The cover photo says it all. Literally the poster boy for appeasement, the hapless Neville Chamberlain looks up, goofy and hopeful, into the eyes of the beast, Adolf Hitler. Photographers snapped frame after frame of the British prime minister as the ink was drying on the “peace in our time” treaty signed by the man who would soon overrun Europe and the man who would shrink into shadows of ignominy.
Chamberlain’s sell out of Czechoslovakia with the Munich Agreement is the classic moment for those who wish to learn from history.
Which brings me to the very important point provided by Bruce Thornton, a new book, “The Wages of Appeasement: Ancient Athens, Munich and Obama’s America.” In this age of appeasement, especially from the greatest defender of freedom in the history of nations, Thornton’s book is vitally needed.
What Thornton does in “The Wages of Appeasement” is profile three great powers who almost inexplicably allowed enemies to set the terms of engagement. Chillingly, his third profile is, you guessed it, the United States.
In “Wages,” Thornton discusses the odd reality of superpowers that succumb to fear of less powerful enemies. As he writes, Athens could have stopped Philip II before the engagement at Chaeronea in the fourth century B.C.
England and France had overwhelming military power to defeat Germany as late as 1936 (I admit to being unaware of this startling historical fact), when Hitler took the Rhineland.
But they didn’t.
And America … well, the jury of history is still out.
Our sluggish emotional capacity to understand and internalize the agenda of the jihadists – and the Carteresque approaches to Iran – have pushed our great country to the brink.
By the way, my readers know that I love to find writing that is both elegant and highly readable; Thornton succeeds on this level, as well, in “The Wages of Appeasement.”
So, we know in this book we are going to get a lesson in how America came to her present difficulties.
First, though, Thornton profiles ancient Greece (you will also deduce that the second profiled nation is England in the run-up to the failed Austrian painter), and that is quite fascinating.
After Philip II of Macedonia became king in 359, the Greeks of Athens had been struggling to reclaim power lost to Sparta. The Greeks, in an uneasy alliance with Sparta and Thebes, never saw Macedonia coming, as it were. They considered Macedonians to be savages and – an interesting note – “negligible as fighters.”
This was a fatal mistake. Thornton blends historical narrative with dead-on commentary that points out the folly of civilizations eroded by appeasement, and his section on the Greeks is absorbing and compelling.
In short, Athens “mis-underestimated” Philip, and this led to their final downfall as a superpower. Wages is enhanced immeasurably by Thornton’s gift for storytelling and historical teaching.
It is perhaps, though, the crowning achievement of this book that we learn the soggy, sorry details of England’s slouching towards the brink of takeover by the Nazis. This is attributable, directly, to an atmosphere of diplomatic missteps and lack of moral courage. In this profound weakness is a vital object lesson for America, right now.
When Chamberlain began his frequent-flyer diplomacy with Herr Hitler, even the British Foreign Office began to see his folly, as in the joke, “If at first you don’t concede, fly, fly again!”
And I have to say this: With regard to Chamberlain’s sellout of the Czechs (General Syrovy said to his people, of the forced acceptance of the agreement, “terms which are without parallel in history for their ruthlessness. We were deserted. We stood alone.”), the U.S. has been sliding toward this diplomatic mistake since at least George Herbert Walker Bush left the demonstrators alone in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
It will catch up with us.
In the chapter “America and Jihad,” Thornton makes the following discerning statement: “Just as England and France had failed to take advantage of several opportunities to challenge Germany’s violations of the Versailles Treaty and Hitler’s aggressive probes of the Allies’ resolve, so too, starting in 1979, the United States failed to act with mind-concentrating force against the jihadist assaults on its people and interests.”
How true. Thornton also points out that various plans to thwart Iran, including the destruction of Iran’s oil industry, could have been effective, since the political situation in Iran was still fluid. Oh, how history might have been different.
In these three profiles, Thornton provides spot-on analysis and important lessons about avoiding the fates of Greece, Europe and … America?
Chamberlain died barely a year into the catastrophic World War II, and Hitler thankfully followed a few years later. Yet their case studies are an object lesson for us today. Totalitarianism is on the rise, and its malevolence is still not grasped by many of our nation’s policy makers. Perhaps enough people will read Thornton’s brilliant book to make a difference and steer us on another course.
Time is of the essence.