Intro: This is Citations Needed with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson.
Nima Shirazi: Welcome to Citations Needed a podcast on the media, power, PR and the history of bullshit. I am Nima Shirazi.
Adam Johnson: I’m Adam Johnson.
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Nima: “Peace with honor, peace for our time” — one of the most infamous phrases in modern politics. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s declaration that war in Europe had been avoided in late September 1938 with the signing of the Munich Agreement. Ever since, the “appeasement” accusation has been a standard political ploy — a twisted way to degrade diplomacy and push for war.
Adam: “Israel says EU’s response on Iran recalls Nazi appeasement,” reported Reuters on July 15, 2019. “The Biden Plan for Appeasement,” spat a recent angry editorial in the New York Sun. In February 2018, an editorial in The Washington Examiner pleaded, “President Trump, stop the appeasement of North Korea.”
Nima: In May 2018, New York Magazine said, “U.S. Scraps Military Exercise to Appease North Korea,” and by June of that year, The National Review’s Jonah Goldberg denounced, “Trump’s Peace in Our Time Moment.” And just this past June, Fox News ran an article entitled, “Rep. Tim Ryan calls Trump’s historic visit to the DMZ an ‘appeasement tour’.”
Adam: The appeasement charge is both the signal and the noise. It is shorthand for the weak-kneed naivety of pursuing peace with an implacable, existential, irredeemable, expansionist and unequivocally evil enemy. Crying ‘Munich!’ is the instant obfuscation of reality — replacing rational thought and appeals to diplomacy with emotional manipulation evoking the horrors of gas chambers, of blitzkriegs and jackboots marching into Paris, in an effort to push more and more war.
Nima: Later on the show, we’ll be joined by Jim Naureckas of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.
Jim Naureckas: The current media are not what you would call students of history. They’re not constantly raising analogies to the past to explain the present. This is not really their stock and trade, but one of the few things that they remember is Munich because it’s so useful, because the lesson of Munich is never concede anything to an enemy because they will take over the world and it is deployed whenever there is any weakening of the Imperial crusade on whatever the target du jour is.
Nima: We want to start this episode with a little anecdote that is very telling and that, often we hear these kinds of things and they sort of pass along unnoticed, little blips in the political reporting world, but that actually speak to a much larger ideology at work. Day one of the Trump administration in January 2017, CNN reported that Donald Trump on his very first day in office made sure that the bust of Winston Churchill was returned to the Oval Office and CNN reported this quote:
“President Donald Trump restored the bust of Winston Churchill to the Oval Office immediately after assuming the presidency on Friday, the most notable move in an aesthetic redecoration of the space.
“Trump signed his first executive orders at the Resolute Desk before new gold curtains with a blue trim, a new sunburst-patterned carpet and new brocade couches. The Churchill bust sat on a side table, while the figure of Martin Luther King Jr. that former President Barack Obama had installed when he came into the White House remains next to the fireplace.”
So, this seems innocuous, but Winston Churchill as a cipher for strong leadership as opposed to namely the weak leadership, the naive leadership of Neville Chamberlain, who preceded him as prime minister and who made the ‘peace in our time’ statement, signed the Munich Agreement with Hitler, there’s this dichotomy that if you’re a fan of Churchill, Netanyahu has a portrait of Churchill in his fucking office, right? If you’re a fan of Churchill, you are a fan of strength. You will not bend to fascism, you will not bend to tyranny, you will not bend to authoritarianism, that you are strong.
Adam: Of course, you know, never mind his own genocides in the Indian subcontinent and in Africa that he partook in both as prime minister and before, that he has sort of seen as the symbol of great courage and conservatives of course love Windsor Churchill. Obama obviously because his father was Kenyan and was subjected to British imperialism was not a huge fan, which is why he removed the bust in the first place.
Nima: So, what this also speaks to is the constant appeal through our politics and punditry of the most heightened sense of urgency when it comes to geopolitics. This basically means every official enemy leader, right? Every so-called dictator is a new Hitler and every negotiation, every potential negotiation even, with those countries is a new Munich, is a new abdication of world responsibility that will inevitably lead to what else: a new Holocaust. So to set the stage here, let’s talk just a little history. Months after Nazi Germany occupied Austria, this is in 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French Premier Edouard Daladier infamously acquiesced to Hitler’s plan of annexing the Sudetenland, a fortified an industrialized frontier region of Czechoslovakia that had a majority German speaking population. This was a futile attempt, it wound up, to stave off yet another world war. Europe was still reeling from the effects of World War I. This policy of “appeasement,” as it was called and is still called, was solidified by the signing of the Munich Agreement on September 29th, 1938, 81 years ago. And unwittingly set the stage for further Nazi aggression leading soon thereafter to the inescapable outbreak of World War II, upon the invasion of Poland. Thus, appeasement as a term entered the political lexicon as the ultimate catch-all of cowardly capitulation to the demands of pure evil, a shameful surrender that leads inevitably to war and genocide.
Adam: In modern context, when the word appeasement is evoked, what they’re doing first and foremost is skipping past the messy work of trying to explain to you why the party who is allegedly being appeased is comparable to the Nazis. And so it’s used glibly all the time. We, of course, editorially, are not opposed to making Nazi comparisons — we just had an episode where we did that — but it’s used as a sort of bludgeon. It’s just this thing you throw out and typically, of course, US allies and the US itself are never the party being appeased or the party that is sort of implicitly Nazi-like, it’s always some foreign bad guy. So Benjamin Netanyahu, the current prime minister of Israel and past prime minister of Israel, he uses the word appeasement a lot and makes a lot of references to Iran as a sort of modern day Nazi Germany. In November of 2006, Benjamin Netanyahu told delegates at the United Jewish Communities General Assembly in Los Angeles that “It’s 1938 and Iran is Germany. And Iran is racing to arm itself with atomic bombs.” He also asserted that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was “preparing another Holocaust for the Jewish state.” The following Autumn, Netanyahu addressed a conference by Israel’s Interdisciplinary Center’s Institute for Counterterrorism and he sort of doubled-down on this Iranian-Nazi analogy. He said, “A year ago, I said we are in 1938, and Iran is Germany. Well, it’s 1939 now,” he declared. He later referenced 1944: “My friends, 2012 is not 1944… Never again.” So, he’s actually used this weird thing, their starting point in 2006 was 1938, which I guess means really we’re in the ‘50s now, right?
Nima: Right, right. We just keep advancing.
Adam: But it’s this constant sort of ticking time bomb. Now, of course, Iran is not Nazi Germany for dozens of reasons, not the least of which is that it’s now 2019 and they have in fact not committed a Holocaust or invaded Israel or bombed Israel.
Nima: Right? That they’re not actually an expansionist state, I mean, number one, but also this often completely skips over the fact, I mean, even talking about the analogy on its merits does it more justice or service than we even should. But the comparison is so ludicrous on its face because Germany was one of the most well-armed and industrialized militaristic societies in Europe at the time. And so comparing that with a nation that doesn’t even register a blip on the top defense spending nations is just completely absurd.
Adam: Yeah. There’s a kind of Chicken Little thing, right? Where you sort of always say everybody’s always appeasing everybody.
Nima: Comparing everything to Chamberlain, to Munich, to Hitler, to 1938 Nazi Germany is ubiquitous, but it’s nothing new. I mean, we talk about this a lot on Citations Needed, the kind of historical precedent for what we are discussing in the present day, but that has antecedents. And the thing is, this was happening almost immediately following the actual policy of appeasement. There’s been a ton of research on this, a lot of compilations of kind of where this has been used and misused, um, namely from people like Dan Murphy of Christian Science Monitor and long ago, Daily Kos poster revbludge, for instance — I will have all this stuff in the show notes — but for instance, in 1940, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt implicitly referred to the Munich Agreement, this is just two years later, implicitly referred to Munich when he warned Congress that Republican isolationism partook of either “defeatism or appeasement.” Following that, the Cold War ushered in a whole new era of using appeasement as this real catch-all term, as we’ve been saying, for staving off any sort of diplomacy with the Soviet Union and always heightening the threat that China, Korea, the USSR, pose to the quote unquote “Western” world.
Adam: Yeah. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, General Curtis LeMay of the Joint Chiefs of Staff complained to Kennedy that his decision to not go to war with the Soviets in Cuba was a mistake saying, quote, “This blockade and political action, I see leading into war. I don’t see any other solution. It will lead right into war. This is almost as bad as the appeasement at Munich.” While campaigning for Barry Goldwater in 1964, Ronald Reagan said, quote, “the specter our well-meaning liberal friends refuse to face, that their policy of accommodation [with the Soviet Union] is appeasement, and it gives no choice between peace and war, only between fight and surrender.”
Nima: And then actually Lyndon Johnson kind of reacting to these accusations during the Goldwater campaign wound up using the same references himself, so sending more and more troops to slaughter people in Vietnam, he made the excuse that he was doing that, he was building up troop presence, he was going deeper into Vietnam because quote, “I didn’t want to be no Chamberlain umbrella man.” In 1972, Vice President Spiro Agnew, Nixon’s vice president, said of presidential challenger George McGovern — who was running on a very anti-war platform and this is, you know, years and years into the Vietnam War, seven years in, there’s still three more years to go — but Spiro Agnew comes out and says this quote, “Even Neville Chamberlain did not carry a beggar’s cup to Munich as George McGovern proposes to carry to Hanoi.”
Adam: In 1977, Bayard Rustin and Carl Gershman wrote in the neoconservative magazine Commentary that the US failure to respond militarily to the Soviet Union involvement in Angola was the best example quote “since Munich [of] the impotence of the democratic world in the face of totalitarian aggression.” In 1984, US News and World Report called Muammar Qaddafi of Libya quote “the Hitler of the 1980s.” Which is a sort of interesting turn of phrase. In 1985, Newt Gingrich said that Reagan’s first meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev was quote “the most dangerous summit for the West since Adolf Hitler met with Neville Chamberlain in 1938 in Munich.”
Nima: It literally goes on and on. Neoconservatives Robert Kagan and Bill Kristol in 1999 wrote that, “The word that best describes Clinton administration policy is appeasement.” In 2002, the chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, Richard Perle, another kind of arch neocons who was always advocating for the invasion of Iraq, on the eve of the invasion, scolded people who were, you know, naysayers about invading and occupying Iraq and Richard Perle said, quote, “A preemptive strike at the time of Munich would have meant an immediate war, as opposed to the one that came later. Later was much worse.” The very same year, Bill Kristol did that same kind of scolding that the world was not lining up behind the Bush administration’s march to war with an article entitled, “The Axis of Appeasement.”
Adam: In 2006, once obviously the Iraq War was turning to shit and the Bush administration turned its attention to Iran, then Iran sort of became the new Hitler and it’s more or less been the new Hitler ever since. Although Putin’s had some time in the sun, obviously Bashar Al Assad’s been Hitler, a few other people have been Hitler. So there’s always sort of a new Hitler 2.0 and any kind of gesture towards diplomacy or de-escalation is always called appeasement. A lot of that research was done by Dan Murphy of Christian Science Monitor, whom we borrowed from there. And so this line is effective for obvious reasons, which number one, nobody wants to be seen as Neville fucking Chamberlain right? It’s the ultimate —
Nima: Well, right. And especially as a world leader, I mean, that’s the thing like that accusation is like, outside of Hitler, you’re responsible for the Holocaust. That’s what it means.
Adam: And of course it’s meant to demagogue. It has no, it’s never intellectually honest, especially since what the criteria is for Hitler keeps changing. And what the criteria for appeasement keeps changing. So you’re sort of not giving someone, giving someone one percent of what they want is never Chamberlain activity. Even though, for example, like in the Iran negotiations, the sanctions destroy the economy and destroy oil outflows and wreck people’s lives and then if you like alleviate those sanctions by five percent, that’s appeasement. But it’s like that’s not, you’re not giving them land. You’re just giving them the thing they had before you started punishing them.
Nima: Right. No, exactly. So Barack Obama was the victim of this appeasement charge probably more than anyone else, you know, it was even first term and then well into a second term and became even more cacophonous when he started real diplomacy with Iran. But in 2012, good ol’ Alan Dershowitz was writing in Newsmax, quote “I know Obama, I like Obama, I voted for Obama. I hope he is not remembered in history as the Neville Chamberlain of the 21st century, the person who didn’t see the greatest evil, didn’t recognize the greatest evil of the 20th century, as Chamberlain did not.” Michael Goodwin in The New York Post in May of 2012 wrote an article headlined, “Appeasing the nuke madman” in which he wrote, quote, “The Iran of today is not the Germany of 1938. But in one key respect, it could be more dangerous.” Later that year in July 2012 a New York Sun editorial, yes, the New York Sun apparently still exists, editorial called “The Iran Appeasement.” This was literally day after day. John McCain in 2015 was railing against “the Neville Chamberlain school of diplomacy” over the Iran deal. And the day after the Iran deal was actually signed on July 14th, 2015, the day after that July 15th, Rick Richman wrote in Commentary magazine, an article headlined “Much Worse Than Munich.” So yeah, this has not gone away, will likely never go away. And just to add to all this, I’m sure now that appeasement is in the Citations Needed air, you will see it evermore presently in our media, but one odd twist of history makes this accusation even weirder, even kind of a little more sinister, because the appeasement accusation is levied so often in defense of Israel, right? That pro-Israeli punditry will use this because of the emotional connection that there is to the Holocaust. And to use that to be manipulative and to say, you know, the greatest threat facing Israel is, say, Iran and therefore you are going to condone a new Holocaust by not destroying Iran.
Adam: Well, right.
Nima: And so this really appeals to memories of appeasement as leading obviously directly to the Holocaust. What is missed in this commentary is this weird part of history where in 1938 Europe was on the brink of war with a, you know, rising Germany — and France and Britain still reeling from World War I. Germany had done a lot to kind of rebuild, but as a result, a lot of troops, a lot of British troops were being kept in Europe because they didn’t know what was going to happen. At the same time, starting in 1936 in British Mandate Palestine, Palestinians had engaged in civil disobedience and boycott in major resistance leading up to actual violent resistance against the occupying British forces and the colonizing Zionist militias. Now at the time, by 1938, Britain had very much lost control over Palestine and once the Munich Agreement was signed, those troops were not needed in Europe anymore and they were immediately dispatched to Palestine to put down the Palestinian resistance. This is in the late ‘30s. They did so so forcefully through carpet bombing, through indefinite detention, through arrests and killings that the Palestinian resistance was so devastated and so disarmed — meanwhile, the British army was supporting and training Zionist militias — that a decade later when the Haganah and Irgun, all these Zionist groups were ethnically cleansing Palestine, Palestinians had no form of resistance anymore. But the reason that that happened, namely, is because their own uprising had been crushed so brutally only as a result of British troops being able to leave Europe after the appeasement agreement. So it’s this bizarre kind of double whammy of history where appeasement both laid the foundation for the Holocaust and also for the Nakba.
Adam: Yeah. You know, the thing about it is that it’s kind of so braindead, it is this little thingamajig that does all the thinking for you, it makes that the person trying to de-escalate conflict is actually the one who’s for it. It’s obviously sort of very Orwellian. It does the inverse of really what it’s supposed to do. The implication being that everybody who I don’t like this morning as Hitler 2.0 um, although I think we’re at Hitler 4.0 or 5.0 now. I guess they’re sort of like Lassies, you know, you sort of replace one just with another one. But, you know, at certain point I think the rhetorical impact of that statement sort of loses its value, but nevertheless people keep using it.
Nima: To discuss this more we’re going to be joined by Jim Naureckas of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. Stay with us.
Nima: We are joined now by Jim Naureckas. Good friend of the show. Jim, it is so great to have you back on Citations Needed.
Jim Naureckas: I’m very glad to be back myself.
Nima: So earlier on the show we have been discussing just how common the claims of appeasement or crying ‘Munich!’ just how ubiquitous these are in our media landscape along with the kind of broader Hitler-fication of any and all official registered trademark US enemies. But there’s an irony here which is the virtual media ban making these similar comparisons when it comes to politicians here in the United States. Obviously this would be far too hyperbolic, you can never do it, Godwin’s Law, you know, but it’s casually made all the time when targeted toward official enemies like say Iran, China, Russia. Jim, can you talk about how the media really polices what is and is not acceptable when say invoking Hitler?
Jim Naureckas: Well, the ban on Hitler references is very selective, even domestically. Particularly during the Obama era, Fox News was constantly talking about the parallels between the Third Reich and the Obama administration. Particularly Glenn Beck, this was his bread and butter, was pointing out how Barack Obama was the new Hitler and everything that he was doing was exactly what was forecast in Mein Kampf and people better wake up because we’d be in camps literally.
Nima: ‘They’re going to take your guns away, which is the first thing Hitler did.’
Jim Naureckas: Exactly. And at the same time, Fox News would get really agitated if there was any mention of Hitler and a Republican in the same sentence and the ability for them to be completely, genuinely outraged over this analogy as an utterly illegitimate thing to ever do while at the same time their highest rating show was constantly making the exact same analogy. It’s very remarkable. You have to admire the degree of double think that they are able to achieve. Big Brother would be proud.
Adam: So the general premise behind appeasement is that it’s sort of like if you give a mouse a cookie, the implication is that if you sort of concede one thing, no matter how small you embolden them to seek more, then if you give Hitler the Sudetenland, it’s only a matter of time before he conquers the whole world. What’s interesting to me is that this therefore then applies the little things. We’re not just talking about the annexation of countries, we’re talking about mild sanctions relief is seen as an appeasement. This seems to have very dark implications for me, right? Because if everything’s Hitler, which is obviously the implication of the language of a piece, maybe even if people don’t expressly say it, we’re in a sort of constant ticking time bomb scenario where every minor gesture of diplomacy is viewed as emboldening this pure evil. Can we talk about what this kind of rhetorical regime does to the concept of diplomacy?
Jim Naureckas: The current media are not what you would call students of history. They’re not constantly raising analogies to the past to explain the present. This is not really their stock and trade, but one of the few things that they remember is Munich because it’s so useful because the lesson of Munich is never concede anything to an enemy because they will take over the world. And it is deployed whenever there is any weakening of the Imperial crusade on whatever the target du jour is. Adam, you were talking about Trump’s trip to Korea being called the appeasement tour.
Jim Naureckas: There is a huge degree of investment in having a war fighting capacity against North Korea and if you agree to any measures that will lessen tensions with North Korea and make the idea of fighting them less urgent, that’s a huge cost to the people who are now getting paid to provide a defense against North Korea.
Adam: I want to talk about this example because there was a plot twist of late where because Trump is such a bizarre, unusual, nominally in terms of his sporadicness, most of his stuff is sort of empire on cruise control, but his gestures towards North Korea, which by all accounts are animated entirely by a desire to spite Obama, but are being led by the left in Korea are being led by the South Korean government. He’s sort of one necessary cog in that machine. Increasingly Democrats are using the appeasement language. Tim Ryan, who is running for the presidential candidate of the United States, went on Fox News and said about Trump with respect to the Korean summit that it was quote, “I think this has been President Trump’s appeasement tour” unquote. This really portends a very warped paradigm whereby which we are now mocking someone we all agree, and this is the whole thing with Korea that just makes my brain break, someone we all thought of say as this right-wing and rightfully so, unhinged, blood-thirsty, violent extremist with a huge history of racism and violence, and we’re saying his problem is that he’s being too nice. And I just like, I sant there in genuine awe of what the implications are of this. So now we have it from both sides and it’s reinforcing the idea of the appeasement. What in your opinion is the long term, if you could speculate what the long term collateral damage over the next five, ten years of embracing this, this kind of zero sum appeasement language with regard to Korea?
Jim Naureckas: Well Alan MacLeod wrote a piece for FAIR called “The Utility of the RussiaGate Conspiracy” and uh, I think about that a lot, depicting Donald Trump as a puppet of Putin is so useful for the Democratic Party and for the establishment in general.
Adam: And by establishment we really mean the kind of intelligence military establishment? Is that a fair-?
Jim Naureckas: Right, yeah. By painting him as a puppet of Putin, any time he acts in the service of the US empire, which is most of the time because that’s his job as President of the United States, you can say, ‘oh well here’s an exception to his general servile attitude towards Russia’ and, you know, ‘we’re not going to excuse him from being a puppet, but at least he’s just this once acting in the interest in the United States.’ And if a Democrat attacks Trump from the right, that is portrayed as a blow for the resistance, which is so perverse to be cheering on the US empire and complaining about its commander in chief not being bloodthirsty or vicious enough.
Adam: But what they do is they launder it through this kind of pseudo liberal language of human rights or propping up dictators, right? So the extent to which Trump is friendly with dictators in Saudi Arabia, it’s not about his language, it’s the fact that he gave him a green light to bomb Yemen and we sell them billions of dollars in arms. There’s some material moral downside to that flattery, but there’s no analog with Korea because the US isn’t giving them anything. And so like if you’re sanctioning or been at war with a country for seven years, the idea that somehow you’re buddies is completely superficial. And if and when the US was like funding and arming the Kim regime to kill its own people then we can have a real conversation. But for now it’s like vague flattering statements, which of course he does to everyone and the whole fucking liberal intelligence apparatus completely has a meltdown. It’s completely perverse.
Jim Naureckas: Of course, a crucial part of the US empires is, its like our main military base in East Asia. And without the endless war between South Korea and North Korea-
Adam: There’s no reason to be there.
Jim Naureckas: There’s no reason to be there and there’s no reason to have nuclear weapons and fighter bomber jets within flight of both Japan and China, which is seen as a critical threat to hold over the second and third largest economies in the world.
Nima: So the implications here I think have, are stark when they have to do with forever war, perma-empire and forever war, that the enemies in the American mythology and the media discourse that we have now have to always be the same, right? That there’s a status quo that has to be maintained, which kind of then speaks to why Munich and appeasement is so compelling because everything winds up being existential. If you, you know, if you do any sort of tamping down of whatever tensions, then all of a sudden America might not be a warrior anymore. So it kind of has this like existential gambit because you’re taking what is like one of the worst things in history to have ever happened and just amplifying that to literally every single thing you could think of just so that nothing changes.
Jim Naureckas: I really believe that Hitler is still wreaking havoc on the world because his example of an aggressive major world power that was actually bent on taking over the world is still used to justify virtually every aggressive act that happens. That you need to be invading Iraq or Panama or wherever because Hitler. And without that example, I think it’d be much harder to justify the violation of international law that is involved in fighting all these little Hitlers.
Nima: (Chuckles) Right, like because everyone is a, everyone winds up being Hitler. We were saying earlier, Netanyahu is constantly evoking the Holocaust, is constantly invoking 1933 and then ‘38 and then ‘44, you know, as these benchmarks of arising Iran, enemy number one of both the US and Israel. And so the specter of annihilation, the specter of genocide, of Holocaust is always thrown out to then justify anything else. But I think you know, Jim, as someone who’s been following this for so long, how do you also see this intersect with the idea domestically here in the US projecting strong leadership? Because with appeasement and Munich, there’s the Neville Chamberlain accusation as opposed to say the Winston-Churchill-noble-leader that so many politicians will aspire to be and even say they are influenced by.
Jim Naureckas: There is a real thread running through commentary on the presidency where presidents are seen as really becoming president when they spill the blood of foreigners. That is the mark of a commander in chief, which is seen as kind of the highest form of president, the president in their most characteristic persona is when they’re commanding the US military and using it to kill people. And you see these articles that come out after our president has done this, applauding them and giving them a big hug, like ‘you’re on the team for real now.’ You know, the electoral college is one thing-
Nima: Right. But now that Trump has actually bombed Syria, now he’s our president.
Adam: Well, it shows decisiveness and leadership and all these kinds of morally neutral things that we act are good but leadership in terms of what? Like I showed leadership, sticking my finger in a light socket, I was decisive about it. Like, okay, well was it good?
Jim Naureckas: I saw a, a New York Times article that was talking about his failure to bomb Iran. He was about to bomb Iran and then he decided not to. And The New York Times said this would have been the third time that Trump attacked targets in the Middle East and the Trump administration has bombed the Middle East literally thousands of times and has killed thousands of civilians in doing it.
Nima: But none of them counted. Only the big ones. Right?
Jim Naureckas: It’s like, this was written by like four different New York Times writers. None of them seem to remember that there is a war that’s still not over yet going on in Iraq and Syria.
Adam: Right. That were merciless. Yeah. And this is, you know, even in the writing of this episode, two days before we recorded this episode, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu condemned the European Union for not getting rid of the Iran deal with Iran and said, quote, “It reminds me of the European appeasement of the 1930s.” Like it’s just this thing that looms over us at all times. I mean, literally two days before we recorded this episode, we’ve already written the episode, we’ve already talked about it for a week or two.
Jim Naureckas: There it is!
Nima: Yep, there it is again.
Adam: We’re going back to Europe in the 1930s and it’s like, you know, and then of course there’s the actual history of what it meant to appease Hitler at that time. Obviously roughly a dozen countries had some form of nonaggression pact with Hitler because they, most of them needed to build up their military, as the British did. There’s some debate about whether or not that was the right thing to do. But even that assumes that, like, had the US not appeased or the British not appeased Hitler and Munich, that we would have sort of the next day invaded Berlin and had won and kicked his ass. Like there’s no sense of strategic concession. It’s all very sort of zero sum.
Jim Naureckas: Absolutely. None of these countries are Hitler. That’s really important to remember that the analogy that is being made to this genocidal dictator bent on taking over the world is absurd to think that Saddam Hussein was Hitler or that Iran is Nazi Germany or, you know, there’s no comparison between what the European powers could have or should have done in the 1930s with Nazi Germany and the best thing to do about Iran.
Nima: Well, right. And, and also none of these take into account that at the time the United States did not outspend basically every other country on the planet combined in military spending and did not have military bases all over the world, did not have, you know, were not a singular nuclear superpower at the time. Like it was just a very different situation and so the idea that, you know, you can just throw out these really what they are just emotional pleas to justify violence and to obliterate any semblance of diplomacy because you just get to throw up something that is so emotionally fraught that you’re like, ‘Oh my God, Hitler and Holocaust’ and therefore, you know, the only thing we can do is batten down the hatches and send war planes.
Jim Naureckas: Yeah, I mean I think that there is no country that it makes sense to analogize to Nazi Germany. If you were going to analogize a country to Nazi Germany, the country with ambitions for global hegemony achieved through a series of aggressive wars is the United States.
Nima: That’s really inconvenient, Jim.
Jim Naureckas: (Laughs) Yeah it’s not very helpful in terms of propping up the military industrial complex, but the main crime at Nuremberg, the main thing that the Nazi officers were charged with was aggressive war and the other war crimes were sort of subsidiary. They were like part of that process and the idea that there are international laws binding on all countries that forbid you to attack another country except in self defense, the US media act like those laws don’t exist or don’t apply to the United States. And that is really what is meant by American exceptionalism. When you hear that phrase, the rules do not apply to the United States is the ideology that you are forced to accept in order to be considered a serious candidate to be president of the United States?
Adam: Not coincidentally. The ICC does not have a specific law against invasions or unilateral war. My guess is because the laws were created by people who wanted to reserve the right to do so because in 2016 there was some effort within the ICC to prosecute Blair, but they came back and said that technically, you know, wars of aggression as such are not war crimes.
Nima: Right. (Laughs) Nuremberg be damned.
Jim Naureckas: (Laughing.)
Adam: Yeah, no, that one was left, that one was left out of —
Nima: What did they get right anyway?
Adam: Yeah, exactly. So, but yeah, I mean cause then again you talk about this idea of appeasement, then we’re constantly just going around and baiting all the mini Hitlers. But then you have to ask the question: are we the baddies? And that’s not the question, of course, people want to ask.
Nima: So as someone who runs FAIR and has been covering this for so long, I don’t want this to be too leading a question, but do you see our politicians and also of course our press ever straying from this line of discourse of always elevating something as totally non-comparable like say healthcare all the way up to, you know, really important international diplomacy, conflating everything with Munich, with appeasement, with the rise of national socialism and Hitler taking over, like, do you think that there’s any way out of this?
Jim Naureckas: Well, I do think that there are changes in US politics that are sort of sprouts of a different kind of politics that are emerging. And you see people who are running for president, running for Congress, rejecting the money of the wealthy as a tool to run on. And it does open up a different terrain of politics. You can make promises that you can’t make if you are dependent on the money of Wall Street to run on. You know, you can say, ‘I’m going to push for a single payer healthcare system’ because you won’t have people saying, ah, you know, ‘I’ve invested in, in these insurance companies that you’re talking about getting rid of so you can’t do that.’ The kind of direct appeals to the interests of the mass of people may conflict with the interests of the wealthy. You can make those now and it’s exciting and you know, we’ll see how, because obviously the, the wealthy have many tools to fight back against politics that threaten their interests. And so we’ll see how that plays out. But I think it’s interesting that you see shifts in the way that foreign policy is talked about as well. And those are, some seem to be more tentative and, you know, one step forward, one step back. But it definitely seems like you can express more criticism of Israel in this election cycle than you ever had before. It used to be that you would see a competition of how like absurdly pro-Israel you would be, who could take the most extreme position rhetorically in favor of Israel to sort of position yourself for donors who saw that as their single issue. And, and we give money to the person who swore fealty to Israel. And you see like the ghost of like Cory Booker made a statement server early on in the election cycle that he would rather lose his right hand than let down Israel. And that’s the kind of like sort of nutty statement that you say because you’re worried that someone is going to say something more pro-Israel than you. And so you say this thing because you think, no one will say anything —
Adam: I’ll cut off both of my hands.
Jim Naureckas: (Laughing.)
Adam: Well, shit.
Jim Naureckas: But he’s kind of, you know, it seems kind of like a, a weird 2016 thing to say.
Adam: So yeah, that’s a, we almost never do this, but I think that was a positive statement. Showing some momentum.
Jim Naureckas: (Laughs.)
Adam: I think we’re going to end on that. Lest we depress our listeners like we always do. So that’s good. I’m, I tend to agree. I tend to agree. I think that the knee jerk appeasement language is sort of definitely not as popular as it used to be for sure.
Nima: I think it’s really popular on the right and is starting to at least get called out a little more. So yeah, we will leave it there. Jim Naureckas, Editor of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, a favorite website of ours, of course. Good friend to the show. Thank you again so much for joining us today on Citations Needed. Jim has been great to talk to you.
Jim Naureckas: It’s been a real pleasure.
Adam: Yeah, so I think FAIR has been documenting the Hitler 2.0 thing for some time now. It was obviously extremely popular in the build up to the war in Iraq where Saddam Hussein was very directly compared to Nazi Germany and the French were sort of surrender monkeys because they gave in to the Nazis. It’s great mocking people for being surrender monkeys when you’re 10,000 miles away, across the globe.
Nima: And, like, their country was devastated and a lot of people were killed.
Adam: Yeah, as if American industrialists wouldn’t have been scrambling to fucking join up with the Nazis.
Nima: And did. And fucking did.
Adam: Yeah, and did.
Nima: Right. This is one of those kind of weasel phrases, you know, in all of its iterations, whether it’s 1938 Munich, appeasement, mentioning Chamberlain as a cipher for, you know, a leader that you would never want to be while Winston Churchill is the leader that everyone wants to be, right? I mean even Bernie got caught into that bullshit, right? Like, that was ridiculous. It’s this knee-jerk reaction where you’re like, who’s a strong leader? And you go to Churchill. And so much of that is built up, of course, into World War II and this idea of the greatest evil being defeated and who acquiesced to that evil to allow it to spread further than it ever should have. And that was Neville Chamberlain, right? Through appeasement. We now see our current scenarios, that lens is now still relevant today. Always has been. And so you can just throw around the term appeasement, you can throw around, you know, new Hitler, a new Holocaust and you get to paint your political enemies as again, yeah, weak kneed surrender monkeys as opposed to your more noble defender of democracy, right? Defender of the civilized world and so, yeah, we see this all the time. It will continue. I think you’re right, Adam. You had mentioned earlier that maybe it’s losing a little bit of its cache like people are kind of onto it. You can’t just throw it out there but, again, it doesn’t stop, especially right-wing pundits from using this all the time. You will see it again and again. They still want to bomb Iran and so what are we going to hear? We’re going to hear that it’s 1930-something.
Adam: It’s always 1938, forever, always. And there is no different context or meaning or anything else.
Nima: That will do it for this episode of Citations Needed. Thank you everyone for listening. You can follow us on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed and become a supporter of our work — if you are so inclined and I hope you are — through Patreon.com/CitationsNeededPodcast with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson. Your support through Patreon is so very much appreciated. And of course a very special shout out goes to our Critic-level supporters on Patreon. I am Nima Shirazi.
Adam: I’m Adam Johnson.
Nima: Citations Needed is produced by Florence Barrau-Adams. Production consultant is Josh Kross. Production assistant is Trendel Lightburn. Our newsletter is by Marco Cartolano. Transcriptions are by Morgan McAslan. And of course the music is by Grandaddy. Thanks everyone for listening. We’ll catch you next time.
This episode of Citations Needed was released on Wednesday, October 9, 2019.
Transcription by Morgan McAslan.