February 19, 2003
By Mike McArdle
He's back. Yes, the worm-eaten carcass of Neville Chamberlain
has once again been hauled out the grave by those who desperately
need an excuse to go to war and can't find one that makes
even the remotest amount of sense (like an attack by a foreign
power or a believable imminent threat). But if you ever find
yourself stuck for a reason to incinerate a city full of living
people don't rack your brain endlessly. Go get the umbrella
man. He's always there for you.
As a purely hypothetical exercise suppose you're a world
leader who really wants to start a war with another country.
Let's say you want to have the war because you don't like
the other countries leader. Let's say he might have some pretty
ugly weapons tucked away somewhere even if he's shown no inclination
to use them on you or anybody else who can fight back against
him. Or maybe he even wanted to whack your Dad once and might,
just might, have even given it a shot. Or maybe he just surreptitiously
and deviously placed your oil under his dirt. Well, see now
you've got a problem because most of the time people don't
want to get killed or kill anybody else over weapons that
most everybody has or your family situation or a natural resource
that could mean a boatload of campaign contributions.
But this is where the umbrella man comes in. He can solve
all these sticky problems for you in one fell swoop and turn
your foe from two bit dictator into one of history's worst
Arthur Neville Chamberlain was Prime Minister of England
from 1937 until 1940. He is probably history's most famous
non-interventionist. And, of course, what makes Chamberlain
such a useful tool for those beating the drum for armed conflict
is the way Chamberlain dealt with Adolph Hitler. Faced in
1938 with Hitler's demand for the "return" of the Sudetenland,
a mostly German area of Czechoslovakia, and obligated by treaty
to defend the Czechs Chamberlain was faced with a war he and
his country didn't want and probably
weren't ready to fight. At the last minute Chamberlain
decided to fly to Munich to meet with Hitler and negotiate.
Unfortunately Chamberlain's negotiations consisted basically
of "where do I sign ?" and he quickly dealt away the territory
of a country he had no business negotiating for. In the process
he had dealt in good faith with one of history's worst sociopaths.
A detached, passionless man who was always pictured carrying
an umbrella Chamberlains absurd declaration of "peace in our
time" upon his return to London and Hitler's subsequent aggressions
has been used by war hawks ever since in attempts to justify
virtually any use of force.
Lyndon Johnson, in the process of escalating the Vietnam
War, the most colossal American foreign policy mistake of
the Twentieth Century is said to have told aides that they
(his political opponents) weren't going to make a "Chamberlain
Umbrella Man out of me". LBJ's desire not to have the umbrella
hung around his neck eventually cost the lives of almost 60,000
Americans and millions of Vietnamese.
You would think the example of Vietnam and the Cuban missile
crisis and the fall of the Berlin wall would have put the
legend of the umbrella man to rest once and for all because
not only history but basic common sense dictate that every
potential enemy is not Hitler and 1938 was over a long time
ago. But when you want to fight a war that you can't justify
you use whatever tools you can even if it's a guy who's been
dead for 63 years. The beauty of using the umbrella man approach
is that no facts are required. The bad stuff is all supposed
to happen in the future if you don't act now so you can feel
free to use the ugliest possible scenarios. I mean if you
don't keep Ho Chi Minh out of Saigon that dirty commie is
going to be in San Diego before you know it, won't he ?
So let's say that the majority of the UN Security Council
says in no uncertain terms that there had been no justification
presented for the "preventive" war against Iraq. And the following
day millions of people world-wide jammed the streets of cities
large and small to denounce the war that you really, really
want to fight. You're getting some nasty black eyes and you
need to fight back.
That's when you need the umbrella man.
So you send Condi Rice out in the snow to wave the bloody
umbrella the Sunday morning talk shows. "Appeasement", said
Condi, didn't work with Hitler and won't work with Iraq. "Tyrants
respond to toughness. That was true in the 1930s and 1940s,
when we failed to respond to tyranny, and it is true today".
She didn't have to say who she was talking about.
The attempt to paint the toothbrush mustache on a small potatoes
creep like Saddam Hussein may not impress the Security Council
or the people who filled the streets on Saturday. But sadly,
some people may still be foolish enough to believe it.
Chamberlain failed badly in his attempt to prevent one of
history's most justifiable wars all those years ago but unfortunately
he's still being used by the dishonest to start totally unjustifiable