Listen Up, War-shington

I remember walking into the P.A.L. hall before my first Golden Gloves fight. (That was before I started wearing glasses and when my nose was less crooked).

The gym was packed with a hundred or so amateur pugs, all of us doing our best to look mean.

Though I won my bloody fight counter-punching, the most vivid moment of the evening came after the fights. Nobody was walking around looking mean. All of us -- winners and losers -- were hugging and congratulating each other. It was a love-fest. No hard feelings. Just respect.

I left thinking about how the mean looks and chest-beating were really the masking of fear. So every time war cheerleaders put on their skirts and start shaking their pom-poms, I see masked fear.

But at least those boxers actually looked the part. To hear politicians, pundits and bloggers, who are about as intimidating as my big toe, frothing at the mouth over the alleged cowardice of "cut and run" and the manliness of "stay the course" is, well, hilarious. What isn't funny is the historical ignorance of all this childish macho talk, which brings us to the word of the week -- "appeasement." On Planet Neocon, "appeasement" is synonymous with nonviolent engagement, diplomacy, liberalism, human rights, and international law.

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld -- who appeased Saddam in '83 at the time he was "gassing his own people" -- has been amplifying the party line: the "Islamo-fascists" are unappeaseable and to withdraw from Iraq will invite further attack.

And President Bush has taken to comparing Iraq exit strategies with Neville Chamberlain's now infamous appeasement of Hitler, as if Saddam, the "new Hitler," has not been removed from power; as if the pacification of Iraq isn't an exercise in appeasement.

To truly expose the numerous problems with the Munich analogy would require a book. But there's a few glaring misconceptions we can put on the table right here.

Hitler himself saw Munich 1938 as a "crushing defeat." His true goal was to seize Prague by force. He told his aides his greatest fear regarding Poland was not British or French military intervention, but a diplomatic deal he couldn't refuse. Don't take my word for it. Check the history yourself.

Historian Keith Robins, in his book " Munich 1938," argued that the only "lesson of Munich" is "that there should be no lessons."

Macgregor Duncan points out in a paper written for Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs that "the policy of appeasement failed in the 1930s not because Britain's diplomatic weakness emboldened Hitler... but rather, because Britain's military weakness was insufficient to provide any constraint on Germany 's bellicose behavior."

The "lesson of Munich," Duncan argues, is successful appeasement means "conciliate softly, and carry a big stick."

UCLA professor Daniel Treisman notes: "If resources are limited and a state faces many potential threats, appeasing one challenger may actually increase a state's ability to deter others. When conflict is costly, defenders face a trade-off: fighting may enhance their reputation for resolve, but it will deplete their resources to fight -- or deter -- future challenges."

The ancient war wisdom of Tao Te Ching says: "Those who excel in conquering the enemy do not do battle. Those who excel in employing men act deferentially to them."

Commenting on that passage, Chinese warfare scholar Ralph Sawyer writes: "The path of deference presumes a massive degree of power, (which we have), so that humility and yielding do not prove counterproductive or become construed as a virtual invitation to attack." This is "premised upon weakness and pliancy's invariably conquering the hard and stiff."

If a stronger bully comes after you in an unprovoked attack, appeasement invites further attacks. But if a lesser foe attacks you because you've been mistreating them in some way, it's perfectly rational to protect yourself, but only a fool resists the path of deference, which decreases the chances of future attacks. Again, is anyone in War-shington reading military history?

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