Should Appeasement Be An Issue in 2008?

May 26, 2008

When I was growing up in the South there were many folk sayings that were used that today we rarely hear, but which fit the situation better than any other comment that could be made. One that I remember hearing often was, "When you throw a rock at a pack of dogs, the one that yelps is the one you hit."

I thought of that as I read Barack Obama's angry comment about President Bush's speech to the Israeli Knesset in celebration of Israel's 60th Birthday. What was the point of the speech given by President Bush, why are we getting only one paragraph from the media and why are the Democrats and particularly Obama yelping so loudly?

The State of Israel was created following WWII because more than six million Jews, which was the majority of the Jewish population in Europe at the time, were slaughtered by the Nazis. That happened either because of or in spite of the fact that British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and the French Premier, Édouard Daladier, tried to do what Barack Obama has said he wants to do with 21st century versions of Adolf Hitler - meet with them and negotiate a settlement.

That is exactly what Chamberlain and Daladier succeeded in doing. They met with Hitler in his retreat at Berchtesgaden on September 15-16 1938 to talk to him about his desire to take control of a portion of Czechoslovakia. After that meeting Chamberlain returned to London, triumphantly waving the agreement that he and Daladier had signed with Adolf Hitler and proudly announced to the cheering crowd: "The settlement of the Czechoslovakian problem, which has now been achieved is, in my view, only the prelude to a larger settlement in which all Europe may find peace in our time." Not everyone was thrilled. Winston Churchill warned that "We have suffered a total and unmitigated will find that in a period of time which may be measured by years, but may be measured by months, Czechoslovakia will be engulfed in the Nazi régime. We are in the presence of a disaster of the first magnitude...we have sustained a defeat without a war, the consequences of which will travel far with us along our road...we have passed an awful milestone in our history, when the whole equilibrium of Europe has been deranged, and that the terrible words have for the time being been pronounced against the Western democracies: "Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting."

It turned out to be measured in months. In March of 1939 Hitler seized total control of the rest of Czechoslovakia and a then six months later in September 1939 invaded Poland. "Peace in our Time" became war in our time and that led to the death of more than 50 million people worldwide.

President Bush had been invited to speak at the 60th anniversary of the United Nations 1948 approval of the State of Israel. The slaughter of the Jews began immediately after Hitler's occupation of Czechoslovakia and Poland and ended only after the German army was defeated and Hitler was dead. President Bush began his talk to the Knesset by recounting the events that led to the very existence of the State of Israel:

"Sixty years ago in Tel Aviv, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel's independence, founded on the 'natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate.' What followed was more than the establishment of a new country. It was the redemption of an ancient promise given to Abraham and Moses and David-a  homeland for the chosen people Eretz Yisrael.

"Eleven minutes later, on the orders of President Harry Truman, the United States was proud to be the first nation to recognize Israel's independence. And on this landmark anniversary, America is proud to be Israel's closest ally and best friend in the world.

"The alliance between our governments is unbreakable, yet the source of our friendship runs deeper than any treaty. It is grounded in the shared spirit of our people, the bonds of the Book, and the ties of the soul. When William Bradford stepped off the Mayflower in 1620, he quoted the words of Jeremiah: "Come let us declare in Zion the word of God." The founders of my country saw a new promised land and bestowed upon their towns names like Bethlehem and New Canaan. And in time, many Americans became passionate advocates for a Jewish state.

"Centuries of suffering and sacrifice would pass before the dream was fulfilled. The Jewish people endured the agony of the pogroms, the tragedy of the Great War, and the horror of the Holocaust -- what Elie Wiesel called "the kingdom of the night." Soulless men took away lives and broke apart families. Yet they could not take away the spirit of the Jewish people, and they could not break the promise of God. (Applause) When news of Israel's freedom finally arrived, Golda Meir, a fearless woman raised in Wisconsin, could summon only tears. She later said: "For two thousand years we have waited for our deliverance. Now that it is here it is so great and wonderful that it surpasses human words."

Although Jews have lived for more than 3,200 years in what was called the "Palestinian Mandate", most Jews were driven out of the area by the Roman Army in 135 AD and did not have a nation again until 1948. However, long before Israel became a nation, Jews were returning to, and purchasing property there. In the 1870s the Sursocks, a Christian Lebanese family, purchased much of the Jezreel Valley from the Ottoman Turkish owners and later sold it to the Jewish National Fund that purchased it to expedite the gathering of the Jews again to the Holy Land.

This history was the subject of the President Bush's speech. I think it should be read and understood by all Americans. It was not a political speech, which both the media and the Obama are trying to claim. It was a speech that addressed both the history of the State of Israel and the greatest challenge facing us -the kind of world our children and grandchildren will inherit: Will we have the courage to strive and sacrifice for peace and freedom? The President thinks we should:

"We believe that free people should strive and sacrifice for peace. So we applaud the courageous choices Israeli's leaders have made. We also believe that nations have a right to defend themselves and that no nation should ever be forced to negotiate with killers pledged to its destruction. We believe that targeting innocent lives to achieve political objectives is always and everywhere wrong. So we stand together against terror and extremism, and we will never let down our guard or lose our resolve.

"The fight against terror and extremism is the defining challenge of our time. It is more than a clash of arms. It is a clash of visions, a great ideological struggle. On the one side are those who defend the ideals of justice and dignity with the power of reason and truth. On the other side are those who pursue a narrow vision of cruelty and control by committing murder, inciting fear, and spreading lies.

"This struggle is waged with the technology of the 21st century, but at its core it is an ancient battle between good and evil. The killers claim the mantle of Islam, but they are not religious men. No one who prays to the God of Abraham could strap a suicide vest to an innocent child, or blow up guiltless guests at a Passover Seder, or fly planes into office buildings filled with unsuspecting workers. In truth, the men who carry out these savage acts serve no higher goal than their own desire for power. They accept no God before themselves. And they reserve a special hatred for the most ardent defenders of liberty, including Americans and Israelis.

"And that is why the founding charter of Hamas calls for the "elimination" of Israel. And that is why the followers of Hezbollah chant "Death to Israel, Death to America!" That is why Osama bin Laden teaches that "the killing of Jews and Americans is one of the biggest duties." And that is why the President of Iran dreams of returning the Middle East to the Middle Ages and calls for Israel to be wiped off the map.

"There are good and decent people who cannot fathom the darkness in these men and try to explain away their words. It's natural, but it is deadly wrong. As witnesses to evil in the past, we carry a solemn responsibility to take these words seriously. Jews and Americans have seen the consequences of disregarding the words of leaders who espouse hatred. And that is a mistake the world must not repeat in the 21st century.

"Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.' We have an obligation to call this what it is -- the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history."

That senator was not just some befuddled, obscure figure in American history. Borah was the Republican chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee from 1925-1933 who had supported and campaigned vigorously for the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, for the new communist government in Moscow and against the League of Nations. Like Obama today, in 1936 Borah was a candidate for President of the United States. In 1939, after Hitler invaded Poland, Borah introduced a bill prohibiting the sale of arms to Britain and France or others involved in World War II.

Must we repeat with each generation the disastrous mistakes of the 1930s which led to the death of more than 50 million people around the world? Should appeasement and its danger become an issue in the 2008 presidential campaign? I believe it should.

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Copyright ©2008 Mary Mostert