In This Review

The Specter of Munich: Reconsidering the Lessons of Appeasing Hitler
The Specter of Munich: Reconsidering the Lessons of Appeasing Hitler
By Jeffrey Record
Potomac Books, 2006, 160 pp

This book is a model of how good historical analysis can usefully inform current policy debates. Record, a defense expert at the U.S. Air Force's Air War College, examines the use of the "Munich analogy" in U.S. foreign policy since World War II. He begins with a concise but sophisticated explanation of why France and the United Kingdom appeased Hitler in the 1930s. Aversion to another Great War, a misreading of Hitler's aims, the lack of appropriate military preparation, and a sense of guilt over the harsh Treaty of Versailles all played a role. Given what was known at the time, he argues, appeasement was not irrational; it failed catastrophically because Hitler proved unappeasable and enduring. Spooked by the consequences of this failure, Western leaders have since publicly invoked the Munich analogy -- applying it to conflicts in Korea, Suez, Vietnam, Grenada, Nicaragua, Kosovo, Iraq, and elsewhere -- to argue for military action. But as Record shows, the case of Nazi Germany was highly exceptional: Munich was not analogous to any of these cases, nor does it apply today. Thus he concludes bluntly, "American presidents should cease invocation of the Munich analogy to justify threatened or actual uses of force." This book should be required reading not only in universities but in the White House as well.