Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Munich Analogy

Historical analogy positing that appeasement only invites further aggression. In the belief that they were preventing a war with Germany, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French Premier Édouard Daladier, during a September 1938 conference in Munich, Germany, ceded German-speaking areas of Czechoslovakia to German dictator Adolf Hitler. Seemingly emboldened by the British and French concession at Munich, six months later Hitler sent in German troops to occupy the remainder of Czechoslovakia. The acquisition of Czechoslovak military hardware, especially artillery but also tanks and aircraft, in addition to war industries immensely benefited the German war machine. On 1 September 1939, German forces invaded Poland, starting World War II.

Cold War–era politicians often used the Munich example as a reason to stand firm in the face of foreign hostility. They applied the Munich Analogy especially in the face of perceived Soviet aggression. The Munich reference illustrates both the power and limitations of analogical reasoning. The 1947 Truman Doctrine and the U.S. intervention in the Korean War in June 1950 assumed that communist aggression had to be countered in order to forestall a third world war. President John F. Kennedy, whose Harvard undergraduate thesis "Why England Slept" (1940) dissected the causes of laggard British rearmament before World War II, invoked the lessons of the 1930s during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

But the Munich Analogy can be carried too far. British Prime Minister Anthony Eden conflated Egyptian nationalism with fascism, which set the stage for Britain's disastrous participation in the 1956 Suez Crisis. President Lyndon Johnson's misapplication of the analogy to Vietnam rationalized a strategically dubious conflict and ignored the profound dissimilarities between Nazi Germany and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV, North Vietnam) and the goals of their governments. The Vietnam War did not fully discredit this analogy, however, as President George H. W. Bush carelessly likened Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to Hitler prior to the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Joseph Robert White


Further Reading
Bamberg, James. British Petroleum and Global Oil, 1950-75: The Challenge to Nationalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.; May, Ernest R. "Lessons" of the Past: The Use and Misuse of History in American Foreign Policy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1973.; Record, Jeffrey. Making War, Thinking History: Munich, Vietnam, and Presidential Uses of Force from Korea to Kosovo. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2002.; Weinberg, Gerhard L. "Reflections on Munich after 60 Years." Diplomacy & Statecraft 10(2/3) (July/November 1999): 1–12.
 

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