I have often wondered what it would have been like to live through the Thirties. How would I have reacted to the annual Nuremberg Party rallies, the rants against the Jews, and Hitler’s foreign adventures which the democracies did nothing to oppose, the occupation of the Rhineland and Austria, Nazi support for Franco in the Spanish civil war, and the rest of it. Appeasement was then considered wise, and has only become a dirty word with hindsight. One of my heroes is Robert Byron, so passionate an anti-Nazi that in his passport he described his occupation as “warmonger.” He was to be killed in 1941. My own father, a man of literary and artistic sensitivities, wrote a letter in 1938 to the New Statesman, that perennially weak-kneed leftist publication, to denounce pacifism and appeasement, and to insist on re-arming. Doing other research, I came across this letter quite by chance, and I hope I would have been so minded at that time.
Now Iran is embarked on foreign adventures in Iraq and Syria and Lebanon. It is engaged on all-out armament programs, and is evidently hard at work developing the nuclear weapon that will give it a dimension of power that Hitler did not have. The latest unpleasant revelation on that front is that some months ago a huge shipment of uranium 238 from the Congo was due to be smuggled to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, but was intercepted in Tanzania. Appeasement is again considered wise. Israel’s attempt to get Iranian Hezbollah off its back is widely criticised as “disproportionate.” A clamour rises for hostilities to cease even though that means entrenching Hezbollah and allowing it to dictate the future course of events. In Malaysia, President Ahmedinejad informs a gathering of heads of Muslim states that the extermination of Israel is the solution to the crisis. Apparently nobody objected or even demurred: It might have been Goebbels addressing a group of gauleiters. Propaganda videos show Hezbollah columns goose-stepping in the streets, or else on parade in black uniforms, right arms raised in the Nazi salute. At least I know now what it was like to live through the Thirties.