IN ANY DISCUSSION on the probable conflict in Iraq, people in favor of
such a war frequently mention Neville Chamberlain at Munich. The lesson of
Chamberlain's infamous meeting with Hitler is obvious: Appeasement does not
work with madmen or with dictators. Rather than bringing peace, it only
promotes a longer and more horrible war.
The analogy is not exact, but it is in the nature of analogies to be
inexact. But the message is clear enough: Silence or cowardice in the face of
tyranny is unjustified both morally and practically.
So when a nation announces that it now feels free to act with force against
perceived threats rather than waiting for actual attacks, we should pay
attention. We should understand that the leader of the nation is now willing
to bomb cities and deploy armies whenever and wherever he feels threatened.
When the leader says he would not need "absolute proof" of the perceived
threats, we should pay attention. We should not pretend that things are still
the same when they are not still the same. We should not forget the lesson of
When a regime says it no longer rules out first strikes with nuclear
weapons, we should do whatever we can to urge our allies to work against such
a regime. The more powerful a nation is, the larger its armies, the greater
the need for noise rather than silence, for remembering rather than forgetting, for courage rather than cowardice.
THE LEADER WHOSE policies I have been describing is George W. Bush. The
lesson of Munich is that it is necessary to speak out against tyranny, no
matter how dangerous that becomes. It is hard for us to think of our own
government as the villain; in today's fervid atmosphere, such talk is almost
We have forgotten that democracy is a dangerous business. Built into the
Constitution is the notion that a free people should thwart its leaders if
necessary. This is our duty, the price of our freedom. Leaders hate to be
thwarted; it is in the nature of power to consolidate itself.
It is clear that the Democrats, the so-called opposition party, are
unwilling to accept the dangers of democracy. It is clear that the Congress of
the United States, conceived as a brake on the dangers of an imperial
presidency, will continue to be a rubber stamp for the Bush imperium. It is
clear that the Supreme Court will be willing to suspend any civil liberty that
thwarts the plans of the supreme leader of what is often referred to as "the
greatest nation on earth."
THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION is working hard to make us forget. It is closing
down sources of information about its own workings; it is denying citizens
access to data about the government they theoretically control. It is
purposely muddying the waters and confusing the issues, deacquisitioning
enemies when they are no longer useful bogeymen.
Terrorism is not a nation; terrorism is a tactic. The United States has
used it or condoned its use. There is currently a very real Islamic
fundamentalist terrorist movement. The United States has an equally real
obligation to use its power to oppose this movement.
The movement is not controlled from Iraq; there is no evidence that the
elimination of Saddam Hussein would do anything to hinder that movement. The
Taliban still move freely along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border; their power
has been diminished but not eliminated. But we are asked to forget about that,
even as we are asked to forget about the still-mysterious anthrax attacks that
occurred less than two years ago.
It is necessary for us to remember; it is necessary for us to speak out. It
is time to pay attention to the man behind the curtain. There is no greater
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle