The 1930’s, Again

A hard rain is going to fall.

by Victor Davis Hanson

National Review Online

In some ways in our war against the terrorists we are like the democracies of the late 1930s. They knew that there was more to Hitler than his avowed quest for the return of the Sudetenland or the Alsace-Lorraine. They sort of suspected that an entire, venerable culture in Germany and Japan had gone off the deep end. And while there was a certain logic to Hitler’s diatribes that a moralistic England had no more right to distant India than did Germany to nearby Danzig, most deep-down knew that such parlor-game banter simply masked a much larger dilemma — how to corral a very powerful dictatorship and its axis that wished dominance not coexistence, and whose fuel was brutal force and autocracy, not democracy and freedom.

For England, most of Western Europe, and the United States, reeling under recent economic depression and hardly recovered from the sheer horror of the First World War — carnage unlike any in the long history of warfare — the idea of forceful resistance was little short of insanity. Filmstrips of German Panzers, thousands of Japanese shouting “Banzai!,” and even Mussolini’s comically delivered, but hateful rants overwhelmed the senses.

How could one stop such madness? And might it just go away with proper diplomacy? And why did “militarists” in the West insist on rearming and thereby “provoking” war? And was not there some truth to German grievances and Japanese hurts? And did anyone really wish to risk millions of innocent Americans and British to kill equally innocent, although perhaps mesmerized, Germans? Who was stirring up such animosity?

We are in a similar dilemma — in our hesitation about Iraq, our pressure on Israel, and our worries about mission creep in pursuing the killers. Can’t the Jews and Arabs just get along? If Israel would just give back all of the West Bank, wouldn’t there be peace? Didn’t we just fight in the Gulf a mere decade ago? How do we know that Saddam Hussein really has such dreadful weapons? Shouldn’t our allies get involved too? Do these undemocratic Muslim countries really dislike us all that much? Who can trust polls anyway? Why are these saber-rattlers trying to get us into a war?

And so we Americans, like those 70 years ago who so wanted a perpetual peace, pray for a return of sanity in the Middle East. We chose to ignore horrific stories of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia — the embryo of 9/11. We are more amused than shocked that madrassas have taught a generation to hate us. When mullahs in Iran speak of destroying Israel we wince, but also shrug. We want to see no real connection between madmen blowing themselves up to kill us in New York and the like-minded doing the same in Tel-Aviv. We put our trust in peace with a killer like Mr. Arafat, who packs a gun and whips up volatile crowds in Arabic. All the while, no American statesman has the guts to tell the Arab leadership that statism, tribalism, fundamentalism, gender apartheid, and autocracy — not America, not Israel — make their people poor, angry, and dangerous.

Rather than preparing for what our enemies are preparing for us, we look to gestures of appeasement. Does not the Islamic world appreciate the presence of General Zinni? Do we not give billions to Arab countries? Did we not save Kuwait and Muslims throughout the globe? Who in the Arab world could really think that the murderous Taliban were preferable to the present more enlightened government in Afghanistan? And although Middle Eastern males blew up our planes, people, and monuments, have we not had a national discussion about the evils of profiling those from the Middle East in our airports and stations? Don’t Muslims tell their kindred back home how much freer they are in America than in Iraq or Syria?

Like the dashed hopes of the 1930s such faith is not only misplaced, but also dangerous. The efforts of countries like Iraq to acquire nuclear weapons might under the present pressures grow dormant, but they will not cease. A nuclear Pakistan is a tottering military dictatorship away from Armageddon. Bribed autocracies in Jordan and Egypt are allies only in the sense that their unelected leaders promise to jail their nuts and fundamentalists who otherwise might turn on them as well as on us. Polls everywhere in the Middle East reveal not mere anguish, but real enmity toward Americans. Public pronouncements in Iran are not any less hateful than what emanated from Berlin in 1936. Thousands of al Qaeda killers have escaped — and thousands more are angry over the death of the comrades and kin and planning carnage for us as we sleep.

Only a few of us Americans really take the Islamic world at its word — that one in three is reported to think (representing, say, a small number of around 200 million?) that the murder of 3,000 Americans was justified; that two of three believed no Arabs were involved; and that even higher poll numbers reflected real antipathy for the West.

After 30 years of listening to nauseating chanting from Teheran to Islamabad to Nablus, hearing the childish rants about “The Mother of All Battles” and “The Great Satan,” and witnessing presidents from Carter to Bush burned in effigy, the ritual torching of the American flag, the misspelled banners of hatred, the thousands of paint-by-the-numbers posters of psychopaths from Khomeini to bin Laden, televised threats that sound as hideous as they are empty, Nazi-inspired anti-Semitism, embassy takeovers, oil-boycotts, hijacked planes, cars, and ships, lectures from unelected obese sheiks with long names and gold chains, peacekeepers incinerated in their sleep, murders at the Olympics, bodies dumped on the tarmac of airports, shredded diplomats, madmen in sunglasses in Iraq, Syria, and Libya, demented mullahs and whip-bearing imams in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, continual televised murders of Americans abroad, our towers toppled, our citizens butchered, our planes blown up, hooded Klansmen in Hamas and Hezbollah, killers of al-this and Islamic-that, suicide bombers, shrill turbaned nuts spouting hatred on C-SPAN broadcasts, one day the salvation of Kuwait, the next sanctions against the swallower of Kuwait, the third day fury against the sanctions against the swallower of Kuwait, the fourth day some grievance from 1953, the fifth another from A.D. 752; and all the time sanctimonious fingerpointing from Middle Eastern academics and journalists who are as bold abroad in insulting us as they are timid and obsequious under dictators at home in keeping silent, I’ve about had it. No mas. The problem is you, not us — you, you, you….

I don’t listen any more to the apologies and prevarications of our whiney university Arabists, our equivocators in the state department, and the really tawdry assortment of oil men, D.C. insiders, bought and paid for PR suits, and weapons hucksters. The truth is that a large minority of the Middle Eastern world wishes a war with America that it cannot win — and much of the rest is apparently either indifferent or amused.

So we should stop apologizing, prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and accept this animosity — just as our forefathers once did when faced by similar autocrats and their captive peoples who threatened us in 1941. I don’t know about the rest of America, but I am proud that thugs like Khaddafi, murderers like Saddam Hussein, inquisitionists like the mullahs in Iran, criminals in Syria, medieval sheiks in the Gulf, and millions of others who do not vote, do not speak freely, oppress women, and are not tolerant of religious, gender, or ethnic diversity don’t like me for being an American. I would find it repugnant if they did.

No, their hatred is a badge of honor, and I would have it no other way. I am tired of the appeasers of the Middle East on our Right who fawn for oil and trade, and those pacifists and multiculturalists on the Left who either do not know, or do not like, what America really is. I’d rather think of all the innocent dead on 9/ 11 than give a moment more of attention to Mr. Arafat and his bombers.

The truth is that there is a great storm on the horizon, one that will pass — or bring upon us a hard rain the likes of which we have not seen in 60 years. Either we shall say “no more,” deal with Iraq, and prepare for a long and hard war against murderers and terrorists — or we will have more and more of what happened on 9/11. History teaches us that certain nations, certain peoples, and certain religions at peculiar periods in their history take a momentary, but deadly leave of their senses — Napoleon’s France for most of a decade, the southern states in 1861, Japan in 1931, Germany in 1939, and Russia after World War II. And when they do, they cannot be bribed, apologized to, or sweet-talked — only defeated.

In that context, we see much of a whipped-up Arab world entering this similar period of dangerous unreality. The problem is them and their unelected and unfree regimes, not us — just as it was Hitler, not us; Tojo, not us; Mussolini, not us; and Stalin, not us — just as it always is when unelected maniacs take control and hijack an entire country and culture. We can either step up and stop Islamic fundamentalism, Arab terrorists, and Middle Eastern dictators or we can step back and watch it all continue to grow. If 9/11 was the beginning of a war, then we should remember that wars usually end when one, not both sides, win.

©2002 Victor Davis Hanson

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