Is the United States, in the wake of the Afghanistan crisis, in a “Chamberlain moment”?
British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain read Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, and concluded that he had Hitler figured out. As Chamberlain stepped off his plane in Munich in 1938, he was certain he was going to make history by out-talking Hitler.
But it was Hitler who had sized up Neville Chamberlain. The Nazi dictator saw Chamberlain as a naive man who somehow squeezed everything under his ever-present cozy umbrella.
Hitler concluded he could promise Chamberlain anything, then do as he pleased.
So, Der Fuhrer promised not to invade more territory, Chamberlain, back home, conducted an airport press conference wherein he announced that he and Herr Hitler had negotiated “peace in our time.”
But Hitler made Chamberlain look like a fool. Even as Chamberlain was proclaiming that he had tamed Hitler, Hitler’s armies were blitzing the Sudetenland.
Rather than a cheering Parliament, Chamberlain faced an angry, jeering House of Commons.
Leopold Amery, of Chamberlain’s own party, rose, and, borrowing words from Oliver Cromwell in 1653 with regard to another matter, cried out to Chamberlain: “You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing ... In the name of God, go!”
When 40 members of his party voted against Chamberlain, and another 60 abstained, Chamberlain knew he had no choice, and left the ornate chamber where the House of Commons met.
Three days later, King George VI named Winston Churchill as prime minister in that crucial age.
In 2014, I co-wrote a book, God and Churchill, with the late Jonathan Sandys, Sir Winston Churchill’s great-grandson. (Tyndale House, 2015) Watching Jonathan’s determined attitude, biting wit, quick comprehension, capacity for persuasive as well as inspiring speech, I could see characteristics that compelled King George to ask Sir Winston to lead the country through the war.
On that day in 1940, Churchill said to Walter Thompson, his bodyguard, “You know why I’ve been to Buckingham Palace.” Thompson nodded and told Churchill he knew the task ahead would be immense.
“God alone knows how great it is,” replied Churchill.
Jonathan Sandys was not a professing Christian when he began research on his great-grandfather’s spirituality. But as Jonathan studied with an open mind be concluded that God had brought Sir Winston to the leadership of Great Britain and its allies to stop Hitler’s mad romp through civilization.
Later, Jonathan was so energized by this new awareness of God’s hand in history through his great-grandfather that he asked for believer’s baptism, and I had the privilege of conducting that service in Houston.
Back in England, Jonathan visited Churchill’s official biographer, Sir Martin Gilbert. Gilbert encouraged Jonathan and told him there was much material that had never been explored.
The more we worked on God and Churchill, the more Jonathan and I were in awe of the Lord of history.
In some ways, the task of national leadership is even greater now than Churchill’s era. The present hour demands the strongest and sharpest of leaders. The volatile enmities across the planet are much hotter even than that of Chamberlain’s and Churchill’s day. The weaponry available now are truly doomsday devices.
There is also a principle at stake here. Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians about an evil ruler — the antichrist — who will seek to bring global chaos so he can present himself as the only hope and acknowledged as the world’s leader.
A key strategy in sparking and spreading the chaos is “lawlessness.” The only reason this madness has not already consumed the world is that there is a “restrainer” who holds it back (2 Thessalonians 2: 7).
Among other things, this illustrates the principle of hegemony in foreign relations. A “hegemon” is a group or geopolitical entity that has the strength to dominate others.
One type of hegemonic nation is like that which Adolf Hitler sought to establish through his Third Reich: dominance for the sake of exploitation and destruction. The second type of hegemonic state is that which has the strength to restrain potential rogue nations.
I was a junior aide in the Nixon White House in the late Cold War period. The United States had been involved in Vietnam for a long time, and Nixon sought an end to that conflict.
In 1972 Nixon was re-elected by a huge majority, sparking hope that he would have even greater strength to resolve the Vietnam problem.
But then came the Watergate debacle and Nixon’s decision in 1974 to resign the presidency.
There were many reasons why he felt it necessary to resign. However, Nixon revealed a compelling purpose in his resignation speech:
“In all the decisions I have made in my public life, I have always tried to do what was best for the Nation ... In the past few days, however, it has become evident to me that I no longer have a strong enough political base in the Congress to justify continuing that effort. As long as there was such a base, I felt strongly that it was necessary to see the constitutional process through to its conclusion, that to do otherwise would be unfaithful to the spirit of that deliberately difficult process and a dangerously destabilizing precedent for the future.”
Now, in 2021, the question is this: Has Joe Biden’s image been damaged so severely through the events that have occurred in Afghanistan that he has the credibility and ability to lead a powerful nation midst the chaos of our times?
As Parliament had to grapple with the Chamberlain leadership issue, so must Congress now confront the Biden leadership issue. The fate of the United States and perhaps even global security in a nuclear age may be at stake.
Wallace B. Henley’s fifty-year career has spanned newspaper journalism, government in both White House and Congress, the church, and academia. He is author or co-author of more than 20 books. He is a teaching pastor at Grace Church, the Woodlands, Texas.
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