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Terrorists triumph: Spirit of Munich reborn in Madrid

by Kevin Powers, '05

The terrorist attacks on Spain in March brought sorrow and pain to Europe and tears of sympathy from across the globe. What followed the attacks, however, was perhaps just as troubling. Just days after the terrorists bombed several train cars, killing more than 200 passengers, the Spanish electorate voted in a new government that promised to pull out of Iraq and loosen ties with the United States. It is increasingly clear that the terrorist organization responsible for the bombing was al Qaida, and that its intention was to shake the resolve of Western nations allied against Middle Eastern terrorism. It appears they were successful.


In the aftermath of the attacks in Spain, it seems the axiom “peace at any price” has taken hold in Spain, if not throughout Europe. But by what means? And at how high a price? The cowards behind the incident in Spain represent a craven ideology that is perpetuated by glorifiing murder and martyrdom. The aggressors who champion this philosophy of hatred are bent on destroying Western civilization and must be met by the full force of all free people. In the face of such malevolence, we mustn’t be tempted by the temporary comfort of appeasement and capitulation. How much are we willing to pay for the peace we desire? History illustrates just how extraordinary the cost of such spurious comfort can be.

In September 1938, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain met in Munich to discuss the future of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. It was Hitler’s intention to revise the terms of the 1933 Treaty of Versailles, which annexed this German land after World War I. Chamberlain was convinced by Hitler’s argument that it was simply a matter of “German self-determination” that gave Germany title to this land. To avoid military confrontation, Chamberlain agreed to Hitler’s terms, and the infamous Munich Agreement was born.

It was the feeling in Europe at the time that the German threat could be contained with diplomatic maneuvering and appeasement. But the comfort bought in Munich was false and short lived. In March 1939, the Germans occupied all of Czechoslovakia and invaded Poland before year’s end. The torrent of violence that engulfed the globe during World War II was stoked by what the French aptly referred to as “l’esprit de Munich” – The Spirit of Munich. Peace at any price, in this case, came to cost over 40 million lives.

Today in Europe, the principle allies of the United States in the war against terror have been Spain, the United Kingdom, and Poland. Spain, under Prime Minister Jose Aznar, was an unflinching partner in the war against terror. Aznar risked political ruin by aligning himself with President Bush during the outset of the Iraq conflict, and he has proven himself a resolute leader in the year since. Unlike some political opportunists who have used emotionally based rhetoric to capitalize on the war in Iraq, Prime Minister Aznar acted under no such self-beneficial motivations.

What motivates men like Aznar is an understanding of the stakes. Aznar understands—as does President Bush and Prime Minister Blair—that terrorism is born out of the frustration, hopelessness, and strife that are endemic to the failed states of the Middle East. While the warlords, dictators, and imperial cronies of the Middle East live in luxury, their citizens barely survive on the sustenance their looted economies can provide for the unprivileged. To prevent their being overthrown by an insurrection of the masses, the ruling class of the Middle East places the blame for their citizen’s impoverished existence on the West. Using murder, torture, and the mutilation of a peaceful religion, these tyrants are able to channel hatred away from their own failed regimes and toward Western culture. Until prosperity built upon democratic governance is established in the Middle East, organizations such as al Qaeda will continue to recruit multitudes of disenfranchised Arabs. It is for this reason that tyranny must be defeated and democracy must flourish in Iraq and throughout the Middle East.

Chancellor Schroeder of Germany, President Chirac of France, and Prime Minister-elect Jose Zapatero of Spain refuse to recognize this dynamic of terrorism’s origin or the means by which it will be defeated. Though France and Germany committed troops to Afghanistan immediately after Sept. 11, 2001, they have used the disagreement over the ouster of Saddam Hussein to distance themselves from the U.S. and the war against terror. In fact, France and Germany do not view this as a war at all, and have made clear their intentions to treat terrorism as a law enforcement matter to be handled by the courts. Zapatero, too, expressed his agreement with this point of view when, in a recent interview, he lamented that “fighting terrorism with bombs ... with Tomahawk missiles, isn’t the way to defeat terrorism,” and said that “terrorism is combated by the state of law.”

By suggesting that the only U.S. means of fighting terrorism is military force, Zapatero is either revealing his complete ignorance on the subject or a zealous form of rhetorical dishonesty. The United States views the rule of law to be just as essential as military combat in the war on terror. The Patriot Act is one example, if controversial, of this administration’s commitment to a multi-lateral offensive against terrorism. But our enemies will not be defeated by rule of law alone. Any person fanatical enough to die for his or her ideology is oblivious to the rule of law. The suggestion that this enemy can be contained without any armed conflict is both naïve and reckless. It will take a combination of law enforcement, actionable intelligence, and military force to see this war through. The leaders of Europe and the United States should heed the lessons learned at Munich. For the old adage states: “He who does not learn from history is doomed to repeat it.”

Editor’s note: Do we really need to hark back to Munich to see the accuracy of this? The recently televised hearings of the congressional committee investigating the events of Sept. 11, 2001 have made it clear that the destruction of the World Trade Center and attack on the Pentagon and Washington, D.C. happened, in part, because the United States took no action to retaliate for the terrorist attacks on in Lebanon, Yemen, and other places.



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