Thursday, September 07, 2006

Donald Rumsfeld and the Uses of Historical Analogy

Last week, in an attempt to firm up the national will for the titanic struggle for democracy in Iraq, Donald Rumsfeld invoked the specter of appeasement at Munich in 1938, noting the catastrophic results of the failure of the world's democracies to stand up to Fascism then, a tragic mistake we dare not repeat in Iraq. Many before him had invoked that dreadful parallel. Forty years ago, Dean Rusk, Secretary of State to JFK and LBJ, again and again summoned the memory of Munich and 1938 in urging the US to stay the course in Vietnam, even throwing in Santayana's hoary warning that those who fail to learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them. As Rusk's unhappy experience reminds us, historical analogies are always fraught with the possibility of error.

The Irate Codger very recently encountered a gentleman in full agreement with Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld on what is at stake in Iraq who, while agreeing with them on the saliency of Munich, proposed another, strikingly different, analogy which he insisted was even more compelling. This chap's analogy seems to the I.C. bizarre in many respects. Still, it does possess a certain logic of its own, especially if two or three of its premises are granted, even provisionally, a degree of plausibility. My animated friend, in a distinctly central European accent, spoke so heatedly and with such conviction that I was almost persuaded that he had a serious case. He eagerly accepted my offer to post his essay, but insisted on retaining his anonymity, for reasons which can perhaps be guessed at once his essay has been read. For the consideration of the curious, and as a fascinating exercise in the employment of historical analogy, I reprint it in full:




In the past week, three world-historical figures, President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and their intrepid, indominatable Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, have summoned the nation and the entire civilized world unflinchingly to gird ourselves for a showdown with Islamo-Fascism in Iraq in what is no mere military conflict but--in the President's stirring words--"the decisive ideological conflict of the 21st Century." Although the century still has ninety-four years to run, there can be no doubt that our President is right. As our gallant British ally Tony Blair said a few weeks ago, there is an "arc of Islamic extremism" stretching half way around the world, from Indonesia in the east to Morroco in the west, if not, as yet, to the Pyrenees, which is the deadly enemy of all that is decent, and all that we cherish. We have before us an unavoidable clash of civilizations.

As President Bush so eloquently said, "If we give up the fight in the streets of Baghdad, we will face the terrorists in the streets of our own cities." How true that is. Are we willing to do what it takes to destroy the Mahdi Army of Muktada al Sadr in Basra and Baghdad, or do we want to face this Mad Mullah's hordes in Hamtramk and Dearborn? Our very survival is at stake.

Addressing the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Secretary Rumsfeld reminded his listeners of the fate of those weak-willed democracies that so ingloriously failed to stand up to Hitler at Munich. Will we go the way of the disgraced Neville Chamberlain, or will we follow the defiant example of Winston Churchill?

As Mr. Rumsfeld said, the signs are not at all reassuring that the United States possesses the requisite will to endure and prevail. Although victory over Islamo-Fascism is within our grasp, the counsels of the cut-and-runners erode and undercut our patriotism. In his speech, Mr. Rumsfeld rightly ignored the timorous clamorings of a gaggle of Army and Marine generals who, from the safety of retirement, have called for his resignation, but he did take note of the sad fact that our defeatist media are focused on the alleged abuses at Abu Ghraib, while virtually ignoring the fact that Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith has become "the first recipient of the Medal of Honor in the global war on terror." And now critics are emboldened to call the facility at Guantanamo a "gulag," when in fact the prisoners have been given a library in which their favorite reading is Harry Potter. "Can we truly afford," the Secretary pointedly asked, "to return to the destructive view that America--not the enemy--is the real source of the world's troubles?" The consequences of such self-doubt are too severe, he said, to allow a "blame America first" mentality to overwhelm us.

Mr. Rumsfeld made it starkly clear: on the very threshold of victory over a deadly enemy in a struggle which will determine the fate of civilization for the remainder of this century and beyond, the only thing that stands in the way of our triumph is our own irresolution, our own doubts of America's greatness. The magnificent achievements of the Bush administration in Iraq through three costly years of war must not be thrown away by Qaeda-type Democrats. Failure now is not an option.

And so it was with Imperial Germany in the summer of 1918. "What?," the reader will ask. "Germany at the threshold of victory in the Summer of 1918?" Yes, yes, anyone familiar with the History of World War I "knows" that in the spring of 1918, General Erich Ludendorff, by now the virtual dictator of Germany and a megalomaniacal super-annexationist, gambled all on a last-chance spring offensive and lost, and then in September resigned and cynically threw to the politicians the responsibility for dealing with the ruinous consequences of his policies. Germany's defeat, we are told, was then assured. This, at any rate, is the established consensus of triumphalist English and American historians, concurred in, I fear, by not a few German historians who should have known better.

But the truth is precisely the opposite! Consider Germany's position that summer. On the Eastern Front, the hordes of now-Bolshevized Slavs had been vanquished the year before after three years of hard fighting. On the Western Front, the Gauls and Anglo-Saxons were in their last throes. The Americans had learned to their cost that singing "Let's hang Kaiser Bill" is one thing, and facing determined German steel is quite another. Germany had everything to fight for. The Allies had vilified Germans as "the Hun" for applying a firm hand in Belgium, and dared to call the people which had given the world Goethe and Schiller, Beethoven and Wagner, "barbarians." Germans knew the very survival of their culture was now at stake.

Furthermore, Germany had more men under arms in 1918 than ever before! And finally there is the irrefutable fact that even on the day of the Armistice, not a single hectare of the Fatherland had been trodden by the boots of the "victors"! The army was still in Belgium and France. The Wehrmacht had not been defeated!

How, then, came Germany's humiliation? First, there were the media, specifically the Berlin press, dominated by press lords who were, shall we say, distinctly "cosmopolitan," not to say Orientalized, and who carried in their "sophistication" the virus of defeatism. Second, circling the skies, the vultures of international finance, sprung from their crags and lairs in London, Paris, and Zurich, eager to feed on the financial carrion that was the German people. And finally, the German Social Democratic Party, which had for years been eager for a peace on Allied terms and finally got one. This combination of enemies foreign and domestic in the end prevailed.

In view of what I am now about to say, let me make it perfectly clear at the outset that I carry no brief for Adolf Hitler. As events in the 1930s and forties would prove, he was a wicked man who did many, many bad things. But this was a Hitler shattered after four years of fighting in the trenches by the Great Betrayal, demoralized by Germany's undeserved defeat, as were millions of his countrymen. The young Hitler of 1918 was an idealist, a patriot of the purest type whose love for the Fatherland was bottomless. And it was this fiery young idealist, not yet the master orator he would become, who in a moment of pure inspiration, addressing a meeting of the Wehrverein, found voice to shout, "I say to the wall to those traitors who tell us that Germany--not the enemy--is the source of our troubles! I say the firing squad is but a mercy to those who would blame Germany first!"

Now recall the pride taken by Donald Rumsfeld in the Medal of Honor bestowed on Sergeant Smith. Young Hitler was awarded the Iron Cross for conspicuous bravery in the face of the enemy in 1918. Is it far fetched to think that Herr Rumsfeld, had he been there, might have taken equal pride in pinning the Iron Cross to the dusty gray tunic of young Corporal Hitler with a husky, "Well done, soldier"?


Hmmm... Now that I've re-read and entirely absorbed Mr. Z's words, I think he's almost as far gone in fantasy, almost as much a nut case, as Donald Rumsfeld.