Lots of political analysts are saying the key analogy to help us understand Sept. 11 is Pearl Harbor. But there is another analogy that may prove to be no less important -- Czechoslovakia, 1938.
Let me explain.
A disturbing number of callers who phoned C-Span following the terrorist attacks have said that the root cause of the Sept. 11 disaster is American support for Israel. Dump Israel, they say, and the threat of terror will disappear. End American aid and support to Israel, and Osama Bin Laden will drift back to his commercial empire in Saudi Arabia.
That's why we need to remember Czechoslovakia.
One year before World War II erupted in Europe, Nazi leader Adolph Hitler demanded that land in the western portion of Czechoslovakia containing ethnic Germans be ceded to Germany. Never mind that Czechoslovakia was an independent and sovereign state. Never mind that Czechoslovakia was the only democratic state in Eastern Europe.
Hitler threatened war if he didn't get western Czechoslovakia. French and British leaders, fearful of a second World War similar to that fought between 1914 and 1918, proved disgracefully willing to accommodate the German dictator. They met at Munich with Hitler and his new accomplice, Italy's Benito Mussolini, and carved up Czechoslovakia, permitting Hitler to annex the disputed territory.
Never mind that western Czechoslovakia contained the most formidable military defenses in Eastern Europe against a German attack. Never mind that the Czechs were not even invited to the conference that sealed their fate. Never mind that Hitler's success at the Munich Conference made a second world war more, not less, likely. That war began one year later.
Back to the present, where we are being told by shortsighted observers that the only thing standing between our security and terrorism is American support for Israel.
Let's not forget that Israel, like 1938 Czechoslovakia, is a sovereign and independent state. Let's not forget that Israel is the Mideast's only genuine democracy, and that the stakes in Israel are not only lives, but -- as with 1938 Czechoslovakia -- the country's very existence.
What the Allies did to Czechoslovakia rightly blackened the word "appeasement" for the rest of the 20th century. Should the U.S. and the Western Allies sell out Israel, we'll give new life to appeasement in the 21st century.
GARY B. OSTROWER is a professor of history at Alfred University. He wrote "The League of Nations from 1919 to 1929" (Avery, 1996) and "The United Nations and the United States" (Twayne, 1998).