When I was a boy, almost everyone was agreed on what precipitated World War II. Yes, Adolf Hitler was a bad man, but the flaccidity of the Western democracies in appeasing his aggressive appetites was equally responsible for encouraging him to ravage Europe.
Back in the 1940s, Americans could not forget the foolishness of Neville Chamberlain. When the Fuehrer demanded that the Sudetenland be ceded from Czechoslovakia to Germany, Chamberlain had travelled to Munich and signed a treaty giving Adolf what he asked.
Who then did not recall the wild cheers with which the British Prime Minister was greeted when he deplaned back home waving a piece of paper and declaring that he had saved “peace in our time?” Nor were recently demobilized American soldiers likely to overlook the bloody battles from which they barely escaped with their lives.
Today, however, those memories are no longer fresh. Likewise, appeasement is no longer a policy we fear. We do not remember that Winston Churchill was widely reviled for warning that Hitler was a danger. To the contrary, most people then believed Hitler when he declared that he did not want war.
Most people also believed the Fuehrer when he asserted that he would make no more territorial demands if given the German speaking part of Czechoslovakia. After all, he was only seeking to protect his fellow Germans from the rapacious tyranny of the Czechs.
Hitler had to mean what he said, because no one really wanted war. Surely the German people did not want it. This was madness and no one could be that mad. It therefore made sense to be nice to Hitler. If only the West refrained from being unreasonable, he would cease being belligerent.
Does any of this sound familiar? Aren’t we seeing a replay of these attitudes with respect to radical Islam? Haven’t our leaders, most notably Barack Obama, been telling us that we must play nice with the Muslim world? Aren’t we counseled that they are basically decent people who like ourselves only want peace and hence will respond favorably if we cease being aggressive?
Hitler said that he wanted to exterminate the Jewish people, but that had to be rhetoric. The Iranians say they want to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, but that is mere bluster. Or is it? Is it possible that some extremists are really extremists who are prepared to do what we never would?
If we say that it is just a few leaders who are over-zealous in their language, what of those thousands in the Arab street who are chanting “Death to America?” What of the tens, if not hundreds, of millions who regard Israel as the “Little Satan” and us as the “Great Satan?” Are they kidding when they say they want to impose Sharia law on us?
Barack Obama thought that if he apologized to these people, as he did in Cairo, they would change their ways and decide to construct a Western-style democracy. Did he really believe this? Does he believe now — with violent eruptions all over the Muslim world — that this is a minor, and temporary, glitch?
Do Obama, and the reporters who castigated Mitt Romney, think that an inept video that defames the prophet Mohammed is the sole cause of this uproar or that apologizing for it will fix what is broken? Do they seriously imagine that sacrificing our dedication to free speech will open Arab eyes to our good intentions?
This is appeasement! Churchill warned that those who abandon their principles for the sake of peace, in the end have neither peace nor principles. Romney said as much — albeit not as stirringly. If we embrace weakness for the sake of not offending our enemies, they will not be grateful — and we will not be safe.
Appeasement sounds sensible when the bombs are exploding thousands of miles away. It won’t seem quite as sensible if they start exploding here.
Melvyn L. Fein Ph.D. is a professor of Sociology at Kennesaw State University.
Read more: The Marietta Daily Journal – Was Neville Chamberlain right