Over this last weekend the ‘New York Times’ decided that enough is enough and called for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. The backlash from America’s right-wing media was inevitable and heading the list of reasons that the right have used to justify the continued presence of US troops in Iraq is appeasement; they have invoked, directly or by inference, the so-called ‘Munich analogy’.
There have been whole processions of post-Second World War American Presidents that have invoked the so-called ‘Munich analogy’ in order to justify a range of America’s wars or threats of war. Here’s a few of them.
Harry Truman reckoned: “That communism was acting in Korea as Hitler and the Japanese had acted ten, fifteen, twenty years earlier”. (1) After the Korean War ended Eisenhower when speaking of the victory of the communists over the French in Indo-China said: “…we failed to halt Hirohito, Mussolini and Hitler by not acting in unity and in time… May it not be that [we] have not learnt something from that lesson?” (2) And when Kennedy confronted the Soviets over the Cuban Missile Crisis he said the “…1930s taught us a clear lesson: aggressive conduct, if allowed to go unchecked, ultimately leads to war”. (3)
President Johnson told Doris Kearns, the historian, that “…everything I knew about history told me that if I got out of Vietnam and let Ho Chi Minh run through the streets of Saigon… then I’d be doing exactly what Chamberlain did… I’d be giving a fat reward for aggression.” (4) Nixon, also talking of Vietnam, said: “…what had been true of the betrayal of Czechoslovakia to Hitler in 1938 was no less true of the betrayal of South Vietnam to the communists advocated by many in 1965.” (5)
In 1983 Reagan, when contemplating intervention in Granada and Nicaragua said in a speech: “One of the great tragedies of this century was that it was only after the balance of power was allowed to erode and a ruthless adversary, Adolph Hitler, deliberately weighed the risks and decided to strike that the importance of a strong defence was realised.” (6) Then, of course, there was George Bush senior who, reacting to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait said: “…if history teaches us anything, it is that we must resist aggression or it will destroy our freedoms. Appeasement does not work. As was the case in the 1930s, we see Saddam Hussein an aggressive dictator threatening his neighbours.” (7)
The problem with the so-called ‘Munich analogy’ in each and every one of the cases mentioned above, including the latest one regarding the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, is that they are all completely misplaced and out of context.
The original ‘appeasement’ was that of Britain’s appeasement of Hitler as Hitler prepared to take over Eastern Europe. Basically the idea was that, in exchange for allowing Hitler to have bits of Czechoslovakia, Hitler would promise that he would not make any more territorial claims and that their would therefore be continued peace. Chamberlain returned to England and waved a piece of paper about announcing ‘Peace in our time’. The rest, of course, is history. Misguided as Chamberlain was, the point was that, apart from wanting to avoid war with Germany, Chamberlain also wanted to ensure that Hitler did not want to take any further territories for himself. (Chamberlain was a bit old fashioned and thought that a bloke’s word was his bond.) It’s this aspect of the ‘Munich analogy’ as used by American Presidents, and their allies others, that takes the analogy out of context.
In every single case mentioned above it is the US that uses the analogy yet it is the US that ends up behaving as Hitler did going on to invade or threaten another nation. If the ‘Munich analogy’ is used in its proper context one can see that it is in fact the rest of the world, including Britain and Australia, that is appeasing the US by allowing it to invade bits of the world just as Hitler did when taking bits of Europe.
It is the likes of Tony Blair and John Howard and co that are the real appeasers. It is they that have appeased Bush in his determination to occupy Iraq under the pretence of giving us ‘peace in our time’ from someone that was of no threat to us. Not only that, but we were told that the world would be a safer place as a result of it. It is the likes of Tony Blair and John Howard that are the real Neville Chamberlain’s of the twenty-first century masquerading as wartime leaders and Churchillian wannabes.
(1) Harry S Truman, ‘Memoirs, Volume 2. Years of Trial and Hope, 1946-1952’. (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1956.) p. 335.
(2) Eisenhower letter to Winston Churchill, 1954, excerpted in Robert J. MacMahon (ed.) ‘Major Problems in the History of the Vietnam War’ 2nd. ed. (Lexington MA: D.C. Heath, 1995.) p. 373.
(3) Quoted in Theodore C. Sorenson, ‘Kennedy’. (New York: Harper and Row, 1965.) p. 703.
(4) Doris Kearns, ‘Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream’. (New York: Harper and Row, 1976.) p. 252.
(5) Richard Nixon, ‘The Memoirs of Richard Nixon’. (New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1978.) pp. 269-270.
(6) Radio address to the nation on defence spending, 19 February, 1983, in Ronald Reagan, ‘Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Ronald Reagan, 1983’, vol. 1. p. 258.
(7) Address to nation announcing deployment of United States armed forces to Saudi Arabia, 8 August 1990, in George Bush, ‘Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: George Bush, 1990’. vol. 2. p. 1,108.