The Lessons of Munich

When consider the right’s “everything is the same as appeasement of Hitler” approach to foreign policy, it’s worth wondering what general principle it is they think the failure of the Munich conference demonstrates. Obviously the calculation by France and (especially) Britain that allowing Hitler to integrate Austria and the German-speaking portions of the Czechoslovakia into a unified Germany would secure “peace in our time” was mistaken. At the same time, it’s important to remember (something that I suppose is easier to recall when you’re in Dresden) that invading Poland and launching World War II was a disaster for Germany. The strategy of appeasement on Czechoslovakia plus guarantees to Poland should have worked; everyone would have been much better off had the deal stuck.

Is the conservative view that, in general, when you offer foreign countries a deal that they rationally ought to accept they will, as a general matter, usually back out of the deal even though doing so will have disastrous consequences for them? That can’t be right. At the end of the day, the reason analogies to World War II strike people so vividly is that they were so unusual. You can’t base your everyday decision-making on an extreme historical outlier.