Friday, May 20, 2005

Appeasement Reprised, Part I

Echoes of the Great War

The discussion following my recent post suggests additional material on the topic of appeasement.

To understand the origins of and impulse towards appeasement one must look to the Great War. Paul Fussell has demonstrated that the awful carnage of 1914-1918 is the central trauma of our time, one that informs the modern culture of the West, one whose consequences are still unfolding. And one of the Great War’s unwanted children was appeasement.

The overwhelming feeling among political leaders after the war was: This must be prevented from happening again, at all costs. Even if an elected official in the Western democracies did not reach this conclusion for humane reasons, the instructive example of the Bolshevik revolution was always before him. Another war like that, and the red flag might fly over Big Ben or the Eiffel Tower.

The primary impulse towards war was thought to be the emergent force of nationalism. After all, it was Serbian nationalism in the person of Gavrilo Princip that shot down the archduke in Sarajevo and began the whole calamity. The recognition of nationalism -- the impulse of a people of distinct language and culture to acquire its own sovereign polity -- drove the terms of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 and helped redraw the map of Europe.

The Allies constructed the League of Nations to institutionalize the prevention of another Great War and enforce the terms of Versailles. But by the time the crises of the 1930s arrived, the paradoxical problem at the heart of the League was exposed: in order to prevent war, the League had to be ready to make war. To stop a nationalist tyrant like Hitler might require blood and iron, and the awful spectre of the Western Front loomed in public opinion to close off that option. War to stop the dictators became politically impossible in the Western democracies, and they appeased the tyrants instead.

By the time Chamberlain inked his deal with Hitler in Munich in 1938 and sealed forever the meaning of “appeasement” in the judgment of history, it was already clear that appeasement was no longer preventing war, it was simply postponing it. Wiser heads in the councils of the Allies knew the war was coming, and wanted time to prepare, since Hitler had a big lead on them in modern armament.

But the war was bound to come. If not over Poland, then over Finland, or Romania, or Norway, or the Ukraine. The war was coming, and the great appeasement of 1938 just bought a little more time.

But the earlier appeasements leading up to 1938 made the war the massive cataclysm that resulted. Each time the can was kicked down the road, it got bigger and deadlier.

My next post will address the direct parallels between the appeasement of the 1930s and our current appeasement of the Great Islamic Jihad.


wildiris said...

Baron, have you ever read Hitler's Mein Kampf. I tried to read it years ago, just for my own edification, and made it a little past half way through. The writing stlye was so bad, it was the reading equivalent of trying to eat sawdust. But I think I had the same reaction that everyone else who has read this book and that was, "My God, didn't anyone read this before the war!?" What you will find in Hitler's writing is a complete blueprint for the beginninigs of WWII. All of the actions and reactions you are discussing under the heading of appeasement were totally anticipated, discussed and developed by Hitler in Mein Kampf a decade earlier. After my attempt to read Mein Kampf, I was left with the opinion that Hitler was to political propaganda and political manipulation what Mozart was to music, a once in centuries genius and that there probably would not have been a WWII except for the actions of this sole individual.

I personally believe after reading Mein Kampf, that it should be required reading for every high schooler. Not because I support anything in it, but that it is a virtual field manual for the use propaganda for political manipulation. Maybe if people got to read such a how-to manual when they were young, they would be aware of the various propaganda tricks used by politicians and be more immune to them later in their lives.

As a footnote, the thing about Mein Kampf that scared me the most was when I heard a speech by Hilary C. during the debates on her health care plan and realized that if I just replaced phrases like "those who got rich in the 80s" and "those who don't pay their fair share" with Jew that I would have a speech tha could have come word for word from the mouth of Hitler.

Baron Bodissey said...

No, I haven't read Mein Kampf in its entirety, just extracts in various history books and biographies of Hitler. I doubt I could manage to read the whole thing unless required to in a course.

If people had actually taken Hitler at his word -- not just in Mein Kampf, but in many speeches over the years -- they would have known what was coming, and that he had to be stopped. I'm not sure why that didn't happen -- whether most people were unaware of what he said, or thought he didn't mean it.

The same thing is happening with the Islamists right now. If you pay attention to what they say, you know that for those who would appease the jihadis there awaits only conversion to Islam, death, or temporary dhimmitude. There is no "peaceful co-existence" in their plans.

Dymphna said...

Moving on with the idea of reading primary source material, everyone ought to have to read the Koran. It's scary. Sure, it's got some edifying moments, but the deceit, blood, gore, and passing around of women is pretty dismal.

Not to say primitive.

wildiris said...

Baron and Dymphna. Returning to my post, the point I was trying to get to was that any analysis of the actions of the English politicians in the lead up to WWII has to include the realization that Hitler and his National Socialist propaganda ministers were consciously working to manipulate public opinion no only in Germany but in England as well. As he wrote in Mein Kampf, democracies are at a unique disadvantage against dictatorships. The politicians in a democracy are beholden ultimately to the voting public and as a result have to play to the public’s whims to stay in their elected offices. A dictator is not so constrained. Hitler knew that as long as he made Germany’s intentions appear to the English voting public as benign to them, then there would be no political support/will in England for any kind of re-armament effort. And this, it turns out, is exactly what he did and what in fact happened! No English politician could have made any effort towards re-armament in the early or mid 30’s without the resulting economic drain on the English economy costing him and his party’s political future dearly.

Interestingly, this scenario seems to be repeating itself with the actions of the political left and Muslim jihadists. Deliberately trying to control the actions of America and her allies by manipulating public opinion in their respective countries.

And regarding my comment on Hillary C., I am not trying to infer that she may be Hitler in a pantsuit, but that they both were working from the same political propaganda playbook. Class envy is the most easily induced and subsequently manipulated of all of the human emotions, and as such, is a favorite and perennial target for political propagandists. My opinion these days is that much of what has been viewed as anti-Semitism in pre-WWII Germany, was in fact, nothing more than good old fashion class envy that had found as its scapegoat an easy target that could not fight back. It’s no wonder that in the Ten Commandments envy is considered, as a sin, right up there with murder, stealing, lying and adultery.

Baron Bodissey said...

Wildiris, you and I seem to be in exact agreement.

Osama bin Laden in many ways has accurately assessed the character of the West. He saw us as decadent, materialistic, and preoccupied with sensual pleasure; this is one instance where I agree with him. He saw us as cowards unwilling to take casualties in a fight, and look at how our military has had to operate under the howling of the media at every single injury or death. President Bush has had to sail into a stiff cultural wind to accomplish his goals, even with the casualty rates as amazingly low as they are.

But Osama, I think, has only understood the character of the media/academic elite, the slice of effete cosmopolitan Eurosnob culture to which he has had access. He does not know the American heartland, which is full of courage and faith, and will persist in the face of adversity. That is why he has had to hide in a cave -- he thought the New York Times was an accurate reflection of the character of all Americans.

Fortunately for all of us, the Marines in Fallujah are more representative of America than Maureen Dowd.

Spiney Widgmo said...

I never cease to be amazed that people do not believe an adversary when they speak. Appeasement is just putting this belief into action.

El Jefe Maximo said...

This is an excellent thread. I am continually amazed how much of the cracked up world we live in all harkens back to the First World War, surely the most needless, mistaken, tragic conflict in modern history; the war which unleashed all the cranks (Nazis, Communists, ultra-nationalists, Islamic fanatics, etc).