Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton and presidential aspirant Sen. Ted. Cruz, R-Texas, among many others, are denouncing U.S. Iranian nuclear agreement as “another Munich.”

In response, Samuel Kleiner, assistant professor at Cornell University, and author and journalist Tom Zoellner rushed an op-ed column to the Los Angeles Times scoffing at the Munich metaphor. They tell us ” ‘Munich’ has become the favored shorthand — especially among American conservatives — for a weak agreement, or any other agreement, with a hostile power. So it was as predictable comparisons to Munich and (former British Prime Minister Neville) Chamberlain should have been flying within hours of President Obama’s announcement.”

The 1938 Munich agreement came about because Adolf Hitler demanded Germany’s right to annex the Sudetenland, the ethnically German borderlands of western Czechoslovakia. The loss of this territory would have made the country indefensible. France had a treaty of mutual defense with the Czechs. If Hitler invaded, the French would have to go to war and Great Britain could not avoid involvement, even though it had no pact with the threatened country.

Repeated meetings with the Nazi leaders produced an agreement that the British prime minister hoped could assure “peace in our time.”

“Munich Agreement” and “Another Vietnam” are, in fact, the two most frequently cited historical metaphors in American foreign policy debates. This is because the American public’s historical knowledge is so limited that there are no other historical events with comparable impacts. The authors’ sarcasm about over-reliance on Munich metaphors is justified, but they go too far with this assertion: “The reality is that Munich was an agreement rooted in Britain’s weakness, and it bears little resemblance to the Iran nuclear deal. In 1938, Britain hadn’t fully rearmed and did not have U.S. backing. Chamberlain had to bow to German military superiority without anything more than assurances in return.”

This analysis reflects a revisionist historical interpretation that may be arguable, but does not represent a consensus about “the reality” among historians. Stating it as a fact suggests either ignorance or an over-hasty attempt to justify the Obama administration’s diplomacy. If we accept this interpretation, we must believe that Winston Churchill was talking like an ignorant, war-mongering Republican when he condemned the agreement in his Oct. 5, 1938, speech to Parliament. This is what he prophesied at the time: “I venture to think that in the future the Czechoslovak state cannot be maintained as an independent entity. I think you will find that in a period of time which may be measured by years, but may be measured only by months, Czechoslovakia will be engulfed in the Nazi regime.”

Churchill was replying to Chamberlain’s speech of Oct. 3, which concluded much more hopefully: “Ever since I assumed my present office, my main purpose has been to work for the pacification of Europe, for the removal of those suspicions and those animosities which have so long poisoned the air. The path which leads to appeasement is long and bristles with obstacles. The question of Czechoslovakia is the latest and perhaps the most dangerous. Now that we have got past it, I feel that it may be possible to make further progress along the road to sanity.”

These two speeches, which both can be found online, won’t tell readers all they need to know about “Munich” but they make a very useful start to serious inquiry. We must note that, violating his pledge to Chamberlain, Hitler occupied the defenseless remainder of Czechoslovakia the following March. Germany invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939. Chamberlain announced the British Empire’s declaration of war against Germany on Sept. 3.

If the “Comprehensive Joint Plan of Action” negotiated by President Obama’s team, along with representatives of five other countries, ends the same way, it will replace Munich as the new metaphor for a failed policy of appeasement.

While awaiting the outcome, we should take note of an important similarity. The Israelis, like the Czechs, were not invited to the parley. The Iranians have made it clear that Israel is the most desirable target for any nuclear weapons they might acquire, just as the Czechs were directly threatened by a German invasion. The Czechs submitted without a fight. The Israelis will not.

Leaving that aside, there are more differences than similarities between the two agreements. Most Germans desired peace as strongly as the French and British. It’s reported that Hitler was disgusted at the German crowds shouting “Peace, Peace!” to Chamberlain as he drove to the airport.

In Iran, we read of triumphant crowds yelling “Death to America.”

While Czechoslovakia faced Germany with no hope of successful resistance, Israeli and Saudi Arabia contemplate a nuclear arms race. It seems they don’t share Obama’s faith in Iran’s determination to abide by the terms agreed upon.

John Frary of Farmington is a former congressional candidate and retired history professor, a board member of Maine Taxpayers United and publisher of www.fraryhomecompanion.com. Email to [email protected].


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