Bias or Good Sense?

Now that I’ve finished going through all but the philosophy books, I can get back to exercising my fingers and your patience here at WOCS.

So Vox has an article about the increasing animosity between Democrats and Republicans. According to opinion polls, most Americans used to be relatively tolerant toward other political beliefs. For example, back in 1960, only 4 or 5% of us said we’d care if our child married a member of that other (obviously misguided) party.

Then, beginning around 1980 (wasn’t there a Presidential election that year?), politics started getting more personal (why, as a matter of fact, there was!). In fact, by 2010, 33% of Republicans and 27% of Democrats admitted that such a marriage would make them uncomfortable. I bet the percentages have gone up since then.

Data like this suggests that our politics is becoming a bigger part of our personal identity. Whether you are a Republican or Democrat defines what kind of person you are. It particular, it defines you as the bad kind or the good kind.  

The Vox article implies that the degree of animosity one feels toward supporters of that other party reflects one’s bias. The more upset you would be if your child married a Democrat or a damn Republican, the more biased you are. 

Vox even allows you to take a little test to measure your bias. It’s one of those “implied bias” exercises that measures how quickly you associate something (in this case, a political party) with words like “good” and “bad”. Quick responses are said to indicate strong associations and fundamental beliefs; slow responses indicate the opposite. (I’ll wait here if you want to take the test. It’s right after the article’s third paragraph.)

I took the test myself and even accept the results. In fact, I was pleased by the results. I wear my “bias” as a badge of honor!

Here’s my score:

test 1

That’s me way over on the very far left. I’m basically off the chart in my animosity toward Republicans. But whether this demonstrates bias or good sense is a matter of opinion. (I lean toward “good sense”.)

Anyway, it seems as if we Americans are dividing into increasingly distinct political tribes, which will lead to more paralysis, discord and even discrimination. Unless, of course, a threat from a common enemy brings us together. That’s what happened in 1941 when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, as discussed in an interesting book called Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh and America’s Fight Over World War II. 

The level of animosity between the “isolationists” (who desperately wanted us to avoid another war in Europe) and the “interventionists” (who wanted us to do whatever we could to stop Hitler) is amazing. Organizations were formed; mass meetings were held; national radio broadcasts were delivered. Insults were hurled. Friendships were destroyed. And suddenly, we all had somebody else to be angry with. When President Roosevelt asked for a declaration of war, even the isolationist Republicans in Congress gave him a standing ovation.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure we could even agree on what constitutes a paramount common enemy. Violent Muslim fundamentalists? Not dangerous enough. Global warming? Not quick enough. Maybe we’ll get lucky and Earth will be attacked by space ants or the rulers of Omicron Persei 8. But even that might not work

Why the Germans and the Jews?

A recent subscribers-only article in the New York Review of Books begins with a joke that’s not supposed to make anybody laugh:

The historian George Mosse liked to tell a hypothetical story: if someone had predicted in 1900 that within fifty years the Jews of Europe would be murdered, one possible response would have been: “Well, I suppose that is possible. Those French or Russians are capable of anything.”

The article’s author, Christopher Browning, continues:

Indeed, the wave of pogroms in Russia in the 1880s and the Dreyfus Affair that consumed France in the 1890s stood in stark contrast to the situation of Jews in Germany, who at that point enjoyed the greatest degree, anywhere in the world, of assimilation, social mobility, and access to preeminent positions in business, the professions, and culture (even if they were still blocked from careers in the military and the higher civil service).

The book being reviewed is Why the Germans? Why the Jews? Envy, Race Hatred, and the Prehistory of the Holocaust by the German historian Götz Aly. It’s an attempt to explain why the Holocaust occurred in 19th century’s “land of golden opportunity for Jews”.

The principal explanation Aly offers is that:

an uneven and incremental process of Jewish emancipation [in Germany] during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries … transformed Jewish life. Armed with a culture of education and freed from past restrictions, Jews quickly seized the economic opportunities offered by modernization, urbanization, and industrialization. Educationally unprepared Germans nostalgically tied to traditional ways of life moved into cities and took up new occupations only reluctantly. Spectacular Jewish advance contrasted with German lethargy, resentment, and disorientation, producing envy of Jewish wealth and success as well as fear and a sense of inferiority vis-à-vis Jewish competition.

Many Germans benefited when jobs once held by Jews were made available and Jewish property was redistributed. But most Germans needed a “new morality” to “justify” their treatment of the Jews:

For those consumed by envy of Jews but ashamed of [the] tawdry motive [of material gain], race theory concealed their embarrassment. For those suffering a deep inferiority complex about Jews, race theory inverted success and failure, turning Jewish accomplishment into evidence of Jewish vice. For those troubled by the large difference between Jews they knew and the Nazi stereotype, race theory allowed individual experience to be ignored.

Above all, race theory turned persecution and murder into self-defense, requiring “pitiless” cleansing in the present to achieve a future Utopian happiness and social harmony. “Pseudoscience,” Aly concludes, “disguised hatred as insight and made one’s own shortcomings seem like virtues. It also provided justification for acts of legal discrimination against others, allowing millions of Germans to delegate their own aggression, born of feelings of inferiority and shame, to their state”. This “passively expressed anti-Semitism gave the German government the latitude it needed to press forward with its murderous campaigns”.

All Right, Let’s Go Kill Some Germans!

The speech George C. Scott delivers in front of the very big American flag in Patton was based on a brief series of speeches General George S. Patton gave to the 3rd Army before the invasion of Europe. Patton spoke extemporaneously, so he never gave it exactly the same way. This is the reconstructed version available on Wikipedia:

“Be seated.

Men, all this stuff you hear about America not wanting to fight, wanting to stay out of the war, is a lot of bullshit. Americans love to fight. All real Americans love the sting and clash of battle. When you were kids, you all admired the champion marble shooter, the fastest runner, the big-league ball players and the toughest boxers. Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win all the time. That’s why Americans have never lost and will never lose a war. The very thought of losing is hateful to Americans. Battle is the most significant competition in which a man can indulge. It brings out all that is best and it removes all that is base.

You are not all going to die. Only two percent of you right here today would be killed in a major battle. Every man is scared in his first action. If he says he’s not, he’s a goddamn liar. But the real hero is the man who fights even though he’s scared. Some men will get over their fright in a minute under fire, some take an hour, and for some it takes days. But the real man never lets his fear of death overpower his honor, his sense of duty to his country, and his innate manhood.

All through your army career you men have bitched about what you call ‘this chicken-shit drilling.’ That is all for a purpose—to ensure instant obedience to orders and to create constant alertness. This must be bred into every soldier. I don’t give a fuck for a man who is not always on his toes. But the drilling has made veterans of all you men. You are ready! A man has to be alert all the time if he expects to keep on breathing. If not, some German son-of-a-bitch will sneak up behind him and beat him to death with a sock full of shit. There are four hundred neatly marked graves in Sicily, all because one man went to sleep on the job—but they are German graves, because we caught the bastard asleep before his officer did.

An army is a team. It lives, eats, sleeps, and fights as a team. This individual hero stuff is bullshit. The bilious bastards who write that stuff for the Saturday Evening Post don’t know any more about real battle than they do about fucking. And we have the best team—we have the finest food and equipment, the best spirit and the best men in the world. Why, by God, I actually pity these poor bastards we’re going up against.

All the real heroes are not storybook combat fighters. Every single man in the army plays a vital role. So don’t ever let up. Don’t ever think that your job is unimportant. What if every truck driver decided that he didn’t like the whine of the shells and turned yellow and jumped headlong into a ditch? That cowardly bastard could say to himself, ‘Hell, they won’t miss me, just one man in thousands.’ What if every man said that? Where in the hell would we be then? No, thank God, Americans don’t say that. Every man does his job. Every man is important. The ordnance men are needed to supply the guns, the quartermaster is needed to bring up the food and clothes for us because where we are going there isn’t a hell of a lot to steal. Every last damn man in the mess hall, even the one who boils the water to keep us from getting the GI shits, has a job to do.

Each man must think not only of himself, but think of his buddy fighting alongside him. We don’t want yellow cowards in the army. They should be killed off like flies. If not, they will go back home after the war, goddamn cowards, and breed more cowards. The brave men will breed more brave men. Kill off the goddamn cowards and we’ll have a nation of brave men.

One of the bravest men I saw in the African campaign was on a telegraph pole in the midst of furious fire while we were moving toward Tunis. I stopped and asked him what the hell he was doing up there. He answered, ‘Fixing the wire, sir.’ ‘Isn’t it a little unhealthy up there right now?’ I asked. ‘Yes sir, but this goddamn wire has got to be fixed.’ I asked, ‘Don’t those planes strafing the road bother you?’ And he answered, ‘No sir, but you sure as hell do.’ Now, there was a real soldier. A real man. A man who devoted all he had to his duty, no matter how great the odds, no matter how seemingly insignificant his duty appeared at the time.

And you should have seen the trucks on the road to Gabès. Those drivers were magnificent. All day and all night they crawled along those son-of-a-bitch roads, never stopping, never deviating from their course with shells bursting all around them. Many of the men drove over 40 consecutive hours. We got through on good old American guts. These were not combat men. But they were soldiers with a job to do. They were part of a team. Without them the fight would have been lost.

Sure, we all want to go home. We want to get this war over with. But you can’t win a war lying down. The quickest way to get it over with is to get the bastards who started it. We want to get the hell over there and clean the goddamn thing up, and then get at those purple-pissing Japs. The quicker they are whipped, the quicker we go home. The shortest way home is through Berlin and Tokyo. So keep moving. And when we get to Berlin, I am personally going to shoot that paper-hanging son-of-a-bitch Hitler.

When a man is lying in a shell hole, if he just stays there all day, a Boche will get him eventually. The hell with that. My men don’t dig foxholes. Foxholes only slow up an offensive. Keep moving. We’ll win this war, but we’ll win it only by fighting and showing the Germans that we’ve got more guts than they have or ever will have. We’re not just going to shoot the bastards, we’re going to rip out their living goddamned guts and use them to grease the treads of our tanks. We’re going to murder those lousy Hun cocksuckers by the bushel-fucking-basket.

Some of you men are wondering whether or not you’ll chicken out under fire. Don’t worry about it. I can assure you that you’ll all do your duty. War is a bloody business, a killing business. The Nazis are the enemy. Wade into them, spill their blood or they will spill yours. Shoot them in the guts. Rip open their belly. When shells are hitting all around you and you wipe the dirt from your face and you realize that it’s not dirt, it’s the blood and gut of what was once your best friend, you’ll know what to do.

I don’t want any messages saying ‘I’m holding my position.’ We’re not holding a goddamned thing. We’re advancing constantly and we’re not interested in holding anything except the enemy’s balls. We’re going to hold him by his balls and we’re going to kick him in the ass; twist his balls and kick the living shit out of him all the time. Our plan of operation is to advance and keep on advancing. We’re going to go through the enemy like shit through a tinhorn.

There will be some complaints that we’re pushing our people too hard. I don’t give a damn about such complaints. I believe that an ounce of sweat will save a gallon of blood. The harder we push, the more Germans we kill. The more Germans we kill, the fewer of our men will be killed. Pushing harder means fewer casualties. I want you all to remember that. My men don’t surrender. I don’t want to hear of any soldier under my command being captured unless he is hit. Even if you are hit, you can still fight. That’s not just bullshit either. I want men like the lieutenant in Libya who, with a Luger against his chest, swept aside the gun with his hand, jerked his helmet off with the other and busted the hell out of the Boche with the helmet. Then he picked up the gun and he killed another German. All this time the man had a bullet through his lung. That’s a man for you!

Don’t forget, you don’t know I’m here at all. No word of that fact is to be mentioned in any letters. The world is not supposed to know what the hell they did with me. I’m not supposed to be commanding this army. I’m not even supposed to be in England. Let the first bastards to find out be the goddamned Germans. Some day, I want them to rise up on their piss-soaked hind legs and howl ‘Ach! It’s the goddamned Third Army and that son-of-a-bitch Patton again!’

Then there’s one thing you men will be able to say when this war is over and you get back home. Thirty years from now when you’re sitting by your fireside with your grandson on your knee and he asks, ‘What did you do in the great World War Two?’ You won’t have to cough and say, ‘Well, your granddaddy shoveled shit in Louisiana.’ No sir, you can look him straight in the eye and say ‘Son, your granddaddy rode with the great Third Army and a son-of-a-goddamned-bitch named George Patton!’

All right, you sons of bitches. You know how I feel. I’ll be proud to lead you wonderful guys in battle anytime, anywhere. That’s all.”

Apparently, Patton only included the following remark once, in his talk to the 6th Armored Division on May 31, 1944:

“No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. You won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”

There’s more about “The Speech” here.

Why Japan Surrendered in 1945

It’s commonly said (in America anyway) that dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 saved the lives of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of American soldiers, since our destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki convinced Japan to surrender, and that meant we didn’t have to invade Japan.

According to Hiroshima Nagasaki: The Real Story of the Atomic Bombings and Their Aftermath, by the Australian historian Paul Ham, that’s not how historians view those events. I haven’t read the book and don’t know if I ever will (it’s 500 pages plus notes), but a review at the Los Angeles Review of Books site by Rutgers University historian H. Bruce Franklin strongly suggests that the book is worth reading if you want to understand what really happened at the end of World War 2.

Franklin summarizes the consensus view among historians:

…the atomic bombs were not necessary and did not significantly shorten the war, … no invasion of Japan prior to November was even contemplated, … the surrender of Japan was already imminent in July, … the Soviet entry into the war on August 9 was a major factor in the Japanese surrender, and therefore the atomic bombs probably saved no American lives at all.

He also summarizes Japan’s military situation in mid-July 1945:

… Japan had lost all its bases in the Pacific, and fleets of B-29 Superfortresses had reduced all but four Japanese cities to desolate ruins and smoking ashes while carrier-based navy bombers were systematically destroying its military facilities. Japan had no viable defenses against these aerial assaults. Japan’s only remaining army of any significance was isolated in Manchuria and Korea, and could not be brought home to defend the homeland because US ships were blockading Japan and shelling its coastal regions with impunity.

The most surprising aspect of this story (speaking as someone educated in the United States) is the role of the Soviet Union in ending the war with Japan. The Russians had agreed months before to enter the war by August. The Red Army had more than one million men in position by July. On July 17th, President Truman wrote in his diary that the war would be over as soon as the Russians began their offensive. 

Then Truman received a full report on the successful testing of the atomic bomb:

Up until the time he received the full report on July 21 …, Truman and his advisors kept urging the USSR to enter the war as soon as possible. After that date, they kept trying to delay the Soviet entrance into the war. On July 26, the United States and United Kingdom issued the Potsdam Declaration, an ultimatum that demanded Japan’s “unconditional surrender” or face “prompt and utter destruction.” … As Ham and many others have argued, the demand for “unconditional surrender” effectively rebuffed the numerous Japanese attempts to negotiate a surrender, which had been going on for months.

Ham argues that the decisive event in this rapid sequence was: 

the Soviet juggernaut that destroyed Japan’s last great land army and terrified that nation’s leaders… At midnight on August eighth, the Red Army launched the largest land engagement of the entire Pacific war. Within a few days, almost 600,000 Japanese soldiers and hundreds of Japanese generals had surrendered. Eighty thousand had been killed… [The Soviet  campaign] captured from the Japanese in a week of colossal combat an area almost the size of Europe.

Before reading this review, I’d never heard of this large-scale combat between the Russians and the Japanese. As Franklin says, the story we all heard was that the Soviet Union had declared war on Japan after the atom bombs went off in order to join in the victory. America had already finished the job. But according to Ham:

A greater threat than nuclear weapons — in Tokyo’s eyes — drove Japan finally to accept the surrender: the regime’s suffocating fear of Russia. The Soviet invasion of August 8 crushed the Kwantung Army’s frontline units within days, and sent a crippling loss of confidence across Tokyo. The Japanese warlords despaired. Their erstwhile “neutral” partner had turned into their worst nightmare. The invasion invoked the spectre of a communist Japan, no less.

According to Ham, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki didn’t make much of an impression on the Japanese leadership. The firebombing of other Japanese cities, especially Tokyo, had already demonstrated our ability to destroy cities and kill civilians. Some of the Japanese leadership had already been advocating for peace. Franklin and Ham describe what happened next: 

An hour before the atomic bomb fell on Nagasaki, the war and peace factions of cabinet met in a bomb shelter under the Imperial Palace and began a furious and endless debate about the terms of surrender they should offer because of the Soviet invasion of Manchuria… Ham describes how they greeted the news of Nagasaki:

“Nothing of great moment had occurred in Hiroshima to persuade them of the futility of further defiance; the militarists scorned the weapon as a cowardly attack on defenceless civilians. Toward the end of the interminable discussion — now into its third hour — a messenger arrived with the news of the destruction of Nagasaki — by another ‘special bomb’. The [Japanese leaders] paused, registered the news, and resumed their earlier conversation. The messenger, bowing apologetically, was sent on his way. ‘No record … treated the effect [of the Nagasaki bomb] seriously,” noted the official history of the Imperial General Headquarters’.

The doves in the Japanese leadership had been demanding that the Emperor remain in power after a Japanese surrender. That was the single condition they had insisted on. Now the hawks agreed. Japan would surrender so long as the Emperor’s position would be maintained. The U.S., which had previously insisted on unconditional surrender, finally conceded that the Emperor would remain in power. The war was over. 

Given this evidence, it’s clear that the Soviet Union played an important role in ending the War in the Pacific. The stories about Soviet opportunism are clearly false (they had, after all, been carrying the brunt of the war again Germany earlier in 1945). Whether Truman should have dropped the bomb is another question. The most charitable interpretation is that he truly believed using the bomb would significantly shorten the war and save lives (not just American lives but Japanese and Russian lives?). A less charitable interpretation is that his real target was the Soviet Union. Using the bomb against Japan showed the Russians that America had the most powerful weapon in the world and was willing to use it. It also resulted in the Soviet Union controlling less of East Asia when the war ended and America controlling more. He probably had all these considerations in mind before he ordered the incineration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

Haaretz’s Correspondent for the Occupied Territories and Israel’s Prime Minister Each Have Something to Say

Amira Hass was born in Jerusalem in 1956 and has been covering Gaza and the West Bank for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz since 1993. She lived in Gaza for three years and has lived in the West Bank for the past seventeen.

Below is most of a recent article of hers. Her thesis is that “Israel’s attack on Gaza is revenge for the Palestinians’ refusal to accept occupation”. 

Quote: 

“There is method in madness, and the Israeli insanity, which refuses to grasp the extent of its revenge in Gaza, has very good reasons for being the way it is. The entire nation is the army, the army is the nation, and both are represented by a Jewish-democratic government and a loyal press. The four of them work together to stave off the great betrayal: the Palestinians’ refusal to recognize the normalcy of the situation.

The Palestinians are disobedient. They refuse to adapt….The insistent, steadfast demonstrations in West Bank villages have not even scratched the surface of the Israeli faith in the normalcy of our domination of another people. The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement did manage to confuse our ego a bit, but it is still not enough to make Israelis want to get the message. The Palestinian reconciliation government seemed to move us another step forward; it had the potential to embark on the path of rejecting the show of normalcy dictated by Israel, but too many forces within Fatah and Hamas did not support it.

Then it was the turn of Hamas’ rockets to disturb the occupier’s rest. Say what you will about it, but they succeeded in doing what the demonstrations, the boycott of Tapuzina orange drink and the concert cancellations did not….

Nation, army, government and press: You have eyes and ears, yet you will not see and you will not hear. You still hope that the Palestinian blood we have already shed and have yet to shed will win a long-term lull, which will bring us back to occupation as usual….

And boy, are you competent when you want to be. The armed Hamas operatives who emerged from the tunnel shaft on Kibbutz Nir Am on Monday were dressed as Israeli soldiers….“Finally, thanks to an aerial photograph taken by a drone, they were found to be Hamas operatives” because “they were carrying Kalashnikov rifles, which the Israeli army does not use”.

So the photographs taken by the drone can be very precise when its operators wish. It can discern whether there are children on the seashore or on the roof — children who, even for the legal acrobats in the Justice Ministry and the army, are not a justifiable target for our bombs. The drone can also discern that a rescue team has arrived to pull out wounded people, that families are fleeing their homes… But for some reason, the eye of the drone that can tell the difference between various makes of rifles cannot tell that this figure over here is a child, and that is a mother or a grandmother….

The Israeliness of the moment is like that drone. It chooses to see blearily. It clings closely to the good, comfortable life of a master nation, unwilling to allow its subjects to interfere with it. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon translated that into political language when he said, “We will not agree to recognize the reconciliation government, but other arrangements such as controlling crossing points is something we can accept. [Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud] Abbas will control the crossing points, but he will not control the Gaza Strip itself.”

That is the routine we are cultivating. Gaza and the West Bank are cut off. Hamas controls the Gaza Strip, but under conditions that we dictate, just as Fatah and the Palestinian Authority “rule” in their pockets in the West Bank, in accordance with our conditions. If the Palestinians need to be tamed at times, we will tame them with blood and with more blood. And peace be upon Israel.”

End quote.

Concurrently, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu brought up Nazi Germany, comparing Israel being bombarded by those troubling but generally ineffective Palestinian rockets to England’s suffering at the hands of the Germans in World War II. From Jerusalem Online:

PM Benyamin Netanyahu met British Foreign Affairs Minister Philip Hammond and compared Israel’s condition in these days to the condition in Britain in World War 2. “Israel’s condition is similar to Britain’s when it was bombed as well”, said Netanyahu, clarifying that Israel’s intention is to go forth with the operation: “There is no guarantee of a hundred percent success, however IDF has shown impressive achievements in the field and we are moving forward with this operation… We aim our fire at those who fire rockets at us”.

An estimated 40,000 people died in England during the Blitz. Since the latest hostilities began, three Israeli civilians have been killed by Hamas and fewer than 30 in the past 14 years. The Palestinian death toll just this month is now over 1,000, mostly civilians, with bodies still being recovered during the temporary cease-fire.

If we’re going to talk about the Nazis, a more apt comparison is to their infamous response to resistance movements in occupied countries. From Wikipedia:

The Kragujevac massacre was the murder of Serbian, Jewish and Roma men and boys in Serbia by German Wehrmacht soldiers on 20 and 21 October 1941. All males from the town between the ages of sixteen and sixty were assembled by German troops and [Serbian collaborators]  and the victims were selected from amongst them.

Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel had issued an order on 16 September 1941, applicable to all of occupied Europe, to kill 50 communists for every wounded German soldier and 100 for each German soldier killed.

The victims have become victimizers.

beit hanoun

A Different View of “Peace For Our Time”

The recent deal regarding Iran’s nuclear program evoked lots of references to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain negotiating with Hitler in 1938. Chamberlain infamously came back from Munich, waved a “scrap of paper” and promised “peace for [not “in”] our time”. Germany immediately absorbed part of Czechoslovakia and eleven months later invaded Poland.

How could Chamberlain have been such a fool? If only he had stood up to Hitler! Was he a coward? What happened in Munich was appeasement at its worst.

chamberlain-plane-ticket-pic-collect-178249005

As is often the case with famous or infamous historical events, the common view isn’t necessarily correct. Historians who suggest a new interpretation of the past are called “revisionists”. Sometimes they’re right, especially when their revisions are based on new evidence.

I’m not qualified to judge the merits of the standard view of the Munich Agreement, but, according to this article at Salon:

… among historians, that view changed in the late 1950s, when the British government began making Chamberlain-era records available to researchers. “The result of this was the discovery of all sorts of factors that narrowed the options of the British government in general and narrowed the options of Neville Chamberlain in particular,” explains David Dutton, a British historian who wrote a recent biography of the prime minister. “The evidence was so overwhelming,” he says, that many historians came to believe that Chamberlain “couldn’t do anything other than what he did” at Munich. Over time, Dutton says, “the weight of the historiography began to shift to a much more sympathetic appreciation” of Chamberlain.

The author suggests several reasons why, in his opinion, Chamberlain made the right decision: (1) most historians believe the British military wasn’t prepared for war with Germany in 1938; (2) Chamberlain’s military advisors told him that British forces couldn’t stop Germany from invading Czechoslovakia, but could eventually defeat Germany given time to prepare; (3) by 1938, Australia, New Zealand and Canada were no longer required to participate in a British war; (4) the Soviet Union was considered a potential enemy, not an ally; (5) America’s neutrality laws made it unlikely that America would join the fight; (6) although France was a likely major ally, British authorities had a very low opinion of France’s unstable government and the French military; (7) the British public, still traumatized by World War I, was strongly in favor of negotiation; (8) preserving the territorial integrity of Czechoslovakia wasn’t seen as justification for war, partly because Czechoslovakia had only existed for 20 years and many ethnic Germans in Czechoslovakia wanted to be part of a Germany; (9) the British generally believed that Hitler was similar to Mussolini, a fascist leader they knew, who was “more bravado than substance”.

The Munich agreement between the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy was greeted in Britain as a success: “cheering crowds filled the streets and the press rejoiced”. The French reaction was similar. When Germany took more of Czechoslovakia six months later, however, Chamberlain realized that war was inevitable, increased the pace of British rearmament and instituted Britain’s first peacetime draft.

Maybe Chamberlain and his supporters should have known better. After all, some of the British, as well as observers in other countries, correctly predicted that Hitler’s ultimate goal was the subjugation of Europe. We know the rest.

Still, it’s impossible to say whether Hitler would have been stopped sooner or more easily if Chamberlain (and the French president Daladier) had never made a deal in Munich. Nick Baumann, the author of the Salon article, concludes:

The story we’re told about Munich is one about the futility and foolishness of searching for peace. In American political debates, the words “appeasement” and “Munich” are used to bludgeon those who argue against war. But every war is not World War II, and every dictator is not Hitler. Should we really fault Chamberlain for postponing a potentially disastrous fight that his military advisers cautioned against, his allies weren’t ready for, and his people didn’t support?

At any rate, removing some economic sanctions in exchange for limits on Iran’s nuclear program isn’t the same as letting Hitler take part of Czechoslovakia in exchange for a promise of peace. 

By the way, the author of The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, the book I’ve been writing about recently, argues that we can learn nothing from history, since circumstances are always changing. In other words, history is bunk. But that’s consistent with his view that science is the only true path to knowledge. A more reasonable view is that there are recurring patterns in history, even if history doesn’t repeat itself. Looking back, it’s reasonable to conclude that negotiation is generally better than war.