Confronting Evil Then and Now

Seventy years ago today, on September 30, 1938, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned from Munich with accords that allowed Hitler to occupy Sudetenland, the predominately German part of the polyglot nation of Czechoslovakia.  The British Prime Ministered declared that he had secured "Peace in our time," and Munich has been a symbol of appeasing evil ever since.  Today many people would consider the attitude of the Left toward the evil of radical Islam and of Kim Jong Il and of Hugo Chavez to be like the appeasement of Neville Chamberlain. 

In fact, the attitude of the Left today toward evil is worse than Chamberlain at Munich.

Consider the context of Munich 1938. Europe was recovering from the Great War, a manmade horror unequalled in European history. The First World War slaughtered or maimed a whole generation of Frenchmen, Germans, and Britons.   Any man in 1938 who did not cherish peace was a fool or a knave.  Chamberlain, to his credit, yearned for peace.  Hitler, of course, lusted for war.

The German people, and this does not mean Hitler and the Nazis, had legitimate territorial grievances.  Led by good men, Germany could have reasonably demanded Sudentenland and been judged fair by history.  The allies had stranded millions of Germans as subjects of  France, Poland, Denmark, Belgium, Italy, and also of Czechoslovakia.  The moral issues in front of Chamberlain were genuine:  How high should peace rate on the scale of moral choices compared to other vital moral interests?  How seriously should solid political grievances be considered when the leaders of the government making demands were evil?  There are right answers to those questions but not easy answers.

Today, we put economic issues near the top of policy concerns for political leader, but in 1938 Chamberlain governed a people in the throes of the Great Depression.  Ending the Depression required international trade.  It required confidence that there would not be war.  The economy was only one of the worries that Chamberlain carried to Munich, but the worry of millions of unemployed Brits was a powerful concern for any morally serious person.

Fast forward seventy years.  What issues confront our relations with the Hitler in Iran?  He does not demand territory which reasonably belongs to Iran.  Instead, he demands the end of Israel, that sliver of free democracy in a region of dictatorship, the historic homeland of the Jewish people which simply asks to be left alone.  Hitler had a stronger case for absorbing Sudetenland than Ahmadinejad has for destroying Israel.

What "problems" do we face with confronting global evil?  Not much, really.  We are not recovering from a world war which claimed a dead man in nearly every family in Europe.  We are not trying to crawl out of the Great Depression.  In fact, we are living in one of the longest stretches of peace and prosperity in human history.  Our "crises" are like the subprime mortgage debacle. Stressful but not life-threatening. Historians still write of the horrors of 1916 as transforming the attitude of man about life.  Chamberlain and his contemporaries grappled with human tragedies which we cannot remotely fathom, thanks to our pampered lives. 

The common element in Munich then and the world now is how to confront evil.  Hitler was as evil as any man who lived.  But Kim Jong Il is just as evil.  Saddam Hussein was just as evil.  We do not lack evil leaders who hate humanity today. The crucial fact is that these modern Hitlers are much weaker than the infamous Adolf of Germany.  That makes the Munich of our time more depraved and depressing than the moral ambivalence of Munich in 1938.  We have no good reason not to fight evil now. 

It took six years, twenty million lives, and (in modern terms) tens of trillions of dollars to end Hitler and Nazism.  It took a blessedly and absurdly tiny number of lives (each one precious) and period of weeks to end the horrific reign of Saddam Hussein.  Hussein, like Hitler, engaged in genocide.  Hussein, like Hitler, warred on innocent neighbors.  Hussein, like Hitler, sponsored state sadism on a scale and in sinister ways that make human conscience blush.  Our path to ending Hussein was far easier than the path of ending Hitler.  One required great sacrifice and the other required very little.  British and French statesmen should have opposed Hitler earlier and more strongly. But a case can be made that Britain needed the year between Munich and the invasion of Poland to rearm enough to resist Hitler.

Our costs of conquering evil are almost nothing, and what price there is to pay is paid by noble men and women who have voluntarily enlisted to fight evil as our champions. What do the rest of us have to do?  Our "heavy burden" is giving these troops moral support and paying our taxes.  When Hitler stalked our planet, women worked long shifts in factories, old people bought war bonds whose repayment they would never see, children collected scrap metal, and, of course, drafted men fought and bled throughout the world.  Our ancestors of the last century did a tad more than smile and pay their taxes.

The horror in America and in the democratic West is not war, which is now easy to fight with few civilian casualties and which is waged by volunteers.  The horror is not the reticence of statesmen who balance war and peace and gamble wrong.  The horror is that so many amoral Americans view fighting evil as a problem.  Mosley in 1938 had his British Union of Fascists; he supported Hitler because he thought Hitler and the Nazis were right; he took the side of the enemies of his nation's way of life. His following in Britain was tiny.

Chamberlain, and later Churchill, faced no Michael Moore in Britain.  Except for scattered misanthropes like Mosley, no one in Britain doubted that Hitler was evil.  His suppression of liberty, his lust for war, his horrific mistreatment of Jews -- all of these Nazi sins and more were regularly condemned in Britain and the other democracies. Today we face a whole nation of Michael Moore clones and Oswald Mosley imitators.  A whole political party roots for the defeat of our forces in our war against evil men.  Senator Patty Murray talks about bin Ladin "helping people" the way that Nazis talked about Hitler ending unemployment.  Senator Durbin and Senator Obama talked about the behavior of our forces in combat the way that Hitler, himself, talked about Polish "atrocities" against Germans. 

We do not have politicians like Chamberlain, who weighed profound issues with undue caution.  We have celebrants of horror, soulless creeps like Moore, who visits "health care" facilities in concentration camp Cuba and tells us how happy the inmates are with their guards.  We have incoherent filibusters by unhinged women like Rosie O'Donnell who make speeches which make Hitler seem mild and thoughtful by comparison.  We have people who live here, who often live at the top of that luxury hotel of privilege and prosperity which is America, and who spew venom at those who protect the land and the people who give them their comforts and security.

We have people who hate life, and so hate Jews, Christians, America, Israel, and any affirmation of purposeful existence.  They have no excuse:  They did not live through a world war or a depression or suffer any monstrous persecution.  They live the most pampered lives in human history.  And they are wretchedly raging at those whose blood, toil, sweat, and tears gave them this materially perfect bliss.

Civilized mankind has changed in the last seventy years.  Life itself has become longer, safer, easier, and simpler.  But man does not live by bread alone.  Even when the price of being good is ridiculously painless, as it is for us today in fighting evil, there are people who hate human goodness on principle.  Remember Munich, because we must always remember the symbol of Munich:  But the Munich we face today is not a Munich of nations and leaders.  It is the very Munich of our souls.



Seventy years ago today, on September 30, 1938, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned from Munich with accords that allowed Hitler to occupy Sudetenland, the predominately German part of the polyglot nation of Czechoslovakia.  The British Prime Ministered declared that he had secured "Peace in our time," and Munich has been a symbol of appeasing evil ever since.  Today many people would consider the attitude of the Left toward the evil of radical Islam and of Kim Jong Il and of Hugo Chavez to be like the appeasement of Neville Chamberlain. 

In fact, the attitude of the Left today toward evil is worse than Chamberlain at Munich.

Consider the context of Munich 1938. Europe was recovering from the Great War, a manmade horror unequalled in European history. The First World War slaughtered or maimed a whole generation of Frenchmen, Germans, and Britons.   Any man in 1938 who did not cherish peace was a fool or a knave.  Chamberlain, to his credit, yearned for peace.  Hitler, of course, lusted for war.

The German people, and this does not mean Hitler and the Nazis, had legitimate territorial grievances.  Led by good men, Germany could have reasonably demanded Sudentenland and been judged fair by history.  The allies had stranded millions of Germans as subjects of  France, Poland, Denmark, Belgium, Italy, and also of Czechoslovakia.  The moral issues in front of Chamberlain were genuine:  How high should peace rate on the scale of moral choices compared to other vital moral interests?  How seriously should solid political grievances be considered when the leaders of the government making demands were evil?  There are right answers to those questions but not easy answers.

Today, we put economic issues near the top of policy concerns for political leader, but in 1938 Chamberlain governed a people in the throes of the Great Depression.  Ending the Depression required international trade.  It required confidence that there would not be war.  The economy was only one of the worries that Chamberlain carried to Munich, but the worry of millions of unemployed Brits was a powerful concern for any morally serious person.

Fast forward seventy years.  What issues confront our relations with the Hitler in Iran?  He does not demand territory which reasonably belongs to Iran.  Instead, he demands the end of Israel, that sliver of free democracy in a region of dictatorship, the historic homeland of the Jewish people which simply asks to be left alone.  Hitler had a stronger case for absorbing Sudetenland than Ahmadinejad has for destroying Israel.

What "problems" do we face with confronting global evil?  Not much, really.  We are not recovering from a world war which claimed a dead man in nearly every family in Europe.  We are not trying to crawl out of the Great Depression.  In fact, we are living in one of the longest stretches of peace and prosperity in human history.  Our "crises" are like the subprime mortgage debacle. Stressful but not life-threatening. Historians still write of the horrors of 1916 as transforming the attitude of man about life.  Chamberlain and his contemporaries grappled with human tragedies which we cannot remotely fathom, thanks to our pampered lives. 

The common element in Munich then and the world now is how to confront evil.  Hitler was as evil as any man who lived.  But Kim Jong Il is just as evil.  Saddam Hussein was just as evil.  We do not lack evil leaders who hate humanity today. The crucial fact is that these modern Hitlers are much weaker than the infamous Adolf of Germany.  That makes the Munich of our time more depraved and depressing than the moral ambivalence of Munich in 1938.  We have no good reason not to fight evil now. 

It took six years, twenty million lives, and (in modern terms) tens of trillions of dollars to end Hitler and Nazism.  It took a blessedly and absurdly tiny number of lives (each one precious) and period of weeks to end the horrific reign of Saddam Hussein.  Hussein, like Hitler, engaged in genocide.  Hussein, like Hitler, warred on innocent neighbors.  Hussein, like Hitler, sponsored state sadism on a scale and in sinister ways that make human conscience blush.  Our path to ending Hussein was far easier than the path of ending Hitler.  One required great sacrifice and the other required very little.  British and French statesmen should have opposed Hitler earlier and more strongly. But a case can be made that Britain needed the year between Munich and the invasion of Poland to rearm enough to resist Hitler.

Our costs of conquering evil are almost nothing, and what price there is to pay is paid by noble men and women who have voluntarily enlisted to fight evil as our champions. What do the rest of us have to do?  Our "heavy burden" is giving these troops moral support and paying our taxes.  When Hitler stalked our planet, women worked long shifts in factories, old people bought war bonds whose repayment they would never see, children collected scrap metal, and, of course, drafted men fought and bled throughout the world.  Our ancestors of the last century did a tad more than smile and pay their taxes.

The horror in America and in the democratic West is not war, which is now easy to fight with few civilian casualties and which is waged by volunteers.  The horror is not the reticence of statesmen who balance war and peace and gamble wrong.  The horror is that so many amoral Americans view fighting evil as a problem.  Mosley in 1938 had his British Union of Fascists; he supported Hitler because he thought Hitler and the Nazis were right; he took the side of the enemies of his nation's way of life. His following in Britain was tiny.

Chamberlain, and later Churchill, faced no Michael Moore in Britain.  Except for scattered misanthropes like Mosley, no one in Britain doubted that Hitler was evil.  His suppression of liberty, his lust for war, his horrific mistreatment of Jews -- all of these Nazi sins and more were regularly condemned in Britain and the other democracies. Today we face a whole nation of Michael Moore clones and Oswald Mosley imitators.  A whole political party roots for the defeat of our forces in our war against evil men.  Senator Patty Murray talks about bin Ladin "helping people" the way that Nazis talked about Hitler ending unemployment.  Senator Durbin and Senator Obama talked about the behavior of our forces in combat the way that Hitler, himself, talked about Polish "atrocities" against Germans. 

We do not have politicians like Chamberlain, who weighed profound issues with undue caution.  We have celebrants of horror, soulless creeps like Moore, who visits "health care" facilities in concentration camp Cuba and tells us how happy the inmates are with their guards.  We have incoherent filibusters by unhinged women like Rosie O'Donnell who make speeches which make Hitler seem mild and thoughtful by comparison.  We have people who live here, who often live at the top of that luxury hotel of privilege and prosperity which is America, and who spew venom at those who protect the land and the people who give them their comforts and security.

We have people who hate life, and so hate Jews, Christians, America, Israel, and any affirmation of purposeful existence.  They have no excuse:  They did not live through a world war or a depression or suffer any monstrous persecution.  They live the most pampered lives in human history.  And they are wretchedly raging at those whose blood, toil, sweat, and tears gave them this materially perfect bliss.

Civilized mankind has changed in the last seventy years.  Life itself has become longer, safer, easier, and simpler.  But man does not live by bread alone.  Even when the price of being good is ridiculously painless, as it is for us today in fighting evil, there are people who hate human goodness on principle.  Remember Munich, because we must always remember the symbol of Munich:  But the Munich we face today is not a Munich of nations and leaders.  It is the very Munich of our souls.