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If you’re an armchair historian, get up and move around

Valley Forum

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By Andy Weinberger

 

In the midst of the flurry of events surrounding the apparent change in U.S.-Iranian relations, I couldn’t help but notice the inevitable: a letter to the editor, published in the Index-Tribune, in which the writer harkens back to Munich and the naïve agreement made between Neville Chamberlain and Adolph Hitler, the “peace in our time” episode, about which armchair historians love to yammer to this very day.

Those who can’t remember history, the writer lectures us dutifully, are bound to repeat it.

Well, er, okay, but first, let’s back up a minute and get our history straight. Let’s remember, it’s 2013. The United States and Iran today are in no way comparable to England and Germany in 1938. And let us further stipulate that it’s always a bad idea, when talking about current, events to inject Hitler into the discussion.

Hitler, we all agree, was a no-goodnik, and yes, there are other no-goodniks out there still. But comparisons are problematic. Was Gaddafi another Hitler? Castro? Ho Chi Minh? Saddam Hussein?

In my book, no. Cheap imitations. You could make a case that Stalin or Mao were statistically on the same level as Hitler – they murdered millions of people, after all, but mostly they were their own citizens.

Hitler, on the other hand, was a global menace, a hurricane, he was like, I don’t know, Genghis Khan. Hitler was after the whole ball of wax, which puts him into a different category altogether.

The guy who wrote the letter to the editor blithely compares Obama to Neville Chamberlain and the president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, to Hitler. You’ll excuse me if I beg to differ. Obama has shown himself to be pretty savvy, even ruthless, when it comes to dealing with terrorism.

Yes, he’s pulled us out of Iraq and is trying to extricate us from Afghanistan, but that’s not because he’s squishy when it comes to combat; he just doesn’t care for wars that are stupid and unwinnable.

As for Rouhani, I don’t think we know much about him, other than the fact that he was elected as a reformer – whatever that connotes in Tehran – and that he has offered to talk with our side to try to work things out.

Maybe we’ll be able to mend our fences with the Iranians, maybe not. But it seems to me that it can’t hurt to talk. After so many years of silence, there is a lot to talk about, a lot of painful history on both sides that needs healing. The worst thing we could do, however, would be to lapse automatically into tired old stereotypes before anyone has even opened his mouth.

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Andy Weinberger is co-owner of Readers’ Books in Sonoma. This column was first published Oct. 12 on Weinberger’s blog at readers.indiebound.com. It was submitted by a reader with Weinberger’s permission.

  • Phineas Worthington

    Rouhani, an old guard member of Iranian intelligence, was the person who gave the order to attack the Marine barracks in Beirut from what I have read. And I like my plushy arms in my chair btw.