Monday, September 26, 2011

Letter from Prague: What The Betrayal of Czechoslovakia in 1938 Can Teach Us About The World and Israel Today

 By Barry Rubin
                                                                                        Prague, Czech Republic

Visiting the Czech Republic prompts thoughts of the 1938 Munich agreement. Analogies with Nazism and the 1930s are overused today, made even more tasteless and cliché-ridden by the fact that many of those using them know very little about the situation then and now.

Beyond the simple narrative usually offered, a more detailed analysis shows a number of points that fit both situations better than people realize. That’s true despite the very important differences between the two cases.

After all, this pattern will not be repeated today. Western countries genuinely don’t want to sell Israel out, the balance of forces favors Israel and the West, they aren’t really afraid of direct war, the “other side” is badly divided, and Israel is much stronger than Czechoslovakia and is unwilling to sacrifice itself. Still there are lessons to be learned.

Let’s look at the 1938 crisis and its relationship with today from a different standpoint.
1.       A bad cause with a good cover story
 There was a large ethnic German minority in Czechoslovakia. These people, who lived in an area strategically important for Czech defense, certainly had some legitimate grievances  British Prime Minister Nevil Chamberlain actually had some sympathy for the “suffering” Germans. Hitler didn’t just rant and rave. He knew, like radical regimes and movements today, how to play the victim.
Today, many people cannot believe that a humanitarian issue for which a real case can be made might also block understanding of a wider danger and the creation of a worse humanitarian issue.
The Palestinians are suffering. The Palestinians want a state. These are problems worthy of a solution, but what kind of a solution? Like saying the proletariat has poor living conditions or bigotry against Muslims is a bad thing, these are true enough statements but not ones that should overwhelm common sense and a legitimate self-interest.
Even the detail of blaming Netanyahu and Israel’s current government has its parallel in the 1938 case: the problem is portrayed as the intransigence of Benes rather than that of Czechoslovakia as a whole. Incidentally, after 1945 when he returned to power, Benes expelled by law virtually all of the country’s Hungarian and German minorities.
The Germans were victimized by an unfair diplomatic settlement after World War One. Guilt feelings, then as now, led the West to make some dangerous mistakes. Beware of aggressors and would-be committers of genocide asking for your sympathy.
2.      Resentment against the “troublemaker” who is just trying to survive....

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