Britain faced a terrible dilemma in 1938. Nazi Germany was preparing for war, threatening all of the countries around it. The immediate threat was that they would attack Czechoslovakia, a much smaller country bordering on Germany. England and France wanted to protect Czechoslovakia, but it appeared to do so would mean war with Germany. There were two roads ahead: one was to prepare for war; the second was appeasement—agree to the demands of the German government, sacrifice Czechoslovakia, and trust in German promises that it would not seek further conquests.
Congressional leaders, and the voters of America, face their own dilemma today. The federal government is borrowing 43 percent of every dollar it spends. [i] The national debt now exceeds the gross national product of the country.[ii] Continuing on this road, the country will go bankrupt. At first individual programs like student loans, Medicare and Social Security will have to be drastically reduced. Even more threatening will be America’s inability to fund its very powerful but very expensive military defense. The wishes of the country’s enemies will come true. Some will argue the U.S. can avoid this by simply printing money, and paying back all of its loans with near worthless paper money. Unfortunately as soon as those who loan to the country perceive that is our country’s strategy, future borrowing will be difficult or impossible—plunging a country that depends upon loans into bankruptcy.
We could declare war on this debt. We could pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting Congress and the President from spending so recklessly. We could begin a dramatic effort to cut back federal spending now and at least head in the direction of paying down the national debt. But doing this will require serious sacrifice and cost votes. In fact, it could cost politicians so many votes they won’t get re-elected. Their political enemies pounce whenever anyone suggests cutting federal spending—describing the poor families that will lose their homes, the veterans who will go uncared for, the children who will be hungry—if spending is cut. These politicians, elected by those who take money from the government but many of whom pay no taxes, care little for America’s fiscal future.
Others, more responsible, speak against the debt and were elected in the hopes that they could restrain it. But, ultimately, they face the dilemma. If they take strong steps to cut federal spending, they and their party may lose the next election. Given this political reality, they choose to do what Britain did in 1938—Appease! It is so pleasant to rely on the hope that surrender to threatening political demands now will somehow lead to a better future.
Britain’s Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, met with the leaders of Germany, France and Italy (but not Czechoslovakia!) in September 1938 just as Germany was threatening to invade that little country. Relying on Germany’s promise of future good behavior, Chamberlain agreed to German demands, coming home to cheering crowds proclaiming: “My good friends, for the second time in our history a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time.”
His political opponent, Winston Churchill, had a more accurate view:
“We have suffered a total and unmitigated defeat…you will find that in a period of time which may be measured by years, but may be measured by months, Czechoslovakia will be engulfed in the Nazi régime. We are in the presence of a disaster of the first magnitude…we have sustained a defeat without a war, the consequences of which will travel far with us along our road…we have passed an awful milestone in our history, when . . . the terrible words have for the time being been pronounced against the Western democracies: “Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting”. And do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.”
The cost of appeasement was great. German officers, who would have overthrown Hitler, backed down. Russia, realizing how undependable Western leaders were, aligned itself with Germany, which in turn led to Germany’s invasion of Poland and World War II.[iii] British public opinion turned bitterly against the appeasers. Germany’s leaders despised them. They have been vilified for generations. Bowing in appeasement to the unreasonable and unsustainable demands of your enemies only strengthens them and weakens you. It does not prevent the war. There will be a political war over the national debt. All of the talk, all of the promises, all of the baseless hopes that the big spenders now in charge in Washington will somehow relent in their rush to Debt Wreck are worthless. Vote for those who are willing to fight now!