26 May 2008

In Munich

Fred Clark has a couple of great posts concerning the persistent invocation of Munich by hawks trying to convince you of the total Hitleriness of the latest little Hitler who's annoying them.

No one who invokes Neville Chamberlain and the Munich Analogy is arguing in good faith. That goes for your crazy uncle, your co-worker, President Bush and John McCain. Just look at their shoes. Are the laces tied? No one smart enough to be capable of tying their own shoelaces is stupid enough to really believe what they're saying when they invoke this analogy.

The one-size-fits-all Munich template requires that we pretend that all diplomacy is capitulation. It requires that we pretend that containment, deterrence, isolation, sanctions, international pressure, inspections, soft power, summit meetings, aid, withholding aid, trade and every other form of possible influence whether political, economical or cultural are all just cowardly euphemisms for surrender.

To really believe that, one would have to be sublimely ignorant of history, geography, politics and the basic vocabulary of the English language. That level of perfect ignorance takes too much effort to achieve and sustain for anyone to master it accidentally.

It is simply not possible that these people are sincere. They do not -- they cannot -- believe what they are saying.

Unfortunately, enough of the American public is "sublimely ignorant of history," which allows the willfully stupid and insincere hacks to spin the Munich argument effectively. Here in the United States of Amnesia--to channel Gore Vidal--the rendering of history by the popular media, which is subsequently employed by politicians and opinion-framers, begins around 1939. World War II was the salvific virgin birth of the American Nation as we know it, when we brought forth the saving grace of Freedom and cleansed the world of evil. And boy, have we not let anyone live it down since then.

History before Munich only exists in dry, dusty textbooks, as a kind of remedial recitation of a ossified, irrelevant antiquity. It's conveniently never germane as a historical analogy to any present circumstance. Alas, however, most subsequent attempts at re-creating the glory of WWII have been lacking the same buoyancy, as all such efforts of recapturing the euphoric experience of initial salvation inevitably do, so we're left with bearing the cross of Munich forever.

I often think the difference between the way Europeans and Americans understand the world wars is that is that, while Europeans remember both wars and the causal relationship between them, Americans only remember the second and believe it to be a divine, epiphanic spark on the pages of history when the United States passed away and America was born. Curiously, despite the reverence we must pay to that war we also, like devout Catholics seeing the Virgin Mother in a Cheez-it cracker, believe it re-appears at any moment when we need to control some other country's resources.

Of course, just because the hawks shout "Munich!" at every turn doesn't mean they have any understanding of all the forces at play there. (A lot of history buffs love to play with counterfactuals about the outcomes of Munich, which is interesting but I won't get into it now.) For example, many people have seen this video of Chris Matthews running up a poor right-wing talker to see if he's capable of doing anything besides yell "appeaser!" The answer, apparently, is no.