> Biblical Reference > Historical Precedents > Quotations & Writings > Commentary
> Home > Current Trends > Government > Forms of Government > KJ Quick-Take: "Chamberlain Revisited?"
> Category

Chamberlain Revisited?

There is something very Chamberlainesque about US foreign policy these days.

Neville Chamberlain was Britain’s Prime Minister in the years leading up to World War II. These were critical years, as Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany was heavily involved in the expansion and consolidation of its armed forces. It was flexing its military muscle, intimidating its smaller neighbors, and demanding “lebensraum,” or living space. At the same time, Fascist Italy under Benito Mussolini was dreaming of the lost glories of Imperial Rome, seeking to recapture some of that glory through military campaigns in Abyssinia. Just to the west of Italy, Spain had fallen to the Fascist regime of General Franco after a bloody three-year civil war.

War clouds were gathering in Europe and totalitarianism was on the march. How would the democracies of Europe respond to this growing threat?

Prime Minister Chamberlain was no warmonger. Like most of his countrymen, he remembered the carnage of World War I, and dreaded the thought of a return to those dark days. He concluded that the fascist dictators of Europe could be won over through the right combination of charm and dialogue. Appeasement became the catchword of the day, best exemplified in Chamberlain’s 1938 visit to Munich in which he acceded to Adolf Hitler’s bullying and signed over part of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany—with great reluctance from the Czechs. He returned to London from that trip, proclaiming “peace with honor,” to the relief of most people in Britain and, indeed, in the British Parliament. In little more than one year, that peace treaty was torn up by the Nazis, who marched into the rest of Czechoslovakia within months and, the following year, into Poland, thereby triggering World War II.

Three quarters of a century on, the US is making moves reminiscent of Neville Chamberlain in striking ways.

Like Chamberlain, the administration yearns for peace. They have withdrawn almost all of their military forces from Iraq—some say prematurely—and are in the process of doing the same thing in Afghanistan. This reflects a clear level of war weariness on the part of the American public after bloody campaigns in both those countries. One could say that the US leadership has listened to the heartbeat of the people and shaped its policies accordingly.

Like Chamberlain, they believe that totalitarian ideologies can be won over through charm and dialogue. The relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia has never been closer, even as the Saudis use their vast wealth to promote their constricted brand of Islam—Wahhabism—in the United States and throughout the West through mosque construction, funding of Islamic studies departments in universities, and generally buying influence in multiple ways. Meanwhile back in Saudi Arabia itself, officially-sanctioned education curricula instil prejudice toward non-Muslims among the country’s children.

Like Chamberlain, America gives a cold shoulder to certain long-term friends. As the US–Saudi relationship has flourished, the US–Israel relationship has never been worse. The constant barrage of anti-Israel—indeed, mostly anti-Semitic—discourse coming from the Muslim world seems to have had an effect on the administration as it seeks to shore up American influence in the cashed-up Arab states.

Unfortunately, its policies are weakening the country in times of increasing difficulty on the international political stage. The march of totalitarianism, in the form of radical Islamism, is clear for all who care to look. Nevertheless, America is at great pains to massage language so that the word Islam will be banished from discussion of the growing threat, in favor of the euphemistic “violent extremism.” This ensures that confusion will reign at the very time that clarity is needed.

Both Neville Chamberlain and US officials have been well-intentioned, to be sure. Some media commentary which portrays American leaders as devious and underhanded is off the mark and unfair. The problem is not that they are deliberately trying to place the US—and thereby the West—in a position of weakness at the present time of impending crisis. However, misguided policies have the same effect, regardless of intention.

These are times when clear and courageous leadership is required in the West, and not a band of Chamberlains.