Thomas Sowell

None of this had any practical effect, except to lull the Western democracies into inaction while Germany and Japan rapidly built up their military forces.

Hitler began openly violating the restrictions put on Germany, one at a time, allowing him to gauge what reaction there would be among the Western powers and in the League of Nations. Each violation that he got away with led him to try another -- and then another.

The key violation -- without which he would not be able to wage war -- was moving German troops into the Rhineland in 1936, in open defiance of the treaty of Versailles. Both he and his generals knew that the French army was so overwhelmingly more powerful at this point that German troops would not have been able to put up even token resistance if France sent its troops in to oust them.

France did nothing. It was the first of many nothings that France did in a series of crises that led up to World War II.

When Hitler had built up his clandestine forces sufficiently, he simply stopped keeping them secret and confronted the West with enough power that he knew they would not dare to challenge him. The opportunity to stop him was past.

Those who wanted "clear proof" now had it. In just a few years, they would have even clearer proof when the Nazis invaded France and subjugated it in just six weeks -- and then began bombing London, night after night.

While history does not literally repeat itself, sometimes it comes very close.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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