04 The Appeasers: Envy for Dictators

Perhaps the best argument against appeasement was that it built on a foundation that J. M. Keynes laid in his 1920 book, The Economic Consequences of the Peace. It’s easy to suspect that as an intellectual he disliked the treaty simply because the average Englishman thought it just. When Germany had invaded Belgium and France, it began a war in which millions died. No invasion, no war. There seems little doubt of the truth of that. France wasn’t planning to invade Germany. It was planning to come to the aid of Belgium and Britain’s army was far too small to invade anyone.

Germany could, of course, argue that it feared attack from the Russian army that was mobilizing to its east. But in that case, why divide its forces, attacking in the east and in the west? That only made sense if Germany wanted a war, wanted to win that war, and wanted to use that win to enlarge its territory in both the east and the west. And that sort of war can’t be justified. No, whatever Keynes might say, Germany’s punishment was just. The problem lay in the refusal of Germans to recognize their guilt no matter what the circumstances. G. K. Chesterton makes that point repeatedly in a collection of his writings that I edited, Chesterton on War and Peace.

In The Appeasers, Gilbert and Gott explain what motivated the appeasers of 1933.

Those who regarded Anglo-German friendship as possible were optimists. They sought to ignore the lessons of the past. Those who regarded that friendship as desirable, and were prepared to sacrifice common sense for the sake of their desire, were appeasers. Appeasement was a passion which ignored the rules, for it sought to create new ones. It saw the possibility of European peace and prosperity arising out of Anglo-German cooperation. Appeasement sprang from sympathy, as well as from fear. Often it was the sympathy of men in a slow, sluggish society for the dynamism of autocracy.

It’s not hard to see parallels to today’s response to Islamic terrorism. Just keep in mind what the “sympathy” they’re referring to is. It’s not the sympathy of Britain’s leaders for the average German citizen, who was living in a repressive police state. It was a sympathy, or perhaps what might be better called an envy, for dictators such as Mussolini and Hitler. They were envied because they didn’t have to deal with the messiness of democratic societies. They need not fear being voted out of office by a fickle electorate.

Much the same can be said of present-day liberals, who display a strange sympathy (meaning envy) for Arab dictatorships or the Iran theocracy. They care nothing about the suffering of Iraqis under Saddam, the Palestinians under their corrupt government, the people of Iran, or the average member of Arab dictatorships. Instead, they display a strange eagerness to meet with the region’s thugs and even, in the case of Obama, to bow down to them. It’s the ruthless power (and oil wealth) that the region’s leaders have that feeds their envy and creates what appears to us as a bizarre sympathy by secular liberals for theocratic reactionaries. It also explains the increasingly strange behavior of President Jimmy Carter since he was voted out of office in 1980.