Jim Z. had this fantastic idea for a topic: Does the Munich appeasement metaphor still carry any relevance in 21st century America? It certainly has been the most frequently-used historical metaphor in our politics for decades. It’s amazing how often it’s been 1938 since 1938. During the entire Cold War. In the Balkans and the Persian Gulf. In North Korea and Iran. And now, apparently in Libya and Syria.
It’s easy to laugh at this overkill. But, historical analogies, while often problematic, can be useful. Years ago, in graduate school, I took a class on their uses and misuses. The upshot was that people often use them without defining what the analogy is supposed to mean, when the historical parallels are few or vague, and to stifle debate rather than inform it. Still, without using history to guide us we’re flying blind.
What does it mean, then, to invoke Munich and appeasement? Is it the idea that making concessions to an adversary always emboldens them and leads to more aggression? Is it to warn us against naiveté, to insist we face the malevolence and will to aggression of, say, Iran or North Korea? Or, is it a belief that negotiating with an enemy – making concessions in return for some – is tantamount to surrender?
I’m looking forward to hearing Jim’s opening take on this topic. Let’s at least try to understand Munich before we decide to bury it, and try to understand why this metaphor still resonates with so many people.
Discussion Questions –
- What does the “Munich analogy” mean? Can it have more than one meaning?
- When since 1938 has it been applicable? Which enemies have we appeased? How much historical parallelism is necessary to invoke Munich?
- What can constitute appeasement of an enemy today, when the United States is so powerful and our enemies so small? Are we appeasing Iran, or North Korea, or anyone else? Appeasement requires that there be realistic alternatives to war, BTW.
- Is it time to retire the Munich metaphor? What would we gain and lose?
- What about other historical analogies, like the Vietnam analogy? Are they useful or harmful?
Munich has been – and still is – invoked frequently –
- From 1938-80. A lot in the 1980s. During the Persian Gulf War. [Jim wanted us to know the history of Munich’s invocation. These are a very long and liberal version of the history.]
- Against Obama: To conservatives, the entire Obama foreign policy has been one, big appeasement exercise, of all of our adversaries. This is no exaggeration: Iran and Russia – Recommended. Syria. Libya. His/our appeasement is everywhere.
- By Obama: SecState John Kerry used Munich to justify the
Is it time to end the Munich analogy?–
- Yep. It’s high time. Recommended.
- Longer, more thorough critique of the analogy using the ways it has been misused in the last 50 years..
- But, the Munich/appeasement metaphor still has its uses!
Optional Long Reads –
- 20pp 1998 study by the Air War College of uses/misuses of the Munich analogy.
- U.S. Army study of whether the actual Munich agreement constituted appeasement of Hitler.
NEXT WEEK: The future of American gender roles!