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September 2, 2006 2:07 PM   Subscribe

Donald Rumsfeld's recent speech at the American Legion Convention has revived interest in the 1938 Munich pact between Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler and its use as an analogy in foreign policy debates. Military historian Jeffrey Record weighs in with Appeasement Reconsidered: Investigating the Mythology of the 1930s. Michael Cairo examines how analogical reasoning based on "the lesson of Munich" influenced the first Gulf War and Clinton's intervention in Kosovo. Juan Cole argues against "the crock of appeasement" as applied to the Middle East, whereas MacGregor Duncan claims that the Munich analogy has caused us to underestimate the diplomatic value of appeasement. Finally, Pat Buchanan claims the Islamo-fascist label is historically inaccurate (or is he worried that non-Islamic fascists get a bad rap?).
posted by jonp72 (40 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Then there was Keithe Olbermann's commentary, in which he points out that the current administration is closest to the Chamberlain administration in its conviction that it holds an exclusive understanding of the truth.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:14 PM on September 2, 2006

So the "lesson" people want to draw from the 1930s isn't that we should take people's statements more seriously. Rather, the "lesson" they've learned is that we should always adopt the most alarmist possible interpretation of every given situation. But, of course, they never put it that way. Why don't they? Well, because when you put it that way it sounds like a stupid lesson.
posted by EarBucket at 2:20 PM on September 2, 2006

If the Allies hadn't gone to war with Germany and Japan, the consequences would have been hideous. Think what horrors might have occured: It's estimated that half of Europe and Asia might have been destroyed, 60 million people might have been killed, hundreds of thousand of innocent women and children might have been roasted alive as the centers of huge cities were turned into raging firestorms, new weapons of unimaginable destructive power might have been developed and used, Hitler might have killed as many as six million Jews, half of Russia would have been devastated, major cities in China destroyed, the young American working class men might have been slaughtered by the thousands on the beaches of obscure Pacific islands. Why, if we hadn't have gone to war --

Oh, wait a second...
posted by Faze at 2:30 PM on September 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

"Clinton's Intervention in Kosovo"?? Let's call it what it was, Clinton's war.
posted by mattholomew at 2:31 PM on September 2, 2006

Faze, did you go to a college of some sort? Can you get your money back?
posted by mattholomew at 2:33 PM on September 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

Is there a long, syntactically complex English-adopted German word for the sensation of being torn between the feelings of sheer unimaginable horror and the feeling of deep satisfaction and amusement?

Because on one hand I'm so terrified I think I might need diapers, and on the other hand there's just something juicy and delicious about watching pop actually eat it's own damn stupid self.
posted by loquacious at 2:35 PM on September 2, 2006

Thanks, great collection of links.
posted by etaoin at 3:10 PM on September 2, 2006

I'm surprised no one's brought up Victor David Hanson's essay The Brink of Madness. Not that I agree with it, it's just one of the first places a lot of the "Rumsfeldian" logic appears.
posted by malaprohibita at 3:21 PM on September 2, 2006

Harper's: The Bush Administration and Godwin's Law
posted by amberglow at 3:34 PM on September 2, 2006

If the Allies hadn't gone to war with Germany and Japan, the consequences would have been hideous.

Russia didn't really have a choice. They were going to be invaded.

England, not so much of a choice either (unless, "Sure, take all of Europe! And to hell with our treaty obligations!" is a viable choice in your mind.)

And "we just bombed one of your biggest naval bases, but we're still BFF, right?" doesn't really work on the U.S. side.

I've read your comment over and over, and I've deleted more than a few snarky responses to it on preview, but I still can't figure out what you were going for there.

On preview: thanks for the link, amberglow. Good one.
posted by Cyrano at 3:49 PM on September 2, 2006

FWIW I think that this has been around for a while. Before the Iraq war I remember something like this appeasement line being pushed by a number of folks (including some on NPR) - 'Saddam is the new Hitler, and we all remember what Hitler went on to do, DON'T WE,' etc. Which doesn't make it okay now, of course.
posted by carter at 4:20 PM on September 2, 2006

Generally, comparing present situations to anything involving the Nazis conceals more than it reveals. It pointlessly enflames passions, while rarely providing a genuinely useful analogy.

In particular, while Keithe Olbermann's intensity is impressive, his discussion of the history of the Munich Pact adds little to his argument.
posted by sindark at 4:25 PM on September 2, 2006

Why does Keith have an E now? Or is this some sort of clever subculture reference that I've been too busy to pick up on? (related?)
posted by blacklite at 4:43 PM on September 2, 2006

I recount that history because once again we face similar challenges in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism.

This rhetoric device is called Grasping at Straws*.

*1. trying to find reasons to feel hopeful about a bad situation.
2. trying to find some way to succeed when nothing you choose is likely to work.

posted by neuron at 4:58 PM on September 2, 2006

I hate it when Pat Buchanan makes sense, because he is a raving lunatic most of the time, but...

"Why did the Ayatollah let the American hostages go, as Reagan raised his right hand to take the oath of office? Why did Syria not rush to the rescue of Hezbollah? What did Ahmadinejad not rocket Tel Aviv in solidarity with his embattled allies in Lebanon? Res ipse loquitor. The thing speaks for itself. They don't want war with Israel, and they don't want war with the United States.

"Islamo-fascism" should be jettisoned from Bush's vocabulary. It yokes the faith of a billion people with an odious ideology. Imagine how Christians would have reacted, had FDR taken to declaring Franco's Spain and Mussolini's Italy "Christo-fascist."

Pretty much nails it.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 5:02 PM on September 2, 2006

Donald Rumsfeld’s Dance With the Nazis
"...what made Rumsfeld's performance special was the preview it offered of the ambitious propaganda campaign planned between now and Election Day. An on-the-ropes White House plans to stop at nothing when rewriting its record of defeat (not to be confused with defeatism) in a war that has now lasted longer than America's fight against the actual Nazis in World War II.

Here's how brazen Rumsfeld was when he invoked Hitler's appeasers to score his cheap points: Since Hitler was photographed warmly shaking Neville Chamberlain's hand at Munich in 1938, the only image that comes close to matching it in epochal obsequiousness is the December 1983 photograph of Rumsfeld himself in Baghdad, warmly shaking the hand of Saddam Hussein in full fascist regalia. Is the defense secretary so self-deluded that he thought no one would remember a picture so easily Googled on the Web? Or worse, is he just too shameless to care?

...Well before Rumsfeld's trip, Amnesty International had reported the dictator's use of torture -- 'beating, burning, sexual abuse and the infliction of electric shocks' -- on hundreds of political prisoners. Dozens more had been summarily executed or had 'disappeared.' American intelligence agencies knew that Saddam had used chemical weapons to gas both Iraqi Kurds and Iranians.

According to declassified State Department memos detailing Rumsfeld's Baghdad meetings, the American visitor never raised the subject of these crimes with his host..."


posted by ericb at 5:37 PM on September 2, 2006

1938. 1983. Coincidence? I think not.

Lincoln. Lincoln. Coincidence? I think not.

posted by ericb at 5:43 PM on September 2, 2006

For those of us not up on our British history, Wikipedia:
[Neville] Chamberlain's political legacy is defined by his dealings with and appeasement of Nazi Germany. He signed the Munich Agreement with Adolf Hitler in 1938 which effectively allowed Germany to annex the Sudetenland, leaving Czechoslovakia vulnerable to German attack, one of the steps on the road to World War II. Chamberlain remained in office during the Phony War, from September 1939 to May 1940, but resigned the premiership immediately after Germany invaded the Netherlands, Belgium and France, and died of cancer within six months.
So he's basically the asshole who helped make WWII. Nice. Isn't that the "Lest We Forget" war? Did Cheney forget, or did he just never know?

Anyway, Saddam was no Hitler. He was a tremendously sick fuck, sure, but I don't think he had world domination in mind. For starters, he simply didn't have the ability to invade and maintain control of other countries. Hell, the USA doesn't. Can't dominate the world, then, at least not militarily.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:40 PM on September 2, 2006

Loquacious: Are you thinking about schadenfreude? Myself, I think Rummy's word is scheissspiel.
posted by orchidthief at 6:49 PM on September 2, 2006

So he's basically the asshole who helped make WWII. Nice. Isn't that the "Lest We Forget" war? Did Cheney forget, or did he just never know?

The assholes who negotiated the Treaty of Versailles made WWII.

It's a more neato war to read about, what with all the B-17's and submarines and aircraft carriers. The Napolean-esque battles in Russia; The dramatic invasions of France and all across the Pacific.

But no reparations, no guilt clause, and you don't have a second world war.
posted by Cyrano at 7:51 PM on September 2, 2006

I know there were subs in the first world war. Shut up.
posted by Cyrano at 7:52 PM on September 2, 2006

What people forget is that a lot of these appeasers Actually liked Hitler. They were fascists themselves and so of course they wanted to avoid war.
posted by delmoi at 8:00 PM on September 2, 2006

the asshole who helped make WWII

Plenty of blame to go around for that, and it wasn't as if the English public (or any other public for that matter) was spoiling for a fight.

To pick a nit- Lest We Forget, or rather, Recessional, is sometimes thought a WWI poem, but Kipling wrote it in 1897.

Cyrano, btw - astonishingly enough, there were also aircraft carriers in WWI.
posted by IndigoJones at 8:02 PM on September 2, 2006

Arguments about whether or not the U.S. is slipping into fascism aside, there is a relatively new fascist kid on the block, and he ain't "Islamo-".
posted by robla at 8:59 PM on September 2, 2006

If the Allies hadn't gone to war with Germany and Japan,

Without the oil from Texas the "Allies" would have been slugging away with the "Axis" for a long time.

There was only part of the "allies" that mattered - sweet crude from Texas.
posted by rough ashlar at 9:02 PM on September 2, 2006

Since this whole thread comes pre-godwined, let's see if we can't make a few analogies between Al-Qaeda/Iran/Syria and the Axis in 1938.

An enemy who:

Wants to control whole swathes of the Earth (the rest is yours, we just want Spain to Indonesia)

Is claiming that it's the humuliation of the fallout from the last war (1948...) that's driving this.

Who wants a little leibensraum (in, say, Jerusalem and the "occupied territories" like Al Andalus and Chechnya)

Demonizes the Jews and calls for their genocidal destruction on a semi-daily basis

Claims a prior treaty is why things are bad in their countr(y/ies) (there, Versaille, here, Balfour)

Have a pretty snappy salute (this is Hizbollah and it looks like every white power rally I've ever seen):

Governments fostering a "racial purity" agenda for the land that they're controlling. (C.F. what happens if you sell land to a Jew in the Palestinian territories, or how Christians are treated by law in Saudi Arabia or Iran)

History's funny that way.

Here's the other a-historical questions that nobody addresses. What if they'd stopped Hitler in 38? Think Chamberlain would get the same bad press as Bush gets for taking down Saddam? It wouldn't've been clean to reoccupy Germany in 38...

Are the Bushies paying history for their own "success," perhaps? It's the same question with Osama Bin Laden - would anyone have taken the Al Qaeda threat seriously if our police had stopped 9-11, and they'd gone to prison and bitched and moaned that it there were arrested because of racial profiling? If, say, they were sent to Guantanamo Bay as enemies of the state?
posted by swerdloff at 6:14 AM on September 3, 2006

What if they'd stopped Hitler in 38? Think Chamberlain would get the same bad press as Bush gets for taking down Saddam?

Do you think that's the analogous situation? If so, would you like to buy a bridge?
posted by sonofsamiam at 6:35 AM on September 3, 2006

History's funny that way.

In what way? That you can derive an infinite number of pointless analogies? Hitler and Rumsfeild are both white! OMG!
posted by delmoi at 6:36 AM on September 3, 2006

would anyone have taken the Al Qaeda threat seriously if our police had stopped 9-11

Were you born yesterday?

From the prosecution of the 1993 WTC bombing co-conspirators, to the cruise missile attacks on Al Qaeda in 1998 (at the time, loudly deplored by Congressional Republicans), to the daily briefings in the White House geared at circumventing a New Year's Eve attack in 1999, the only people that didn't take the Al Qaeda threat seriously, were apparently, the members of the Bush Administration in 2001.
posted by Hypnic jerk at 7:06 AM on September 3, 2006


with the possible exception of Rush Limbaugh and the John Birch Society website, I'm not sure that those three entities are considered part of, eh, an "axis"

but keep dreaming that your creating that Mesopotamian slaughterhouse was indeed a good idea

PSSST... Saddam did 9/11, too!
posted by matteo at 7:21 AM on September 3, 2006

What is particularly irksome, swerdloff, is how you seem to have consciously chosen to value fuzzy historical allusions, rhetorical conflation of issues, and emotional appeals more than your own reason applied to the facts.

The string of non sequiturs you provided as an argument are so blatantly and particularly cherry-picked from among the many relevant facts as to make it comically conspicuous. You know better, whether you admit it to yourself or not.
posted by sonofsamiam at 7:37 AM on September 3, 2006

Have a pretty snappy salute (this is Hizbollah and it looks like every white power rally I've ever seen):

posted by EarBucket at 9:26 AM on September 3, 2006

astonishingly enough, there were also aircraft carriers in WWI.

Yes, I knew that. I was trying to head off any "Lusitania!" comments with the sub thing.

But the Battle of Midway is more interesting to read about than the history of the HMS Furious, right? That was what I was getting at.
posted by Cyrano at 10:15 AM on September 3, 2006


Absolutely right! I was just getting literal minded and crumbs of history is all. I have a tendency in that direction, alas.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:33 AM on September 3, 2006

(C.F. what happens if you sell land to a Jew in the Palestinian territories)

Wait, Jews are selling land to Palestinians now?
posted by nevercalm at 12:29 PM on September 3, 2006

Interesting read, that Rumsfeld speech. Professional modern day rhetoric. Good rhetorics have an appeal that can be appreciated separately from the political stance that is being taken although usually that's easier when several centuries have passed.

There are parties with which bargaining on the basis of a give and take of mutual and opposing interests works. In spite off trade wars and minor scuffles this leads to a quite continuous contained process.

I believe there can be parties with which such bargaining does not lead to a reasonable process but to death, destruction and loss. These latter parties should be opposed by plain might and violence.

The question is; who are these parties that can not be bargained with? The US shows some signs of being too unilateral to be in the bargaining camp. There are a lot of islamists that commit acts that are outside the realm of trying to further interests.

If I had sufficient time I'd like to study this in terms of game theory.
posted by jouke at 1:11 PM on September 3, 2006

Was the fight against communism (the 50s-90s/cold war) so much less than the current one? hmmm... ... Most ironic, given Rumsfeld’s current position on Iraq, Rumsfeld argued that Nixon should get the hell out of Vietnam. Rummy was a cut and run guy back then. ...
posted by amberglow at 9:09 PM on September 3, 2006

It's all Clinton's fault.
posted by homunculus at 5:51 PM on September 4, 2006

President wants Senate to hurry with new anti-terrorism laws ---not the current president but Clinton, 1996

...We need to focus on this terrorism issue," Clinton said during a White House news conference.
But while the president pushed for quick legislation, Republican lawmakers hardened their stance against some of the proposed anti-terrorism measures.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, doubted that the Senate would rush to action before they recess this weekend. The Senate needs to study all the options, he said, and trying to get it done in the next three days would be tough.
One key GOP senator was more critical, calling a proposed study of chemical markers in explosives "a phony issue." ...

posted by amberglow at 6:52 AM on September 5, 2006

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