Commentary: Appeasement Then and Now

Neville Chamberlin, Joe Biden
by Shmuel Klatzkin


Monday, a week ago, Holocaust Day was marked by solemn remembrances in Israel and in Jewish communities around the world. It was marked in the U.S., as has been customary, by a presidential address, where Biden said nothing that would garner more than perfunctory notice.

Turns out that that was by design. For Biden had already approved a decision that gives cheer to the shade of Hitler and all his modern wanna-be-s — embargoing any arms to Israel that would allow them to keep Hamas from surviving intact and reasserting its plan for death to Israel.

Old Joe’s cowardice extends even to speaking plainly to his own people.

Let’s put his cowardice in perspective by looking at what is often held up as the gold standard for foolishness and fecklessness, the betrayal of the cause of freedom in the leadup to World War II by the appeasers.

By 1938, Hitler had already consolidated his control over Germany. This included freeing himself from the bonds of the treaty which had ended the First World War, with all its limitations on German rearmament and it prohibition of militarizing the German territory west of the Rhine River. As the year progressed, his plans progressed further as he raped an Austria whose people seemed — in a huge demonstration in Vienna — to be stimulated to ecstasy by Hitler’s attentions.

From Austria, Hitler turned to Czechoslovakia, one of the nations carved from the ruins of the defunct Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of World War I. The rationalization for Hitler’s next move was the “rescue” of the ethnic Germans who lived in the western border region of Czechoslovakia known as the Sudetenland. It was a human rights crisis, according to the Nazi media, with these poor Germans suffering under the Czechs and the Slovaks much as those in Germany proper had suffered under the humiliating terms of the Treaty of Versailles (though not nearly as stringent and humiliating as the terms of the peace Germany had imposed on France on its defeat in 1871 — or the national annihilation that Hitler would bring to the Jews and the Slavs as his plans progressed).

When Hitler’s intentions towards Czechoslovakia became clear in late summer of 1938, Britain and France were appalled at the prospects of another general European war. Surely war could be avoided by diplomacy, they wanted to believe. They had the experience of the failure of diplomacy in 1914, mainly due to the many alliance commitments that were triggered in a cascade by Austria’s invasion of Serbia. France had made a strong commitment of alliance with the Czechs and Britain and France were joined to each other as the guarantors of the peace their victory in 1918 had won. Perhaps smart diplomacy could avoid the tripwires of war.

But Hitler’s demands were too much for any country to reasonably accept, and war seemed imminent, to the horror of the West. Britain’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain expressed it this way: “How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas masks here because of a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing.”

Chamberlain wanted peace and France followed his lead. To him, the obstacle to peace was the Czechs — they could not accept the dismemberment of their country. No Czech leader, democratically elected and accountable to the people, could agree with the Nazi demands.

So Chamberlain decided to exclude the Czechs from the talks and to make a deal about their country in which they would have no say — and the French, though committed by treaty to Czechoslovakia’s defense, tossed the treaty aside and went along with the Brits.

There was a moment of celebration in England on which Winston Churchill tossed a pitcher of cold water. Facing Chamberlain down publicly, he declared prophetically, “You were given the choice between war and dishonour. You chose dishonour, and you will have war.”

And war it was, more horrible than anything except the Nazi victory that only courageous resistance averted.

In his history of the Second World War, Churchill considered whether Czechoslovakia should have defied its erstwhile protectors and taken up arms against the threatened German invasion. They had a good army and a very defensible position, well-fortified and commanding the high ground. It is possible that a spirited defense would have shamed France into belatedly honoring its commitments. And as it turns out, German generals had a coup plan in place to overthrow Hitler if he threw them into a war at that turn.

But that never happened. By March of 1939, all of Czechoslovakia had been annexed and it disappeared as a nation until the end of the most destructive war of all time in May of 1945.

There is much about today’s situation in the Middle East that reminds us of Czechoslovakia in 1938. There is the looming power of a country dominated by an ideology that cries for a total victory worldwide against all who would resist it. That country had been contained and rendered nearly powerless by an empowered West. But Western leaders tired of their task.  Iran then gradually subverted the economic and military controls with the cooperation of Western leaders. It now has a ring of allies of all sorts. It has launched violent military actions through a wide theater and threatens even worse when it accesses the most terrible weapons ever devised.

The greatest power standing against this new aggressor is as feckless as Chamberlain and at least as self-regarding. But Chamberlain was at least a man of rectitude, without the slightest whiff of using his political power for self-enrichment or subverting the powers given into his hands to gag and jail his opponents. Nor were Chamberlain’s mental powers in a visible state of decay.

But there is a breathtaking parallel to Chamberlain’s willingness to cut Czechoslovakia out of a voice and a choice in its own fate when confronted with deadly danger.

Biden and his crew have been seeking to find a peaceful resolution of the Gaza crisis. Properly, they wish to minimize civilian death and the crushing destruction that is inevitable in urban warfare. They find, as Britain was eventually to find, that the Iranian proxies are not inclined to accept a peace that does not leave open their power to eventually carry through their core commitment to Israel’s (and America’s) destruction. And like Chamberlain, these guys may just believe that they will effect a religious conversion through their sheer goodness, and Hamas will emerge chastened and abashed, ready to live in peace and harmony and embrace the rainbow agenda.

More likely, though, is that lacking Chamberlain’s integrity, all they really believe is that they might win votes they need to stay in office, and wouldn’t it be a relief to just let Israel somehow just go away and stop being so difficult. And one thing that is certainly common to both historical eras is the very retro antisemitism that is more and more asserting itself as the badge of true wokeness.

And so they plunge forward in Chamberlain’s footsteps, at least in its worst aspects.

Take what just went down last week. Israel made an extreme offer under Biden’s pressure, one that probably would have caused Netanyahu’s political demise had Hamas accepted it. He committed Israel to extend a six-week ceasefire, to accept the return of less than thirty of its kidnapped civilians, to release many times that amount of convicted criminals, including terrorist murderers.

But this offer was spurned. Why should Hamas accept when it knows that Biden is taking away the only pressure that Israel holds over it — the threat to continue the war if it refuses. So Israel, having effectively no allies in its resistance to Hamas’ permanent threat to its existence, is stuck in the corner where Chamberlain put the Czechs.

Worse. The U.S., probably through the offices of CIA Director Burns, presented to the world the lie that Israel had made an offer that Hamas had accepted in which Israel would commit to leaving Gaza permanently, allowing Hamas to re-emerge and take control, and would accept about twenty Israeli corpses in place of live hostages.

Of course, the Biden media ran with this story, for it painted Israel’s non-acceptance of an agreement an offer it never made as just more Israeli arrogance and perhaps criminality (for aren’t all opponents of Biden policy criminal?).

How hideous this has become.

What is different between now and 1938 is just this — Israel is not going to slink away to its dismemberment without standing up for itself. As Biden at this point is seeming to make it necessary, says Netanyahu, “We will stand alone.”

Israel will not consent to its own elimination, to denying its people protection from the orgiastic murderers and rapists who will never stop trying to exterminate every vestige of Jewish independence, political and spiritual and ethnic.

Now we will see the if America will pass the test that the Czechs allowed the British and the French to skip.

Are we going to stand with the heirs of the Nazis, as totally committed to extermination as Hitler was? Or are we going to stand with the people who brought the world the book whose teachings are the basis of human rights and political freedom that have been America’s glory to bring to birth in the world?

I have no doubt what the people will choose. How much injury Biden and his sorry crew will inflict before that will is done remains to be seen.

Pray that it is as small as their wisdom and courage.

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Shmuel Klatzkin is a rabbi who previously served as senior editor at the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute. He received his Ph.D. from Brandeis University in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies and writes and teaches extensively.



Appeared at and reprinted from The American Spectator

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