Thomas Sowell

That kind of cynical miscalculation was made by France back in 1938, when it threw its ally, Czechoslovakia, to the wolves by refusing to defend it against Hitler's demands, despite the mutual defense treaty between the two countries. Less than two years later, Hitler's armies were invading France -- using, among other things, tanks manufactured in Czechoslovakia.

This was just one of the expedient miscalculations that helped bring on the bloodiest and most destructive war the world has ever known. Dare we repeat such miscalculations in a nuclear age?

At the end of the Second World War, Winston Churchill said, "There never was in all history a war easier to prevent by timely action than the one which has just desolated such great areas of the globe." It might even have been prevented "without the firing of a single shot," Churchill said.

Early in Hitler's career as dictator of Germany, the Western powers -- indeed, France alone -- had such overwhelming military superiority that an ultimatum to Hitler to stop rearming would have left him little choice but to comply. But the price of stopping him went up as time went by and he kept on rearming.

When Hitler sent troops into the Rhineland in 1936, in defiance of two international treaties, he knew that Germany at that point had nothing that would stop the French army if it moved in. But France was too cautious to act -- and caution can be carried to the point where it becomes dangerous, as France discovered when a stronger Germany conquered it in 1940.

Churchill warned, "Do not let us take the course of allowing events to drift along until it is too late." But that is what expediency-minded politicians are always tempted to do.


Thomas Sowell

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

Creators Syndicate

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