Commentary Magazine


Israel/Czechoslovakia

To the Editor:

In his article, “Czechoslovakia 1938-Israel 1980” [August], Steven Plaut writes that the Czechoslovak state, like Israel, was a country recreated hundreds of years after it had been destroyed, that Czechoslovakia had been an independent country until 1620 when it was conquered by Austria and recreated as a result of the collapse of the Hapsburg empire.

Bohemia was a kingdom whose throne was ascended to by a Hapsburg in 1526. In 1618 the Czech Protestant nobility attempted to overthrow the rule of the Catholic Hapsburgs. The Hapsburgs achieved a decisive military victory at the Battle of the White Mountain in 1620. Systematic repression of Czech national life followed. As the Czechs were subjected to Germanization, the Slovaks were subjected to Magyarization. Slovakia was part of Hungary until 1918. While Thomas Masaryk worked for Czech independence, Father Andrej Hlinka was striving for Slovakian independence. He was opposed to a centralized Czechoslovak state. Consequently, the new state, which also included large numbers of non-Czech and non-Slovak people, was first called Czecho-Slovakia to indicate the equality of Czechs and Slovaks.

The historical fact is that there was no Czechoslovakia until it was created in 1918.

Robert A. Bauer
Organization for International Economic Relations
Washington, D.C.

_____________

 

To the Editor:

. . . It is truly remarkable how Western leaders in 1980 sound and behave like their counterparts of the 1930’s. The leadership of this generation, just as that of the 30’s, assumes that a totalitarian society can be satisfied with minor territorial revisions; the reality is exactly the opposite. Just as the Sudetenland did not satisfy Germany in 1938, it is equally true that the dismemberment of Israel will not satisfy the PLO, the Arab world, or their Soviet patrons in 1980.

The weakness of the West is not only reflected in its groveling for Arab oil, but also in its lack of understanding that a show of weakness strengthens Moscow’s resolve to bite off more adjacent land masses, i.e., Afghanistan.

We have yet to learn the lessons of the first two world wars of this century, namely, that Western failure of resolve and the desire to purchase “peace at any price” ultimately lead to a choice between all-out war or subjugation to world dominance by the then prevailing totalitarian society. Mr. Plaut has certainly forced us to focus on the frightening parallels between 1938 and 1980. . . .

Mark E. Schlussel
Southfield, Michigan

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To the Editor:

. . . Some of the comparisons Steven Plaut makes between Czechoslovakia in 1938 and Israel today are striking yet deceptive; others deserve to be filled in. It is doubtful, for example—and Mr. Plaut seems to agree—that within the developing momentum of the Czech-German conflict any kind of aggressive counteraction was ever feasible. . . . The specific causes of Czechoslovakia’s dismemberment are in part historical, in part symptomatic of a radical situation sweeping all Europe in the interwar period.

The Czechoslovak republic was one of several nation-states formed after the defeat of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy in 1918. . . . The new state was formed within its “historic” confines, with a “secure” mountainous border on its northern tier but with a German minority of three million, a potential fifth column, inside its borders. The new state also contained a predominantly Polish region in Silesia, which was continuously contested by Poland, and a large Hungarian minority in southern Silesia. This latter group was counterbalanced by the Slovak majority which was ethnically aligned with the Czechs yet differed from them in dialect, education, and also religious outlook. Nevertheless, Czechoslovakia’s progressive democratic set-up would have enabled it to survive such conflicts easily if it had been allowed a consistently tranquil period in which to develop.

However, starting with Wall Street’s Black Friday, the whole world was shaken by economic and then social upheavals, demagogic revulsions, and revisionist movements. . . . After only twenty years, the Czechoslovak republic was liquidated. Ironically, only the Soviet Union offered assistance, or lip-service. In 1939, the Czech “crown-lands” became a German protectorate, and Slovakia set itself up as a nominally independent but in reality Nazi-dominated separate state; the Poles and Hungarians had by then already seized their booty. Mr. Plaut fails to mention that in 1943 President Benes . . . signed a mutual-defense pact with Moscow. This provided the formal platform for the USSR’s subsequent domination of . . . Czechoslovakia. . . .

It should be realized that the global, socioeconomic tremors of our own era are and will be the decisive factors in the Middle East as well. . . . Fortunately, the Middle East today is not Europe in 1938 and this might help provide Israel with a breathing space. Israel perhaps lost a faint opportunity after the 1967 war to offer a substantive withdrawal in return for a collective agreement and also to rid itself of a too strong minority. It must now bide its time in the hope that global, strategic, social, and economic realignments might bring about mutual cooperation among the powers of the region. But this has not yet happened; even Israel’s paper peace wtih Egypt is fragile. . . . President Sadat must still hide behind an intellectual pan-Arab front whose religious and social schisms are exploitable only by the PLO.

What further hangs in the balance is the danger of another cycle of violent outbreaks as in 1939—an eventuality reckoned with by Israel’s armed forces in their demand for parity with the encircling military build-up. Any comparisons with the Czechoslovak republic must end here—but the fate of Czechoslovakia should not preclude intensive efforts to achieve a modus vivendi . . . in the hope that ultimately peace will prevail.

Walter Korn
San Mateo, California

_____________

 

Steven Plaut writes:

I am grateful to Mark E. Schlussel for his comments, and for the clarification of historical details contained in Robert A. Bauer’s letter. Whatever the actual status of the Bohemian population in the 16th and 17th centuries, the essential point of the Sudeten-Palestinian comparison remains: as in the late 1930’s, so today, the European democracies are attempting to buy themselves peace through appeasement. This appeasement takes the form of endorsing claims to the right of “self-determination” which are actually euphemisms for the most blatant form of aggression and imperialist ambition.

Walter Korn points out that the possibility of Czechoslovakia preventing Sudeten “self-determination” by launching a preemptive counterattack did not exist. But the same was not true for the other Western powers, in particular in the period following the German occupation of the Ruhr valley. Instead, the European powers chose appeasement and they in turn became the targets of German aggression.

More disturbing is Mr. Korn’s belief that Israel ignored an opportunity after 1967 to “rid itself” of its occupied territories and achieve a “collective agreement.” No such opportunity ever existed. If it had, it would have been seized. Indeed, the National Unity government ruling Israel after 1967 did vote unanimously to offer a complete withdrawal from all territories except Jerusalem in exchange for recognition and peace (Menachem Begin was a member of that cabinet). The Arab answer was the famous set of “nos” proclaimed at the Khartoum conference. In their current state of amnesia, the Western powers prefer to forget this earlier episode and to assert that Israel’s settlements are the only barrier to a resolution of the conflict.

Mr. Korn is also overly sanguine about the maintenance of Israel’s military “parity,” which has until now prevented the complete replication of the Sudeten analogue. Western policy currently seeks to weaken Israel’s strategic position as a means of extracting concessions from Israel’s so-called “intransigent” leadership. In fact, this policy only helps to strengthen the intransigence and raise the hopes of Arab leadership.

Perhaps the most ominous parallel between the current situation and the Sudeten conflict is the willingness of increasing numbers of Western intellectuals, including a number of American Jews, to offer knee-jerk endorsement of all claims to the right of “self-determination.” If all Arabs everywhere are entitled to “self-determination,” it must follow that Israel (and several other countries) could not exist—just as German “self-determination” ruled out independence for Czechoslovakia and Poland. Curiously, however, the Palestinians of Jordan are not deemed worthy of “self-determination” by their capricious European and American supporters.

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