In his 1972 journalistic opus, The Best and the Brightest,
David Halberstam quotes President Lyndon Johnson, who made a speech on July 28, 1965, which included these words:
“We did not choose to be the guardians at the gate, but there is no one else.
“Nor would surrender in Vietnam bring peace, because we learned from Hitler at Munich that success only feeds the appetite of aggression. The battle would be renewed in one country and then another country, (and) bring with it perhaps even larger and crueler conflict, as we have learned from the lessons of history.”
What history actually brought, in the years that followed, was this lesson: the “larger and crueler conflict” of which LBJ spoke happened anyway, in spite of our confident, prolonged military efforts to arrest communist aggression in southeast Asia beginning in 1965.
The best laid plans of mice and men never work out as they were planned. This is the tragedy of human government, and even perhaps, of human history itself.
On that press conference occasion in 1965, President Johnson was announcing an escalation of the war in Vietnam, with new troop deployments increasing from 75,000 to 125,000. The total number of American soldiers eventually sent to fight in Vietnam, before the conflagration ended in 1975, would far surpass that 125,000 that he was announcing on that fateful day.
If you go back and study what wars and negotiative agreements were forged between the leaders of nations in the 20th-century, you will see that our species has a long record of hopeful expectations for peace and safety that failed to manifest in the triumphant ways that we had expected.
After World War I, the victorious Allies, congregating in Versailles, France, went to great lengths to construct a peace deal that would last. . . that would last, as they hoped, in a way that would render their armisticed Great War to be the War to End all Wars.
A few years later, a foxy German dictator named Hitler worked himself into a position of systematically and stealthily destroying that Treaty of Versailles.
When British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain met with Hitler in 1938, and worked out a peace agreement which would allow Hitler to obscond Czechoslovakia, Chamberlain returned to London with the now infamous assessment, Peace in our time!
Look what happened after that.
That failed Munich agreement is the one to which President Johnson referred in his 1965 escalation speech. As quoted above, he mentioned what “we learned from Hitler at Munich.”
What historical lesson did we learn from history as a result of Chamberlain’s naivete at Munich?
Maybe this: You cannot always, if ever, trust your enemy. Especially if the arc of history is rising in his (the enemy’s) direction. Which it was (rising), like it or not, for Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich in 1938.
Years later, after Hitler and his Nazi terrorizers had scared the hell out of most everybody in the civilized world, the postwar scenario unearthed in WWII’s ashes revealed this: a new ideological death-struggle between the Capitalist West and and the spectre of advancing Communism.
During that postwar period–1940s through the 1970s or ’80s–the rising fear that dominated both sides (Capitalist vs Communist) became an obsession for many national leaders. On both sides, brave men and women were called, and took upon themselves, the perilous burden of defending themselves and their own against the horrible deprivations of the other side.
I grew up during that time. And I can tell you this: At that time, the fears about “Communism” were very real and threatening to many, if not most, Americans. And I daresay that massive fear of “the enemy” was dominant on the Soviet side as it was for us.
Then History threw us a real curve in the late 1940s when Mao and the Chinese communists ran (our man) Chiang Kai-shek out of the mainland (to Taiwan) and established their Asian version of what the Soviets were attempting to establish in eastern Europe.
This Chinese Communist threat is what our national leaders greatly feared in the 1950s and ’60s, when we began to fear the spread of Maoist communism into what remained of (largely third-world) southeast Asia.
Long story short, this fear and loathing of creeping Chinese communism is what got us into, and eventually sucked us into, the war in Vietnam.
Now we all know how that turned out.
What is happening in the world today is not unlike what was happening then. It’s all slouching toward unpredictable, though predictably tragic, human history.
For us in the West now, the great fear is what life would be like under the domination of Islamic Jihad, which is to say, ISIS, or the Islamic Republic of Iran, or Al-qaida, or whatever stronghold ultimately controls that emerging world military threat. (I’m not talking about the “good Muslims”, whoever they may be.)
Hence, many folks today, me included, do not trust any arrangement that our President and/or Secretary of State could set up with Iran. We do remember, as LBJ alluded to, “Munich.”
But we also remember Vietnam, which began–as President’s Johnson escalation speech reference attests– as a military effort to prevent another “Munich” outcome.
In our present time, ever present in our mind is Iraq; we see what is happening there now, after we went to all that blood, sweat and tears to secure that nation against Sadamic Sunni abuse and/or Khomeini Shiite totalitarianism.
As Churchill did not trust Hitler, while Chamberlain did trust him: our principle ally Netanyahu does not trust Khameini and the Iranians, while Obama does trust them.
Back in the 1930s-’40s, which assessment was correct? Churchill’s.
In our present situation, which assessment of Iranian motives is correct, Netanyahu’s or Obama’s?
To try and figure out–as historical precedent and historical possibility bears down upon us– how our contemporary peace efforts will play out in the chambers and killing fields of power, is like. . .well. . . The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.
And we are now, as we were then, on the eve of certain destruction.
Did we survive the last time? Did the free world survive?
You tell me.