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Apostles of Appeasement

A short history of phoney peace groups and their fellow travellers.

· 11 min read
Apostles of Appeasement
London, UK. 4 November, 2023. Tens of thousands march through central London demanding a ceasefire and an end to UK support of Israel. Organised by a coalition including Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Friends of Al Aqsa, and Stop the War Coalition. Alamy

I. The Yearning for Peace

Deep down, everyone who has not been driven mad by religious obscurantism or some other ideology understands the value of peace. Ordinary people want to meet partners, secure fulfilling jobs, live in comfort, and find good schools for their children. In their spare time, they like to meet with friends, play sports, go to the cinema, or practice obscure hobbies. They want—like Candide—to cultivate their gardens, and they recognise that this modest wish would be imperilled by war.

Indeed, the realisation that war is a great evil is surely among the preconditions for building and maintaining a prosperous society in the first place. But a society which does not feel directly threatened will often tend towards the view that war is also an unnecessary evil. As George Orwell reminded readers of “The Lion and the Unicorn,” published during the Blitz, the intense anti-Nazism inculcated in them by German bombs had extinguished the memory of the popular approval that had greeted Neville Chamberlain upon his return from Munich just two years earlier. The myth of a clique of Guilty Men soothed the consciences of millions of Britons who had shared the view that war was worse than a bloodless triumph for Hitler on the continent. 

1938 Daily Sketch front page on the Munich Agreement. Alamy

An analogy may be drawn here with Ukraine. President Zelensky is often lauded—quite appropriately—for his “Churchillian” courage and fortitude. But it is easily forgotten that he won an election by promising to seek peace. The war in the Ukrainian east had already been raging for several years when he was elected. Despite the fact that Russian imperial ambitions were the cause of the war, the Ukrainians held out hope that Russian aims were limited, and that a negotiated solution could be found to end it. They voted for peace, but experience subsequently taught them that only the complete subjugation of their country would satisfy the Russians. Like the Britons of an earlier era, war seemed to be the greatest evil they faced—until they were confronted with the greater evil of conquest.

The belief that there is nothing worse than war—let’s call it Chamberlainism—is common enough in recent history. After the North Korean People’s Army invaded South Korea in 1950, the greater part of the Western European liberal and socialist intelligentsia instinctively turned its ire on President Truman for mounting a response. They had nothing to say about the original aggression, but they were quick to denounce the resistance to it as “warmongering.” For the most part, this was not because they had any fondness for the North Korean communists. In fact, they were in the habit of calling themselves “neutralists.” They seemed to hope that Western Europe could become like a Greater Switzerland. It could, they thought, somehow safeguard itself as a peaceful idyll by refusing to choose between democracy and tyranny—an absurd lesson to have drawn from the preceding years. 

The Korean War terrified European peaceniks, because it struck them as a portent of a communist assault on Western Europe, which they had convinced themselves only appeasement could prevent. Swiss essayist François Bondy, mulling his own nation’s history, diagnosed their problem: they “did not relish being confronted with a situation in which the issues of freedom and of peace [were] in conflict.” Thus, they chose not to acknowledge it at all. The Korean communists would proceed to establish one of the most tyrannical regimes in history—a real-world Airstrip One, which has now spent 73 years starving its people and preparing for nuclear war. By averting their gaze from their unpleasantness, European intellectuals did not have to consider what the alternative to US intervention really was.

II. The Phoney Peace Movements

If war—or, at least, the involvement of one’s own country in war—is the greatest of evils, then there is no need to think about the intentions of the parties to a conflict, or the consequences of one of them electing not to fight. But in dissuading us from confronting reality, our hatred and fear of war can lead us into the clutches of all kinds of sinister actors. Phoney peace movements led by totalitarians and their excusers have used their liberal enemies’ inclination towards pacifism against them for decades.

During the early months of 1940, the Nazis invaded Scandinavia, the Low Countries, and finally France. As Soviet Russia was then allied with Germany, the communists in Britain had already set about spreading pro-Nazi propaganda, but they quickly realised that it was making them odious. So, they came up with a new idea. They founded an anti-war organisation called the Peoples’ Convention and hid the fact that they were running it. The Peoples’ Convention emphasised all of the horrors of the Blitz, playing on the outsized share of the suffering experienced by the poor. While carefully avoiding overt capitulationism, it made a series of welfare demands that were impossible for the government to meet in wartime, and agitated for strikes in munitions factories if those demands were not met. The Convention enlisted the support of all kinds of compassionate but simple-minded religious figures like the Dean of Canterbury, who insisted that their work was only about social justice and had nothing to do with helping Hitler conquer Britain. Happily, this was to be but a short-lived experiment in cynicism. After Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, the communists discovered that they were British patriots after all.

Their defeatist interlude would prove to be a prototype for communist activity after the war, when the Red Army “liberated” Central and Eastern Europe by invading it and establishing Soviet satellite regimes. In 1948, in Wroclaw, the authorities held a World Congress of Intellectuals in Defence of Peace. It was an odd time for the Soviets to be venerating peace, given that they had just blockaded Berlin and were making pungent threats about what they would do if the Americans persisted in airlifting food to its starving citizens. Poland was a strange country in which to hold such an event, since only nine years had passed since the Red Army and the Wehrmacht had held a joint victory parade there, and only eight since the NKVD had massacred most of the Polish intelligentsia and buried them in the Katyn Forest. 

The Return of the Progressive Atrocity
It is the responsibility of Western activists to know who and what they support, and to separate themselves—openly and decisively—from programs and regimes that are predicated on violence and repression.

Still, at the time, a fair number of Western intellectuals assumed that the Cold War was a choice, and believed that if the Western powers let the Soviets address their security concerns on the borders of their sphere of influence, everyone could live in harmony. Picasso drew his Dove in Wroclaw, which became the symbol of the World Peace Council (WPC), an organisation committed to convincing the rest of the intelligentsia to preach non-resistance to tyranny as a virtue. The WPC held subsequent rallies in New York and all over Western Europe, at which peaceniks were told by crypto-communists that Ernst Reuter, the Mayor of West Berlin and a survivor of Lichtenburg, was a warmonger and a Nazi. (At a communist stall set up at a recent Palestine march in London, there were copies of a newspaper called Proletariat with a headline about “Ukrainian Fascists” on its front page. Plus ça change.)

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it might have been imagined that front organisations like these, and the sinister far-leftists who directed them, would simply vanish along with the last remaining strongholds of tyranny. It was, after all, earnestly and widely proposed that the world had at last been made safe for democracy. But the war against the open society can be glimpsed as far back as the Spartan attack on Periclean Athens—which is to say that it is as old as the open society itself. So, its adherents merely sought new allegiances. There began, to borrow Christopher Hitchens’s characterisation of the intellectual journey of George Galloway, the “mad search for a tyrannical fatherland” to fill the void in their totalitarian hearts. No one—not Saddam Hussein nor Slobodan Milošević—was too gruesome for these sycophants, who proceeded to establish the Stop the War Coalition in September 2001, just ten days after the forces of jihad had declared holy war on the free world.

Many genuine humanitarians have marched at Stop the War demonstrations, but they have been ignorant, wilfully or otherwise, of the true nature of the group that organises them. This was all quite brilliantly captured in Ian McEwan’s novel Saturday, set on the day of the February 2003 march against the Iraq War. The jubilant crowd—convinced that it was engaged in an uncomplicated act of solidarity with the threatened people of Iraq—simply refused to be troubled by the character of the Saddam Hussein regime they were objectively defending. The popular feeling McEwan depicted would congeal into a more permanent kind of anti-American ideology, vaguely subscribed to by huge numbers of people who read the Guardian, think Tony Blair is a war criminal, and imagine that Jeremy Corbyn has always been on the “right side of history.” 

These are the people who good-naturedly chant “ceasefire now” before activists from Hizb ut-Tahrir drown them out with “From the River to the Sea” and “There Is Only One Solution” (they are referring, of course, to the “Jewish problem”): “Intifada revolution.” Such people, like Corbyn himself, offer bromides about peace while marching with notorious Hamas supporters carrying banners venerating “resistance,” and they get defensive and self-righteous when someone points out the incongruity. If one of them happens to notice that the jihadist regime in Gaza bears some small measure of war guilt for conducting a genocidal pogrom and “martyring” Palestinians in the inevitable response, they are ushered away, like Peter Tatchell was, by activists from Stop the War. As in the days of the World Peace Council, a “ceasefire” is only demanded of one side at these marches. It is considered a provocation if any attendees attempt to make any demands of the other side—the one that always violates ceasefires when they are agreed.

III. A Cure for Naivety

Is there any solution to the problem of the peace-marching fellow traveller? Decades ago, in the early years of the Cold War, Arthur Koestler proposed one. In a foreword to Stalin’s Russia, a 1949 book by the French political scientist Suzanne Labin, Koestler recalled being asked by a former friend who had remained in the Party how he would punish communist sympathisers if he had the power to do so. Evidently, Koestler’s acquaintance had been in the Party so long that he had forgotten there existed regimes which did not subject political opponents to persecution. Instead of the Gulag, Koestler recommended a year of forced reading, not of anti-communist or anti-Soviet books or periodicals, but exclusively of “reading matter authorised by the Soviet government” for domestic consumption. A year of mental imprisonment in the world of Soviet domestic propaganda would, Koestler believed, effect a complete cure on almost any subject.

It was natural to want to believe, like Picasso, that if only you could defeat the “warmongers” in your own country, then the leaders and propagandists of world communism would stop accusing you of “fascism,” and you could settle down to peaceful co-existence with their empire. But to maintain such a belief, it was necessary to avoid any inconvenient exposure to evidence that Soviet leaders remained committed to the doctrines they regularly espoused in their domestic propaganda. If you were to sit down and read one or two Soviet periodicals, you would be given pause for thought. If forced to struggle through 10 or 15, you would begin to see that, in their commitment to the struggle against the free world, Soviet propagandists were like Senator Joseph McCarthy on steroids.

Koestler’s cure for Soviet communism’s fellow travellers might have some utility in our own times, too. It would surely be easy to clear up any public doubt about the real worldview of, say, the Russian elite or Hamas, if an effective method could be found for sharing their own domestic propaganda with their international sympathisers. After all, a sojourn in Stalin’s Russia was usually enough to turn the most enthusiastic Western communists—from Eugene Lyons to Malcolm Muggeridge to Freda Utley—into the most passionate anti-communists.

There are those who believe that Hamas must have been driven to commit October 7th’s pogrom against Israeli Jews by an existential despair caused by the blockade of Gaza—a blockade that is entirely the result of Hamas’s penchant for using all of the Palestinians’ money to acquire materials with which to slaughter Jews. Hamas’s Western apologists could start by acquainting themselves with an English translation of the group’s 1988 foundational covenant. In case they are still in any doubt about the jihadists’ paranoid and genocidal commitments, they could then visit the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) website and listen to the speeches delivered by Hamas’s politicians, fighters, and clerics.

The Ideology of Mass Murder
Hamas and the origins of the October 7th attacks.

On MEMRI’s website, they can watch a Hamas leader in Lebanon, Abd Al-Hadi, announce that one of the goals of the October 7th pogrom was to kill the Abraham Accords. Or they can watch another Hamas leader explaining that the tunnels they have built are to protect jihadists, not shelter Palestinian civilians from Israeli bombardment. Or they can watch Hamas official Ghazi Hamad warning that October 7th was only a warm-up. And if they pay attention, they will find that Hamas is still an enemy of peace and negotiation, and still committed to killing all the Jews it can find and bringing the maximum of war and immiseration upon the Palestinians.

If the fellow travellers’ sympathy for genocidal rejectionism is not yet diminished, they could browse the textbooks given to Gazan schoolchildren (often at UNRWA schools), from which they learn to believe in the Protocols of Zion, hate Jews, deny the Holocaust, and aspire to martyrdom. Alternatively, they could watch the footage that Hamas themselves recorded on October 7th as they conducted their murderous assault, in which bestial crimes are accompanied by exclamations of “God Is Great.” 

Admittedly, this cure won’t work on everyone. Some will complain—indeed they are already doing so—that the videos that Hamas made for its own followers are, somehow, Israeli propaganda, and they will spread doubt about the atrocities the videos do and don’t depict. Nevertheless, the more clarity that we can give people about what they are marching for, the greater the chance that they will one day be inclined to ask themselves if it really has anything at all to do with peace.

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