Words have meanings.
Words also change their meanings over time.
But rarely, if ever, has a word reversed its meaning as quickly and utterly as “appeasement.”
Check out most any dictionary, especially a British dictionary, printed before the Munich Conference of 1938. The word means, in essence, bending over backwards to see the other guy’s point of view. Going the extra mile. Noblesse oblige and all that.
After Munich: craven, cowardly surrender to evil.
The second definition certainly fits Barack Obama’s so-called agreement with Iran. Only those given to waving pieces of paper and proclaiming “Peace in Our Time,” or at least “the Success of the Talks,” can pretend to believe that Iran has any intention of abiding by its terms and strictures, ludicrously generous and unenforceable as they are. But what Mr. Obama has done is not Munich-style appeasement.
It’s worse. Far worse.
Today’s post and Friday’s (off next week for medical stuff) will explain a bit. Before getting into Mr. Obama’s open-eyed folly, it’s necessary to be clear about why Munich happened, and why it could seem so rational at the time.
Three usual-suspect reasons are often adduced. They have the virtue of being more true than not, and the vice of eliding something more fundamental.
First, Mr. Chamberlain felt that Britain had no choice but to buy time for rearmament. Germany had, after all, been going at it throttle-up for five years. Postwar analyses concluded that German rearmament was nowhere near so fearsome as then believed, both quantitatively and qualitatively. After all, assembling a serious new military takes time, and Germany was also engaged in working out some untried and tricky weaponry, as well as operational and tactical procedures.
Second, ever since the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, France had refused to face Germany alone. But the British refused to provide any kind of guarantees without American backing. Now, the United States of 1938 was no “Stop-The-World-I-Want-to-Get-Off” isolationist. But there were some things the American people refused to do, such as writing any more blank checks to them crazy, gone-in-the-teeth Europeans. President Roosevelt understood that Nazism would ultimately have to be confronted and expunged. He also understood how little he or his country could realistically do at that point.
Finally, whatever its evils, Nazi Germany was resolutely anti-Communist, and for more reasons than ideology. Hitler made it quite clear that Germany’s future lay in revival of the centuries-old Drang nach Osten, the push to the East. If the central European successor states, notably Czechoslovakia and Poland, stood between Germany and Russia and got squashed, too bad. They never were much of a cordon sanitaire against Bolshevism. And anyway . . .
And it was the “anyway” that mattered most.
The Paris Peace Conference was originally meant as a preliminary affair. Germany was not invited. It quickly turned into a farce, and its product, the Versailles Treaty, a very unfunny joke. DOA. Actually, DBA, Dead Before Arrival. Even before Germany was presented with the Diktat, the “dictated peace,” on a sign-it-or-else basis, few believed it guaranteed anything other than continued strife. Nearly fifteen years of sporadic enforcement confirmed that belief. In short, by 1938, the victors, who’d never dared convene that “final” conference, had neither faith in their arms nor faith in the Treaty.
Nor in themselves.
Herr Hitler wasn’t about to win any congeniality awards. But everything he did, up to and including Munich, any German statesman would have been delighted to achieve. And large segments of British opinion would have been delighted to see it happen, as a means — at last — of addressing Germany’s legitimate grievances and reintegrating her into what was left of European civilization.
Had all these concessions been given to any other German statesman (notably Gustav Stresemann) before 1933, Hitler’s rise to power might have been avoided.
The list is evocative.
So Hitler tore up the Treaty? Worthless scrap of paper.
Military restrictions on Germany? Those were meant as a prelude to universal disarmament. Hasn’t quite happened. Also, lookie how rearmament’s pulling Germany out of the Depression. Faster than us.
Maybe fascist economics works.
So Germany refuses to pay any more reparations? Good thinking. That should’ve ended long ago, for very sound economic and political reasons.
Anschluss, union with Austria? Even in 1919, stellar thinkers such as economist John Maynard Keynes were pointing out that Austria, rump of the old Hapsburg Empire, made no economic sense. If that empire wasn’t to be reconstituted, union with Germany, economic union at the least, would be the next best thing.
Military re-occupation of the Rhineland? German territory. No one disputes that.
Taking the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia? No, taking it back. Ethnically German territory, ripped away from Germany after the war. It’s theirs. So were the “Polish Corridor” and Danzig, Hitler’s final “last demand” that would occasion war in September 1939.
In short, prior to March 1939, when Hitler took the rest of Czechoslovakia, he was pursuing legitimate German goals as a staunch anti-communist. If his Jewish policies were a bit extreme, that’s all they were in 1938. And lots of Europeans (and Americans) were secretly, and sometimes openly, more than a little envious.
To conclude: at Munich, as embodied in Neville Chamberlain, a war-weary, Depression-devastated Europe, perhaps more frightened of Russia than of Germany and utterly disgusted with the peace . . . gave in to evil for some very logical reasons.
And that’s the “anyway” — Europe’s uneasiness, not to say shame at how it had treated Germany, and its own utter lack of any sense of moral rectitude that would permit or compel it to see clearly and act accordingly.
Is this the appeasement of Barack Obama?
To understand what it is, might require a bit of psychiatry. It definitely requires looking at a document the Pentagon released as the Iran talks were reaching Climax Number Whatever last June.
Most often, high-level Pentagon doctrinal pronouncements don’t merit much more than a head-shake and a chuckle. But this latest Military Strategy of the United States is different.
Next: The Reckoning