About two-thirds the way through U.S. President Barack Obama’s second inaugural speech, he echoed words spoken almost 75 years earlier by another world leader; words that would soon ring hollow for all who heard them.
In 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned to London after meeting with Germany’s Adolf Hitler in Munich. A world fearing it was on the brink of war was assured by Chamberlain he had negotiated an agreement with Hitler, assuring “peace in our time.”
Known as the Munich Agreement, it was a complete surrender of England’s commitment to help defend an ally by allowing Germany to annex Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland. Chamberlain gave in to Hitler’s demands as the German chancellor made it clear war was the only other option.
History records the peace Chamberlain negotiated was short-lived as Hitler used the agreement as a stepping stone to a war he desperately sought.
The freedom of the Czechoslovakian people was a pawn sacrificed by democracies eager to preserve peace at any cost.
In his Jan. 21 inaugural speech, Obama said: “We will support democracy from Asia to Africa; from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom. And we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice — not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes: tolerance and opportunity; human dignity and justice.”
Chillingly reminiscent of Chamberlain’s failed foreign policy was Obama’s reference to “peace in our time.”
Neither strategic interest nor national conscience prompted democracies to act on behalf of Czechoslovakia 75 years ago nor do they prompt democracies to act today “on behalf of those who long for freedom.”