Of the Bourbons, restored to the throne after the French Revolution, the guillotining of Louis XVI and the Napoleonic interlude, Talleyrand said, they had "learned nothing and forgotten nothing."
Unfortunately, so may it be said of our own George II.
Last week, at Czermin Palace in Prague, George Bush delivered his latest epistle on democracy as mankind's salvation, as though he had learned nothing since ordering the invasion of Iraq -- to bring the blessings of democracy to Mesopotamia and the Middle East.
President Bush began by paying tribute to the founding father of Czech democracy. "Nine decades ago, Tomas Masaryk proclaimed Czechoslovakia's independence based on the 'ideals of democracy.'"
Well, that may be what the Masaryk said, but it is not exactly what he did. In 1918, he did indeed proclaim the independence of Czechoslovakia, confirmed by the Allies at Paris. But inside the new Czechoslovakia, built on the "ideals of democracy," were 3 million dissident Germans who wished to remain with Austria and half a million Hungarians who wished to remain with Hungary. Many Catholic Slovaks had wanted to remain with Catholic Hungary. Against their will, all had been consigned to Masaryk's Czech-dominated nation.
Query for Bush? If 3 million Germans were put under alien rule without their consent and against their will, and they wished to exercise their right of self-determination, as preached by Woodrow Wilson, did they not have a right to secede peacefully and join their German kinsmen?
Because that is what Munich was all about.
Between 1938 and 1939, dissident Germans, Slovaks, Poles, Hungarians and Ruthenes -- abetted by Berlin, Warsaw and Budapest -- broke free of Masaryk's multinational democracy. Rather than let them secede from Prague, Churchill thought Britain should go to war.
Was Winston right, or were the Sudeten Germans right?
In 1945, liberated Czechoslovkia solved its dissident German problem by wholesale ethnic cleansing.
"Freedom," declared the president, "is the design of our Maker and the longing of every soul. ... Freedom is the dream ... of every person in every nation in every age." Interesting.
Did Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Mao, Fidel, Uncle Ho and Pol Pot long for freedom in their souls? Did Churchill long for freedom, as he fought to preserve the British Empire and British rule in India?
"Expanding freedom," said Bush, "is the only realistic way to protect our people in the long run." That is another way of saying that, if we abandon the Bush crusade for global democracy, we can never be secure.
Yet America has always been among the most secure nations on earth, even when the world was unfree. Has invading Iraq to expand freedom made us more secure? For it has surely gotten more Americans killed than died on 9-11 and served as the No. 1 recruiting poster for al-Qaida.
"Governments accountable to their people do not attack each other," said Bush. This may come as a surprise to descendants of those who fought for Southern independence from 1861 to 1865. Does Bush think Mr. Lincoln's government or those of the CSA, the Confederate States of America, were not "accountable" to their people? Yet 600,000 Americans died in that war between two democratic republics.
Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan are democratic, but they appear ready to have a go at each other. Last summer, democratic Israel, enraged by a Hezbollah kidnapping, bombed democratic Lebanon for five weeks, killing a thousand Lebanese and rendering 10,000 homeless.
In 1914, the most democratic nations in Europe plunged into the bloodiest war in history. Free people in European capitals cheered lustily as their sons marched off to die.
Democratic peoples are not immune to blood lust.
"Young people who can disagree openly with their leaders are less likely to adopt violent ideologies," said Bush.
But Weimar was the freest government Germany ever had. Yet Nazis and communists battled constantly, and in 1933, a majority voted for them. Puerto Rican terrorists tried to kill Harry Truman, shot up the House and dynamited Fraunces Tavern in New York in the freest country on earth.
The anarchists, the Red Brigades, the Baader-Meinhoff gang, the IRA, the Basque ETA and the Islamist subway bombers of Britain all operated in democratic societies.
"(E)very time people are given a choice, they choose freedom," said Bush. Oh. In Iran in 2005, the people chose Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In 2006, free elections gave victories to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hezbollh, Hamas and anti-American radicals in Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua, who joined forces with twice-elected Hugo Chavez.
The German people chose Hitler and the Nazi Party.
It is one thing to believe democracy is a superior form of government. It is another to worship it, or ascribe to it powers or attributes that can ensure permanent peace among nations. As Douglas MacArthur said, citing Plato, "Only the dead know the end of war."
Democracy means rule by the people, and peoples can be as corrupt and bloodthirsty as tyrants and kings. Today in Moscow, Beijing and Hanoi, Lenin, Mao and Ho -- mass murderers all three -- lie in honor.