The Specter of Munich: Reconsidering the Lessons of Appeasing Hitler

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Overview

No historical event has exerted more influence on America’s post–World War II use of military force than the Anglo-French appeasement of Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Informed by the supposed grand lesson of Munich–namely, that capitulating to the demands of aggressive dictatorships invites further aggression and makes inevitable a larger war–American presidents from Harry Truman through George W. Bush have relied on the Munich analogy not only to interpret perceived security threats but also to mobilize public opinion for military action.

In The Specter of Munich, noted defense analyst Jeffrey Record takes an unconventional look at a disastrous chapter in Western diplomatic history. After identifying the complex considerations behind the Anglo-French appeasement of Hitler and the reasons for the policy’s failure, Record disputes the stock thesis that unchecked aggression always invites further aggression. He proceeds to identify other lessons of the 1930s more relevant to meeting today’s U.S. foreign policy and security challenges. Among those lessons are the severe penalties that foreign policy miscalculation can incur, the constraints of public opinion in a modern democracy, and the virtue of consistency in threatening and using force.

The Specter of Munich concludes that though today’s global political, military, and economic environment differs considerably from that of the 1930s, the United States is making some of the same strategic mistakes in its war on terrorism that the British and French made in their attempts to protect themselves against Nazi Germany. Not the least of these mistakes is the continued reliance on the specter of Adolf Hitler to interpret today's foreign security threats.

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Editorial Reviews

Foreign Affairs
This book is a model of how good historical analysis can usefullyinform current policy debates. Record, a defense expert at the U.S. Air Force's Air War College, examines the use of the "Munich analogy" in U.S. foreign policy since World War II. He begins with a concise but sophisticated explanation of why France and the United Kingdom appeased Hitler in the 1930s. Aversion to another Great War, a misreading of Hitler's aims, the lack of appropriate military preparation, and a sense of guilt over the harsh Treaty of Versailles all played a role. Given what was known at the time, he argues, appeasement was not irrational; it failed catastrophically because Hitler proved unappeasable and enduring. Spooked by the consequences of this failure, Western leaders have since publicly invoked the Munich analogy -- applying it to conflicts in Korea, Suez, Vietnam, Grenada, Nicaragua, Kosovo, Iraq, and elsewhere -- to argue for military action. But as Record shows, the case of Nazi Germany was highly exceptional: Munich was not analogous to any of these cases, nor does it apply today. Thus he concludes bluntly, "American presidents should cease invocation of the Munich analogy to justify threatened or actual uses of force." This book should be required reading not only in universities but in the White House as well.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781597970402
  • Publisher: Potomac Books, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/31/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 176
  • Product dimensions: 6.06 (w) x 8.86 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeffrey Record is a professor of strategy at the Air War College in Montgomery, Alabama. He is the author of Bounding the Global War on Terrorism (2004), Dark Victory: America’s Second War against Iraq(2004), and Beating Goliath: Why Insurgencies Win (Potomac Books, Inc., 2007). He served in Vietnam as a pacification adviser and received his doctorate from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He lives in Atlanta.
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Table of Contents

Chronology     ix
Map: Europe after World War I     18
Map: Nazi Germany's Expansion, 1936-39     19
Introduction: The Staying Power of the Munich Analogy     1
Why Britain and France Appeased Hitler     13
Why Appeasement Failed     67
Appeasement's Lessons for the United States Today     73
Concluding Observations and Recommendations     111
Notes     130
Bibliography     146
Index     156
About the Author     164
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