There’s every reason to assume that US President Barack Obama has never heard of the pre-WWII demagogic question “Why die for Danzig?” The same can be as safely assumed regarding his Secretary of State John Kerry.
Oddly enough, however, their policy appears to draw inspiration from the same ideological wellspring that gave the world the above rhetorical tease.
The slogan, very famous (or infamous) in its day, made its debut on May 4, 1939 as the title of an op-ed in the Parisian newspaper L’Œuvre. Its author was French socialist Marcel Déat and his message was that another follow-up appeasement of Adolf Hitler is mandatory in order to prevent war.
That was already half-a-year after the September 1938 Munich agreement which wrested the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia and awarded it to Hitler to satiate his appetite. That, in the words of Britain’s then-Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, guaranteed “peace for our time.”
When he landed at Heston Aerodrome right after the deal was done, Chamberlain told the cheering crowd that awaited him:
“The settlement of the Czechoslovakian problem, which has now been achieved is, in my view, only the prelude to a larger settlement in which all Europe may find peace. This morning I had another talk with the German Chancellor, Herr Hitler, and here is the paper which bears his name upon it as well as mine… We regard the agreement signed last night as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again.”
Not too many hours afterwards Chamberlain repeated the same performance outside his official residence, assuring his supporters that he had brought them “peace with honor” and patronizingly recommending they “go home and get a nice quiet sleep.”
But no one in Europe was to sleep soundly again for many years to come, despite Chamberlain’s cynical sacrifice of a small democracy on the altar of peace.
*Frustratingly, the nature of tyrants is that they aren’t impressed by nice-guy naiveté. Hitler’s appetites weren’t sated and by March 1939, he invaded the remainder of Czechoslovakia – the very one for which Chamberlain expressed so much support post-betrayal and whose security he solemnly claimed to have upheld.
*Even the definitive end of “the Czechoslovakian problem,” didn’t end Hitler’s provocations – as the appeasers had trusted it would. Hitler robbed Europeans of “a nice quiet sleep” with yet new demands. These involved the Free City of Danzig, a semi-autonomous entity created in 1920 as part of the Treaty of Versailles and placed under League of Nations protection.
Hot on the heels of the Munich Conference, Hitler began agitating for Danzig’s incorporation into the Third Reich. In April 1939 Poland warned that it would defy any German incursion. That presumably would subsequently oblige Warsaw’s allies to come to its aid.
And to forestall this, Déat wrote his commentary with the stirring headline that tauntingly asked Frenchmen whether they should really want to put their lives on the line for Danzig. Not only did Déat think that they shouldn’t, but he further portrayed the Poles as intransigent firebrands, whose irresponsible politicking was the source of all their tribulations. They bring calamity on themselves by opposing Germany’s territorial demands, he asserted.
This should sound ominously familiar to us Israelis all these decades after Déat’s powerful pro-appeasement piece. We have been told that we would bring calamity on ourselves if we continue to oppose Ramallah’s territorial demands. This reprimand was delivered by none other than America’s top diplomat – precisely when he and his boss also bent over backwards to appease the tyrants from Tehran.
Anyone who gets in the way of appeasers is sure to be castigated by them. In his address to the British people on September 27, 1938, a couple of fateful days before the signing of the Munich Agreement, Chamberlain made it seem that Czechoslovakia is the troublemaker, that it harasses Europe’s fellow-democracies with impertinent expectations:
“We cannot in all circumstances undertake to involve the whole British Empire in war simply on her [Czechoslovakia’s] account. If we have to fight it must be on larger issues than that.”
And after putting Czechoslovakia in its place, as a diminutive no-account bother, Chamberlain proceeded to defend his duplicity as morality incarnate: “Since I first went to Berchtesgaden, more than 20,000 letters and telegrams have come to No.10, Downing Street. Of course, I have been able to look at a tiny fraction of them, but I have seen enough to know that the people who wrote did not feel that they had such a cause for which to fight, if they were asked to go to war in order that the Sudeten Germans might not join the Reich.”
This is exactly what Déat did to the Poles six month later – depict their ostensible obstructionism and obduracy as the only obstacles to world peace. This is what Kerry does to us Israelis when he warns that if the so-called peace talks fail, it will be our fault and we will reap the whirlwind. We will only have ourselves to blame for the misfortunes we bring on ourselves.
“The alternative to getting back to the talks is the potential of chaos,” Kerry admonished. “I mean does Israel want a third Intifada?” He added overbearingly: “I’ve got news for you. Today’s status quo will not be tomorrow’s… Israel’s neighbors” will “begin to push in a different way.”
And there was more about the comeuppance we should expect for our reluctance to subordinate our survival prospects to his say-so: “If we do not resolve the issues between Palestinians and Israelis, if we do not find a way to find peace, there will be an increasing isolation of Israel, there will be an increasing campaign of delegitimization of Israel that’s been taking place on an international basis.”
But then came the clincher: “If we do not resolve the question of settlements, and the question of who lives where and how and what rights they have; if we don’t end the presence of Israeli soldiers perpetually within the West Bank, then there will be an increasing feeling that if we cannot get peace with a leadership that is committed to non-violence, you may wind up with leadership that is committed to violence.”
In Washington’s eyes, he emphasized, the “settlements are illegitimate” and thus “the entire peace process would be easier if these settlements were not taking place.” That means that it would be easier if many Jerusalem neighborhoods too “were not taking place.”
Bottom line, if Israel doesn’t tamely toe the Obama-Kerry line, it will deserve whatever punishment is meted out to it – either via the ostracism of the otherwise loving family of nations or via more bloodshed in a new terror campaign, which has been a priori justified by the American president and his secretary of state.
All this wasn’t whispered in a private conversation. It was literally broadcast (in a televised interview with Israel’s Channel 2) for all to be suitably impressed with the current American Administration’s zeal for peace for our time – at Israel’s expense.
And since the entire Arab/Muslim world was tuned in, we may be forgiven for wondering just what an effect Kerry’s endorsement of the “Palestinian narrative” might have on Ramallah’s purported peace negotiators. Will they discern in Kerry’s bitter scolding of Israel an incentive to greater flexibility on their part? Or will Kerry’s espousal of their propaganda line embolden Ramallah’s honchos to remain every bit as uncompromisingly inflexible as they had been hitherto?
They have just about as much reason to seek the middle ground as Hitler did after Chamberlain had assured Britons that they wouldn’t fight on Czechoslovakia’s account and after Déat had indicated that the French might not be ready to die for Danzig.
This is moreover colossally underscored by the spectacle of Obama’s and Kerry’s desperate efforts to ease the sanctions against Tehran and appease its nuke-craving regime. Can anyone rationally expect that Iran’s fanatics would be more forthcoming if pressure on the ayatollahs were alleviated?
The chances of that happening are just as promising as were the chances that Hitler would be satisfied after swallowing the Sudetenland.
It pays us to recall that Chamberlain maintained that “what we did was to save her [Czechoslovakia] from annihilation and give her a chance of new life as a new State, which involves the loss of territory and fortifications, but may perhaps enable her to enjoy in the future and develop a national existence under a neutrality and security comparable to that which we see in Switzerland today.”
Without undue cerebral contortions, we can credibly hear Obama likewise contending that he is only doing the right thing by the Jewish state, crowing about saving us and giving us unappreciative Israelis “a chance of a new life…” to enable us “to enjoy in the future and develop a national existence under a neutrality and security comparable to that which we see in Switzerland today.”
Honeyed blandishments aplenty ooze forth periodically from Obama’s lips in one adaptation or another. It’s only our stiff-necked obstinacy which prevents us from seeing his light and bowing down in gratitude.
Of course, if we persist in our disruptive disobedience, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for Obama to hector: “We cannot in all circumstances undertake to involve the United States in war simply on Israel’s account. If we have to fight it must be on larger issues than that.”
With mutating measures of subtlety and bluntness Obama does already regale his radicalized political home base with kindred sentiments about not getting entangled on account of pesky Israel. Indeed, that’s the not-so-understated subtext of the riot act Kerry read us and of Obama’s strategic decision to appease Iran.
Had Obama and Kerry ever heard of Déat, they would – by only changing the place name – regurgitate his “Why-die-for-Danzig” theme in our context.
A final footnote – Déat became a leading Nazi-collaborator in Vichy France.