Why ignore lessons from years ago?
by Salim Mansur
Into the ninth year since the menace of Islamism spilled out well beyond the borders of the Arab-Muslim world, the West and the U.S. in particular continue to be incoherent about how to respond.
To get a sense of this incoherence in dealing with Islamism effectively, we need to recall how the west, led by the U.S., dealt with a far greater existential challenge from the Bolshevik-Communist threat of the Soviet Union armed with nuclear might.
At the end of the war against Hitler's Germany, Europe lay in smouldering ruins, its population terrorized, broken and displaced. The war against Japan in Asia and the Pacific ended with A-bombs and complemented the devastation in Europe. The human toll of the war is estimated to have been more than 70 million dead.
The war that began with Hitler's army invading Poland ended with Stalin's army taking Berlin and dividing Europe in half. The spectre of Bolshevik-Communism that had loomed over Europe since 1917 became real in 1945 as the eastern half of the continent traded one form of totalitarian tyranny for another.
But for the generation of Americans, Canadians, Brits and others — now remembered rightly as the greatest generation — and their leaders, however exhausted by the ordeal of 1939-45, the task of holding the line against tyranny had to be met in defence of freedom, and it was met.
In March 1946, Winston Churchill, then out of office, travelled to Fulton, Mo., and U.S. president Harry Truman's home state. At Westminster College, Churchill gave his now famous "The Sinews of Peace" speech in which he warned Americans of the communist peril in Europe divided by an iron curtain.
Churchill understood the nature of totalitarian communism as he had of European fascism during the 1930s. Truman took Churchill's warning to heart and so did that generation of Americans.
The following year in July 1947, George Kennan, an American diplomat, published an essay titled "The Sources of Soviet Conduct" in Foreign Affairs magazine. Kennan had studied Russia all his life, spoke the language and served in Moscow from 1944 to 1946 as the chief of U.S. mission.
Kennan had witnessed the brutal nature of Soviet ideology and watched the display of its expansionist ambitions. He provided the Truman administration with the intellectual foundation for what became the policy of containing the Soviet Union.
Years of European appeasement and American isolationism had brought a devastated world to the cliffhanger between freedom and tyranny in 1945.
Yet that generation rose to the occasion. It met the challenge of communism, implemented the containment policy, provided resources such as the Marshall Plan for the recovery of Europe, fielded armies in freedom's defence, helped end colonialism, founded the United Nations and laid the institutional framework for democracy and developmental assistance around the world.
Soviet Communism was contained and defeated. Chinese communists eventually became capitalist freeloaders. And almost without exception, people around the world came to want democracy, irrespective of how well or poorly they understood its workings.
In retrospect, it is remarkable — in contrast to the present western incoherence against Islamism — how quickly the greatest generation grasped the threat posed by Soviet Communism and responded with a coherent policy that prevailed.