by Rabbi Jeremy Rosen
I was brought up to despise the word appeasement. It was the ideology favored by much of the British aristocracy and political leaders before the Second World War. For years Lords and Ladies traipsed across the Channel to marvel at what Hitler had achieved for Germany, “what a very nice chappie he was” and “someone we can do business with.” Even the king of England was enthralled (thank goodness he abdicated).
The American Ambassador to London, the father of President Kennedy, was an admirer and advised Roosevelt to make his peace with Hitler. As a result, the British government believed there was no real threat. They averted their eyes from increasing German militancy and re-armament. And as for anti-Semitism and murdering Jews, well, who really cared? And besides, the Jews probably deserved it.
The British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, the man most associated with appeasement but by no means the only one in government, was completely gulled into believing that if you were nice to Herr Hitler, he was a gentleman just like him. He would agree to peace and would honor his word. As for what Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf, of course, he thought the fellow was not being serious and only wrote it to get votes and power. Now, of course, we know he meant all of it, broke every treaty he had ever made, and disregarded every moral standard.
Thanks to the brilliant, unpredictability of a hitherto failed and unpopular politician, Winston Churchill, Britain was persuaded to stand up to Hitler. Had he not succeeded, all of Europe would have fallen to the Nazis and I would not be here today to tell the story. Remember that America only entered the war when both Japan and Germany declared war on America first and public opinion had been against going to war to defend anyone. So, this is very, very, personal.
However, appeasement did not end there. Roosevelt was sick when he met Stalin at Yalta in 1945 when they decided on carving up the stinking Nazi corpse. He too thought Stalin was a reasonable man you could deal with. And so did Truman at Potsdam. They conceded every one of Stalin’s requests. When it came to dividing Berlin between the victors, the Americans caved in on everything, and when Col. Frank Howley, in Berlin, protested he was told to accept all the Russian conditions. To make matters worse the Waspy State Department was made up almost entirely of appeasers on almost all overseas issues then as now. Spineless men who pathetically believed that if you are nice to mad dogs they won’t bite you. You can read about it in Checkmate in Berlin by Giles Milton, amongst others.
It was thanks to a few outliers over the years that other voices were heard. The first was the famous letter from George Kennan, the American chargé d’affaires at the Embassy in Moscow that began to change Truman’s opinion. Bolstered by Winston Churchill’s famous speech in America about “The Iron Curtain,” it led eventually to the Cold War and standing up to Russia. But if you have read the history of Berlin after the war, you will know how the Americans were very reluctant to stand up to Russia until the Russians themselves blocked Berlin. And on all other issues including Israel, the State Department professionals have continued to believe that appeasement works. The Suez campaign in 1956 was another example of the State Department’s failed appeasement.
Now the failures of Obama’s State Department, the cheerleaders of successive appeasements, are back in charge of the Asylum and bolstered by the woke who refuse to support anyone not aligned with their view of the world. Which anyway sees Israel as the enemy. They all believe that if you are nice to any of the morally corrupt dictators and terrorists and shower them with money (which will go into the pockets of them and their cronies) you will win friends and get them to change. This explains why they naively believed that appeasing the Iranians, and the Taliban ( we can argue about Lebanon and Palestine), would bring peace to the Middle East and turn them into amenable, civilized democrats. It is this deluded mentality that has dominated Washington’s thinking.
Extreme, Jihadi Islam, and note I say extreme and not all of Islam, stands for conquering the world and in they justify killing (even other Muslims), lying and betraying one’s word, if it suits the cause of turning the world into Dar al-Islam, in contrast to everywhere else which is Dar al-Harb, the world of the sword. Jihadism shares with Marxism the belief that the end justifies the means which is why in the West Islamic and Marxist extremists are allies. This also explains why fanatics often defeat moderates in political battles even when they are outnumbered. Fanatics are prepared to die for the cause.
The only defense against extremism is to fight from a strong, protected home base and venture beyond it only to destroy threats. But thinking that one can turn failed states into loyal allies or democracies that really work, is a delusion. The rival terror groups are delighted because they will now benefit from Taliban arms and support and the world knows America is not going to do a bloody thing about those of its allies who cannot defend themselves. They can’t even arrange an orderly evacuation which is an important rule of warfare, retreat from strength if you want to survive.
The USA has always resorted to arms when its own interests were in danger. But there is a difference between going to war and trying to impose your values and policies on others. And whenever they have tried that they have failed. And do you know why? Because wars that were waged by the military had a specific identifiable goal. Whereas wars tend to change a culture are endless if not pointless. Whereas generals tend to look at targets, politicians look to their own agendas, and intellectuals and professional policy wonks think of ideologies, living in their isolated worlds of theories and dream of re-making the world in their image with little regard to the realities on the ground. They are so used to talking they think that is the only way of achieving anything. That is why the United Nations is so useless.
I do not believe the USA should have gone into Afghanistan in the first place beyond their specific mission to destroy terrorists and their resources. She should have learned from Iraq that you cannot change a country’s character and that of its people. Did no one know the Afghan army was a paper tiger? Did no one think about an orderly evacuation in stages given that it has been on the cards for over six months? This has been a bigger disaster than Vietnam. America seems incapable of learning any lessons. Why would any so-called ally trust America again? To hell with appeasement, safety first.
And it is not just in the military area. Both Russia and China (to name only the largest) are committed to supplanting the USA. The process has moved on from the military and trade to technology. How has America reacted to the hacking of its major industries and government records? By being nice and saying to China “naughty boy, you really shouldn’t do that.” Do you really think they give a damn? This year it was Hong Kong, next year their turn. I weep for Taiwan! Friendless in the China Sea.
In the ancient world conquest was all that mattered. Religions thrived if they fought. Empires rose and fell. Then the Colonial powers divided their conquests into national units that forced rival tribes and religions to live together, and we have been suffering ever since. The Roman Empire collapsed when it had no coherent agenda, no shared national will. Without a common ideology on survival, if nothing else, there is no chance of winning. Thank God Israel has that survival gene. For all its faults and divisions, it has the passion to fight. Which I will pray this New Year that it will not have to.
Jeremy Rosen was born in Manchester, England, the eldest son of Rabbi Kopul Rosen and Bella Rosen. Rosen's thinking was strongly influenced by his father, who rejected fundamentalist and obscurantist approaches in favour of being open to the best the secular world has to offer while remaining committed to religious life. He was first educated at Carmel College, the school his father had founded based on this philosophical orientation. At his father's direction, Rosen also studied at Be'er Yaakov Yeshiva in Israel (1957–1958 and 1960). He then went on to Merkaz Harav Kook (1961), and Mir Yeshiva (1965–1968) in Jerusalem, where he received semicha from Rabbi Chaim Leib Shmuelevitz in addition to Rabbi Dovid Povarsky of Ponevezh and Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Shapiro of Yeshivat Be'er Ya'akov. In between Rosen attended Cambridge University (1962–1965), graduating with a degree in Moral Sciences.