Sunday, September 28, 2008

Hitler, Appeasement, and the Munich Parallel

I'll have to review my opinion of the arrangement that Chamberlain and company made with Hitler before World War II's big kickoff.

Researching another post, I ran into "Retiring Hitler and 'Appeasement' from the National Security Debate" (Jeffrey Record, in Parameters (Summer 2008)), on the U.S. Army War College website. The part of the article I landed in, thanks to the search terms I was using, included this quote: "...when neoconservative critics of appeasement speak about how Hitler could and should have been stopped prior to 1939, they mean forcible regime change of the kind the United States launched against Saddam Hussein in 2003. But it is here that the neoconservatives and others who believe in the continuing validity of the Munich analogy enter the fantasy realm of historical counterfactualism...."

These days, wild claims about neocons fly around like redolent missiles in the monkey house. I wasn't impressed. Particularly that business about "counterfactualism."

There seemed to be interesting, and maybe useful, references in the article, so I kept skimming.

I still wasn't impressed. The author pointed out, accurately enough, that threats like Hitler's Germany aren't at all common. Hitler, Record points out, planned "...a German racial empire stretching from the English Channel to the Ural Mountains...."

Compared with what I understand to be Al Qaeda's goal, Hitler's proposed empire seems comparatively modest. I considered the possibility that the author thought that only nations could pose a threat to other nations.

Nope. Record seems to realize that Al Qaeda is a real threat, and could be "Hitlerian:"

"A potential threat of genuinely Hitlerian proportions could arise in the event that al Qaeda acquired deliverable nuclear or biological weapons. Like Hitler, al Qaeda is undeterrable and effectively unappeasable; all it lacks is Hitler’s destructive power. As a fanatical, elusive nonstate actor, it presents little in the way of decisive targets subject to effective retaliation, and its political objectives—the complete withdrawal of American power from the Muslim world and the destruction of existing Arab regimes as a precursor to the establishment of a single Islamic caliphate—are literally fantastic. Possession of weapons of mass destruction would render al Qaeda a far more dangerous threat than deterrable or weak enemy states. Though the differences between the German dictator and the Arab terrorist leader are obvious, the similarities are impressive. Hitler was a secular German state leader obsessed with race, while Osama bin Laden is an Arab nonstate actor obsessed with religion. Both are linked by bloodthirstiness, high intelligence, a totalitarian mindset, iron will, fanatical ideological motivation, political charisma, superb tactical skills, utter ruthlessness, and—above all—undeterrability. One distinction is that Hitler lacked the means to strike the American homeland, whereas bin Laden already has."

This is a far cry from the silly side of academia's usual antics, like
  • Ward Churchill's "On the Justice of Roosting Chickens: reflections on the consequences of U.S. imperial arrogance and criminality" - and his comparing "technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire" working in the World Trade Center on 9/11 as "little Eichmanns."
  • Columbia's welcoming Iran's President Ahmadinejad, but pulling Minutemen founder Gilchrist's invitation to speak. Columbia banned Gilchrist because he has extremist views (he claims that people coming into this country should obey the law while doing so)
Record isn't blaming America for the War on Terror, he isn't excusing Al Qaeda, and he is, as far as I can tell, sticking to facts.

I think it's arguable that England and France wouldn't have been able to make Hitler change his mind by using military force. For starters, those countries, and the rest of Europe, had experienced hard times during the thirties, just like America.

And, if I remember my history correctly, the winning side in World War I had been so distressed by the conflict that they didn't ever want it to happen again: a reasonable desire. So they adopted the Wilsonian idea of disarmament: at best a debatable idea.

I'm not going to try to boil down an article of over 4,400 words in a blog post, but I think that Record may have a point.

However: "Retiring Hitler and 'appeasement' from the national security debate does not mean that the United States should negotiate with any and all enemies or that it should refrain from using force against all threats that are not Hitlerian in scope. The United States is a great power with occasionally threatened interests whose protection sometimes requires the threat of or actual use of force."

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.