Tuesday 30 September 2008

The mixed lessons, and legacies, of Munich 1938, by Ian Buruma

Source: Los Angeles Times

"Seventy years ago in Munich – on Sept. 30, 1938 – the British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, signed a document that allowed Nazi Germany to seize control of the Sudetenland, a large chunk of western Czechoslovakia heavily populated by ethnic Germans. (...)

What exactly has the world learned from Munich 1938, and is it the correct lesson?

If anything, West Europeans after World War II drew conclusions that were closer to Chamberlain’s thinking in 1938 than Churchill’s. After two catastrophic wars, Europeans decided to build institutions that would make military conflict redundant. Henceforth, diplomacy, compromise and shared sovereignty would be the norm, and romantic nationalism based on military prowess would be a thing of the past.

Out of the ashes of war a new kind of Europe arose, as did a new kind of Japan (which even had a pacifist constitution, written by idealistic Americans but gratefully accepted by most Japanese). Nationalism (except in soccer stadiums) made way for smug self-satisfaction, for having found a more civilized, more diplomatic, more pacific solution to human conflict.

Of course, the peace was only kept because it was guaranteed by a nation – the United States – that still stuck to pre-World War II notions of national and international security. But Europeans, or many of them in any case, conveniently ignored that.

Too much dependence has also had an infantilizing effect. Like permanent adolescents, Europeans and Japanese crave the security of the great American father, and deeply resent him at the same time.

All this is making the Western alliance look incoherent and, despite its vast wealth coupled with American military power, strangely impotent. It is time for European democracies to make up their minds. They can remain dependent on the protection of the U.S. and stop complaining, or they can develop the capacity to defend Europe, however they wish to define it, themselves. The first option may not be feasible for very much longer in the twilight days of Pax Americana. And the second will be expensive and risky. Given the many divisions inside the EU, Europeans will probably just muddle on until a serious crisis forces them to act, by which time it could well be too late."

Ian Buruma is a contributing editor to Opinion and a professor of human rights at Bard College.


Anonymous said...

ckkxokThomas Hobbes - "covenants without the sword are but words".

Anonymous said...

Ian Buruma writes a lot but says nothing. You cannot have a foot in both camps.
Thomas the sceptic