WWII Groundhog Day – Starring Barack Obama in the role of Neville Chamberlain?


I was in the first wave of the Baby Boom Generation. We grew up having all of the adults in our lives being those who had seen the U.S. and its allies through to victory in WWII. Naturally, we were taught a lot about that historic conflict and the events leading up to it. Although it was exciting to have much of that information passed along first-hand, directly from the participants, you could only imagine what it was like to actually live through the experience yourself. I have to admit to some ongoing and perhaps perverse, ambivalence about that. On one hand, I was thankful to have been spared the horrors and hardships we heard about. On the other hand, I felt that I had missed out on getting to go through a most interesting time in history.


As it’s become more and more apparent that the once menacing threat represented by ISIL is no longer a threat but is, in fact, an evil and deadly reality, that’s been disturbing enough on its own. Making it even more disturbing to me is seeing the similarity of these circumstances to events leading up to WWII. It’s been giving me the sense that I may actually end up living through an experience like (or most likely worse than) WWII. No doubt, it would be an “interesting” time but, considering the horrors and hardships that have already come with it, I’m left without any desire to go through something like this myself.


When considering the similarities between how pre-WWII western leaders dealt with the Nazis and how today’s western leaders have been dealing with the peril of Islamic Radicalism, I first thought of Neville Chamberlain. He was the UK’s Prime Minister in that day, whose approach to Hitler’s Germany was typified by inaction, while hoping for the best. Looking back, you can see how Chamberlain’s attitude developed. He was the leader of a war-weary nation. Although WWI ended more than a decade before Hitler came to power, the thought of WWI turning out not to be “the war to end all wars” was most distasteful. With that attitude, Chamberlain sought to conciliate Nazi Germany and make them a partner in a stable Europe. Understandable as that may be, this approach resulted in Hitler’s regime annexing and/or invading more and more of Europe from March of 1936 until May of 1940, when Chamberlain resigned as Prime Minister, with the UK in an official state of war with Germany.


Much as was the case with a war-weary pre-WWII England, approaching the second decade of this century, in the U.S., we found ourselves with a greatly diminished appetite for continuing in the armed conflict we’ve known in the Middle East since the early 1990s. With that, Barack Obama was elected President for two terms and with a Chamberlain-like hoping for the best theme, he removed our military forces from Iraq. As it became apparent that this approach was producing results similar to those realized by Chamberlain, Obama’s response was also Chamberlain-like – i.e. Seeking stability through conciliation and attempts at partnering. Otherwise, the response to hostility was typified by inaction. Here too, while you can see how Obama’s approach developed, it has resulted in hostiles viciously taking over much of Iraq and Syria, with an aim for much more. Although that doesn’t add up to an Obama resignation being in the offing, finally and thankfully, it’s led to him seeking a coalition of allies who are willing to take action.


America’s Marshall Plan for European post-WWII Recovery


The key to the error made by both Chamberlain and Obama is that when you decide you’re done with warring, you have to be sure the other guy is quitting too. Additionally, before you pack up your military and go home, you have to finish the job. That means not just declaring victory but getting the other guy’s surrender and then maintaining the presence needed to achieve true stability. The best example of how to do this properly was provided by those same folks who raised me and my generation – i.e. The Greatest Generation. As a result, our WWII adversaries; Germany, Italy and Japan; aren’t just stable, they are clearly first-world nations and they are among our strongest allies.


But, that’s not where we are with the reality of Islamic Radicalism in the world today. Of course, I wish that, instead of the exit strategy he did follow in Iraq, President Obama had followed the post-WWII example set by the Greatest Generation. But he didn’t and there’s no point in going through the woulda, coulda, shoulda cycle. That’s like trying to unscramble an egg. What’s most important is taking decisive action now. The approach Chamberlain took with Hitler’s Germany went on for over four years before he resigned and the UK went to war with Germany. Tragically, that led to tens of millions dying at the hands of Nazis in WWII and in the Holocaust. Although the emergence of ISIL has been startlingly brutal, it’s been relatively brief. If Obama proceeds in forming a coalition of allies who are willing to take action now, hopefully, that will mean avoiding repeating the tragic carnage of the Nazis.


Reportedly, a major next-step in Obama’s new-found Islamic State strategy will be his meeting with Capitol Hill leaders on Tuesday. Maybe I’m reading too much into this but I’m encouraged by Obama planning this step. To me, it appears that he’s trying to utilize what I call “the strength that made America great in the first place, the synergy of the best of our differing ideas” instead of just defaulting to the party/branch-of-government polarization that has become all too common. Regardless, it’s a must for Obama to humbly continue in developing a thorough and well thought out strategy to decisively meet this overwhelmingly daunting and extremely complex challenge. I say “humbly continue” in recognition of the fact that humility has been required for Obama to focus on war in Iraq, a war he was elected to end. With that in mind, I hope he will maintain that attitude, looking beyond his pride to consider alternatives, even including the successful strategies employed by his predecessor.


Filed under Current Events, leadership

5 Responses to WWII Groundhog Day – Starring Barack Obama in the role of Neville Chamberlain?

  1. Ann Donnelly

    An even stronger analogy is that of Russia under Putin, similar to the moves of Hitler into the demilitarized zone, then Austria, then the Sudentanland, then Poland, then the rest of Europe. So what we have is ISIS plus Putin, each of which is analogous to the build up to WW II. Great column.

    Ann Donnelly

    • Thanks, Ann. Great points! Frankly, I had a hard time deciding where to stop the “those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it” analogies. I decided to limit it to IS because I think they should be the highest priority and to keep the article short enough that it’s more likely to be read.

  2. Al

    You might also consider this ISIL takeover situation as a “hybrid” of WWI and WWII. The Turks are funding and supporting ISIL (return of the Ottoman Empire, version II?) along with rich sympathizers in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The Muslim Brotherhood (formed in Egypt well before WWII started) supported Hitler and provided him with SS operatives in northern Africa during WWII.

    You are correct, the similarities are there in Obama’s lack of commitment and who he has chosen to speak for his Administration with the rest of the world’s leadership – Secretary of State John Kerry. Kerry conducts international meetings and presents himself when he meets with the enemy very similar to Chamberlain. I would equate the initial bombing of London to our 9/11. Our current enemy wants to establish a world-wide nation-state (Islam Caliphate)

    Chamberlain was the exact opposite of Churchill in political philosophies and international realtions. Churchill saved Great Britain, who will save the UK in the next world war scenario? Who will save America from Islamic takeover?

    In may ways, the US mirrored Chamberlain’s attitudes and strategic policies just after the Great Depression (we were pre-WWII “pacifists” until France was taken over by the Nazi’s and Japan conducted a surprise air attack on Pearl Harbor.)

    It’s a strange world we live in today — many Americans (young and old) seem to have dismissed the 9/11/2001 attacks as a one-time event. Few voters have actually read the Muslim Koran (Qur’an) or have sought to understand Sharia Law that are the basis of ISIL’s rules of warfare, totalitarian rule establishment, and world-wide governance objectives.

    I think Obama’s strategy is to ride the fence. Unlike Chamberlain though, Obama wrote in his book (before he took any Federal Government office) who he will side with if the Muslims demand their Caliphate and get push-back from western world cultures that are not Islamic states.

    I talked with an 84-year old Christian friend yesterday about Obama’s self-proclaimed religious/world order leanings and he still doesn’t get it. Our church is under DHHS and IRS attack, and my friend’s tolerance of the agencies’ micro-management and blatant persecution against non-profit church community service organizations makes me sad…

  3. tomncdcs

    I concur with Al that the similarities begin with prior to WWI but not only with the Turks but with a presidency run by an “Administrator.” Many forget or do not study to understand that Wilson was led by the nose with Edward Mandell House holding the line just as Valerie Jarret does with Obama. The course that House ran in leading Wilson gave us much of the ilk that plagues us today. And now, we have invasion at the borders with terrorist hidden in the crowds.

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