A country with an autocratic government led by an aggressive leader has brutally attacked its neighbor without provocation. It has occupied a large chunk of its neighbor’s territory and is threatening further military action. Another country has been increasing its military capabilities in defiance of the world powers. Innocent civilians are being slaughtered because of their religion. The world is largely in denial. Its response has been weak and ineffectual. The American people, war-weary and in the midst of battling their own economic problems, are ignoring these events hoping that they will somehow miraculously solve themselves without American involvement.
What year am I describing? 2015, you say? Russia? Iran? Islamic terrorism? Wrong. I am describing 1938.
Japan had been at war with China since the early 1930’s and had slaughtered millions of Chinese civilians in actions that were nothing short of genocide. Germany was arming itself to the teeth in defiance of the Treaty of Versailles it had signed at the conclusion of WWI. In addition, Germany had annexed Austria and was soon to annex the Sudetenland (part of Czechoslovakia) and attack Poland. Finally, Germany had begun its wanton and insane persecution of Jews.
The world had been engaged in appeasement, hoping that if they “allowed” Japan and Germany to seize a little bit of territory they would be satisfied. Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister of Great Britain, had just returned from the Munich conference with France, Germany and Italy, which had been convened to discuss the future of the Sudetenland. In return for not opposing Hitler’s occupation of the Sudetenland, he had supposedly promised not to go to war with Britain and France. Chamberlain was shown disembarking from his plane proudly waiving the non-aggression pact treaty in the air. The world exhaled, believing it had secured “peace in our time.”
Well, we all know how that worked out. Rather than taking decisive action against Japan and Germany while they were relatively weak and could have been defeated relatively easily, the world sat back and hoped for the best. The world stood by while Japan and Germany’s power and influence metastasized. America held back until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 (the 20th century version of 9/11) dragged us in. Eventually, it took a six-year long world war and 60 million deaths on both sides to defeat them.
No one is saying that we should attack Russia militarily over the Ukraine, but I believe economic and currency sanctions would be effective. Russia’s economy and currency are weak and vulnerable. Also, our government should commence dealing with them more forcefully, in general, than it has been. Had we done so, perhaps, Putin would not have been emboldened to invade the Ukraine in the first place.
Similarly, no one is suggesting we invade Iran. Economic sanctions were having an effect and should be re-imposed. Does anyone seriously believe they are not stalling the negotiations while continuing to develop a nuclear capability and delivery system, and that they will adhere to any agreement they may sign? If you do, I have a bridge to sell you. One cannot overestimate the danger to our national security and the stability of the Middle East of Iran’s achieving nuclear capability.
Regarding Islamic terrorism, we need to explore all options, including “boots on the ground.” I am not advocating just American “boots” nor “nation building.” That has not been successful. But, we need to exhibit more forceful leadership in assembling a bona-fide international response, military or otherwise. Islamic terrorists must be hunted down and destroyed. They have been beheading and burning innocent civilians, including Americans, and posting it on the internet for all to see! They have been raping and enslaving 10-year-old girls! This is not the Vietcong hiding in the jungle. We know where they are. They are out in the open mocking us, defying us to take action. Let’s accommodate them. Get in, do the job, and get out. The world stood by in the 1930s and 1940s. Let’s not make the same mistake again.
Remember the famous line from the late 19th century and early 20th century American philosopher, George Santayana, who said “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Let’s remember and learn from the past and NOT repeat it.