We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it - and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove lid. She will never sit on a hot stove lid again - and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore.
I trust you enjoyed Secretary Rumsfeld's history lecture as much as I.
Because I suspect that, like me, you think the only thing which improves being told you haven't learned the lessons of History is hearing it from someone who learned his at the feet of Parson Weems. Not to mention the added enjoyment of hearing a man whose every single public utterance on Iraq has proven to be full of shite criticize a bunch of dead guys for not accurately predicting just what a paragon of evil Adolph Hitler would be in twenty years' time.
The problem for Rummy is that one thing History is good at is debunking the use of history, especially recent history, as hagiography or anti-hagiography. Not even so great a monster as Adolph himself is denied his good points--dynamic speaker, well-organized, easy to turn a smiley-face into. So, once again, an historical defense (if not entirely robust) of the Right Honourable Neville Chamberlain, Conservative PM:
[I apologize for the haphazard nature of the list, and its probable incompleteness, but I've spent most of the last 36 hours reading the apologies, denunciations, and demands for retraction which Right Blogtopia erupted in as soon as a Bush administration official played the Hitler card. Hey, apologies accepted; no need to go overboard. Besides, we understand they're not really your guys. Any more.]
1. Chamberlain didn't have much of a choice. The French had no intention of doing anything but sit behind the Maginot Line, the Russians had signed a non-aggression pact with Germany. Britannia still ruled the waves, but she did not have an army or the money to train and equip one.
2. All of what was given to Hitler in Munich and before was justified--if somewhat dubiously--by the exceeding unfairness of the Treaty of Versailles. (It's curious that one never hears about the lack of basic international fairness leading to the rise of Hitler, just Neville and his damned bumbershoot. For the Right, history always begins when they say it does.) By 1939, when the Germans took Prague, thereby stepping outside the terms of Versailles for the first time, the UK response was more belligerent, if not sufficiently so to our post-war way of thinking. The British did not have a mutual defense pact with Czechoslovakia. France did.
3. There was enormous, and enormously justified, public sentiment against The Great War which is rather conveniently forgotten in a country which arrived for only the tail end of the horrors, and by a Defense Secretary who was mimeographing his signature to dead soldiers' families before he was caught at it.
4. Hitler was seen as a bastion against the greater threat of Communist Russia, something the modern Right in this country ought to be honest enough to congratulate Chamberlain for.
5. Chamberlain, unquestionably, hewed to the Peace line after it stopped being tenable. The Munich Agreement proved to be a disaster, but it was undertaken not as a matter of unilateral airy-fairy daisy-garland manufacture but for reasons which turned out to be drastically misfounded, though not outright fabrications. It should be noted, however, that once Chamberlain's ideas had been demolished by the German invasion of the Low Countries, once events had shown how short his leadership had been of the mark, he had the basic decency to accept responsibility and resign.