This week’s opening of the UN General Assembly session coincides with the 70th anniversary of the Munich Agreement of Sept. 29-30, 1938, or, more appropriately, the betrayal of Czechoslovakia signed by the British and French leaders with their German and Italian counterparts.
Britain’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain also signed a separate peace treaty with Adolf Hitler, the German dictator, and returning to London he famously declared, “I believe it is peace for our time.”
These agreements were signed by democratic leaders to avoid another European blood-letting within a generation. There was no mistaking what Hitler sought as he rebuilt the German war machine, broadcast German need for expanded living space and of purifying the German race through final solution of the Jewish “problem.”
The fear of general war erupting from an attempt to stop Hitler paralyzed the leaders of Britain and France.
They sought instead to accommodate the dictator’s demands through appeasement with honour. But appeasement, the historian A.J.P. Taylor noted, began “as an impartial consideration of rival claims and the remedying of past faults” yet quickly “lost its moral strength.”
Chamberlain’s well-intentioned effort did not bring peace, nor did it sufficiently delay the war. The lesson since then should be unmistakable: That in appeasing dictators, democracies fail to guarantee peace while whetting the dictators’ appetites for more of what they seek by pushing the threat of war.
Fast forward to this week as odious leaders of rogue and failed states gathered at the UN headquarters in New York, and observe the distressing effort of democracies to accommodate and appease dictators.
It might be said that democracies are bound by the rules of law and international agreement not to push or impose their views and interests on other countries.
It might also be said that democracies do not have infinite resources to bend the ways of dictators, so numerous in numbers, and bring freedom to their suffering people.
But when democracies lose their moral strength there is bitter cost to be paid in regaining it, and this week at the UN dictators and tyrants once again unfolded their annual display of goading and insulting democracies. The worst offender was Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad unleashing his anti-American and anti-Semitic tirade.
Ahmadinejad regularly rants about the sins of the United States and about wiping Israel off the map. His ranting is not much different from that of Hitler, and his ambition is no less.
Iran is not an industrial power, though it is the leading rogue/terrorist state in the greater Middle East sitting on top of immense energy resources. And its race to acquire nuclear weapons is a blatant challenge to democracies.
The lesson from 70 years ago stares in the face of democracies. Diplomacy, or appeasement, by democracies has brought Iran to the brink of acquiring nuclear capability and unavoidable future confrontation with Iran, possessing even a token inventory of nuclear weapons, will be more terribly costly.
The United Nations was built on the ashes of the most terrible war in human history brought about by the failure of democracies to stop Hitler despite the warnings. It is now a temple of hypocrisy where dictators applaud anti-Semitic rantings, and where lessons from history are drowned by the stench of victims of tyrants feasting on lies.