Very Well, Alone!

Paul Greenberg

4/8/2014 8:15:00 PM - Paul Greenberg
It's enough to make a tear appear even on the usually stony face of Clio, muse of history, who you'd think would be used to having her works -- and their lessons -- ignored by now.

This time it's the lesson that David Low, the British cartoonist, taught in June of 1940 after the fall of France, and the hasty evacuation at Dunkirk on every little boat available in England. That's when David Low drew his picture of a lone British tommy, his fist raised in the air against the approaching Luftwaffe -- when the whole might of the enemy was about to be unleashed on that sceptered isle. The last bastion of freedom in Europe, the only barrier between Hitler and the Atlantic, now stood alone against the long night of barbarism that was sure to descend if England fell. The caption under Low's cartoon said all that needed to be said:

Very well, Alone!

It is a lesson every embattled people must learn at its moment of truth, which may become its Finest Hour whatever the outcome of the battle. For that is when the realization hits: Help is not on the way, despite any and all assurances to the contrary, and that whatever fate decrees must be faced alone.

It is a lesson as old as Thermopylae and as contemporary as Crimea, repeated from the Alamo in 1836 to Budapest in 1956, when the Hungarians were left to face Soviet tanks with nothing but paving stones and broken promises. It is a simple enough lesson: Better to die fighting than live as slaves.

Very well, Alone!

In 1967, as Gamal Abdel Nasser's Soviet-supplied legions moved across Sinai and prepared to strike from the south, while the Syrians mobilized to invade from the north, and Jordan's Arab Legion from the east, all ready to join in for the kill, the Israelis had to face stark reality. That international armada they had been promised would break the Egyptian blockade and end this crisis? A fictive fleet, it would never arrive. And the old, old resolve had to be made again -- and acted on:

Very well, Alone!

It may be a new century, but the same old pits are being dug for the unwary, who never seem to learn. Once again, the Israelis are asked to play the old sucker's game ("Trust Us") even as the centrifuges keep spinning at Natanz, and distinguished diplomats meet at Geneva to smooth the way toward a Bomb of their own for Iran's mullahs. What was called appeasement in the last century is now called negotiating, but the existential threat to an expendable little country hasn't changed a bit.

Yes, one can understand why the Israelis would love to accept the "assurances" of such as Messrs. Obama and Kerry -- hey, they're World Leaders! -- just as poor Masaryk and Benes, the Czech representatives in 1938, trusted the likes of Chamberlain and Daladier to save their little country. Which was promptly wiped off the map.

The time for the Israelis to act on their own to eliminate this nuclear threat, or at least limit it, is passing fast, if it has not already passed. It's a familiar scenario, but how will it end? The Israelis had the good sense and gumption to blow up various nuclear facilities in Syria and Iraq not too long ago -- and without asking anybody's permission. Will they finally decide to strike those in Iran, too, or just keep dawdling their way to mortal peril?

When, if ever, will the Israelis not just talk about the impending threat but take action against it? On their own. When will they realize they can't rely on vague promises from distant parties -- America, Europe, the UN and so unreliably on -- to save them? And do what they can to save themselves, whatever the result? They don't have much time left to reach the conclusion and moral imperative staring them, and their children, in the face:

Very well, Alone!

That old lion, Winston Churchill, said it in his first broadcast to the British people after he had taken the helm as prime minister in May of 1940: "Arm yourselves, and be ye men of valor, and be in readiness for the conflict; for it is better for us to perish in battle than to look upon the outrage of our nation and our altar."

Very well, Alone!

It is an old, old lesson, yet the world has not learned the simple moral of the story even now. The Ukrainians received assurances, too. In return for giving up their nuclear weapons, their independence -- and territorial integrity -- would be "guaranteed" by the great powers, specifically including the United States and the new, peaceful, post-Soviet Russia, which turns out to be a lot like the old one.

Like any other treaty, the Budapest Declaration guaranteeing Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity has proved only as good as the will to enforce it, and that will is a poor, pitiable thing in this Era of Obama and Reset.

For in Eastern Europe, the Russian bear has awakened from his long hibernation, and prowls again, striking when and where the striking is good. A slice of Georgia one year, a piece of Ukraine another, all the while assuring Western gulls, like our own distinguished secretary of state and vacillation, a Mr. John Kerry, that Crimea is all that is being asked of the still free world. The rest of Ukraine has nothing to fear. Or Moldova. Or whatever will come after that.

If this all sounds familiar, it should. "This is my last territorial demand in Europe" --A. Hitler, September 26, 1938. That was when he was still demanding only the Sudetenland, which would prove only the first installment of Czechoslovakia, which he would proceed to swallow after Austria and before Poland, which he was generous enough to split with Comrade Stalin the following year.

But from all that we seemed to have learned nothing. No wonder Clio cries.