'No more Munichs' or 'No more Vietnams' – how accurate are analogies of appeasement?

One of the great success stories of the twentieth century was the progressive delegitimisation of aggression and war. Once considered a normal and acceptable condition of sovereign statehood, warfare has been so successfully stigmatised that the bar became extraordinarily high for any country to launch an unprovoked attack on another.

Among other tragic setbacks to international order and justice, the neoconservatives succeeded in reversing the burden of proof. Opponents of war had to prove beyond reasonable doubt and to the warmongers’ satisfaction why war should not be waged. Else, they would be tarred and dismissed as wimps and peaceniks. So when UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan counselled patience and cautioned against the war option, the neocons waged a war of words against him, branded him guilty of appeasement, and compared him to Chamberlain. Thus was virtue turned into evil.

As a student of world affairs, I had definite views on the gathering war clouds and on the metaphor of appeasement. As a senior UN official at the time, I deemed the risk worth taking of writing on the substance of the Iraq crisis but chose discretion as the better part of valour on the analogy with 1938. If anything, though, far from changing, my views have hardened. Historical metaphors are powerful tools of political mobilisation for all sides. In the debate over the Kosovo war in 1999, calls of "No more Vietnams" collided with warnings of another "Munich."…

There was a simple way to grasp the point in 2003 in relation to Iraq which can yet be grasped today in relation to Iran. Take out a map of the world. Free yourself of all preconceptions. Put green coloured pins for Iran’s military forces stationed, based or in any form deployed outside its territory. Now place blue coloured pins for US military forces stationed or deployed outside the United States, including — indeed especially — in the Middle East and Central Asia, the energy heartland of the world. Then think through the implications of this.

question of the source of moral authority of nuclear-armed France threatening war on Iran if it seeks to acquire nuclear weapons: are Europeans pressuring Iran because they fear that otherwise Washington will go to war? Since the end of the Second World War, has Iran or the US been the more belligerent and aggressive in its foreign policy? Which country promulgated the doctrine that no other country must be allowed to acquire the capacity to defend itself even in its own region against the one and only superpower? Excuse me? …

War in our time: the myth of appeasement (Ramesh Thakur in Gulf in the Media)


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