Does the Munich Analogy Fit?

Fact & Fiction

Mr. Cook is an independent scholar. He lives in Ohio.

Recent world events have stimulated an increase of interest into the events of the September 1938 Munich Conference that, among other things, gave us the so-called Munich Analogy for appeasement. Students, journalists, pundits and even neighbors are discussing the current debate about Iraq in terms of British and French foreign policy of 1938.

Historical analogies rely on continuities; that is, the analogy draws on those things that were the same then as they are now. Like literary metaphors, of which historical analogies are a subset, meaning is measured by the strength of the similarity: the stronger the similarity the stronger the historical argument. A brief re-capitulation of some of the salient features of European foreign policy in the 1930s might be helpful.

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The remilitarization of the Rhineland by Germany on 7 March 1936 was the key event in the interwar period because it upset the military balance of power between Germany and France and because it destroyed the assumptions of collective security upon which European states had conducted foreign policy since the conclusion of the Versailles Treaty and the inauguration of the League of Nations. Germany's unopposed march into the Rhineland in direct violation of the Locarno Treaty set the stage for Munich two years later.

France and Great Britain's failure to enforce the Locarno Treaty was Europe's last best chance to halt German expansion and Hitler's planned destruction of the Versailles Treaty and the League of Nations.

Munich in 1938 was no more than a continuation of that failure. The Sudeten and Czechoslovakian crisis was, as Chamberlain said, "a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing."

If France and Britain were not going to go to war in 1936 to enforce the Locarno Treaty, the idea of collective security and the defense of France, then it was no surprise that no major power was going to war over the territorial integrity of Czechoslovakia, a faraway country that neither wanted to believe they knew much about.

After 1936, Hitler was increasingly seen within and without Germany as the man of the hour; he was "Europe's new Man of Destiny." In February 1937, well before the Munich conference, in the Munich Hoffbrauhaus in a speech at the annual celebration of the NSDAP's founding, Hitler proclaimed to a cheering audience, "Today we have once again become a world power!" To many in the NSDAP and in Germany, Hitler's long-time promise, a promise that went all the way back to his book Mein Kampf, was now fulfilled.

At the same time, France lost faith in its own policy of containing Germany through alliances. Few in France and fewer in Europe cared much whether Austria became a part of Germany and so in early 1938 the Austrian Anschlus was a fait accompli: Munich was only six months away.

Munich is important because it was the recognition of the changing balance of power in Europe that had been occurring over the previous two years. Munich is remembered because Winston Churchill's ringing objections from the floor of the House of Commons articulated the foreign policy weakness of Britain and France not by a complicated explanation of national power and diplomacy, but rather by focusing on the moral question of appeasement. The Munich Conference, Churchill said, was a major disaster.

In September 1938 few agreed with Churchill. Chamberlain's assurances of peace with honor and peace in our time were far more comforting to the general public, a public whose memory of World War I, then known as the Great War for no one knew an even greater one was coming, left them with little will to sacrifice themselves again for Europe.

Since 1938 the abandonment of Czechoslovakia at the Munich Conference has become a well-known metaphor, an historical analogy, for policies of real or presumed appeasement.

The actual events in Europe between 1936 and 1938 are far too complex to admit to a simple summary through analogy. But that by no means suggests the 1936-1938 period is devoid of fruitful insight and understanding. If a use of history is to help us understand rather than providing selective ammunition for various political justifications, then this important period of European history has much to say to us today.

A basic assumption of the Versailles Treaty and the League of Nations was the supremacy of military and political power of France within Europe. However, during the 1920s and 1930s France's relative position of power declined without significant adjustments in the system of collective security. During that time period, neither Britain, the United States nor Soviet Russia stepped in to support the nation-state system of Versailles or to guarantee French borders. France, for the most part, remained oblivious to these changes.

The events of 1936-1938 are also useful for examining the strengths and weaknesses of collective security. What did the League of Nations achieve? How did it react to the Ethiopian Crisis, Japanese expansion, the Spanish Civil War let alone events in central Europe? What use was the Locarno treaty when its major signatories elected not to enforce it? In the abstract, those questions are relevant today.

The events of 1936-1938 also suggest a discussion of domestic affairs. Britain and France were much more traumatized by World War I than either country suspected in the early 1920s. With each passing year after 1918, the peoples of Western democracies began to re-examine the usefulness of war and the necessity of sacrifice. World diplomacy focussed on disarmament as a solution to world security. An unarmed world would be a safe world it was believed But what if some do not want to disarm? Few in the 1920s and 1930s confronted that question.

What about this idea of appeasement itself? To appease means to calm, to pacify or to buy off an aggressor through granting concessions while sacrificing principle.

In the early fall of 1938 England and France could not have militarily stopped Germany from occupying Sudeten Czechoslovakia even had they wanted to. Britain had no more influence in the affairs of central Europe than it would a year later. By going to Munich and acquiescing to Germany's limited expansion through what today we would call a summit meeting, kept Britain in the game as a major power. If Britain had ignored the Sudeten Crisis, then Britain would no longer have a seat at the table of the major players. As a consequence, Britain would have lost its position of power and prestige among its colonies and Commonwealth nations and, most importantly, it would have entered World War II as either an ally of Germany (not as unrealistic as it might seem at first blush) or America's very junior partner. Going to Munich, keeping a thin veneer of diplomatic propriety on events that Britain could not otherwise control, maintained Britain's position as a world power -- weak to be sure, but still on the playing field.

Today France faces a similar dilemma. France does not want the US to defeat and occupy Iraq but is too weak to prevent it. If France is to remain a major player, then France needs to find a way to create a diplomatic environment that makes it appear that France, reluctantly to be sure, allows the US to go forward. France remains weak, but at least still in the game.

Returning to the 1930s, without informing France, Chamberlain cut a deal with Hitler. It was not a good deal, but it was far better than any alternative Britain had or thought she had at that moment. Benes, of course, was stubborn and would not go along, but without British and French intervention, which was out of the question, Czechoslovakia could not defend its borders; besides, Czechoslovakia had its own ethnic limitations, so to speak: Czechs and Slovaks were not all that enthusiastic about dying for Sudeten Germans.

None of that, of course, worked. The following year Britain's bluff was called. There would be no side-deals for Poland. Chamberlain hesitated but the angry outcry in the House of Commons made it clear, as it had not been clear the previous year, that Chamberlain's government would fall unless war was declared on the principle of the pledges made to Poland. France fell the next year and the lights went out in Europe -- which was just as well for the King of England who was now naked.

Yet, even at the time the new-founded indignity of the Commons was hollow. After all, Poland could not be saved, there were no Germans at Hastings, the Royal Navy still owned the English Channel. Some of that would come later, but for the moment the Commons could rise to the occasion.

To describe Britain's foreign policy of the late 1930s as a policy of appeasement is inadequate. Rather, it was a foreign policy of tragic ineptitude equaled only by France. Neither nation had the military power with which to enforce their foreign policy goals and gravely lacked the diplomatic skills with which to play a weak hand. The costs of their mistakes are not to this day paid.

There are also numerous and important dissimilarities between the events of 1936-1938 in Europe and those of today concerning a likely war on Iraq.

To name just a few: in the late 1930s the League of Nations had become ineffectual on all fronts, the system of collective security through multi-national treaties was bankrupt, the world was in a deep economic depression, the United States was not an active let alone dominant military or political player in the world, Soviet Russia was following an unsteady as well as unpredictable course and most minor nation states had very little to say or do in the world of great power, imperial diplomacy. Comparisons between Adolph Hitler and Saddam Hussein are only superficial at their very best.

Today there is only one dominant political and military power in the world. Unlike the late 1930s, small and economically weak nation states can play significant although hardly positive roles on the world stage. Through the tactics of terror non-national entities can play highly dangerous and disruptive roles. Colonialism and imperialism are gone. Political ideologies have been replaced by religious fanaticism. Yet large numbers of people live in conditions of extreme poverty and political impotence with little hope that the benefits of economic globalization will ever grace their hovels. Unlike the late 1930s, demographically it is the least developed nations that are growing in population while the most developed nations are not.

With only a very cursory glance one can see that the world of today is quite unlike the world of the late 1930s. Historical parallels and analogies between the two periods are few. Those that do exist are often overlooked because they appear to be truisms. Let me suggest three. Military power does count; it counts a great deal. Secondly, as Adam Smith reminded us in his Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), man's moral limitations are defined by his egocentricity -- and the behavior of nation-states follows accordingly. Last but not least, history is the result of many individual decisions, not all of which are consistent or predictable.

What we can learn from the late 1930s is that individuals will make decisions based on their own perceptions of power and self-interest. Whether or not those decisions will be inept or wrong will not always be immediately clear. By extension, however, we can understand what happened and what went wrong in Europe in the late 1930s; and to that extent we can discern what, if any, lessons of that period may be appropriate for consideration today. To do so, however, one must take into consideration both change and continuity.

Historical analogies are indeed powerful, both as heuristic constructs for learning and models for political polemic. Unfortunately, historical analogies do not always account for change. However, examining what is different from one historical event to another is as much if not more of an historical enterprise than formulating and applying historical analogies and metaphors. The above discussion of European foreign policy in the late 1930s is by no means intended as a definitive discussion; rather it is offered as a stimulus for further discussion on both historical continuity and historical change; that is, to what extent do the discontinuities negate the application of the Munich Analogy to contemporary events?

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Alec Lloyd - 3/10/2003

First off, I must strongly object to the moral equivalence you draw between the US government and that of Iraq. Quite simply, if the relative military strengths were reversed, you would have a portrait of Saddam on your wall or be undergoing torture for failing to show due respect to the Great Leader. I believe you know better.

If we are to have a rational discussion, I must insist that you avoid such a reckless use of hyperbole.

As to the parallels, obviously we disagree. The no-fly zones are certainly less onerous than the demilitarized Rhineland, and both were imposed as a condition of peace. Had Iraq wished to maintain its sovereignty, it could have refrained from repeated invasions.

Having failed to honor the terms of the cease-fire, Iraq has, from a legal standpoint, unilaterally abrogated them. We are therefore free to complete the conquest of Iraq at any time.

Furthermore, your points about the German-Soviet collaboration and the difficulty of verifying disarmament buttress my argument even more. We cannot simply “inspect” a hostile regime into compliance. By now it should be obvious that rogue regimes will achieve whatever dreadful armaments they desire; science cannot be “contained.”

As noted in a post of mine on the question of who armed Iraq, we cannot ban basic chemistry. Any decent collegiate chemistry lab will furnish the materials for the construction of chemical weapons. One needs only a master’s degree to advance to more exotic concoctions.

Furthermore, the very nature of modern technology means that there are no hard, clear lines between civilian and military technologies. Chemical fertilizers can also be used as nerve agents, as can pesticides. The only way to prevent a rogue regime from obtaining WMD is to remove said regime.

South Africa provides an excellent example of this. Under apartheid, it was a covert nuclear power. Only a change in government convinced it to disarm—and it will stay disarmed only so long as the current government wishes it to remain that way.

Finally, the arguments you are making as to the need for further delay, the danger of war and the “safest possible course” could have come from Ramsay MacDonald or Stanley Baldwin. One cannot see protesters carrying signs emblazoned with “Peace in our Time” without being overcome by the feeling that we have all done this before.

Will we learn from our mistakes? Or shall the latter-day League of Nations refer the matter to a committee which will once again take no firm action until Iraq’s nuclear status renders the whole question moot?

There is a time element involved, Mr. Moner, and unlike democracies, despotisms do not wait for international approval before acting.

Gus Moner - 3/7/2003

Thank you for the name of the woman in question Mr. Lloyd. I agree totally with your assessment of her work, and you have made some good points for your perspective, especially in the resourceful defence of the analogies. Whilst I disagree, I nonetheless find them inspired and well thought out. I appreciate them.

I would put to you, however, that Iraq’s firing on, or rather mostly targeting, of UK/US planes is not ‘illegal’. What is undoubtedly illegal is the continued partition of the Iraqi state into 3 air zones, two prohibited to the Iraqis themselves! No international law or sanction has been provided for that. Moreover, if any humanitarian requirement for it existed in the past, as has been alleged due to the chaos that evolved after the Gulf War, that situation has been inexistent for at least the past 8 years. Indeed, one could make the case that the US and UK are the ones violating the cease-fire agreement. The legalism of no-fly zones has yet to be dealt with properly.

Thus, the France and Italy analogies you point to are not relevant. Now, do you see why Iraq as you say, ‘gets a pass’? The doctrine of pre-emption is not legal. The UN Charter to which we are all signatories, explicitly states the cases for war and this one is excluded. One ought not ignore that signal fact.

Mr Bush I, Clinton and Bush II have all vilified the Iraqi regime, and quite frankly, I cannot disagree that the Iraqi government is dictatorial and brutal. However, that is not a reason to go to war. Not yet, not now, for we have not done so for other nations suffering equal or worse conditions, such as China, Libya, N Korea, Angola, Congo, Burundi, Uganda, Cuba, etc. In this we all seem to generally agree.

The question is how to go about preventing the use of that probable arsenal and eliminating it. The warmongers say it requires war. The diplomatic crowd says diplomacy. Both are equally ‘threatened’ by the wmd potential. So, why is there such divergence? It’s a genuine and important debate that has grave implications as to what world we want to live in- in future. It must be waged in peace and with time whilst the danger is not imminent.

We need to be cautious, decide on the side of safety and prudence in light of the current inspection regime’s infant success. Time is not essential here, as it is for example, in N Korea, where within 6 months various nuclear weapons will be ready for mounting in tested ICBM or medium-range missiles. Why are we not equally into removing this despotic, demented leader, who starves his own people as Bush II says? Why Iraq now, and first? Israel and oil.

Mr Bush tells us that N Korea is a multi-lateral issue, Iraq seems unilateral. Why? Why not work to set up a multi-lateral approach with the EU and Muslim world to deal with Iraq? The increasing pressure on Iraq has led others, like N Korea to feel increasingly threatened. The conflagration(s) that could ensue from this crisis are devastating to consider. It seems irresponsible and premature to attack Iraq just now.

The Iraqi analogies to France and the UK in the 30’s are useless, the nations vastly different, the causes totally disparate in nature and content. The propaganda about Saddam and Iraq is so manufactured, contrived, at times totally false and deceiving as to make one vomit. We have been told so many lies and so many stories, none are anymore believable.

First it was the links to al Qaeda, then the potential links, then the potential transfer of wmd to terrorists. Then that Iraq had an evil leader. Then that he had invaded neighbours twice, conveniently forgetting Israel’s 5 invasions of neighbours, their attack on Iraq and their permanent occupation of Palestine in violation of UN resolutions. We were told Iraq had transferred the wmd to Syria, then that they were floating on ships in the sea. That they had hidden weapons in river beds and under palaces, that they had them in mobile labs. In the end, none of those allegations were true. First we were told that the objective was to disarm Iraq, then that it is to remove Saddam. First that we’d do it with the UN, then that we’d do it without. The latter now seems true.

Again, the question is how to remove the wmd threat, not the whether. I say this with full knowledge that the USA will anyway attack with or without the UN, for reasons of a geopolitical and economic nature. I also imagine that a US victory is almost inevitable. You may be right that he’ll only comply if the bombs fly, however, in my mind there have to be the two critical factors safeguarded before bombs fly:

- Enough time to determine the feasibility of peaceful disarmament
- UN sanction to wage war

If the UN inspectors think that in a few months Iraq can be disarmed, let’s see. Set a deadline, place benchmarks for measurement, keep the pressure on, and let’s see what develops. If they do not meet the conditions, then you have your war. If they do, then you have your peace, to concentrate on other threats.

The Versailles Treaty was relegated to the scrap heap of history due to its un-workability from an economic standpoint as well as its brutality and unfairness in assessing and making pay for blame. Re-militarising the Rhineland was indeed a threat, the French ought to have acted but got no UK support to do so. It, however, has no similitude to today’s crisis, supposedly about wmd in Iraq.

The ‘follies’ of the Little Entente and Magigot Line were not due to their conception, but the lack of will to use them. In the case of the Little Entente, it was well designed and could have been successful if invoked. The Magigot Line, as you say…

But we all keep trying to compare Iraq to Germany, seeking there some justification for attacking Iraq. Yet there are no socio-political, geo-political nor economic similarities. Now, when you come to the ACC on weapons, it is indeed a good analogy, in terms of evaluating whether commissions working to verify certain treaty covenants work. I disagree that it ‘failed spectacularly’. It was not long-lasting enough, but initially it worked. German armaments were destroyed. Indeed, re-armament was not initiated until after 1934, (some 12 years after the weapons destruction) although it’s a known fact you did not mention that the German and Soviet general staffs engaged in testing armaments, performed tactical manoeuvres exercises and other exchanges of a military nature behind the backs of the Allies in the 20’s and 30’s.

It may well be that Iraq fails to disarm, I too am unsure it will. That, however, has to be proven convincingly to obtain the international approval to make this a war with consensus and legality, to preserve a much-laboured international order.

Your analysis of the Israeli Indian and Pakistani nuclear proliferation is flawed because those nations weren’t signatories to the IAEA process. It does work for N Korea. However, N Korea is a singular planetary case.

Finally, I ask you to set out who is to be the guardian of the planet’s armament levels for each nation, based on your expressed doctrine. Is not a UN consensus the best way to go? There is where we find your ‘parallel with the 1930s: the futility of disarmament treaties’. One or two nations cannot do this. What if a ‘good’ nation is allowed wmd, and then falls into the hands of zealots, despots, cliques or whatever?

Who is to be the arbiter of each nation’s armaments level? The US? Will the US submit to other nations’ perception of its level of threat to world peace and high armament level? It cannot be denied the aggressor state here today is the USA, given the unproven threat to US security, unproven links to 9-11, unproven links to nearly everything except having had, and (probably) having wmd. As you say, ‘No amount of treaties or inspections will persuade determined states from achieving the level of armament they desire.’

Thus, I find the definition of despotic and dangerous applicable to the USA’s current leadership. A small group of men have seized control of this nation and are militarily imposing their design of how the world should be on the rest of the planet, controlling the media and indoctrinating the nation in the best methods of Goebbles and the Soviets. No wonder UK web sites are receiving over 50% more hits from N. America the past few weeks, measured weekly. People yearn for proper debate and more truth than propaganda. The fact is that most success against terrorism has been through police and intelligence actions.

Make no mistake about it, there is no apology for anyone’s despotism in this writer’s words. There are plenty of despots out there, many ignored, many of them allied with the US out of convenience and for survival. We don’t mind them, Pakistan, Kyrgizstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Byelorussia, Azerbaijan, N Korea, Equatorial Guinea, the list is huge, Iraq is the next n line. They are all despotic dictatorial regimes run in many cases, in Asia, by former communists, still brutally suppressing their people, going through the democratic motions of free elections, whilst running police states. Iraq’s has not allied itself with the USA and it has Israel in the mix with its oil. Oil that we need.

Now, I come to the reason for the underlying reason for the need to wage war on and change regimes in, Iraq. The world has increased oil consumption dramatically, since the Reagan’s era, by 13.1 million barrels per day, the increase comprising 17% of current consumption. No matter how much China grows, the US share is totally disproportionate due to its profligate use, fostered by anti-conservation policies put in by Pres. Reagan, counter-acting Carter’s, Nixon’s and Ford’s efforts to conserve and develop alternative fuels to diminish our dependence and avoid our getting just to exactly where we are.

In the next decade, according to the US Dept. of Energy, we’ll need to replace 40 million barrels daily of current production due to a natural loss of current capacity from existing sources through exhaustion. Current production, if new ones are not developed, will decrease some 5% annually. Of course, statistics are there for all to play with, however, the trend is undoubtedly there. This ads up to a need for a new source for 60 million barrels per day by 2012.

Unfortunately, current reserves are not located where the consumers are. 65% of the world’s reserves are in the Middle East, at an attractive cost of between US$ 0.70 and 3 per barrel.
Assuming the higher figure, it’s a windfall for any business to produce anything at 3 and sell it at 30. Continued weariness regarding dependence on Saudi Arabia’s and its religious politics have raised the alarm bells in the oil clique appendage imbedded the US government.

As second holder of known reserves, Iraq plays a pivotal role is satisfying our so-far insatiable appetite for oil and its derivatives. The producing nations have not managed to develop the financial and technological resources to perform this increase in production on their own. Thus the myriad development treaties Iraq has signed with some twenty nations, China, Russia, France, Italy and the UK included.

The US, with an embargo in place on Iraq, has failed to get any of this enormous pie. The despicable pretension of the current oil men in power to change a situation whereby they are frozen out of this pie for political reasons made by their government makes them aggressive. Cheney, Bush et al, find this current situation where the US has no stake in Iraqi oil unacceptable and are, appallingly, willing to use the blood of soldiers to obtain their full share of the pie that the political situation has denied them. They realise that it requires a regime change to invalidate all the previous agreements and re-partition the oil development contracts.

Thus, I must regrettably conclude that the definition of despotic is applicable to the USA’s current leadership. A small group of men have seized control of a nation and are militarily imposing their design of how the world should be on the rest of the planet, controlling the media and indoctrinating the nation in the best methods of Goebbles and the Soviets. No wonder UK web sites are receiving over 50% more hits from N. America the past few weeks, as measured weekly. People in North America yearn for proper debate and more truth than propaganda. The fact is that most success against terrorism has been through police and intelligence actions. If we are in fact fighting terrorism as our first objective, we needn’t use invasion techniques.

Yes, I grant you that Iraqis may have been encouraged by anti-war protesters. What on earth does it matter? People have a right and, to be sure, a duty to express their opinions to their governments. Or do you prefer the old Soviet methods of controlling dissent? What democracy are we fighting for if we suppress it at home when it does not agree with the ruling clique? The fact you even raise the issue is alarming.

It’s a risky policy, military invasion. However, with current unchallenged US military power there is no stopping the new planetary military menace, the USA. For it’s clear we are headed to re-write the maps and re-engineer the governments of a number of Middle Eastern nations not in the favour of Israel and the US. The double standard applicable to Arab states and Israel regarding possession of high-tech weapons and wmd raise serious questions about the nature of the Israeli-US menace.

There are other opinions regarding the take-over of this nation by a Judeo-Christian clique of oilmen. If interested, you may read further: Guardian Unlimited | World dispatch | Right take centre stage

I find it abominable that we are at this cross-roads. Someday, if we remain intact as a race, my grandchildren will read that this menace began in my time, by the USA’s military and political belligerence and economic designs upon other peoples, their lands and resources. I regret I shall not live long enough to know the results they’ll be evaluating.

Alec Lloyd - 3/6/2003

Mr. Moner, I believe the name you are looking for is April Gillespie. Her diplomacy (or lack thereof) is now the subject of much study in how not to engage in international relations.

More to the point, the US is well past what would be regarded as a traditional causus bellum.

Iraq fires at US aircraft almost on a daily basis. Only the fact that such fire is (thankfully) ineffective has prevented hostilities from escalating.

Would France in 1936 have remained passive to German artillery firing random mortar shells across the Rhine? How would Britain have reacted to Italian cruisers firing sporadically into the Egyptian desert?

In both cases, this would be a clear act of war. Why Iraq gets a pass on this is a mystery to me.

The doctrine of pre-emption is therefore not correctly invoked in this instance. Saddam Hussein has consistently and repeatedly violated the cease fire agreement that spared his regime from destruction. Merely as a legal matter, one cannot ignore this signal fact. One need not invoke inspections or human rights violations to make this case.

As for the question: why now? This quote says it all:

“What if [Saddam] fails to comply and we fail to act, or we take some ambiguous third route, which gives him yet more opportunities to develop this program of weapons of mass destruction? ... Well, he will conclude that the international community has lost its will. He will then conclude that he can go right on and do more to rebuild an arsenal of devastating destruction. And some day, some way, I guarantee you he'll use the arsenal.”

This is Bill Clinton in 1998, yet it could be George W. Bush in 2003 or, with only minor modifications, Winston Churchill in 1935.

What has changed since then? Did four days of desultory missile strikes magically solve the problem? Saddam should have been removed in 1991, just as Hitler should have been confronted in 1935. Better late than never.

The terms of the Versailles Treaty may have seemed unnecessarily harsh, but given the latent strength of Germany, seemed justified by the victors. Furthermore, the German reoccupation of the Rhineland may not have been an overtly hostile act in and of itself, but given the character of Hitler’s regime, was a clear threat to French security. France was within her rights to act and should have done so.

By the same token, one cannot look at Saddam Hussein’s previous career of bloodshed and aggression and assume that his regime has had a sudden change of heart. Like Hitler and Mussolini, he remains committed to broadening his own power and only brute force will restrain his ambition. Note that he did not peaceably withdraw from Kuwait, despite overwhelming international support and intense UN pressure. In the end, it came down to bombs and tanks. Inspections will be no different.

A large part of the reason he is “contained” (so to speak) is that many of his neighbors now have American military garrisons. While containment may seem an alternative to war, this once again recalls the 1930s follies of the Little Entente and the Maginot Line.

Both systems relied entirely on the attacker being willing to confront them head on. A divide and conquer strategy broke up the Little Entente, whilst the Maginot Line was famously outflanked.

A further parallel can be found in the Allied Control Commission, an entity created after World War I which was supposed to oversee and verify the destruction of German armaments and its military establishment. As has been extensively documented, the commission failed spectacularly, demonstrating yet again the futility of trying to us “weapons inspectors” to disarm a hostile and uncooperative state.

Like UNSCOM, the commission’s abolition had more to do with boredom and frustration than the actual elimination of arms.

North Korea likewise has been subject to IAEA inspections and oversight for years, none of which detected its nuclear weapons program. As the nuclear arsenals of Israel, India and Pakistan attest, the question of whether a state develops wmd programs has more to do with whether it wants them than whether it is allow to by inspections.

And here again we find another parallel with the 1930s: the futility of disarmament treaties. Germany made a new naval treaty with Britain in 1935, which, like the previous Versailles provisions, it utterly ignored. No amount of treaties or inspections will persuade determined states from achieving the level of armament they desire.

Finally, we have a classic case of moral inversion, where democracies acting in the interest of peace are showered with more criticism than unapologetic despotisms.

Could Saddam not help but be encouraged by the images of peace protesters over the past few weeks? Were the Oxford Union to repeat its shameful 1933 resolution not to fight for King and Country, he could scarcely have derived more comfort than Hitler did.

The place where the analogy breaks down may (thankfully) be that we will not repeat it.

Ryan - 3/6/2003

Gus I know that the conflict between Iran and Iraq was not cut and dry. One reason that America supported Iraq was because of the fear that Islamic Fundamentalism would spread. The dispute between Iraq and Iran boils down to the fact that Iran wanted to take control of Iraqi lands (and I am sure Iraq had similar intentions). Iran was the first to act and Iraq retaliated. America's position to support Iraq was based on two factors a) keep the territorial integrity of both Iraq and Iran and b) to contain Islamic Fundamentalism. (Please don't for get Iran kept the war going after Iraq tried to settle the dispute)
As for the Kuwait dispute I believe you are referring to the comments made by the American Diplomat to Iraq Ms. Glaspie. All Historians’ agree (except for the more fanatical leftist who seem to always blame America) that she told Saddam America would not intervene if the dispute were to be settled peaceably. She never derailed from this position and America never did either.
As for the other comment you made regarding my there must be "an aggressor to get an aggressor" it seems that you are advocating appeasement (or should I say collusion) something that history has proven to fail. I talk about this more later I got to go for now...

Gus Moner - 3/6/2003

Thank you Ryan, (from your reply to me I assume it's not a surname)for your clarifications. I'll have a think on your first point, and look into more of the issues surrounding the sundry disputes underway between Iraq and Iran, including frontier delineation, waterway rights, etc. It's not as clear cut as you try to paint it.

On the second point, regarding the Iraq Kuwait dispute on oil extraction and borders, I refer you to the oft published comments made by the then ambassador, a Ms. something or other, I cannot recall her name. She said to the Iraqis that it would be considered an internal or bi-lateral dispute in which the US would have no role.

In any event, both wars and disputes can be directly traced to the borders and invented nations of the British colonial era.

Ryan - 3/5/2003

Mr. Gus I have not erred at all. Iran called up the Shiites in the South of Iraq to rise up against Saddam. Know lets assume that the President Fox of Mexico calls upon all Mexicans in South Western America to rise up against President Bush. Clearly this is an act of war...
Furthermore America did no such thing as to mislead Iraq into thinking that an attack on Kuwait would be tolerated. There was a clear message sent out saying that the supposed land dispute be settled peaceably. Iraq decided to use force hence the war started. I see no misleading here.

Gus Moner - 3/5/2003

Mr Dan you have made the same points I have, but much more concisely and most importantly, brilliantly short. Well done.

I cannot agree that Iraq initially invaded Iran and Kuwait ‘backed’ by the USA. He got the backing for Iran after he started, as best we know. Iraq’s Kuwait dispute was over oil, and it's true he was misled by a US envoy. Was it on purpose? Not likely. Mr Ryan errs in saying Iran started that war with a call to uprising, although clearly it was not an innocent bystander.

Gus Moner - 3/5/2003

Well, the author has achieved a high level of discourse on the topic of preventive war. Messrs. Lloyd and Mr Ryan have raised probing and difficult questions, which are appreciated by yours truly.

To address Mr Lloyd first, let’s be clear about one thing. I believe you are quite capable of having put it better, but were quite unable to because it is impossible and implausible. The analogy simply does not work. By you or anyone else.

The invasion of Abyssinia was more comparable to that of Kuwait. A coalition as the US/UN put together would have worked, but there was no will. In any event, it does not resemble the situation today. Out the window. The militarising of the Rhineland was Germany’s violation of a Peace Treaty covenant, however it was within its own borders and merely placed France in a poorer strategic position again. France and the UK could have pressed the German army back by merely turning up. The Germans had orders to fall back if any resistance were encountered. There are no similarities here, either. Iraq has done nothing of the sort. We are merely going to war there on the whim that they may someday be a threat. Fanciful at best. Chuck it out, there are better arguments for keeping the pressure on Iraq, none for going to war.

The remaining comments partially address Mr Ryan’s comments, generally both gentlemen’s comments and mutual admiration for their positions. However, they reflect a longer, more comprehensive perspective.

Regrettably for people advocating war, it happens that the human race, following millenniums succeeding waves of devastation and carnage, initiated, in the late 19th and 20th centuries efforts that came to bear fruit regarding the rules of conduct amongst nations. These need to be followed to avoid repeating the law of the jungle and the free-for-all nature of marauding and conquering peoples so prevalent before the 18th century.

To deal with the few exceptional cases that arise now, where military action might be required, nations joining the USA in the UN system agreed these rules and to work within the system established to defend threatened nations. This has led to a significant improvement in relations between people and less wars, although the planet is still plagued by conflicts. The UN concentrated on health, poverty and other social ills during the US-USSR deadlock. It is now an organisation that following the East-West confrontation, has finally politically become relevant and is beginning to cut its teeth. Timor, Kuwait and Bosnia have all been baby steps that have generally worked, not without errors and horrors such a Srebrenica.

The fallacy in your arguments would be the fallacious premise that one has to be an aggressor at all. The UN has the mechanisms for avoiding, or if it should come to that, confronting, aggression. Pre-emptive war is, quite simply, explicitly outlawed. Thus, the need to have Iraqi wmd and other prohibited arms destroyed, the process underway, even if perhaps imperfectly, is the correct method for dealing with international problems. The US is right to raise its concern and ask for action, even to put the threat of war on the table to get Iraqi cooperation. It is wrong to think it can lead a war at will. It is also illegal.

What nation has Saddam attacked or threatened recently? None. They have not. We are merely castigating them today for what some delusional minds with a broader agenda, now in government, think the Iraqis could do in the future. That can be said of the USA today. If that reasoning were applied, all nations would be constantly attacking one another, just in case.

For example, Egypt might be inclined to attack Israel because it has wmd and someday a fanatic like Sharon might be tempted to blackmail them with those weapons. China could attack Russia whilst it is weaker, because someday another mad dictator might be in the Kremlin, or invade Taiwan because they could be harder to topple in the future. The US, the world’s biggest possessor of wmd, could be targeted pre-emptively by a coalition of Chinese, Russian and other nations who felt the nation had fallen into the hands of an extremist Christian clique. European powers could attack Germany because they might be feeling stronger and rearming, and given past history, well, hey, as you say Mr Ryan, so be it. The list is endless.

Speaking to the of German analogy, the ‘winners’ of WWI - Britain and France- had imposed an onerous peace treaty on Germany after WWI with provisions that were so arduous they had had to be re-negotiated long before Hitler had come to power. Then, soon after coming to power, Hitler began to dismantle the remaining Versailles shackles. Hitler campaigned against the treaty and even the French and British realised the treaty provisions were hampering Germany’s economic recovery and their proper participation in the world political system. Therein lay the root cause for their inaction, for they knew they had made an impossible treaty to keep. They had begun to reap what they had sown.

Nevertheless I caution you against making this superficial comparison, 30’s Europe—Iraq. Germany was a homogeneous nation and in a continent where these rules of conduct had begun to take hold. Iraq comes from an area and culture where ancient tribal methods and religious law still predominate all aspects of life and conduct. It’s another world, one I thought the occidental powers had veered away from.

In the 30’s the LON did not enjoy the backing of the USA, its chief advocate, and therefore failed to be a credible organisation whereas the UN since inception has been steadily showing its teeth ever more. The UK and France would have had to enforce the treaty provisions of Versailles when Germany violated them, using a credible body like the LON, however they did not have the backing nor the moral authority, given the nature of the treaty. The provisions of Versailles had already undergone modifications as they became evidently unworkable.

Iraq is a country invented by British imperialism with little coherence. The entire area is suffering the effects of the asinine British-French intervention and partitions as well as the pernicious effects of the forced injection of uninvited Jewish settlers into Palestine. The area is a tinderbox, with so many tribal conflicts, issues and causes being vindicated that to add the chaos of a war by a foreign power with no rightful interest in the area other than supremacy and economic advantages, coupled with the unpredictable consequences from war there is too big a risk for the limited threat presented so-far by Iraq.

“If America's desire to rid the world of the likes of Saddam makes them an aggressor so be it,” is a troubling comment by Mr Ryan. Who are the USA to want to get rid of anyone, who selects, who decides, what criteria, what level of proof of the accusation is required, who is judge and who is jury and wherefrom is that authority derived? If you transfer this behaviour to other aspects of human behaviour, we’d be in a fine mess. No, neither the US administration nor any individual clique can be an aggressor without sanction from the UN anymore. That is why it was formed and if there is really a threat it is then the role of the international community under the UN, not some clumped together alliance to suit Wolfowitz, Perle, Fleisher Cheneys and Rumsfeld’s view of the world.

Can you provide evidence why it is a necessary evil to attack Iraq today and not before the 9-11 incidents? Why the rush now, why the danger now? Was it not there on 10th September? If so, why was nothing being done then? Why not attack Pakistan or Myanmar, cruel dictatorships they are? Or China undemocratic and with wmd, brutally repressing more people than any nation on Earth? Why not N Korea, within months of developing 5-6 nuclear warheads and with proven delivery systems? Why not eliminate the dozen or so disreputable despots who kill, torture and cause mayhem for personal power and profit in Africa?

When Israel attacks Lebanon, Egypt, (twice) and Syria (twice), and conquers Palestine placing illegal settlers there in violation of UN resolutions, we have no reaction for complying with UN resolutions to revert those military conquests. It’s alright. And so the Iraqi crisis seems all trumped up to so many round the earth.

Remember, as the struggle for the removal of Hitler proved, war is a very dangerous business with unimaginable consequences. Iraq is a potential threat, yes. Yet, there are many more dangerous places and situations on Earth today than Iraq. However, they haven’t got Jewish settlers and oil interests in the mix to make them interesting to the warmongering clique in DC.

Ryan - 3/5/2003

I believe both Alec and Dan are in error. Iran technically attacked Iraq first by calling up the Southern Iraq to revolt against their leader. At the time America was supporting Iraq because it was the lesser of two evils... And the last time Iraq invaded Kuwait was not at the approval of America. And since then the non-attack of another nation is simply because he knows he will lose right now. But wait till he gets a nuc then he will not worry anymore and invade every surrounding country...

Ryan - 3/5/2003

Because he threatens reginal/world stablity. And no one wants to take a chance and see what happens when he gets a nuc.

dan - 3/5/2003

"For 12 years, Saddam’s regime has challenged the UN, breaking treaties, violating cease fires and committing numerous acts of aggression."

Can you document this?

"Prior to the 1991, he invaded two countries on two separate occasions."

Both with the backing of the U. S. And since then?

dan - 3/5/2003

"...but the removal of Saddam, like the removal of Hitler, is a necessary evil."


dan - 3/5/2003

Interesting notes, but how do they pertain to Iraq? No connection was made mainly because none fits.

Doesn't anyone pay attention any more?

Alec Lloyd - 3/5/2003

I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Had Britain taken a strong line against Italy in 1935, using Mr. Moner’s logic she would have been an “aggressor.” Yet nothing could have been further from the truth.

Similarly, would Mr. Moner label a French intervention in the Rhineland in 1936 “aggression” or would it not more accurately be described as “a response to” aggression?

For 12 years, Saddam’s regime has challenged the UN, breaking treaties, violating cease fires and committing numerous acts of aggression. Prior to the 1991, he invaded two countries on two separate occasions. If that is not aggression, the word has some strange new meaning unknown to me.

To accuse the US of aggression in combating this provocative behavior is a twisting of language that borders on the Orwellian.

Ryan - 3/5/2003

The fallacy in your argument Gus is that you ignore that in the 1930's and today it would take an 'aggressor' to stop an 'aggressor'. One could wonder what type of an 'aggressor' would it have taken to stop Hitler? Who would have had to made the first move to spare Europe the awful tragedy that it went through? Then who would have become the 'aggressor'? To stop Hitler Britain or France would have had to taken the role of 'aggressor'. This is what America wants is doing now. If America's desire to rid the world of the likes of Saddam makes them an aggressor so be it, but the removal of Saddam, like the removal of Hitler, is a necessary evil.

Ryan - 3/5/2003

The fallacy in your argument Gus is that you ignore that in the 1930's and today it would take an 'aggressor' to stop an 'aggressor'. One could wonder what type of an 'aggressor' would it have taken to stop Hitler? Who would have had to made the first move to spare Europe the awful tragedy that it went through? Then who would have become the 'aggressor'? To stop Hitler Britain or France would have had to taken the role of 'aggressor' to stop Hitler. This is what America wants is doing now. If America's desire to rid the world of the likes of Saddam makes them an aggressor so be it, but like the removal of Hitler it is a necessary evil.

Gus Moner - 3/4/2003

Mr Lloyd adds useful perspective to what the author said was not a definitive piece, but one to stimulate further discussion, and it has so far done so brilliantly.

Points 1, 2, 3, are on the mark. Regarding point four I’d disagree with the reason stated for Hitler’s covetousness. It was the geographical position jutting into Germany, combined with a dislike of Czechs, former subjects of his native Austria coupled with the presence of 3,000,00 Germans in Sudeten that were the true motivators. Germany would find the Czech Magigot Line a redundancy once Czechoslovakia was dismembered.

Item 4 is true, also. The fascist mentality was evident in nearly all the nations of Europe, with Hungary, France, Latvia, Spain, and even Poland, ruled by a general’s dictatorship, being prime captives. The UK was also subject to fascist influences. I cannot yet agree, nor disagree with the Islamic analogy. The contexts are dramatically different and the tribal nature of the people, coupled with the differing religious sects, make the latter less a monolith than Fascism, and less than we are led to believe.

I cannot agree with the commentary’s assertion of analogy with the peace movements today and then, however. In this case the tables are turned, the democracies being the aggressors and the powerful bullies, the other states the Poland’s and Czechoslovakia’s of today.

“The strongest part of the analogy is the mere fact that the US represents the same overwhelming force that Britain and France represented in 1935.” I agree.

As the Mr Lloyd says, Hitler and Mussolini were not pals at first. Italy prevented Germany’s initial assault on Austria in 1934, moving an army to the Bremmer pass as a deterrent, that like in Iraq today, worked.

“Weakness not only emboldens aggressors, it leads to the defection of marginal allies. Both lessons should not be lost”

I couldn’t agree more. However the applicability of the statement to today’s circumstances is minimal. The US and sidekicks are the aggressors, a point not lost on the rest of the planet. Therein the conundrum.

Alec Lloyd - 3/4/2003

There are a few points the author omits from this otherwise admirable piece and make the analogy stronger.

1. The first challenge to the old order came not in 1936 but in 1935 when Germany openly broke the Versailles Treaty and reintroduced conscription. France could have deposed Hitler with but a mobilization order, but, in tandem with Britain, did nothing.

2. The failure of the League to intervene in Abyssinia sent a powerful signal that even when Britain could intervene, she wouldn’t.

3. The military balance in 1936 or even 1938 was still heavily tilted toward the British and French. Much has been made of the power and might of the Wehrmacht, but it is often overstated. In 1936, Germany had few tanks, little if any heavy artillery, and no reserves. A show of French force would have compelled a withdrawal.

By 1938, France’s position had deteriorated, but she still held a considerable advantage. Germany would have to fight on two fronts against a well-equipped and dug in Czech army (the Sudetenland was a “little Maginot line,”) which was why Hitler wanted it.

4. Hitler did not represent just the forces of German nationalism, but a specific form a fascism. His ideology was exported into the West and the Balkans with some success. The threats of Saddam and radical Islam also have the same potential to spread unless checked.
5. The peace movement of the 1930s unquestionably encouraged both Hitler and Mussolini. The Oxford Union’s 1933 resolution “not to fight for King and Country” made it clear that England was no longer willing to face war. Similarly the later “Peace Ballot” made British deterrence ring hollow.

Many of the same arguments used by the “peace movement” are still in use today and cannot help but have a similar effect.

The strongest part of the analogy is the mere fact that the US represents the same overwhelming force that Britain and France represented in 1935. They clearly possessed the means to defeat Germany and, if need be Italy (though again, it is important to recall that Italy only switched sides because he perceived the French and British were too weak). They simply lacked the will to do so. Italy had forced Hitler to back down on Austria in 1934. After 1936, Italy was on Hitler’s side.

Weakness not only emboldens aggressors, it leads to the defection of marginal allies. Both lessons should not be lost.