Appeasement; It Won't Work This Time

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), September 6, 2006 | Go to article overview
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Appeasement; It Won't Work This Time


Byline: Tony Blankley, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Last week, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that those who don't take the radical Islamist terrorist threat as seriously as the Bush administration does suffer from a "moral and intellectual confusion." He compared them to the British appeasers of Hitler before World War II. I did a left-wing radio call in show after the speech in which the callers accused Mr. Rumsfeld of calling them pro-Nazi for opposing President Bush on the war. Of course, Mr. Rumsfeld was suggesting no such thing. But it is worth reviewing the history and meaning of appeasement both for those who hurl the charge and for those who are charged.

The use of the term appeasement to describe a nation's foreign policy first emerged in the 1930's in England to describe the Ramsey McDonald/Stanley Baldwin/Neville Chamberlain British governments policy of avoiding military conflict with Hitler's Germany by yielding to his territorial demands. But it is important to note that prior to then, the term was typically used as a positive description of individual action, such as in the phrase "appeasementsofDivine displeasures" (Ralph Cudworth, the Cambridge Platonist, 1678).

Just so, the British governments of the 1930's thought they were acting both ethically and in the best interest of their people. While there were a few pro-Nazis and anti-Semites in Britain (mostly in the upper classes), Chamberlain and most of his government were neither. They did think Germany had been unfairly dealt with in the Versailles Treaty after World War I. And they did think it reasonable, natural and more or less inevitable that the 80 million German-speaking people of Europe would be reunited under one nation. Thus they appeased Hitler's demand for the Rhineland, anschluss (union) with Austria and the invasion of the Sudetenland (German speaking part of Czechoslovakia).

And if that was all Hitler had wanted, Chamberlain would have gone down in history as the 20th century's greatest statesman and peacemaker. (And Winston Churchill would have been remembered if he was remembered at all by the general public as an antique, Edwardian warmonger and trouble maker.) But, appeasement in and of its self is neither inherently unwise nor immoral. It depends on the facts of each case. While the term had not been used before the 1930s, the policy has been a mainstay of both weak and powerful governments throughout history.

In 1862 during our Civil War, in the Trent Affair, after a Union ship violated British maritime rights, the British threatened war if Lincoln didn't capitulate on the matter. His cabinet wanted war, but Lincoln "appeased" the British on the theory of "one war at a time." Bravo Abe the appeaser.

In 1555 Holy Roman Emperor Charles V signed the Religious Peace of Augsburg, whereby he gave in to the newly Protestant princes of his most Catholic empire and permitted them and their subjects to practice Lutheranism. He thereby delayed by 63 years the onset of the Thirty Years' War which eventually killed 30-40 percent of the entire German population in Europe plus vast numbers of Spanish, Swedes, Danes, French, Dutch, Italian and others.

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