[NOTEBOOK]Protest or Appease; but Please, Prepare

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[NOTEBOOK]Protest or Appease; but Please, Prepare

President Kim Dae-jung's repeated pleas for the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to visit Seoul and the multiple violations by North Korean vessels of the Northern Limit Line have left politicians engaged in a heated war of words. Some argue that the South should stand firm against the North to defend its sovereignty and dignity; others wish to appease the North through a policy of engagement and concession to some of its demands.

The situation reminds me of a time in history more than 60 years ago. A policy of appeasement was pursued by the British prime minister of the time, Neville Chamberlain, who served from May 1937 to April 1940. In an attempt to avoid war, he acceded to the demands of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, strengthening their positions and eventually leading to World War II.

Mr. Chamberlain agreed on April 16, 1938, to recognize Italy's armed invasion of Ethiopia, setting an unfortunate precedent by accepting that a country could commit horrible atrocities first and then justify and negotiate its way around them after the fact.

Mr. Chamberlain met with Adolf Hitler in September 1938 at Munich, Germany. He and Premier Edouard Daladier of France granted almost all of Hitler's demands and signed the Munich Pact on Sept. 30. With this agreement, Germany became the ruler of Czechoslovakia's northwestern territory. Because the two leaders feared that they would be drawn into war with Germany if they rejected the demands, they left Czechoslovakia, an ally, defenseless. Yet Mr. Chamberlain was hailed as a hero in Britain because his appeasement policy was thought to have prevented war. He claimed that he had introduced an era of "peace with honor." Sadly, that peace did not last long.

Hitler despised Britain and France for their appeasement policies, treating them as pushovers. Nazi Germany invaded Czecho-slovakia in March 1939 and attacked Poland in September, raising the curtain to the disastrous nightmare of World War II. More than 30 million people were killed in this war.

An Arabian allegory illustrates Mr. Chamberlain's mistake. In the fable, a man and his camel go camping. The man allows the camel to stick its head into the tent. The camel gradually inches further inside, and finally the man is himself pushed all the way out of the tent to die of cold in the open.

Yet, Mr. Chamberlain was not a foolish leader. Although his policy of appeasement failed, he succeeded in preparing thoroughly for possible war. After he returned from Munich, he implemented a program to strengthen the army. And when Hitler annexed Czechoslovakia, he immediately gave up his appeasement policy with no lingering regrets, vowing that he would not be deceived again.

He then imposed unprecedented peacetime conscription in Britain. Because of this military preparation, Britain was able to withstand Germany's aerial attacks and attempts to invade from the beginning. He declared war against Germany on Sept. 3, 1939 and remained in his post until April 1940, when he handed over leadership of the war cabinet to his opponent and critic, Winston Churchill. Although Mr. Cham-berlain failed to win the battle, he succeeded nevertheless in making sure the country was on special alert against the enemy.

Even as he pursued the appeasement policy he was preparing for the worst. When he determined that his policy was a failure, he resolutely and immediately changed his mind, rather than try to justify and excuse his past missteps. Therefore, his name is still remembered in our history.

At this point, there is still room for argument about whether hard-line or appeasement policies are most appropriate in our dealings with the North. However, no one can possibly deny that we must remain in control of the situation by preparing for any possible outcome.


The writer is a deputy international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Chae In-taek

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