Monday’s Mtg: Is the “Munich Analogy” Still Useful?

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 –

  1. What does the “Munich analogy” mean?  Can it have more than one meaning?
  2. When since 1938 has it been applicable?  Which enemies have we appeased?  How much historical parallelism is necessary to invoke Munich?
  3. 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.
  4. Is it time to retire the Munich metaphor?  What would we gain and lose?
  5. What about other historical analogies, like the Vietnam analogy?  Are they useful or harmful?

Links –

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 – RecommendedSyria.  Libya.  His/our appeasement is everywhere.
  • By Obama:  SecState John Kerry used Munich to justify the Libya Syria intervention.

Is it time to end the Munich analogy?–

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!


One response

  1. The “Munich Analogy” is not always inappropriate. People who work themselves into a place of power often do so because they want as much power as they can get over as many people as they can. This has been true throughout history and I see no reason to think that it will go away any time in the foreseeable future. Obviously, “I should be in charge because I want to be in charge” is not apt to get others to cooperate, so excuses such as “my people have been wronged” are put out as justification.

    On the other hand, not all opposition leaders fall into this category. Driving out a foreign power which has no interest in the welfare of the people is also a common occurrence. The question then is whether we are dealing with an Adolph Hitler, a Mohandas Gandhi or something in between (which the most likely).

    Conservatives, since they tend to focus more on dangers, tend to see any opposition as another Hitler. Liberals, who more often focus on opportunities, see others as another Gandhi, who can be won over. I think having people with different perspectives on the opposition’s motives can be very useful in deciding appropriate action if the two groups respect each other enough to have a meaningful discussion. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be happening here in the US nowadays.

    Part of the problem, I think, is that this difference in perspective is wrapped up in the power struggle between the insiders of the Republican and Democrat parties. Since an invective like “appeasement” appeals to the natural inclinations of those most likely to support the Republican party, there is little motivation not to use it.

    There is also the earlier-mentioned fact that the US is far more powerful than most of the potential enemies. Why bother trying to figure out a way to deal peacefully with someone you are having a disagreement with when you can just bomb them at will with little chance that they will be able to hit you back?

    I will try to make the meeting tonight. I am especially curious about Jim Z’s take on this.

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