Recalling another villain


AFTER AN UNPROVOKED invasion of neighboring lands, allied forces joined to launch a response. The aggressor was soundly defeated and subjected to sanctions to ensure that it could no longer rise as a military power. Inspectors were sent in by the victors to insure compliance.

But their jobs were difficult. "Every form of deception and every obstacle baffled the Allied Commission," wrote one observer. "The work of evasion became thoroughly organized. ... .

"Under a civilian camouflage an organization was set up to safeguard weapons and equipment. ... Even more ingenuity was used to create machinery for future production of war material," he continued.

That was not a member of the Bush administration complaining about Iraq in the years after the Persian Gulf War. It was Winston Churchill writing about Germany in the years after World War I.

The failure to react to Hitler's aggression in the mid-1930s was the iconic foreign policy mistake of that generation. Instead of standing up to the bully, his war-weary European neighbors did nothing, emboldening the Nazi leader for the invasions that led to the catastrophe of World War II.

It is a mistake that informs many of the arguments in favor of going to war against Iraq - that now is the time to confront Saddam Hussein, before he grows into a menace that could threaten the entire region, perhaps the world. Whether or not that analysis is correct, the parallels to the events that led to World War II are striking.

"Most people are familiar with the restraints on German rearmament imposed after World War I," said Jeffrey Johnson, a historian at Villanova University. "What many people are not familiar with is that it also entailed an international inspection regime which was written into the Treaty of Versailles," the 1919 agreement that brought a formal end to the Great War and, among other things, set up the ill-fated League of Nations, predecessor to the United Nations.

The restrictions on the German military were comprehensive, covering the size of armed forces and the number of armaments as well as factories and other industrial facilities. "What went on after World War I was the first attempt at this kind of systematic disarmament and inspection of a defeated enemy," Johnson said. "It does have some interesting parallels to what is going on today. The Germans made many attempts to minimize the damage."

Johnson said the allies were concerned about the manufacture of explosives as well as the elements of the poison gas that had been used to devastating effect in World War I.

Poison gases

It is the modern equivalent of these poison gases - the chemical and biological weapons - that many fear Iraq now possesses. And there was a post-World War I equivalent of the U.N. inspection team scouring Iraq looking for the prohibited weapons.

"The treaty set up what was called the Inter-Allied Military Control Commission, which was subdivided into a number of different commissions and sub-commissions with specific specialities," Johnson said.

Germany was limited to a 100,000-man army.

Churchill - who in an earlier incarnation as head of the Colonial office drew the lines that created Iraq - was an early voice against the appeasement of Hitler. He became an inspirational leader as Britain's prime minister during World War II.

Writing in The Gathering Storm, the first of six volumes in his account of World War II, Churchill said that the foundations of the German military machine that overran much of Europe in 1939 and 1940 were built by evading the treaty limitations in the 1920s. He credited German Gen. Hans von Seekt with laying out the blueprints for getting around the restrictions and bamboozling the inspectors who were supposed to enforce them.

"As early as 1921 Seekt was busy planning, in secret and on paper, a full-size German army, and arguing deferentially about his various activities with the Inter-Allied Military Commission of Control," Churchill wrote.

Von Seekt envisioned the limited army as forming a well-trained officer corps to lead what would eventually become a full-size force. But he faced treaty-imposed restrictions on training.

"New principles of training and instructional courses of all kinds were introduced," Churchill wrote. "All the existing training manuals were rewritten not for the hundred-thousand army, but for the armed might of the German Reich."

Churchill said manuals that met the restrictions were printed for public consumption. "Those for internal consumption were secret," he wrote.

Other subterfuges included using civilian aviation programs and glider training for pilots for an air force that the treaty banned. Similar tactics were used to evade restrictions on a navy.

Jay Lockenour, a historian at Temple University, said the Germans also used an alliance with the hated communists of the Soviet Union in the 1920s to get around the treaty provisions.

"They were cooperating secretly," he said. "The Germans would go out in Russia and try out new equipment like tanks and airplanes. That's where the Germans got excited about paratroopers, which they used early in the war to great effect."

In return, the Soviet officers were trained by the German staff on how to run an army.

Johnson said the allied inspection effort accomplished a lot. "They actually did dismantle a lot of factories, took apart equipment," he said. "Production facilities for munitions and chemical warfare were forcibly dismantled. The vast majority of equipment was systematically destroyed."

But, he said, the biggest problem was the dual-use factories - plants that could be used to make civilian and war material. "The Germans didn't exactly say they were just making baby food," Johnson said, but they managed to keep their chemical industry largely intact.

He tells the tale of Fritz Haber, who won the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1918 for synthesizing ammonia although he had just been involved in making poison gas used in World War I.

Johnson said that, as some Iraqi scientists have done, Haber met with inspectors. "It was clear he told some but not all of the story," Johnson said. "He was very careful."

Still, when Hitler went public with the rearmament of Germany in 1935, the restrictions hurt his effort. "He didn't have much in his navy in the way of major ships," said James Harris, a historian of modern Germany at the University of Maryland, College Park. "He didn't have tanks or airplanes in large numbers. He had to go into crash production. ... He expanded very rapidly in a way that made a joke out of some of equipment that fell apart."

The allied armies could have probably crushed Germany easily at that point. When Hitler's troops marched into the Rhineland, they had orders to retreat if they faced any opposition. But no one challenged the Germans. The same happened in 1938 when Hitler went into Czechoslovakia. A year later, his armed forces now well-honed, Germany invaded Poland and World War II had begun.

Comparing two eras

Some eschew the comparison between the two eras. "Iraq is not Germany," said Harris. "That was a state of 60 million people in 1932. More than that, it was arguably at the time one of the top two or three countries in the world in terms of modern industrial production. Iraq is not in the same ballpark."

Moreover, despite the reluctance of many nations to go to war against Iraq, Harris does not sense the same complacency that gripped the allies in the years before World War II.

"At that time period, everybody remembered the devastation of the First World War," he said. "That doesn't exist today. Nobody is paralyzed by that."

Lockenour agrees. "Saddam is not nearly as powerful, and I think is being much more closely watch," he said

But John Hulsman, Research Fellow in U.S.-European Relations at the Heritage Foundation, disagrees.

"I think the analogy is actually frighteningly apt," Hulsman said. "The Europeans who are against this have learned the wrong historical lesson. They have such an entrenched notion that we must no longer do anything militarily, but that's not the problem. The problem is stopping problems before they become crises.

"Europe in the '30s is a prime example. They were so eager to avoid war, they made the situation far worse, into a tragedy. ... They forget that it was appeasement that led to German militarization."

Hulsman said that Saddam Hussein never accepted his defeat in the gulf war, and that the same was true of Germany after World War I.

"Some countries looked the other way, refusing to deal with the problems in the aftermath of the other war," he said. "Hitler divided the world community and continued along his merry way rearming. It is an exact analogy to Iraq."

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