. Evil is an addictive aphrodesiac that demands more and more – and which uses every available means at its disposal to get it – until it is finally stopped by force. The more evil is allowed to grow, the more sacrifice it will ultimately require to overcome it.
The only meaningful check against human evil in the world is force, and the willingness to use it. Appeasement can never satiate the appetite of evil, and any attempt to reason with evil or negotiate with evil – unless backed up with overwhelming power and the willingness to use it – will never succeed against it.
There is also a mystery to evil. Can we understand the mindset of the military junta in Myanmar, which clearly prefers to let tens or even hundreds of thousands of its own people die rather than allow foreign aid workers to enter the country? Can we understand the mind of Kim Jung Il, who allowed two million of his people to die rather than open up his regime?
Can we fathom the thoughts of men such as Osama bin Laden who plotted to kill thousands? And who was able to comprehend the mind of Saddam Hussein, who waged a war against Iran that claimed six million lives, who repeatedly used weapons of mass destruction against his own people, who brutally invaded a fellow Arab state when everything should have necessitated against such an act? is it not a fact that United Nations officials – naively ignorant of Saddam Hussein’s nature – allowed the UN-administered oil for food program to be perverted and corrupted into the largest economic scandal in human history? How do we deal with such men? How do we deal with the evil leaders who will surely rise in the future?
The second question is, if President Bush is in fact indirectly asserting that Barack Obama and Democrats are guilty of the same mindset as Neville Chamberlain, does the allegation have merit?
It is interesting to ask oneself why Barack Obama and the Democrats were so quick to see themselves in President Bush’s words. But rather than accusing Barack Obama of a mindset that he frankly hasn’t had the chance to exemplify, I would prefer to offer an assessment and a warning.
Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats have attempted to phrase their objection in a frankly misleading manner. The ultimate issue at question isn’t one of “talking to leaders of rogue nations,” but rather one of pursuing a firm policy of being prepared to use whatever force is necessary to keep such leaders in check.
It wasn’t that Neville Chamberlain went to Germany to talk with Hitler that made his very name an object lesson in weakness and appeasement; it was that he went to Hitler as a naive and gullible fool who refused to deal with his adversary from any position of strength until it was far too late.
There is a legitimate argument that states that the best way – short of war – to deal with rogue states bent on evil is to isolate them politically and economically. It is a way of reinforcing that there is a real cost to the country that would use evil and violence in its foreign and domestic policies. While isolation is hardly a perfect strategy, there is no question that it undermines both the foreign policy and economic strength of a regime. The question that those who dismiss this view and insist on engagement with rogue and terrorist nations must answer is, “What is your alternative?”
Iran wants to be recognized as a legitimate force in both the Islamic world and in the greater world. Being recognized by the most powerful country in the world and having direct dialogue with its president is a sign of prestige and respect. Since the Iranian revolution in 1979, presidents from both parties have continued to isolate Iran until it abandons its support for terrorism. President George W. Bush has stated that he would hold direct talks with Iran if it abandons its nuclear program. Again, if you don’t want to go to all-out war with Iran, and you don’t want to isolate them, what exactly do you intend to do? In what way do you believe that direct talks with genuinely evil leaders will accomplish any meaningful objective?
Finally, as we come to grips with an Iran that seems determined to become a full-fledged nuclear power, how do we deal with this crisis? How do we prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons? How do we assure Sunni Arab countries that they should not be developing their own nuclear weapons programs to serve as a deterrent against Shiite Iran? Raise your hand if you want to see a nuclear arms race in the craziest region of the world.
According to the available intelligence, Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003. What else happened in 2003? The United States invaded its immediate neighbor over weapons of mass destruction. Iran didn’t want to be next on that list.
Going back to the Gulf War in 1991, PBS reports that “In summary, the IAEA report says that following the August 1990 invasion of Kuwait, Iraq launched a “crash program” to develop a nuclear weapon quickly by extracting weapons grade material from safe-guarded research reactor fuel. This project, if it had continued uninterrupted by the war, might have succeeded in producing a deliverable weapon by the end of 1992.”
We got lucky in 1991. No one had any idea that Saddam Hussein was so close to a nuclear bomb. And – as much as liberals would never acknowledge it – we may have got lucky again in 2003 by putting a (at least temporary) stop to Iran’s nuclear program. But there is a determination on the part of the Iranians that demands constant vigilance and the willingness to employ force.
Iranian leaders appear determined to develop a nuclear weapons program.
The Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said, “Have you not tested the Iranian nation? We will vehemently continue our path and will not allow the oppressors to trample upon the nation’s rights,” Khamenei said. “Our enemies assume that by masterminding economic sanctions they can bring our nations to its knees but to no avail.” [Islamic Republic News Agency].
If we ultimately attack Iran over its continued determination to pursue nuclear weapons, at what point should we do so? Based on what intelligence? And what do we do about countries such as Russia – which has veto power in the United Nations – that are actively selling Iran nuclear technology and expertise?
Should we stand idly by and wait for a consensus from the world? What if that consensus never comes? It sure didn’t come in 1939, and there is no indication whatsoever that it was going to come prior to any meaningful action against Iraq.
Should the United States be willing to “go it alone” if necessary? If so, how do you continue to justify criticism of President Bush for being so willing to invade Iraq?
Whether one meets with Iranian leaders or not, it seems clear that we must pursue a policy that states, “If we believe you are on your way to developing nuclear weapons, we will attack you and overthrow your regime. We were willing to invade Iraq, and you can take it to the bank that we will do the same to you.” And as we try to prevent Sunni states (such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Egypt) from developing their own nuclear weapons arsenals, it is important that we are able to say, “We stood by Iraq against the forces that threatened it, even when it was difficult, and you can count on our promise to stand by you against Iran.