Mark Shields: No more ‘Munich’

By Mark Shields

“Why is it that when political ammunition runs low, inevitably the rusty artillery of abuse is always wheeled into action?” asked the late Adlai Stevenson.

To listen to what passes for our national political debate is sadly to hear that Stevenson maxim confirmed almost daily. Think about it: When was the last time you heard the advocate of U.S. military intervention — in Iraq, Panama, Syria or Iran — seek to intimidate his political opponent by accusing him of ignoring the lesson of Munich.

The Munich referred to in this case is not the largest city in Bavaria but the 1938 conference where the British prime minister Neville Chamberlain and the French premier Edouard Daladier agreed in exchange for Adolf Hitler’s empty promise of non-aggression to return to Germany, the Sudetenland, that area of Czechoslovakia populated by ethnic Germans. Conveniently overlooked in hindsight is that Great Britain, with approximately one-third the population of the United States, had suffered more casualties, only 20 years before Munich in World War, than the U.S. sustained combined in both World wars.

“Munich” is shorthand for ‘if you have reservations about sending Americans into battle,’ you must be lily-livered, weak-kneed or worse. And the Munich analogy is not limited to foreign policy and defense arguments. In the Senate debate over the funding of the national government and the proposed de-funding of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, freshman Republican senator Ted Cruz of Texas, argued that implementing the health law was analogous to appeasing Adolf Hitler: “If you go to the 1940s Nazi Germany. Look, we saw in Britain, Neville Chamberlain, who told the British people, ‘Accept the Nazis. Yes, they’ll dominate the continent of Europe, but that’s not our problem. Let’s appease them. Why? Because it can’t be done. We can’t possibly stand against them.'”

Let the record show that Arizona senator John McCain gave Cruz a short history lesson telling of how he had campaigned throughout 2012 and at “every single campaign rally I said’ we had to repeal and replace Obamacare.’

“Well, the people spoke. Much to my dismay, they spoke and re-elected the president of the United States. It’s not something that I wanted the outcome to be. But I think all of us should respect the outcome of elections, which reflects the will of the people,” McCain said.

B’nai Brith International called out the Texan: “Nazi references and comparisons dilute the horror of the mass genocide that was the Holocaust. To compare a U.S. law with anything out of Nazi Germany is unacceptable. We call on Cruz to apologize.”

Secretary of State John Kerry unfairly resorted to the same analogy recently in support of President Obama’s urging of Congress to back a limited U.S. strike against Assad’s Syria. Kerry called the crisis “our Munich moment.” Did that mean that those opposing U.S. action were clones of Neville Chamberlain?

Promiscuous reliance on the Munich analogy means that, to be consistent, you must compare your would-be opponent to Hitler. President George H. W. Bush and his secretary of state not only equated Saddam Hussein to Hitler but also Panama general and drug dealer Manuel Noriega. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld equated the elected president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, to Hitler. Such loose language trivializes the barbaric inhumaneness of Hitler’s holocaust.

The time long ago arrived to banish all “Munich” and “Hitler” analogies — which have too often been intended to shame the country into going into combat — from our national conversation. No more Munich.