Matthew Yglesias recommends Jeffrey Record’s monograph, “Appeasement Reconsidered: Investigating the Mythology of the 1930s.”
I realize no one is going to read that and think, “Ooooh, a monograph! How exciting!” But if you’ve got a crazy uncle/co-worker/president who makes a habit of invoking Neville Chamberlain to dismiss any hesitation to invade Iraq/bomb Iran/annihilate Fredonia, then Record’s thoughtful separation of reality and myth may come in handy. Record can’t be dismissed as a dirty hippy, and his paper was published by the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College — so he’s got the kind of hawkish credentials to which your crazy uncle/co-worker/president likes to pay lip service.
Much of the monograph is remedial history — an explanation of why what he calls the “Munich Analogy” isn’t really applicable even to Munich. But let’s jump ahead to Record’s conclusion:
Invocations of the Munich Analogy to Justify Use of Force Should Be Closely Examined.
Such invocations have more often than not been misleading because security threats to the United States genuinely Hitlerian in scope and nature have not been replicated since 1945. Though the Munich analogy’s power as a tool of opinion mobilization is undeniable, no enemy since Hitler has, in fact, possessed Nazi Germany’s combination of military might and willingness — indeed, eagerness — to employ it for unlimited conquest. This does not mean the United States should withhold resort to force against lesser threats. Nor does it mean that Hitlerian threats are a phenomenon of the past; an al-Qaida armed with deliverable nuclear weapons or usable biological weapons would pose a direct and much more lethal threat to the United States than Nazi Germany ever did.
The problem with seeing Hitler in Stalin, Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, and Saddam Hussein is that it reinforces the presidential tendency since 1945 to overstate threats for the purpose of rallying public and congressional opinion, and overstated threats in turn encourage resort to force in circumstances where deterrence, containment, even negotiation (from strength) might better serve long-term U.S. security interests. Threats that are, in fact, limited tend to be portrayed in Manichaean terms, thus skewing the policy choice toward military action, a policy choice hardly constrained by possession of global conventional military primacy and an inadequate understanding of the limits of that primacy.
If the 1930s reveal the danger of underestimating a security threat, the post-World War II decades contain examples of the danger of overestimating a security threat.
No one who invokes Neville Chamberlain and the Munich Analogy is arguing in good faith. That goes for your crazy uncle, your co-worker, President Bush and John McCain. Just look at their shoes. Are the laces tied? No one smart enough to be capable of tying their own shoelaces is stupid enough to really believe what they’re saying when they invoke this analogy.
The one-size-fits-all Munich template requires that we pretend that all diplomacy is capitulation. It requires that we pretend that containment, deterrence, isolation, sanctions, international pressure, inspections, soft power, summit meetings, aid, withholding aid, trade and every other form of possible influence whether political, economical or cultural are all just cowardly euphemisms for surrender.
To really believe that, one would have to be sublimely ignorant of history, geography, politics and the basic vocabulary of the English language. That level of perfect ignorance takes too much effort to achieve and sustain for anyone to master it accidentally.
It is simply not possible that these people are sincere. They do not — they cannot — believe what they are saying.
So there’s no point in responding to them by patiently attempting to explain that diplomacy does not equal capitulation. Anyone who really required such an explanation wouldn’t be capable of understanding it.
Discussions of civility often focus on the superficial, such as avoiding name-calling and not using dirty words. But those minor transgressions against civility are nothing compared to the fundamental duplicity of the sort practiced by those crying “appeasement” and “Chamberlain” at every turn. Such duplicity and dishonesty precludes civility, it makes honest conversation and dialogue impossible.
When confronted with such disingenuousness, then, the only way to defend civility is to put those lying mofos on notice by calling bullshit. That’s not a dirty word, it’s a precisely accurate and appropriate response.