Wednesday, November 22, 2006

It's not "1938"

Douglas McCollam writes about The Umbrella's Shadow (Oct 2006) for Foreign Policy Online.

The umbrella in this case being Neville Chamberlain's umbrella which came to symbolize the British and French policy of "appeasement" toward Hitler Germany, a policy that became such a disaster that "appeasement" became a dirty word; prior to that, it simply referred to a policy of negotiating concessions.

McCollam argues that the use of the "Munich analogy", i.e., the dangers of appeasement, is used far too much today, and often used badly:

A fondness for rehashing the disreputable legacy of appeasement is understandable, given that a bronze bust of Winston Churchill seems to be part of the standard-issue starter kit handed to members of America’s conservative foreign-policy establishment. Still, many conservatives seem to be marooned in 1938, with Hitler forever poised on the border of Czechoslovakia. It seems fair to ask: Doesn’t history have any other lessons to offer? ...

What’s going on here? Is every two-bit strongman a would-be Hitler who, let us recall, was the leader of the most formidable industrialized country of the day? Must every U.S. excursion abroad be a new crusade to rescue the free world? America may have been a 98-pound weakling when Hitler rose to power, but it emerged from World War II as a military and financial colossus, easily the most powerful nation in the world. Today, U.S. military might exceeds that of the combined forces of the rest of the world. Yet, like a gawky adolescent who’s grown too fast to appreciate his own strength, Americans cling to the notion that they are weak and vulnerable—and need to bluster and bully to compensate.

I think he uses "Americans" in too broad a sense there.  Right now it's the Bush administration's neoconservatives and nationalists who are obsessed with the Munich analogy and constantly try to convince us we're living in "1938" and that the Western democracies are always on the verge of cowardly selling out to Hitler.

This stance is particularly ill-suited to our confrontation with radical Islam, which feeds on America’s post-9/11 outrage. By now it should be clear that the central pillar of our adversaries’ strategy isto provoke us into conflicts that they can then turn into a casus belli for their recruiting and propaganda efforts. We know this and yet we seem incapable of resisting when they twist the lion’s tale. ...

In this age of American hyperpower, can't we agree that the oversized fear of appeasement - a doctrine, after all, born of military weakness - does more harm than good?

The neocons and Cheney-style militarists will never agree as long as it serves their efforts to maintain a constant war atmosphere and the national-security state that goes along with it.  But the rest of us should be able to agree that fear of a comic-book caricature of appeasement is doing more harm than good.  The road to war in Iraq was paved with bad, exagerrated, non-reality-based applications of the "Munich analogy".

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