In this week’s episode, the editors discuss Mark Tooley’s conversation with Tim Bouverie, author of Appeasement: Chamberlain, Hitler, Churchill, and the Road to War. They also review a podcast Marc LiVecche and Mark Melton recorded about “The Liberator,” which came out on Netflix in November. Then LiVecche talks about his recent article on the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

Rough Transcript

Tooley: Hello this is Mark Tooley, editor of Providence: A Journal of Christianity & American Foreign Policy, with another episode of Marksism, with fellow Mark(c)s and fellow editors, Marc LiVecche and Mark Melton, discussing three topics this week. Firstly, my interview with the author of a new book on appeasement 1939 and its lessons. Also, addressing a new Netflix cartoon mini-series called The Liberator. And finally, and perhaps more comprehensively, addressing the ethics of the assassination of an Iranian nuclear weapons official. I will start out with myself talking about appeasement, my interview with young British journalist and historian Tim Bouverie, who published a new and I think wonderful, comprehensive history of how Britain came to the 1939 appeasement with Adolf Hitler, knocking down some misconceptions held by some that perhaps Chamberlain was being shrewdly strategic and delaying war until Britain was armed. In fact, he was not. He was a true believer in the appeasement cause and naively believed that he was uniquely qualified to bring peace in persuading Hitler of his cause. Perhaps most interestingly, I asked Tim Bouverie if the West, especially America and Britain, have perhaps super imposed too many exaggerated lessons on appeasement 1939, leading them to believe that any adversary is the moral equivalent and strategic threat of Adolf Hitler and therefore must be treated accordingly, often leading to perhaps arguably unnecessary conflicts or at least exaggerated rhetoric and expectations. He made the case that, yes, perhaps some lessons have been unwise lessons. He mentioned Britain’s expedition into Suez 1956, where Colonel Nasser was often compared to Adolf Hitler and must not be accommodated as the British and French tried to retrieve the Suez Canal from him unsuccessfully, of course. America has used the lessons of appeasement to justify the Korean War, the Vietnam War, both Iraq Wars. I personally would defend all four of those conflicts on a certain level. But to say that our adversaries in those conflicts were the equivalent of the Third Reich would certainly be an exaggeration. And although I didn’t have the nerve to mention it with Tim Bouverie, certainly the Falkland Islands War. There were British Members of Parliament who compared the Argentinian junta to fascists and to the Third Reich, whose seizure of the Falkland Islands must not be tolerated, treating it like another Czechoslovakia. Britain, I believe, was justified in overturning Argentina’s seizure of the Falkland Islands, but of course, the Argentine colonels were not the moral or strategic equivalent of Hitler or the Third Reich. So, Mark Melton, Marc LiVecche, what lessons of appeasement do you draw?

LiVecche: Well, I’m glad to hear you push back against this assertion that really all we managed to do is to learn the opposite or to make the opposite errors of the original error of indulging in appeasement. I think you’re right. I think a lot of American foreign policy has not been overreach. He’s certainly right, and the point taken, that we need not compare every one of our enemies to sort of the morally existential threat of Adolf Hitler. And I think that says something unfortunate probably about either the American psyche or what our political leaders believe about the American psyche, that we won’t sort of go forth to war unless we are threatened to some significant level or facing a crisis such as the Second World War. That’s unfortunate. There are smaller scale actions that still need to be taken without gestured quite so an apocalyptic threat.

Tooley: So, according to Christian realism, some wars are justified without it being a morally absolutist situation?

LiVecche: Yeah, I mean, there have been times in my parenthood that I’ve simply scolded my children. I didn’t have to always ground them for a week. They don’t always do such magnificently terrible things. This touches a little bit on Robert Nicholson’s thing, he said it several times, I referenced it I guess in my assassination piece, where our foreign policy doesn’t have to always be centered on winning some magnificent victory. There are smaller scale actions that can be taken with far more modest goals. Pushing Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait needn’t be an epic undertaking. We don’t need to go rile ourselves to the drums of war with, again, the apocalyptic sort of threat.

Tooley: And it has been argued that the Vietnam War, for example, although having failed to save South Vietnam, did allow regimes in Indonesia, and Malaysia, and Thailand, and elsewhere to gain stability during those years. Otherwise, they may have been more vulnerable to communist insurgencies. So, a more nuanced perspective on the Vietnam War, perhaps. Mark Melton, do you have any personal lessons on appeasement?

Melton: Well, I mean, just as you were talking, I was thinking about how all these wars have so many different things in them. It’s hard to sometimes draw direct parallels between World War Two to every single conflict. It’s better to, really if you’re going to study all this international relations stuff, you have to look at dozens and dozens of wars. Kind of like you just mentioned, the Suez Canal crisis, I think Mike Doran wrote a book a couple years ago that I did a review of where he basically makes the argument that the British were right and the Americans were wrong. And sometimes you don’t know if you know the right answer going into it. There’s a certain amount of risk that you have to take, and you don’t necessarily know, like in the Suez Crisis, we might have good intelligence that Nasser isn’t going to treat us very well, but we probably have a lot of intelligence at the same time, have a lot of other actors, who weren’t going to treat us very well, but we still kind of worked with them. And sometimes it worked out. Sometimes it didn’t. I think the biggest lesson in all of this is that you have to be flexibly strategic in that you can offer an open hand to people, but you’ve got to be able to respond forcefully if necessary.

Tooley: Absolutely. Mark Melton, tell us briefly about your impending podcast on this Liberator cartoon series on Netflix.

LiVecche: Melton, give it to him, animated feature.

Tooley: For children and adults.

Melton: I don’t know. I’m not sure what aged children should be watching this, but I’ll let the parents make that decision. So, it is a Netflix series called The Liberator which came out on Veterans Day about this guy who later became a brigadier general called Felix Sparks. And it’s about this invasion, first off starting in Italy. You have the invasion of southern France going into Germany, and of course, I speak with Mark LiVecche, who apparently likes a lot of war movies and has a lot of thoughts on those. So, we talked about that, and we focus on the history for the most part. We talked about the animation part of it and kind of give it a little critique. I compare it to like anime where you have kind of adult themes in anime that you wouldn’t have in like Mickey Mouse cartoons. And that’s something that Americans may not, most Americans, probably don’t have a lot of familiarity or affinity toward. But for those who enjoy it, it’s there on Netflix. I would say it’s an average show. I think some people have critiqued it as being kind of a flat history telling. But I think the history behind it is very, very interesting. And it brings up a lot of Just War case studies of what should be done or should not be done. So, LiVecche and I kind of cover some of those. And so, for those people who are viewing this, go look us up. Let me see, we’re on Apple podcast, we’re on SoundCloud, we’re on Stitcher. I got us on there not that long ago. Overcast, that’s my favorite podcast platform. And then you can just go to Providence Magazine, I’ll probably try to drop it today or this weekend sometime, but at least by Monday it will be up.

Tooley: I look forward to it. And you’re providing a Christian realist analysis of The Liberator, no doubt.

Melton: Yeah, we talk about some Just War stuff.

Tooley: Marc LiVecche, tell us about your analysis of the mysterious assassination of the director of the Iranian nuclear weapons program.

LiVecche: Yeah. I note that the assassination of the Iranian scientist whose name, out of respect to his passing, I’m not going to attempt to pronounce. His assassination has engendered a lot of conversation about first, simply the topic of assassination broadly. Some of the work I’m doing here at the Naval Academy at the Stockdale Center, the week of the hit happened to coincide with the week in which in our ongoing discussions about the ethics of espionage, we happen to be talking about targeted killings and assassination. I think assassination holds a particularly grim place in a lot of ethicists’ minds. It’s a different activity than the normal activity generally found in killing, in which you kill more or less an anonymous enemy. For all sorts of justified reasons, with assassination, you’re targeting a named person and killing them because they happen to be that named person. And this named person is associated with whatever particularly heinous activity warrants their assassination. Some people find that to be a violation of the idea of the moral equality of soldiers. That they’re fighters; are not criminals. That they don’t deserve to be targeted for who they are. I pushed aside a lot of that. I said they can’t be separated from what they do. I point out the, if not imminent threat which is always another concern with things like this, that this particular scientist posed no imminent threat, so therefore he wasn’t liable to be killed. I point out that if not an imminent threat, the threat he posed was grave, particularly to Israel, for instance. This particular scientist was not involved directly anymore in the nuclear program per se, but he was apparently attempting to fit nuclear missiles, warheads to missiles, to be able to missile-ize their nuclear threat, that was a grave harm to Israel. I’m not suggesting that Israel has necessarily done this, but if they did, I outline a number of reasons why I think it would be more appropriate for them to have done so. And I compare and contrast it a little bit with the Soleimani killing in January, where we took out the leader of the Quds Force. I think there are some comparisons and contracts that illuminate both subjects.

Tooley: You’re not providing a blanket moral authorization for assassination of anyone who’s unpleasant. But you’re saying in some unique and special circumstances, it may be justified?

LiVecche: Absolutely. And one of the conversations has been that if I were to justify the killing of this Iranian scientist because we happen to not like his missile program, doesn’t that warrant that Iran would turn around and be saying the same thing? “Well, we’re not terribly fond of your weapons program. We’re going to target American scientists.” I make a couple of distinctions there. One, this particular scientist did happen to be a general in the Revolutionary Guard. While this designation may well change in a few weeks, presently the Revolutionary Guard is considered a terrorist organization by the United States. His participation or membership in the army I don’t think is dispositive of the right to kill him. But he’s not an outright civilian. He is a fighter of some degree. So, that’s one difference. But the main difference that I tried to touch on is that just because America or Israel might be justified in doing something against Iran, reciprocity doesn’t necessarily automatically take place. Regime type matters. And I make the case that Israel and America are simply not the same regime as Tehran, and that there are certain things that we therefore are morally allowed to do that Tehran is simply not morally allowed to do. And I present what I think is a truism, that if in the Iranian-Israeli conflict, Iran decided to disarm unilaterally against Israel, there would no longer be a conflict between Israel and Iran. Whereas if Israel decided to unilaterally disarm against Iran, that would probably be no more Israel. I think that matters.

Tooley: I’m going to violate the rule of never making Nazi comparisons, but you’re saying that it’s possible to justify Britain’s assassination of, say, Reinhard Heydrich in Prague, the Nazi Gauleiter, but that wouldn’t automatically justify the Germans assassinating Anthony Eden in London.

LiVecche: Correct. The Germans may feel it does, but that simply, from a moral standpoint, does not make them equivalent. So, an absolutely appropriate use of the old fascist comparison.

Tooley: Sometimes appropriate, but typically not. Well, thank you, gentlemen, for another intriguing Marksism conversation. Until next week, bye-bye.

LiVecche: Take care.