JERUSALEM -- My life has, in a sense, been bracketed by acts of political appeasement. In March 1938 Germany, beneficiary so far of British appeasement, invaded Austria and announced its "Anschluss" (Annexation) into the German Reich. That autumn both of my parents' families fled Vienna for New York City; a few years later my parents met there, eventually married, and I was born there in 1954. Other relatives stayed in Vienna, thinking to weather the storm, and were eventually shipped to extermination camps -- becoming part of the 60 million or so fatalities of World War II.
Over the past eleven years in Israel, I've witnessed the consequences of another act of appeasement known as the "Oslo accords." Again a thuggish individual with a history of murderous brutality was treated by democratic leaders as a reasonable person whose real desire was peace. The reason I'm still alive is that this time the Jewish community under attack is armed and has some ability to defend itself. On the other hand, for various reasons Israel has not been able to decisively defeat the assault, which has now lasted considerably longer than World War II and is still continuing. At the moment suicide bombings in cafes and buses have stopped, but Israeli towns and villages in and near Gaza are under constant attack and the security forces are on constant alert.
Why are the wages of appeasement so dire? Why does this seem to be one act that history does not ultimately tolerate or forgive, exacting a terrible price? It must be because appeasement -- treating the likes of Hitler or Arafat, or Stalin or Kim Il-Sung, as benign, rational individuals just like you and me who just want to improve situations -- is a very basic lapse of adult functioning. The appeasers who treat monsters as friends, sign "peace" pacts with them and proudly wave them for all to see, are like very small children who haven't yet learned to make the most fundamental discriminations about reality, who will cheerfully pet the dangerous dog or jump off the slide unless watched closely every second.
Appeasement seems, unfortunately, to be endemic to democracy. On September 30, 1938 -- after Hitler had already invaded Austria -- British and French prime ministers Chamberlain and Daladier signed the Munich Pact with him, handing him Czechoslovakia for "peace." Less than a year later, on September 1, 1939, Hitler -- in full possession of Czechoslovakia but still unappeased -- sent 53 German army divisions into Poland despite British and French threats to intervene on its behalf, and World War II began. Though known as the "Munich paradigm" or just "Munich," it has been paradigmatic mainly in the sense that it keeps being repeated -- from Roosevelt and Churchill with Stalin in 1945, to Nixon and Kissinger with North Vietnam in 1973, to Carter-Clinton with Kim Il-Sung in 1995, to Israel with Arafat in 1993 and again in 2000, to the present belief throughout Europe and much of the world that the jihad monster can be satiated by handing parts of Israel to the Palestinians -- and many other examples, always with horrendous results.
Why are democratic leaders prone to appeasement? Some -- like Chamberlain, Carter, or Peres -- are appeasers at heart; others -- like Churchill, Nixon, or perhaps Rabin -- are not, but feel themselves compelled by circumstances to appease. Democratic polities are used to a relatively easy life; they want it to continue, and are ready to pay for that with what they consider small change -- sometimes even another democracy that happens to be in harm's way. Democratic polities are also used to disputes being resolved peaceably and more or less reasonably; they have a hard time believing anybody actually wants war and mayhem. Democracies deeply infected with moral relativism, like today's West European countries, seem to identify with and even admire aggressors, and could also be affected by a death wish.
If democracy is incorrigibly prone to appeasement, a dysfunctional act that results again and again in war and mass bloodshed, then democracy's ultimate value as a way of life has to be questioned. If a British monarchy would have stood up to Hitler instead of appeasing him until the world slid into an abyss, one could well wish Britain had been a monarchy, or some other form of moderate authoritarianism, in those days rather than a democracy. The test is whether today's democracies can stand up to the jihadi assault with its unprecedented dangers. So far only three -- the United States, Britain, and Israel -- are fighting back to any substantial extent, while the rest are either chipping in token forces, trying to buy off the holy warriors, or cheering them on.