February 21, 2003


An Axis of Appeasement: Why the "Old Europe" Balks (Daniel Pipes, February 21, 2003, NY Post)
"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.

This led to the policy of buying off totalitarian opponents being discredited. Throughout the Cold War, it appeared the Europeans had learned a lesson they would never forget. But forget they did, soon after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

In a brilliant Weekly Standard essay, Yale's David Gelernter recently explained how this happened. The power of appeasement was temporarily hidden by World War II and the Cold War, but with the passage of time, "The effects of the Second World War are vanishing while the effects of the First endure."

Why? Because, writes Gelernter, the First World War is far more comprehensible than the Second, which is "too big for the mind to grasp." Politically and spiritually, it feels increasingly as though World War II never took place.

It's not so much WWII that the Europeans wish to forget but the Cold War, when American hegemony forced them to confront a Soviet Union that they would just as soon have appeased. This resulted in a forty year period in which we made them defy their own nature and it unsettled them terribly. Nor is it readily apparent that this was a wise decision on our part. It seems likely that the Soviet Union would have fallen apart just as quickly had we withdrawn back into our typical isolation and it would certainly have crumbled even faster had it tried taking over and controlling all of continental Europe. It would have been ridiculously over-extended.

The correct lesson of the Cold War--given its cost in dollars, lives, and disruption of civil society--may well be that appeasement would have been preferable to containment. Of course, immediate preventative war with the Soviets in 1945 would have been the best option of all, but we've so much national pride invested in our Cold War "victory" that we find it impossible to accept such an idea. Still, it seems unfair to whip the Europeans with their attachment to appeasement when we're guilty of a just as deluded attachment to an equally wrongheaded containment, which remains at least as popular here as appeasement is in Europe.

The Thirties revisited (Paul Greenberg, 2/21/03, Jewish World Review)

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 21, 2003 11:27 AM


The USSR would have eventually ended up in the ash heap of history, no matter what. But I think the CW greatly hastened that process because the USSR could not maintain a competitive military without badly draining the rest of the economy.

Also, had the W. Europeans appeased the USSR, they would have had much weaker economies as a result. That, in turn would have made us poorer.

Beyond that, though, at the time (50s through 70s) it would have been completely impossible to know how it would turn out, and of the options on the table, the CW seems to me to have been the most prudent course of action.


Jeff Guinn

Posted by: at February 21, 2003 11:50 AM


So you think communism is a workable system unless it has to pay for national defense?

Posted by: oj at February 21, 2003 12:35 PM

If we had gone to war against Communism in 1945, we'd have had our heinies whupped but good. Roughly 90% of the heavy lifting v. Hitler was done by Stalin, and he was at his peak in 1945-46. Nuclear war was not an option until around 1948 -- we didn't have enough bombs before then -- and the nuclear window was open for just a few months. By that time, of course, things had changed. According to Gen. Marshall, in 1946 he couldn't have defended Alaska, much less underetaken offensive war.

As usual, we had disbanded our forces once the immediate threat was dealt with.

I think almost all of the current assessment of appeasement is trivial. A.J.P. Taylor thought -- and I am persuaded he was right -- that '30s appeasement grew out of an agreement (which Taylor thought was valid but I do not) that Germany had been unfairly treatedd at Versailles and that it deserved and indeed could not be prevented from becoming a great power again.

Thus the Saar plebiscite, militarization of the Rhineland and annexations of Austria and Sudetenland were not more acquiesced in but welcomed by almost all ranges of opinion. Only a few clear-sighted men, like Vansittart, objected. Even Churchill said mild things about early appeasement.

In the view of your essayist, such a thing as an independent Kurdistan could be considered appeasement.

The problem came in the confusion of appeasement (as solution of legitimate grievances) and pacifism (torpor in the face of outrage).

The second is the definition now given, usually vaguely, to appeasement. Psychologically, it is almost impossible for an appeaser not to move over to cowardice as the stakes get higher.

Posted by: Harry at February 21, 2003 2:16 PM

Harry- you said everything I wanted to say. I would add that the use of nuclear weapons in such a war would make it a war of extermination as opposed to a war of liberation.

Noel Erinjeri

Posted by: Noel Erinjeri at February 21, 2003 2:34 PM

In other words, we'd be burning the Soviet Union to ashes in order to save it.


Posted by: Noel Erinjeri at February 21, 2003 2:38 PM


So what? we'd have saved as many lives as we lost, preserved more of our own culture, and saved trillions of dollars. What purpose was served by doing the reverse?

Posted by: oj at February 21, 2003 3:59 PM


The Russians were unable to prevent Curtis LeMay from flying simulated bombing runs, like those he did for real in Tokyo, over their cities, something he did to try and conviince both Washington and Moscow that war with the USSR was winnable. And all it would have taken was one nuclear weapon, not hundreds. Use the Nagasaki bomb on Moscow and both WWII and the Cold War wouyld have ended on the same day, saving mankind untold misery.

Posted by: oj at February 21, 2003 4:02 PM

I believe that's wishful thinking.

The Red Army could have moved into all the capitals of Western Europe and would have stayed there unless nuked out.

What's more America would have created an eternal enemy and lost any moral credence they previously possessed.

Posted by: M Ali Choudhury at February 21, 2003 4:34 PM


The Soviet Army could have occupied and run every country in Europe? For how long? At what cost? Would the Europeans have all just sat back and allowed it?

Posted by: oj at February 21, 2003 6:36 PM


And the Soviets did a pretty good job of keeping control of Eastern Europe till Reagan deep-sixed them.

Posted by: M Ali Choudhury at February 21, 2003 8:29 PM


Uh, no--as I said, the ash heap was beckoning either way. Absent having to deal with us, it would have taken lots longer, that's all.

Also, I'm a little put off by all this casual talk of nukeing places. I sat nuclear alert while stationed in England--the only way I would have dropped the big one is if the USSR had poured through the Fulda gap and had our backs to the wall.

Your analysis of how easy it would have been to continue the war after the Nazis collapsed is astonishingly simplistic.


Jeff Guinn

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at February 21, 2003 9:27 PM


We were unbothered by incinerating the Japs and firbombing both them and the Nazis. Our failure to take out the Soviet Union led to untold millions of deaths. Spare me the sanctimony, eh?

Posted by: oj at February 21, 2003 9:53 PM


I'm not being sanctimonious. That was our strategy (although my wording hid our strategy behind my outlook).

At any point during the Cold War, the number of deaths resulting from our attacking the USSR would have certainly been very large. In hindsight
it is possible to conclude the net loss of life would have been less.

But, with the future unknowable, that calculation would have been impossible.


Posted by: Jeff Guinn at February 22, 2003 4:05 PM


Agreed. The question was this simple: was it responsible to leave Stalin in charge of half of Europe? If yes, they why not just leave Hitler there? How do you justify the lives lost in WWII?

Posted by: oj at February 22, 2003 6:08 PM


Nuking Moscow would _not_ have ended the Cold War. It would have been necessary to physically occupy and/or destroy the entire country out to about the Urals. History demonstrates the success of that undertaking.

Even so, with nukes we probably could have done it: _at the cost of at least another 30 million Russian lives._ Which is a hell of a lot more people that died as a result of the Cold War. Maybe Russians of the 1950s and 1960s would agree they were better off dead. I tend to doubt it.

Noel Erinjeri

Posted by: Noel Erinjeri at February 22, 2003 9:43 PM


Thirty million died in China alone. Add in the continued murder regime in Eastern Europe, Cuba, Vietnam, Cambodia, Ethiopia, etc. Those who preserved the Soviet Union maintained communism as a viable alternative to liberal democracy. I'll gladly take responsibility for the dead of Moscow had we won WWII, so long as y'all take credit for the dead of the Cultural Revolution, the Killing Fields, etc.

Posted by: oj at February 23, 2003 7:42 AM

OJ's money quote:

"The Russians were unable to prevent Curtis LeMay from flying simulated bombing runs, like those he did for real in Tokyo, over their cities, something he did to try and conviince both Washington and Moscow that war with the USSR was winnable."

This keeps it straight. There is no doubt that the decision not to rollback Stalin's horde was expediency, not a military inferiority. We needed the ETO resources shifted to the Pacific in anticipation of the invasion of Japan's home islands. And, how could we justify to the many Americans that our "allies" the Russians were really, really awful after spending 4 years extolling their virtuous fight and supplying them at great cost (at least in 1945)?

It was the Battle of the Bulge that really foretold what could've been. The extended Red Army would've been toast against the Anglo/American forces, facing an air armada that they had no chance of defending against.

Posted by: Erik at February 23, 2003 9:11 AM


Responsible? I'm not sure that is exactly the proper prism through which to view the problem, for two reasons.

First, it is a trivial task to recite the consequences of the path we chose. Getting specific about the consequences of attending what we didn't do is far harder.

Second, the US had just been through a grueling war. Without the ability to foretell the future, I think it would have been nearly impossible to continue fighting after the Axis caved. The gap between responsible and doable might very well have been too wide to bridge.



Posted by: Jeff Guinn at February 23, 2003 8:40 PM


You're arguing, in effect, that the US in general and Democrats in particular are responsible for every bad thing that has happened in the world since 1945. Furthermore, that it was our duty to stop them. I prefer to choose my fights.

Noel Erinjeri

Posted by: Noel Erinjeri at February 24, 2003 8:56 AM


Send Patton plunging forward and fire-bomb a few Russian cities and the American people would have had no choice.

Posted by: oj at February 24, 2003 2:11 PM


No, since 1932.

Posted by: oj at February 24, 2003 2:13 PM