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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

January 28, 2003

Why Europe Balks

A reader can make an easy connection to what Daniel Pipes says here about WWI shortness of vision in Europe now applying to their Iraqi stance, also suggests a number of connections to the Jews of Europe back then and now to Israel.
Leading French politicians made some remarkably defeatist pronouncements last week.

Rejecting any U.S. military action against Iraq, President Jacques Chirac said that "War is always the admission of defeat, and is always the worst of solutions. And hence everything must be done to avoid it." Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin put it more emphatically: "Nothing justifies envisaging military action." To all this, the German chancellor beamed with approval.

In response, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dismissed France and Germany as "old Europe." The Post blasted them as the "Axis of Weasel." Cartoonist Tony Auth dubbed them the "Axis of Annoyance."

An even better name would be "Axis of Appeasement." "Appeasement" may sound like an insult, but it is a serious policy with a long history - and an enduring appeal highly relevant to today's circumstances.

Yale historian Paul Kennedy defines appeasement as a way of settling quarrels "by admitting and satisfying grievances through rational negotiation and compromise, thereby avoiding the resort to an armed conflict which would be expensive, bloody and possibly very dangerous."

The British Empire relied heavily on appeasement from the 1860s on, with good results - avoiding costly colonial conflicts while preserving the international status quo. To a lesser extent, other European governments also adopted the policy.

Then came 1914, when in a fit of delirium nearly all Europe abandoned appeasement and rushed into World War I with what Yale historian Peter Gay calls "a fervor bordering on a religious experience." A century had passed since the continent had experienced the miseries of war, and their memory had vanished. Worse, thinkers such as the German Friedrich Nietzsche developed theories glorifying war.

Four years (1914-18) of hell, especially in the trenches of northern France, then prompted immense guilt about the jubilation of 1914. A new consensus emerged: Never again would Europeans rush into war.

Appeasement looked better than ever. And so, as Adolf Hitler threatened in the 1930s, British and French leaders tried to buy him off. Of course, what worked in colonial wars had utterly disastrous results when dealing with an enemy like the Nazis.
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