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The Umbrella Man
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 mass murderers.

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 ones.

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