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Between Appeasement and Aggression

How a national defense can be just that.

by James Leroy Wilson
January 9, 2002

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Between Appeasement and Aggression_James Leroy Wilson-How a national defense can be just that. Henry Kissinger's book Diplomacy lifts some of the blame Neville Chamberlain gets for "appeasing" Hitler by letting Nazi Germany occupy the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. The lesson I gathered is that the British Empire, of which Chamberlain was Prime Minister, was not ready or willing to fight Germany for occupying a German-dominated land. After Hitler broke the Munich accord by proceeding to annex the rest of Czechoslovakia, the British people were sufficiently outraged to draw the line at Poland and fight.

It is difficult, obviously, to embark on a national enterprise like warfare without the solid backing of the people. Appeasement is the temporary, easy, and not always wrong way out. If the people do not know why the war is being fought, and do not believe it is the necessary and best resolution available, the war will be lost.

This may help explain President Clinton's reluctance to actively pursue Osama bin Laden's terror network. A War Against Terrorism during his Presidency, under which there were numerous intolerable incidents but nothing approaching the disaster of September 11, would have been difficult to pull off politically, mainly because he himself was aware that at least half the population neither trusted him nor took him seriously as Commander-in-Chief. Although, on the other hand, if Clinton was as rhetorically gifted and as smart as his supporters always claimed, maybe we could have achieved the same ends we are pursuing now. After all, during Clinton's tenure bin Laden attacked our homeland, our embassies, and our warships. What more could he have done to convince us he was at war with us?

Well, if we weren't convinced - or didn't care - under Clinton's watch, bin Laden did finally persuade us there's a war going on. Now, apparently, the country has rallied around President Bush's prosecution of the war. The results so far look good; we helped destroy and replace the government of Afghanistan, thereby persuading other Islamic countries to crack down on their own terrorist networks. The President has preached patience; if we run out, he should show us the footage of the World Trade Center crumbling down.

The flip side of appeasement is aggression, resorting to force even before we have been attacked. If Chamberlain sent Britain off to war against Germany in 1938, in many ways it would have been considered an "aggressive" move; why prevent a German-dominated province from becoming a part of Germany? And while Clinton appeased Bin Laden, he ultimately made America the aggressor in a war against Serbia. The reasons sound good: Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic was on the verge of the ethnic cleansing of Albanians from Kosovo. We started a war for moral and humanitarian reasons unrelated to the security of the United States. But the war had indifferent support within the United States, and the President was worried about losing a single casualty. The nation seemingly lacked the will to see through a tough fight if that was what was required.

Neither appeasement - letting violence persist for fear of a fight, nor aggression - initiating violence, appear to be the soundest methods of statecraft. What has worked best to preserve a country's liberty and independence is allies and armaments. Allies provide geographic buffers and, being on our "side," fewer possible enemies. Arms tell possible adversaries that war against us will be futile. This requires keeping not just the professional military but the entire nation prepared for war, and amassing the weaponry that would deter others from even thinking about attacking us. And when attacked, to retaliate as soon as possible, and harshly.

In football, the best defense is a good offense. And of course, to fight wars, a good "offense" is needed. But to prevent war, to deter war, neither appeasement nor a great offensive military machine will suffice. Defense should be just that, which means vigilance in protecting our interests, and neutrality, not aggression, when our interests are not affected.

Government's primary job is security. That means neither fearing wars, nor getting into unnecessary ones.

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