It was the Spanish philosopher Santayana who once remarked that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat its mistakes. He knew that we could be spared a lot of grief if we simply studied history more closely, and sought to apply some of the lessons learned there to our current situations.
Yet the study of history is not a strong suit for most people these days, let alone our politicians. So often we find ourselves doing the same stupid things our forbears did, with the same calamitous results.
We see many parallels today between the world of the militant Islamists, and the Nazis. Yet we fail to connect the dots, and see the implications of all the hate-filled rhetoric pouring out of some Islamists’ mouths. The truth is, if someone says they hate you and want to annihilate you, then you had better take some notice.
We did not do that earlier last century, and we paid a horrible price. The question is, is history repeating itself today? Will we suffer a similar fate, ignoring the threats so clearly being aimed at us, and instead take the path of appeasement and weakness?
Thomas Sowell, a black American commentator, takes up this theme in an article entitled “Morally paralysed,” which appeared July 24, 2007. “‘Moral paralysis’ is a term that has been used to describe the inaction of France, England and other European democracies in the 1930s, as they watched Hitler build up the military forces that he later used to attack them. It is a term that may be painfully relevant to our own times.”
He explains, “Back in the 1930s, the governments of the democratic countries knew what Hitler was doing – and they knew that they had enough military superiority at that point to stop his military buildup in its tracks. But they did nothing to stop him. Instead, they turned to what is still the magic mantra today – ‘negotiations’.”
This is how it transpired: British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain entered into negotiations with Hitler in Munich in 1938, and returned, with agreement in hand, declaring “peace in our time.” Says Sowell,
“We know now how short that time was. Less than a year later, World War II began in Europe and spread across the planet, killing tens of millions of people and reducing many cities to rubble in Europe and Asia. Looking back after that war, Winston Churchill said, ‘There was never a war in all history easier to prevent by timely action.’ The earlier it was done, the less it would have cost.”
Why all the moral paralysis? “The death of a million French soldiers in the First World War and disillusionment with the peace that followed cast a pall over a whole generation. Pacifism became vogue among the intelligentsia and spread into educational institutions. As early as 1932, Winston Churchill said: ‘France, though armed to the teeth, is pacifist to the core.’ It was morally paralyzed.”
And Sowell reminds us of another truth: “Incidentally, Hitler made some of the best anti-war statements of the 1930s. He knew that this was what the Western democracies wanted to hear – and that it would keep them morally paralyzed while he continued building up his military machine to attack them.”
So what are the lessons for today? “We know that Iran is moving swiftly toward nuclear weapons while the United Nations is moving slowly – or not at all – toward doing anything to stop them. It is a sign of our irresponsible Utopianism that anyone would even expect the UN to do anything that would make any real difference.”
Here is the real issue: “The Iranian leaders are not going to stop unless they get stopped. And, like Hitler, they don’t think we have the guts to stop them.” That may well be the case.
Concludes Sowell, “Nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran and its international terrorist allies will be a worst threat than Hitler ever was. But, before that happens, the big question is: Are we France? Are we morally paralyzed, perhaps fatally?”
The answers to this dilemma may not be easy to come by. But one answer can be ruled out right away: hoping that the problem will just go away, and that these madmen will not do what they threaten to do. That is surely not the way to proceed. The need of the hour today is far more Churchills and far fewer Chamberlains.