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Published by David French -- Harvard Law grad, former lecturer at Cornell Law School, author of books no one reads, master of the three point shot, constant critic of Duke Basketball, Playstation2 addict, owner of a cool new Sony DCRTRV25 MiniDV Digital Handycam, father of two and husband of one extremely hot wife


The Culture Curve
Tuesday, March 16, 2004  
APPEASEMENT. AGAIN. There really is nothing new under the sun. In the last few weeks, I've read two excellent new books about the beginning stages of World War II -- "The Fall of France" by Julian Jackson and "19 Weeks: America, Britain and the Fateful Summer of 1940" by Norman Moss. Both books describe the collapse of the French nation in 1940 and both books vividly describe France and Britain's desperate efforts to appease Hitler in 1938 and 1939.

The parallels between that time and the present are instructive. There is, however, a critical difference between the pre-World War II appeasement period and the present War on Terror: the efforts of 1938 and 1939 were much more justifiable.

In 1938, the leaders of Britain and France had lived through a war so destructive that it boggles the mind. While Americans still rightly mourn the loss of 53,000 in Vietnam -- and the shadow of the Vietnam hovers over us even today -- French and British leaders were grappling with a war that cost more than 600,000 British lives and more than 1.5 million French lives. In France, by some estimates, World War I killed 27 per cent of France's male population between the ages of 18 and 25. Another 25 to 30 per cent were gravely wounded. Simply put, the entire population of England and France was in mourning.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s the paramount concern of the western democracies was ensuring that large-scale war could never happen again. Disarmament conferences were held and -- through the Kellogg-Briand pact -- the world's major powers even attempted to outlaw war as an instrument of national policy. British students at Oxford voted to never again die for King and Country. American peace activists had political influence that even the leaders of Vietnam's peace protests should envy.

When Hitler rose to power and began to violate his treaty obligations by re-arming Germany, European leaders refused to take decisive action. Even if they wanted to act, their populations would have revolted. Instead, they sought to understand the roots of German rage and to "appease" (a word that had a different, less cowardly, meaning at the time) that rage. Germany was mistreated by the allies following World War I and many German-speaking people were oppressed by foreign governments, thus it was "understandable" that Hitler would seek to restore German national boundaries.

Yet the European leaders made a critical mistake: They refused to believe Hitler's own words. In "Mein Kampf," Hitler outlined his plan for European domination and displayed his hatred and contempt for the Jews. In speech after speech, Hitler expanded upon that hate. Yet Europeans (and Americans) kept hoping for the best. We kept hoping that Hitler would "grow" in office and that his rhetoric was just rhetoric -- political posturing for a desperate population. Neville Chamberlain was greeted as a hero when he came back from the Munich Conference in 1938, waving a peace treaty and declaring "peace in our time." Within months, Hitler violated that treaty. Less than a year later, Panzers were in Warsaw.

Today, we still refuse to believe our enemies. We still believe that if we address historical grievances, then our enemies will lay down their arms. Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and other terrorist organizations do not simply want a Palestinian state -- they want a second Holocaust. Al Qaeda doesn't just want to end colonialism, it wants to see the Muslim world dominate the West. They will not be content until they see the new Caliphate and the world of the infidels subjected to the will of Islam.

Today -- just as in the thirties -- European anti-semitism makes appeasement more palatable. Hitler's persecution of the Jews raised few hackles in France in 1938 and the relentless terror bombings in Israel offend few in France today. Instead, Europeans just wish the Jews would defend themselves a bit less vigorously.

But today, unlike in 1938, there is no one to negotiate with. Neville Chamberlain could see Hitler, talk to Hitler and even get Hitler's signature on a treaty. How can we negotiate to end terror? And today, unlike in 1938, war has already been declared. Europe's appeasement becomes even less rational after the bombs have exploded. Consequently, Spain, France, Germany and others are merely making guesses, hoping that if they give the terrorists a few things -- if they surrender their national policy to the Jihadists just a small amount -- then the terror will stop.

Yesterday, Spain's new government announced it would withdraw its troops from Iraq and gave Osama bin Laden his first victory since September 11. Spain taught Al Qaeda that elections can be transformed by terror -- with hawks replaced by doves and resolve replaced by surrender. Thank you, Spain, for setting this precedent. Just as the world suffered for the allies' pre-war cowardice in 1938, so will we all suffer from Spain's capitulation on Monday.

12:34 PM

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