What did Chamberlain do? What is appeasement?
And what happened to John McCain’s arms?
One of the little election year mini-dramas making the Internet rounds is of MSNBC’s Chris Matthews’ insistent questioning of talk show host Kevin James over the issue of appeasement. “What did Chamberlain do?” Matthews asks his Hardball guest repeatedly. Mr. James was unable to answer with historical specifics.
As it happens, I’ve met Mr. Matthews, spending an afternoon with him several years ago at his MSNBC office in the company of a friend who was interviewing him for a profile in the Financial Times. The article never ran, amazingly enough, because the FT decided an American TV talk show host wasn’t of real interest to its readers, something that I admit caused me to laugh out loud.
What I find interesting about Matthews these days is the reasoning that has driven him so far over the cliff in his anti-war persona, knowing full well that he has been a devoted student of Winston Churchill. Churchill was and is, of course, famous for his opposition to Neville Chamberlain and Chamberlain’s predecessor as prime minister, Conservative Party stalwart Stanley Baldwin. Churchill’s opposition to both men, successively the leaders of his own Conservative Party, was based on his passionate belief that neither fully appreciated the danger that was Hitler’s Germany. Radio talk show host James was, to his considerable disadvantage in a conversation with Matthews, obviously unfamiliar with the details and unable to translate them to the current day.
Not so here. So let’s get down with Chris Matthews’ questions. Not for the amusement of answering Matthews, but because Matthews the very-insistent Churchill fan has long since placed himself well out there with the virtual chorus of Obama-esque would-be Chamberlains on the American left. This crowd specifically includes — for the rest of this year at least it will be led by — Barack Obama himself. Yet this thirst for appeasement is in fact true as well, as documented in this space last week, of just about every modern-day Democrat of any prominence since 1972. That was the year when the party nominated George McGovern, an enthusiastic acolyte of Henry Wallace, the man Harry Truman labeled a pacifist.
LET’S START WITH the words of Chris Matthews himself. In 2006, Churchill fan Matthews was invited to speak at Westminster College, the Fulton, Missouri school where Churchill delivered his famous “Iron Curtain” speech in 1946. Matthews chose as his topic “The Ten Lessons of Winston Churchill.” Lesson number six, he said, (marking it with capital letters) was as follows:
“STUDY HISTORY! STUDY HISTORY! STUDY HISTORY!”
He then quoted Churchill approvingly as saying: “The farther back you can look, the farther forward you can see.” Exactly. So to answer Matthews’ questions to Mr. James, and why they are frighteningly relevant to charges that Senator Obama and his supporters like Matthews are perceived as appeasers, let’s go back to the 1930s.
First, the definition of “to appease” as provided by The Random House Webster’s College Dictionary: “to appease is to make anxious overtures and often undue concessions to satisfy someone’s demands.” Webster’s also suggests appeasement is “to yield to the demands of in conciliatory effort, sometimes at the expense of one’s principles.”
There were any number of precise reasons why Winston Churchill believed Chamberlain and his predecessor were guilty of appeasement. He was, for example, appalled at the reluctance to fund British military preparedness. This is the 1930s British version of modern Democrats in America opposing the Reagan-era buildup or refusing funding for today’s troops in Iraq. Indeed, the struggle between Churchill and his foes Baldwin and Chamberlain suggests nothing more than what has become a seemingly eternal struggle between a Reagan, either Bush or a McCain versus a Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton, Gore, Kerry or Obama.
To cite but one specific example, Churchill thought his opponents derelict in funding the Royal Air Force (RAF). Churchill warned Baldwin in 1934, barely a year after Hitler had come to power, that “the Germans had a secret Air Force and were rapidly overhauling ours.” He presented Baldwin with “definite figures and forecasts.” All of which Baldwin “denied with all the weight of official authority,” depicting Churchill as a “scaremonger,” very much as Senator Obama today charges both President Bush and Senator McCain with trying to instill fear in the American people. Over and over Churchill hit Chamberlain and Baldwin over their refusal to allocate sufficient funds to rebuild the RAF. He thought the specific lack of funding was not only dangerous in the sense of leaving Britain militarily unprepared for war, but that the refusal to aggressively follow a preparedness doctrine sent a message of weakness to Hitler. As Chamberlain and Baldwin stubbornly clung to their anxious hopes of not doing anything to antagonize Hitler, Churchill ridiculed their defense budgets and public statements not simply as conciliatory but rather as “acts of submission,” castigating Chamberlain for his lack of “judgment.”
As a side point, this is precisely the feeling engendered in many Americans over the last forty years as they have followed the travel choices of Jane Fonda to Hanoi and Washington Democrat Congressman Jim McDermott to Baghdad for a pre-war chat with Saddam Hussein.
And yes, as Matthews noted in his showdown with James, Churchill was appalled at the abandonment of Czechoslovakia to Hitler. But coming as it did some five years after Hitler took power, Churchill was already well on record long before Czechoslovakia leveling accusations of appeasement at his own government and party leaders. “I have no doubt that a firm attitude by England and France would have prevented war,” he wrote his wife at one point. When Chamberlain’s Foreign Minister Lord Halifax raised the prospect of talking to Hitler, Churchill made it plain that, as one biographer, Martin Gilbert puts it, he believed “any attempt to deal with Hitler would fail.”
What Matthews left out of the appeasement equation on his show is precisely what modern Democrats, of whom Obama is only the latest, have been routinely leaving out of discussions of this kind since at least the McGovern-ascendancy in 1972.
WHICH BRINGS US to the arms of Senator McCain.
Although McCain has been a familiar figure in the American spotlight for a couple decades, there are doubtless millions of Americans who are focusing on him seriously for the first time because he now looms as a potential next president. As they do focus, they are beginning to notice on their television and computer screens the physical oddity of his arms as he does the standard candidate’s wave. It is all too easy to simply look, note the oddity, and move on to McCain’s political point of the moment without understanding the direct connection between those arms and the lethal connection to appeasing enemies as Chamberlain and Baldwin did repeatedly in the 1930s.
McCain’s arms cannot be raised above shoulder level. This is so specifically because in his time as a POW in North Vietnam — five and a half years — he was savagely beaten. Repeatedly. Let’s be very detailed here, and a warning that what follows is not for the squeamish.
After McCain’s plane was shot down, he fell into a lake in Hanoi, breaking a leg and both arms as he ejected from the plane. A crowd gathered and pulled him out of the water, kicking and hitting him as his right foot dangled next to his left knee at a 90 degree angle. Instead of being treated under the rules of the Geneva Convention, someone smashed a rifle butt into his shoulder and broke it. A bayonet was stuck into his ankle and his groin. Taken to the Hanoi Hilton, as the prison for American POWs was called, he was stretched out on the cold floor — and over the next several days beaten again and again, his broken arms and leg included. They let him lay there for days in excruciating pain, lying in vomit and his own waste. Eventually he was moved to a hospital, never washed or cleaned, to lie with rats and swarming mosquitoes. His interrogators came to the “hospital” and — repeatedly — savagely beat him day after day as he shrieked in agony. Then it was back to his prison cell, where one guard would hold him while others took turns beating him over and over again. His ribs were broken, his teeth cracked. Both arms were broken, for the second time, neither set properly when finally treated.
John McCain would never again be able to accomplish the most routine of human bodily motions — lifting his arms above his shoulder.
Now. What does one call this kind of treatment of a soldier captured in wartime, a man who right from the beginning was a helpless POW? For that matter, what does one call this kind of treatment of any human being anywhere at any time? There is a word for it, and it is a word Democrats like Barack Obama and Chris Matthews shy away from.
The word is “evil.”
Every single time the American people watch John McCain give that odd little wave of his two arms they should be reminded those damaged arms are the way they are as the result of evil. They should understand something else, too. The type of men who did this to McCain were fully capable of doing the same kind of evil to their own fellow citizens, which they did in fact do when Democrats, in the spirit of Chamberlain, cut off the funding of South Vietnam and Cambodia after winning the 1974 election.
HOW DID EVIL SHOW itself after the great Democratic Party appeasement of 1975? It showed up, for one, as genocide in Cambodia. Residents of cities and towns were forced into the countryside, with the sick, the old and the children not excepted. If you refused, you were killed. Political and civil rights were abolished, labor camps built. Murder — mass murder to the tune of almost 2 million human souls– was the order of the day. People were tortured, shot to death, hacked to death. Mothers and children were photographed — and then slaughtered.
It was, that word again, evil.
Churchill saw evil on the march in the 1930s. He knew exactly what he was seeing as concentration camps were built and filled with Jews, dissidents, homosexuals, and the disabled. He understood what it meant when he heard and read the words of Hitler promising death to the Jews and threatening the violent takeover of other European countries. He knew well before what he called “the rape of Austria” that the sheerest of evil lay ahead for millions of people. Those “poor, poor people” he once remarked in the 1930s as he saw a crowd of his fellow countrymen going about the London nightlife with no inkling of what would be happening to their lives as a result of Chamberlain’s inability to see the evil ahead.
Matthews’s revision of history, that what Chamberlain did wrong was not talking to Hitler but giving him Czechoslovakia is, fortunately, refuted by Churchill himself. When, to his horror, he heard that Chamberlain’s foreign secretary, Lord Halifax, had stood up on the floor of the House of Lords and proposed talking to Hitler, Churchill instantly protested that “it seems to me quite impossible to enter into discussions with Hitler.” Indeed, implored by the Nazi Ambassador von Ribbentrop to meet with Hitler himself, Churchill refused. Chamberlain, famously, ignored this advice. What most people remember today is that Chamberlain met with Hitler in Munich. In fact, meeting exactly the dictionary definition of appeasing as “anxious overtures and undue concessions,” Chamberlain flew back and forth between Britain and Germany not once but three times in the space of two weeks. The first time he met with the Fuhrer on Hitler’s personal turf, his mountain retreat at Berchtesgaden. The second time was in Bad Godesberg on the Rhine. The third, final and historically infamous meeting was in Munich. There the anxious prime minister looked the embodiment of evil in the eye with what one of his own disgusted (and resigning) cabinet officers said was “sweet reasonableness” when he should have spoken “the language of the mailed fist.”
The result was fatal — for the Jews, the Czechs, for his own British people, the Americans across the Atlantic and eventually the rest of the world. Chamberlain looked Hitler literally in the eye and was incapable of seeing what Churchill saw without once sitting across from him. Churchill called it an “overpowering hate.”
IT IS A SAD if curious and very, very dangerous fact that not only will there always be evil in the world, there will always be men like Chamberlain or Barack Obama or Jimmy Carter. Or Chris Matthews. People who simply, honestly cannot see evil unless they are looking at old newsreels from seventy years ago. People who will, in the current context, watch Iran go busily about building a nuclear capability even as its leader vows to exterminate the “stinking corpse” that is Israel. People who would and did turn a blind eye to the evil of Saddam Hussein just as Chamberlain believed in negotiating with Hitler or Jimmy Carter was convinced peace with the Soviet Union was better than the Reagan policy of simply defeating the “focus of evil in the modern world.” People who are utterly incapable of speaking “in the language of the mailed fist.”
They are anxious not to upset or disturb, to be perceived as fair minded and open. There is no understanding that, as Chamberlain demonstrated quite vividly, simply sitting down across from someone with evil intentions is itself a sign of, as Webster’s says, an anxious overture. Right about here it would be fair to ask of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s little sit down with the dictator of Syria: So what’s up? How’s the peace process in the Middle East going with Syria these days? Does it ever cross your mind that the message you sent by anxiously meeting with Mr. Assad might, just might, have anything to do with the openly expressed wish of Hamas that your candidate Senator Obama be the president?
As this election year unfolds, as once again the spiritual heirs of Neville Chamberlain and Matthews’s ex-boss Jimmy Carter try to win the American presidency and turn the United States into the world’s leading advocate of appeasement of those who promise yet again the mass murder of the Jews — not to mention Americans — it is worthwhile to remember just why one American presidential candidate can’t wave to the crowds in the same graceful, elegant style of his opponent.
And to remember that every time John McCain does wave in that awkward fashion, the rest of us need to understand what we are really seeing. We are seeing a deeply personal reminder of one human being’s actual, very physical, very tortuous encounter with evil.
It happened to John McCain. It happened to the Southeast Asians of the killing fields and re-education camps. It happened to the Jews of the Holocaust. It happened to the Russians of the Gulag. It can happen in any age, in any country, at any time. In truth? It happened right here in America when for a century after the Civil War eyes were closed to the link between the political structure of the Democrats and the fact that black Americans by the hundreds were frequently found dangling from tree limbs at the end of a noose. All it takes is for a Chamberlain or a Carter or an Obama or, yes, a Chris Matthews — good people one and all — to look and not understand what they are seeing.
So the correct answer for Matthews guest Kevin James was not, as Matthews himself supplied it, that what Chamberlain did wrong was give Hitler Czechoslovakia. No, what Chamberlain did wrong was far worse. He never understood he was seeing evil.
Ask John McCain.
Jeffrey Lord is the creator, co-founder and CEO of QubeTV, an online conservative video site. A Reagan White House political director and author, he writes from Pennsylvania.