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Charles Kopp - Contributor

Charles Kopp is a graduate of the New School for Social Research. He is a composer and musician, and an ardent lover of poetry. He has been a teacher and a systems analyst. In Lafayette, California, he now designs websites and works on creative projects. He can be contacted at [go to Kopp index]

Appeasement In Our Time
Would John Kerry be America's Neville Chamberlain?
[Charles Kopp] 2/19/04

The words of Sir Neville Chamberlain are unforgettable: “Peace in our Time!” This seemingly victorious proclamation, viewed with such irony a few years later, defines “appeasement.”

To suggest that the story is relevant now is to invite emphatic protests -- after all, no one openly speaks in favor of “appeasement.” Reviewing events in the run up to World War Two, however, reveals more than a few parallels. In significant ways, the foreign policy proposed by the Democratic party is a policy of appeasement.

In September of 1938, Chamberlain signed a treaty with Hitler and believed he had thereby avoided a dangerous and costly conflict with Germany. He returned home to a hero’s welcome. But this English diplomacy came at a price: The nation of Czechoslovakia was made to give up a portion of itself, the Sudetenland, without a fight. Nor was this the first expansion of German borders. Hitler had occupied the French Rhineland in March of 1936. Germany was able to annex Austria and the rest of Czechoslovakia without eliciting any response, and it only emboldened the Nazis.

During these years of appeasement, Germans concluded correctly that their World War I adversaries had lost their strength of will. And these were not the first instances of a German violation of the Treaty of Versailles. Even before the Nazi period, the Treaty’s constraints on German militarization were being quietly ignored as early as 1922. In 1935 Hitler openly repudiated the Treaty and conscripted a 300,000 man army.

To view Sir Neville’s error in a light revealing its full gravity, consider that in 1938 Germany had been visibly moving toward another war for many long years, and the intellectual and military views of the Nazis were proudly and regularly stated. This was a nation which believed it was entitled to eminence, a superior race on its way to a greater destiny.

So how could Chamberlain have been so deluded as to think he had achieved peace with Hitler? Only through a very simple human yearning -- to avoid a European war when the previous one still lived in the memory and feelings of all his generation. To have known the horror of WW I, to hope for human progress, to believe in the League of Nations, all these things made it very easy to see what he wanted to see.

What was the cost of this deluded vision? Think only with what ease Hitler could have been defeated, in 1935. Bear in mind that some 45 million people died during WW II; Chamberlain died in November of 1940, and did not have to witness the full consequences of his actions.

The truth is that when Chamberlain first became Prime Minister in May of 1937, there was going to be a war, whether he wanted it or not. It can only have been a reckless idealism to see it otherwise. There was going to be a war because of things Germans believed about themselves and their history. There was going to be a war because in Hitler there was a leader who embodied these misbegotten beliefs, resonating with the great pulse of a people seeking their rightful dominant position in the world.

Today we face a different enemy in many important respects. Militant Islamic terrorism lacks the strength of a German engineering and manufacturing base with which to arm a great army. On the other hand, it does not have a single nation and capital city in which it can be besieged. Reportedly, Al Queda and its cousins live in a shadow empire in as many as 60 nations.

But despite a wide variety of differences, there are important similarities. The philosophy and intentions of this enemy are being written, preached and broadcast openly and proudly. They believe in their own natural superiority, and even in their inalienable right to rule this planet. And their actions taken in many places make their intentions completely clear to all of us. And unlike 1935, there may be very compact weapons that could take more life than all of World War Two.

What is the Democratic party’s proposed response? It has yet to set forth any proposal other than opposition to President Bush’s administration. It has not presented the exact parallel to Chamberlain -- actually giving real estate and human beings to terrorists, or to Iraq, in exchange for promises of future peace.

Senator Kerry came nearest to this, voting against our military action to protect Kuwait when Iraqi military divisions were in Kuwait terrorizing the people there at the very moment the Senator was casting his vote. When Kerry is asked about this vote, he has said in effect that as a veteran he understands these things. Clearly it is a vote that cannot be explained, a question that cannot be answered except by a personal attack on the questioner. It seems that Kerry could give up Kuwait as easily as Chamberlain could give up Czechoslovakia.

Generally, it is fair to say that most Democrats feel America’s response to terrorism should be very “multilateral,” i.e. not opposed by any important nation, and preferably endorsed by the United Nations. Democrats do not say what specific actions they would have to convince the French or Germans, for example, of the wisdom of military action against terrorists, wherever they might be found.

In light of the recently released list of Saddam Hussein’s beneficiaries, it seems that some of the opposition we’ve encountered was bought and paid for, rather than being the high moral consideration it pretended to be at the time. How exactly were we to avoid a veto from China, who turns out to have been involved advancing the cause of proliferation in Libya?

Beyond being “multilateral,” it is evident that many Democrats believe the proper response is to alter our foreign policy, to make it more to the liking of the Muslim nations. No one is specific here either, but evidently our friendship with Israel is to be changed in some unnamed manner. The only other specific often mentioned requires America to become more "cooperative," more "engaged," and willing to listen to allies and others in a deeper, more earnest manner. We will take the opinions of others more into account. This will supposedly reduce the motivation for people become terrorists, and remaining terrorists will find less support in the world.

Taken together, the very multilateral path, the turning away from Israel and other foreign policy traditions, the relinquishment of the war on terrorism to entities who do not necessarily oppose terrorism -- how different are all these policies, really, from appeasement? It certainly passes time with the illusion of constructive agreement, while the enemy’s efforts proceed and strengthen.

But suppose, just as the Germans took the world’s inaction to be a lack of will, efforts to conciliate with terrorists and their surrounding cultures are instead interpreted by them as a sign of the moral weakness they already expect to see, in us? Suppose they decide to pursue their methods and goals more aggressively? Will those who support this ‘Peace Now’ approach accept responsibility for future deeds, in this event? Suppose the world’s terrorists are hoping, even now, that soon a Democratic administration will be in power, following a much less aggressive course of action against terrorism?

Chamberlain meant well of course. He certainly was not the first to sue for peace with an enemy who was quietly laughing at him the entire time. And he won’t be the last.

copyright 2004 Charles Kopp



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