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The Flawed Analogy of Hitler and Saddam

The following was written in February 2003, before Iraq War II started. It was part of an exchange of messages I had with a war supporter. The topics of the exchange developed into whether the U.S. should isolate itself from the outside world, stay in the UN, whether Adolph Hitler was a valid analogy for Saddam, whether Hitler could have been stopped without war or Saddam could be stopped without war, plus readers will see I have a somewhat different take on appeasement and how the Jewish Holocaust could have been stopped.

I won't answer everything you brought up because I would be writing a long time. I save long opinions for my web site. I know the editor so I always get published ;). However, I don't share your point of view and I must differ on some of your facts, two of which stick out. You said the US is paying 90% of the UN, but we actually pay about 35% which is out of proportion to our share of the world economy, but that's true of all the wealthy nations. Considering many nations suspect we run the UN because of all the influence we have, and many members can't even feed themselves, that doesn't seem unfair. The other was more an implication when you suggested we collect all the money that's owed us and cut ourselves off, which implies we're the creditor when it comes to international debt. We're a debtor, and have been since the deficits of the 80s drove us into massive debt. What makes it worse is the countries who owe us are the ones who have to choose between debt service and food, so good luck collecting. Besides, the debts were often conditioned on the money being spent on US products, so the harm to us was pretty minimal.

The really big thing you're missing also explains why hawks keep talking past the doves. You made the case that Saddam is a nasty dictator. The problem is no one disputes this. Everyone agrees on just how awful this guy is. The question is what to do about him, and the anti-war side hasn't been convinced that war will work, or that we're at the last resort. That's what we need convincing about, and by "we" I mean the overwhelming majority of the world, particularly including the nations Bush is trying to get to join us. Bush hasn't realized this yet and so hasn't addressed the issue he has to address. This is one of those things I wrote about at length on my own site so I'll stop here with a link: Bush's Credibility Problem on Iraq.

You did make an analogy to Hitler. It's an analogy I've accepted most of my life but now have come to believe is misinterpreted. It sometimes comes to equating talking to dictators with appeasement. When Britain and France met with Germany and Italy at Munich, the problem wasn't talking. The problem was they gave away land that wasn't theirs to give, got nothing for their gift, and did nothing when Hitler took all of Czechoslovakia. Talking would have done no harm if they could have said "no." We can talk to Saddam, Kim Jong Il, or anybody else all day, as long as we avoid bad agreements.

This gets to the question of whether Hitler could have been stopped without a war. I think he could. As evidence, remember that though the Nazis persecuted Jews as soon as they came to power, they planned the "final solution" only after the war had been going about a year and they were winning everything. What if the first persecutions had been met by strong international protest, like economic sanctions? Germany's economy was still in depression, so the effect would have been devastating. Even if Hitler had tried to bear up under sanctions, he would have realized worse would come if the persecution grew worse. Instead, all the outside world did was allow a scant few German Jews to cross their borders.

What if Hitler had been stopped from remilitarizing the Rhineland in 1935? Probably it was allowed because it seemed a harmless way to acknowledge German complaints that the treaty of Versailles was unfair, and a lot cheaper than giving back the reparations payments. However, Germany wasn't at all ready fight yet. If Germany was told to abide by the treaty and keep the army out, that might have stopped the absorption of Austria and it sure would have stopped German expansion short of the Sudentenland. As evidence, I offer the German navy, which was rebuilt within the boundaries of Germany's treaty obligations. Why? Because Hitler knew the naval treaties were taken seriously and would be enforced.

So the analogy of Germany and Iraq falls apart on the central point, that only war can stop dictators, because Germany could have been stopped without war. That obviously wasn't the case in 1939 or after, maybe not in 1938, but earlier? Definitely. That's why I remain unconvinced Saddam can't be stopped by sanctions, inspections, surveillance, aid to the Shiites and Kurds, and the threat of force as a last resort. Even if we have to maintain a large army over there, that's still better than a war.

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