A Time to Appease

A Time to Appease

Mini Teaser: Appeaser! The worst insult to emerge from our political lexicon. As America grapples with exhausting overseas commitments, bringing our might to bear will require a new sort of History lesson.

by Author(s): Paul Kennedy

And yet, what if one did pull out, scuttle, appease? After all, we would not be the first to leave those wretched mountains and their defiant tribes to their own devices; indeed, we would simply join that long list of former occupation armies which eventually thought the better of it and made for the exit. And if there is anyone in Washington who feels that our troops should stay forever, surging here and surging there, because it is emotionally too upsetting to think of pulling back, then that person should be voted out of office; high emotions and proper realpolitik rarely go well together. As three-time British Prime Minister and four-time Foreign Secretary Lord Salisbury once observed, nothing is more fatal to a wise strategy than clinging to the carcasses of dead policies. Yet few administrations have the resolve to let go; and frankly, in the case of Afghanistan, a mushy compromise—half-concealed withdrawal—might be the least-worst way to go, at least for now. But not forever.


LIKE IT or not, American policy makers, pundits, strategists and high-level military officers cannot avoid the Appeasement story. Frankly, the tale of Britain’s dilemma during the 1930s is still far too close. Here was and is the world’s hegemon, with commitments all over the globe but also with pressing financial and social needs at home, with armed forces being worn out by continuous combat, with an array of evolving types of enemies, yet also facing recognizable and expanding newer nations bearing lots of increasingly sophisticated weaponry. So, what do you do: Appease, or not appease? Appease here, but not there? Declare some parts of the globe no longer of vital interest?

And, yes, there comes a time when you have to stand and fight; to draw a line in the sand; to say that you will not step backward. As did Great Britain in September 1939. But those British and Commonwealth citizens fought the war with such fortitude and gallantry because, one suspects, they knew that their successive administrations had tried, so often, to preserve the peace, to avoid another vast slaughter and to offer fair compromises. After the German attack on Poland, appeasement vanished. And rightly so. Now the gloves were off.

However the American Republic advances through the decades to come, bearing with it so many advantages as well as serious shortcomings, it probably will have to face this key issue of adjusting to a twenty-first-century world order in which it plays a smaller role than it did in the one before. And as the incumbents of the White House and the Congress grapple with the problems of altering their country’s global role, they will undoubtedly come face-to-face with that ugly political word: “Appeasement.”

Image: Pullquote: Nothing so alarms a president or prime minister in the Western world than to be accused of pursuing policies of appeasement. Better to be accused of stealing from a nunnery, or beating one’s family.Essay Types: Essay