Memory Lane 2
One of the forgotten things about Hitler's rise to power was that up until about 1938, many of his foreign policy demands were just. The Treaty of Versailles, imposed by the Allies after the Great War deprived Germany of "about 13.5% of her territory, 13% of her economic productivity and about 7 million of her inhabitants". So when in 1935 the Saar voted to return to Germany, after being a French coalmine for 15 years, many Britons were sympathetic. German troops marching into the Rhineland in 1936 were greeted by deliriously happy crowds in Essen, Frankfurt and Cologne. When Germany asserted her right to full sovereignty and re-armed, as was the due of every nation, not simply the Germans but many in the world gave three cheers. Auden in his famous poem September 1, 1939 felt it necessary to apologize for Versailles even as the Panzers were rolling across Poland.
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.
The return of Gaza to the Arabs, replete with UN funded banners proclaiming "Gaza Today. The West Bank and Jerusalem Tomorrow" underlines the historical parallel. Looking back on the 1930s, at the last moment when Second World War could have been averted, the problem never consisted of whether to return the Rhineland to Germany; but in whether the Rhineland should have been handed to Hitler. The issue of letting Germany rearm without restriction, at one level simply ceding her sovereign due was indistinguishable from giving the Nazis the key to Europe. It was a subtle difference which only a few statesmen, like Winston Churchill, appreciated. The Popular Front, a coalition of Leftist parties in French power up to the eve of the war, never grasped the distinction.
One wing of the party under it's leader Leon Blum saw early on that the new German Chancellor whose thugs had been smashing windows and brawling in the street for years was a potential threat and argued that France had to get ready to do something about him, the other wing argued against viewing Hitler in black and white terms. They had a more nuanced view of Herr Hitler. The latter faction were so eager to avoid another war that they ended up sabotaging France's ability to fight. It won't surprise those familiar with French history that a number of the anti-war Socialists ended up in the collaborationist Vichy Regime under German occupation. Or that Leon Blum ended up in Dachau.
Leon Blum was a Jew. But he was also heir to the Left's legacy of the search for root causes; it's attachment to pacifism at all costs, even when in Blum's case, it meant abandoning Spanish Communists to Hitler in the Civil War. The British and French policy of the 1930s is appeasement only in hindsight. Back then it was a roadmap to peace -- "peace in our time". Nor was it the case that Hitler compelled concessions from the reluctant statesmen of the West; on the contrary, they fell all over themselves to expiate their own guilt: the guilt of Versailles, the embarrassment of colonial empires. One historian notes:
Premier Blum’s appeasement has sometimes been overlooked by earlier historians. Thomas does not make this mistake, criticizing Blum for offering Hitler’s Economic Minister, Hjalmar Schacht, concessions in the African colonies taken from Germany at Versailles in 1919. The optimistic Blum still professed to believe, as late as January 1937, that Hitler would sign a disarmament agreement with Britain and France ... Yet Thomas also believes that Blum had no choice but to humor the British on the Non-Intervention policy toward Spain. Blum, according to the author, became an appeaser to avoid Chamberlain’s greater appeasement. Blum experimented with peaceful suggestions to prevent Chamberlain from making a bilateral deal with Hitler behind Paris’s back.
The return of Gaza to the Arabs is at one level simple justice -- not to mention a shrewd tactical move by the Israelis. One wishes it were not also a cession of territory to Hamas and Fatah, which unfortunately it is. And yet, as Churchill understood, the question of who one is dealing with is not altogether irrelevant. Pacifists of 1930s who watched Leni Reifenstahl's Triumph of the Will, which "opens with Hitler's plane flying through the clouds ... descending like a new messiah to the waiting throngs of people gathered to meet him" may have felt a moment of unease at dealing with this man -- but only for a moment. But this generation is also unable to see the Nuremberg rallies of its day. Ronald Jones, in his monograph for the Army War College entitled Terrorist Beheadings: Cultural and Strategic Implications warns an agnostic age that we ignore the ritual and ceremony of the enemy only at our peril. It is a window on his soul and a gauntlet in our face.
Taking hostages and ritually beheading them has recently emerged as a popular terrorist tactic for radical groups. ... The terrorists’ actions also have tremendous cultural and symbolic significance for their audience. Killing hostages is not new, but the growing trend of the graphic murder of noncombatants impels us to study this tactic.
And the message in those rituals, in the many incidents like the one in which shows Nick Berg, a "26-year-old Philadelphia businessman in an orange jumpsuit, with his hands tied behind his back" being beheaded under the caption "Abu Musab al-Zarqawi Shown Slaughtering an American" is not reassuring. In our search for root causes, we have blinded ourselves to the most basic of all: the content of the human heart.