Has Europe forgotten that appeasement led to WWII?

  • Charles Krauthammer / Washington Post columnist
  • Thursday, March 18, 2004 9:00pm
  • Opinion

WASHINGTON — When confronting an existential enemy — an enemy that wants to terminate your very existence — there are only two choices: appeasement or war.

In the 1930s, Europe chose appeasement. Today Spain has done so again. Europe may follow.

One can understand Europe’s reaction in the 1930s. First, it could almost plausibly convince itself that Hitler could be accommodated. Perhaps he really was only seeking what he sometimes said he was — the return of territory, the unification of the Germanic peoples, a place in the sun — and not world conquest.

Today there is no doubting the intentions of Arab-Islamic radicalism. It is not this grievance or that (U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia). It is not this territory or that (Palestine, Andalusia). The intention, endlessly repeated, is the establishment of a primitive, messianic caliphate — redeeming Islam and dominating the world. They have seen the future: Taliban Afghanistan, writ large.

Moreover, Europe in the 1930s had a second excuse. The devastation of the First World War, staggering and fresh in memory (France and Germany lost a third of their young men of military age), had made another such war unthinkable. This does not excuse appeasement — it cost millions more lives in the Second World War — but provides context, and possibly humility. One has to ask oneself: Am I sure I would not have chosen the cowardly alternative?

Nonetheless, it was still the cowardly alternative. And today, Spain has chosen it — having suffered not Europe’s 20 million dead of the First World War, but 200 dead in the Madrid bombing.

The Socialist Party placed the blame for the attack not on the barbarians who detonated the bombs, but on the Spanish government that stood with the United States in its war against the barbarians. The Spanish electorate then voted into office the purveyors of precisely that perverse view.

Spain will now withdraw from Iraq, sever its alliance with America and, as Prime Minister-elect Zapatero has promised, "restore magnificent relations with France and Germany."

Nonetheless, Spain is just Spain. The really big prize is Europe. Which is why the most ominous development of the week was the post-Madrid pronouncements of Romano Prodi, the president of the European Commission.

"Clearly the conflict with the terrorists is not resolved with force alone." Sounds reasonable until you hear Prodi’s amplification of the idea just two days earlier. "We know that international terrorism wants to spread fear," said Prodi. "Fear generates not so much justice, but rather vengeance, which chooses war to answer the need of security. … We become prisoners of terror and of terrorists." In other words, making war on terror is unjust, fearful, mere vengeance, and ultimately a victory for terrorism.

If not war, then what? A centerpiece to Prodi’s solution to terrorism: a new European constitution. I’m not making this up: "To defeat fear we only have democracy and politics. … Today for us, politics means building Europe completely with its constitution and its institutions. … "

This is beyond appeasement. This is decadence: Terror rages and we tend our garden.

Prodi is right that the war on terror is not resolved by force alone. How is it won apart from hunting down terrorists and destroying terrorist regimes? By reversing the Arab-Islamic world’s tragic collapse into oppression, intolerance and destitution, in which popular grievances are cynically deflected by repressive regimes and clergy into the virulent anti-Americanism that exploded upon us on 9/11. Which means trying to give desperate and oppressed people a chance at the kind of freedom and prosperity that we helped construct post-World War II in Europe and East Asia.

Where on this planet is this project most engaged? Iraq, where, day by day, the U.S.-led coalition is trying to build a new civil order characterized by pluralism, the rule of law, and constitutional restraints. Even a modicum of success in this enterprise would constitute a monumental strategic advance, a historic change in the very culture of the Middle East.

Spain’s response to this challenge? Abandon the effort.

So when Zapatero and, more importantly, Prodi speak of nonmilitary means to "resolve" the "conflict with terrorists," they don’t mean draining the swamp by gradually building free institutions. They mean buying off the terrorists, distancing themselves from America and seeking a separate peace.

Sure they will continue to track down individual al-Qaida terrorists. But that’s no favor to anyone. They want to make sure there’s not another Madrid, in case European appeasement is not quite thorough enough to satisfy the terrorists. But on the larger fight, the reordering of the Arab world that produced the terrorists, they choose surrender.

Charles Krauthammer is a Washington Post columnist. Contact him by writing to letters@charleskrauthammer.com.

Talk to us

More in Opinion

Editorial cartoons for Friday, Sept. 22

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

FILE - Six-year-old Eric Aviles receives the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine from pharmacist Sylvia Uong at a pediatric vaccine clinic for children ages 5 to 11 set up at Willard Intermediate School in Santa Ana, Calif., Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021. In a statement Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, California's public health officer, Dr. Tomas J. Aragon, said that officials are monitoring the Omicron variant. There are no reports to date of the variant in California, the statement said. Aragon said the state was focusing on ensuring its residents have access to vaccines and booster shots. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
Editorial: A plea for watchful calm this time regarding covid

We don’t need a repeat of uncontrolled infections or of the divisions over vaccines and masks.

Flowers bloom on the end of a dead tree on Spencer Island on Monday, Aug. 28, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Editorial: Restore salmon habitat but provide view of its work

Comments are sought on a plan to restore fish habitat to the island east of Everett with popular trails.

Comment: GOP ‘projection’ is slideshow of hypocrisy, deflection

Trump, of course, is guilty, but so are House Republicans desperate to ferret out elusive dirt on Joe Biden.

Arlington Mayor Tolbert has helped her region rebuild, grow

Arlington Mayor Barb Tolbert has implemented the best programs to help people… Continue reading

Johnson’s endorsements reason enough to earn vote for sheriff

Another week. Another death at the Snohomish County jail (“Man, 38, identified… Continue reading

Resumption of expanded child tax credit can fight poverty

The U.S. Census Bureau has released poverty data for 2022 and the… Continue reading

Comment: Musk is his CEO’s X-factor (and not in a good way)

Musk is the widely variable variable for the X chief executive who can’t make headway on advertising.

Editorial cartoons for Thursday, Sept. 21

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Most Read