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08 September 2013

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David Habakkuk

Babak Makkinejad,

The account of the way British public opinion changed by johnf is very much to the point.
As to Chamberlain, it is critical to remember that like so many at the time, he was haunted by 1914.

Ironically, he and other leading supporters of ‘appeasement’ were very well aware of the element of instability in Hitler’s personality. It was in part because of this awareness that what preoccupied them intensely was precisely the kind of scenario about which political leaders in Washington and London are now so insouciant – one of a process of escalation running out of control, as was thought to have happened in the lead-up to the First World War.

Precisely because Hitler was nationalist, they assumed, the agenda about which he was really concerned was the bringing together of ethnic Germans in a Greater German Reich, and one could take his professions of implacable opposition to Soviet international socialism at face value.

Accordingly, Chamberlain and those who thought like him concluded that the political problem was to manage a political leader and movement, some of whose dangerous potentialities they recognised, so as to produce a new European settlement without another war – a war they thought Stalin was attempting to engineer.

The German occupation of the rump of Czechoslovaka in March 1939 called the first of their central premises radically into question. Encouraged by among others the Polish leader Colonel Beck, however, Chamberlain continued to believe that seeking active collaboration with the Soviet Union would be more likely to encourage Hitler to attack Poland rather than to deter him.

It is also here however important to remember that Chamberlain was attempting to combine ‘appeasement’ with ‘deterrence’. It was possible for him to imagine that an unstable and erratic Hitler would create ‘faits accompli’ if he thought he could get away with it. It was very difficult for him, and many others in Britain at the time, to imagine that he would risk an all-out war with the British Empire.

In the event, Hitler had an obvious counter-move, which Beck and Chamberlain ought to have foreseen – to seek an agreement with the Soviet Union.

Moreover, Chamberlain and his advisers failed to grasp the fact that, for all kinds of reasons, Stalin was liable to conclude that coming to terms with Hitler made better sense than the available alternatives.

What – unsurprisingly – neither Hitler nor indeed Stalin understood was that over the months since Munich, the centre of gravity of British opinion had shifted, so a belief that war could be and had to be avoided had been replaced by a resigned acceptance that it was inevitable and had to be fought.

Both, for different reasons and in different ways, failed to understand the process which johnf describes: the decisive movement of British opinion against ‘appeasement’.

Some points in conclusion. Contrary to what is often assumed, ‘appeasement’ was not the product of simply stupidity or naivety. Indeed, a case that can be made that, with almost any other German leader than Hitler, it would probably have worked. Certainly, in September 1939, neither Goebbels nor Goering were enthusiastic about risking war with the British Empire by attacking Poland. In a fundamental sense, the old-fashioned description of the conflict as ‘Hitler’s War’ is accurate.

Insofar as others can be held to be responsible, however, three things can be said. One is that a non-neglible share of the blame can be laid at the door of Polish nationalists – who often suffer from a Russophobia which is eminently understandable, but sometimes a danger to themselves and others.

Another is that a fundamental British mistake was in failing to try to see the world through Russian/Soviet eyes: the fact that doing so involved trying to get into the mind of a murderous Machiavellian mobster like Stalin should not be regarded as an excuse.

A third is that, whatever blame may be attached that Machiavellian mobster, it does not relate to the Nazi-Soviet Pact. Given the options that the British had given the Soviets, it seems to me that making terms with the Germans was by far their least worst option.

In conclusion, one might perhaps suggest that it is the true heirs of Neville Chamberlain who are in power in Washington, as in London. They make no attempt whatsoever to gauge how their actions are likely to be interpreted either by the Syrian regime, or the Iranian, or the Russian, or the Chinese.

Equally, they are as incapable as Chamberlain was in 1939 of making difficult decisions about priorities. The grotesque overestimates of the threat from Iran and his allies today might be compared to the grotesque overestimates of the threat from the Soviet Union then. Likewise, the grotesque underestimate of the threat posed by Saudi-sponsored Islamists today might be compared to the ludicrously complacent view of National Socialist Germany held by figures like Chamberlain.

johnf

David,

Entirely agree with you about how the neocons and liberal interventionists with their miscalculations are Chamberlain's natural successors.

(Ironical that repeatedly they assert that their opponents are the natural successors of appeasement and Munich).

Also agree about the parallels between Chamberlain's overestimate of the the Soviet threat and their own overestimate of the threat of Syria etc - when the real wolf is staring down their throat.

Babak Makkinejad

Thank you for your comments and clarifications.

Iran and her allies pose no threat to US or EU.

Tunde

Jeremy Bowen (BBC) covers Maaloula on BBC24. Christians bewildered by events on the ground and urging non-intervention by Obama.

kao_hsien_chih

I remember that AJP Taylor made one extra observation about what made Germans look like aggressors at Munich: Eduard Benes summoned "legitimate" Sudeten leaders to Prague and gave them all the concessions they wanted. After the Czechs already conceded (albeit to the Sudetens and not Hitlerite Germany), continuing to put pressure on the Czech state seemed overdoing it, and the occupation of the remaining Czech state completed the perception that the whole premise of "responsibility to protect" ethnic Germans claimed by Hitler was just a lie. (yes, I'm using this term deliberately.) I was thinking about this after I heard about Syria's apparent acceptance of the Lavrov suggestion that they submit their CW's to some sort of international guardianship (of the Russians?). If the chemical weapons were the real reason for the current crisis, this would be akin to Benes making concessions to the Sudetens directly, bypassing Hitler: simultaneously removing the alleged casus belli and slapping the main agitator at the same time. I'd no more expect a deescalation to follow this than it did in 1938, if only because I'm increasingly convinced that Obama is a narcissistic buffoon who cannot think beyond his own image. But, if we in the US don't deescalate using this opportunity, we'd be in for a lot of trouble. If the advantage of a republic over a monarchy (or a dictatorship) is that we are able to sacrifice the pride of our leaders for the sake of the people, this would be where I'd like to see the proof.

r whitman

Our host of this blog has proposed a Concert of the Middle East many times.

Dr. K

We will never get Israel in the mix. And they are stirring the pot.

Charles I

Thanks for your work there, and kao_hsien_chih's comment too.

The cite I can't recall was a book or in a book about the House of al-Saud somebody published after 9/11 in the early chapter specifically about the founding of the House and was replete with cash, gas, the Anglo-American Oil Company, bi-planes and Mr. Churchill. Since I can't recall and am too lazy to go on a hunt just now I stand corrected.

Tyler

I wonder how many looked at the destruction of these Christian communities as a feature and not a bug of the invasion?

CK

Respectfully disagree with you on this, "he who has the gold buys the rule makers" is the only golden rule to be observed in any democracy.

bth

Andrew Bacevich and I are friends and have common bond that shared tragedy inspires. He articulates in words what I with shaking fist express.

But as to war I have boiled my brooding thoughts to this - Is it worth your son's life? It seems that this is the essence of the issue.

It has become too easy to send someone else's son to war.

Ursa Maior

Today the biggest hungarian newspaper appeared with an article titled "Wherever the US sets his feet christians die - An account of the last 10 years' US foreign policy". One of the most shocking assumptions of the article is that the current Wahsington elite openly supports the sunnis on the expense of the christians.

No comment.

Mark G

Syrian Christian Woman takes John McCain to task for his policies at townhall: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzH7BxFEzDs

johnf

The Benes/Henlein parallel is dead right. It was a brilliant diplomatic move even though it didn't save the Czechs.

I don't think the US will follow Germany's example, though. With Congress and possible impeachment breathing down his neck, I think Obama will take Putin's proffered lifeline and tell the warmongers to go hang. The Israel Lobby is a busted flush. (Hopefully).

Tyler

That's not too surprising. Who's going to speak up for them over here?

The 'big' Catholic Church is selling itself piecemeal to the government for more money to fund 'social programs'. Right now they seem more worried about making sure an amnesty treason passes to put more hispanic asses in pews than trying to organize a relief for our brothers and sisters in Christ.

The mainline Protestant sects are in disarray, constantly trying to triangulate in order to appeal to the latest fad and throwing any semblance of Catchecism by the wayside. Romans 1:27? What's that's?! No dude, Jesus was totally chillax and never judged anyone ever.

The level of spiritual education among many Christians is distressing, and I doubt many know or understand the links with the Orthodox offshoots and believe everyone over there is just an Arab who loves democracy or an evil terrorist who wants to blow us up. Start talking about Syrian Orthodoxy (to say nothing of mentioning Yezidis, Alawites, and Sufis) and you're going to get a lot of blank looks.

Combine all this with the general ignorance of Judaism and its hostility to Christ as Messiah (Judeo-Christian values has to be Hannity's favorite word ever) with an ethnic group that keeps grudges for a LONG time, and its obvious that it might have taken a few hundred years but it looks like some old scores are being settled.

If that means the majority of mercantile contracts have to be routed through Tel Aviv? Well that's just a happy coincidence.

Our leaders pay lip service (if that!) to Christianity's precepts while doing whatever the hell they want to. Putin's defiance on this matter based on his faith as much as anything must seem strange to those drunk on Saudi oil money and Israeli polticial influence.

Alba Etie

Jonst , Col Lang and others
Fareed Zakaria was one of the cheerleaders for intervening in Iraq. This is nothing but recycled swill , and even the Sheeple are calling Bullsh-- t !! And Wesley Clark was the Supreme Nato Commander that told that British General to evict the Russians from Pristina airport during the Kosovo mess. At lest the British General politely refused to start perhaps WWW 111.

Alba Etie

"We shall fight them on the beaches
We shall fight them in the streets
We shall fight them in the Hills
We shall never surrender "

Alba Etie

Mr Habbkuk,
The Congresscritters are getting deluged by calls, emails & twita to not attack Syria . This is an election year - Joe Six Pack has seen this dire propaganda machine before, he will be prepared to vote the warmongers of both parties out . This is completely different then the run up to Iraq. If BHO bombs Syria you will see national & sustained Civil Disobedience - full stop . And all of our pols know this ...

Ursa Maior

Understood, yet if this more or less well hidden fact is openly published, it means a much faster collapse of US soft power than previously anticipated by many including me.

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