Editor's Note: This column was coauthored by Bob Morrison.
“Whoever says later may find later is too late,” says Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. His words drove Western policymakers into a tizzy. Everyone wants to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, but not everyone is willing to do what it takes to bring that about.
The recent high-level comings and goings between Jerusalem and Washington remind us of nothing so much as all those “consultations” between top-level officials of two other democratic allies seventy-six years ago. In 1936, everyone wanted to stop the German army coming into the de-militarized Rhineland, but no one was willing to use force to prevent it. Hitler sensed this weak resolve in the Americans and the British. The Americans were still in the throes of isolationism in 1936. Britain wanted to talk about Hitler’s move into the Rhineland, but it did not want to use force, or even allow the threat of force.
Hitler could smell fear. He deliberately chose March 7, 1936. He knew that British statesmen retreated to their country estates every weekend. He knew that “consultations” by telephone between the French and the British would be very hard on a weekend. Telephone communication was not the best. Then, there were language difficulties to consider.
Most of all, though, Hitler knew that the British were still haunted by the nightmare of trench warfare in World War I. Although Hitler was himself a decorated veteran of that war, he was determined on a new form of warfare—Blitzkrieg. His “lightning war” would rely on planes and tanks to force events with blinding speed.
He planned his coup in the Rhineland with great care. The Versailles Treaty ending World War I had explicitly forbidden Germany to re-militarize this historically German region. By throwing over this central provision of the Treaty, Hitler would effectively reverse the verdict of that four-year titanic struggle. He would become the victor in Europe.
He did not send in his tanks and planes. Cleverly, he sent a small force into the Rhineland, military bands, backed up by thousands of police. He sought to make his coup look as innocuous as possible. It was a fait accompli before the democracies could react. He coupled his seizure of the Rhineland with offers of peace talks and with—that great distraction—the Berlin Olympics. The quadrennial games had been fortuitously slated for his own capital city that summer. Let the peoples of the democracies come and be distracted by sports and spectacle.