Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who likes historical analogies, compares the appeasers of Germany in the run-up to World War II to his critics who stubbornly refuse to see in full the terrorists who want to destroy the civilized way of life, and us along with it.
The 1930s were "a time when a certain cynicism and moral confusion set in among the Western democracies." Men and women who should have known better refused to see what was writ large and plain before their eyes, and what Winston Churchill meant when he said that accommodating Hitler was "a bit like feeding a crocodile, hoping it would eat you last." The analogy to modern appeasement is not exact, but the faint-hearted who demand a quick withdrawal from Iraq are trying to appease a hungry crocodile. The French, as the Germans of the Weimar Republic had before them, wore blinkers looking at the crocodile. Those most blinded to the evil threat of Hitler were exactly those with the most to lose.
Many intellectuals and Democratic politicians of our own time resemble the Germans so soothed by rhetoric and intoxicated by the creativity of the 1920s and early 1930s that they could not see how all they held dear could be destroyed by Hitler. The Germans were afflicted with a terminal naivete, confronting the emerging fascists in their country, just as many Americans are confronting the "new fascism."
When Walter Rathenau, the Jewish foreign minister for the Weimar Republic, was assassinated in 1922 by right-wing thugs, an outpouring of grief enveloped one of the largest funerals in German memory. Thousands of fascists at that very moment raised their beer mugs in celebration of his death. Those in the liberal press of Weimar who called for stern measures against the fascists conspiring against the republic were ignored or discounted as unreasoning hysterics. The government did nothing to curb the anti-republican forces in the judiciary, the police or the state bureaucracies; all would contribute to the rise of Nazism.
When Hitler famously marched into Munich in 1923 with like-minded thugs calling for the dissolution of the "criminal government" of Germany, the minimum sentence for high treason was five years, the maximum, life. A sympathetic judge saw that Hitler served less than a year. When "Mein Kampf" was published in 1925, it was largely ignored, and the few who publicly noted his plans for the Jews and the republic were largely ignored as well. Not even the German Communists, who despised the fascists, deigned to unite against him, calculating that he was a mere minor threat. They could wait him out.
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