Classics professor Bruce Thornton is a courageous rarity within the academy — an unabashed conservative public intellectual. Rarer still, even when one considers the full universe of conservatives overall, is Thornton’s willingness to expound upon Islam in a scholarly but uncompromised manner.
In The Wages of Appeasement, Thornton combines his training as a classicist with singular intellectual honesty to interweave three historical case studies of appeasement: Athens (primarily) and the other Greek city-states that Philip II of Macedon sought to conquer in the 4th century B.C.; England confronted by Nazi aggression in the 1930s; and the contemporary United States and broader West, subjected to the global hegemonic aspirations of resurgent Islam and particularly its most aggressive jihadist state sponsor, Iran.
Professor Thornton elucidates his thesis with elegant and remarkably compendious arguments. But prior to describing the salient features of Thornton’s presentation, given the sorry if prevailing state of jihad denial amongst our academic, policymaking, and media elites — the trahison de clercs of our era — I feel compelled (as a working academic physician) to proffer an esteemed “second” (albeit chronologically “first”) opinion by another intrepid academic, the late political scientist professor Samuel Huntington.
Huntington’s mid-1990s paradigm of Islam’s “bloody borders” adduces convincing hard data in support of his contention: “Wherever one looks along the perimeter of Islam, Muslims have problems living peaceably with their neighbors.” These germane observations by Huntington were confirmed — one could argue even amplified — subsequently in the wake of the cataclysmic acts of jihad terrorism against the U.S. on September 11, 2001, and their aftermath, punctuated by almost 17,000 additional jihadist attacks worldwide since 9/11:
The overwhelming majority of fault line conflicts … have taken place along the boundary looping across Eurasia and Africa that separates Muslims from non-Muslims.
Intense antagonisms and violent conflicts are pervasive between local Muslim and non-Muslim peoples.
Muslims make up about one-fifth of the world’s population, but in the 1990s they have been far more involved in inter-group violence than the people of any other civilization. The evidence is overwhelming. There were, in short, three times as many inter-civilizational conflicts involving Muslims as there were between non-Muslim civilizations.
Muslim states also have had a high propensity to resort to violence in international crises, employing it to resolve 76 crises out of a total of 142 in which they were involved between 1928 and 1979. … When they did use violence, Muslim states used high-intensity violence, resorting to full-scale war in 41 percent of the cases where violence was used and engaging in major clashes in another 39 percent of the cases. While Muslim states resorted to violence in 53.5 percent, violence was used the United Kingdom in only 1.5 percent, by the United States in 17.9 percent, and by the Soviet Union in 28.5 percent of the crises in which they were involved….
Muslim bellicosity and violence are late-twentieth-century facts which neither Muslims nor non-Muslims can deny.
Thus 15 years ago Samuel Huntington concluded appositely, and with a candor which, like Bruce Thornton’s, is now almost absent:
The underlying problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture.
Thornton’s three case studies, beginning with ancient Greece, build upon one another seamlessly. He introduces the reader to eternal “verities of the human experience” as seen through the prism of Greek historian Thucydides’ analysis of the major causes of conflict — fear, honor, and interest — and how these factors also influence appeasement. What Thornton finds most intriguing: “The fear of an enemy to whom a state is militarily superior or at least equal, an enemy intent upon significantly reducing his state’s power and autonomy or destroying it outright.” He then highlights the dire consequences of not overcoming the inertia induced by this fear as a unifying thread across his three case examples:
Athens and the other Greek city-states had many opportunities to stop Philip before Cheronea in 338 B.C. [a decisive victory for Philip’s Macedonian army over the Greek city-state forces, especially Athens and Thebes], and even then the battle was a “close-run thing,” as Wellington said of Waterloo. England and France, the latter possessing the largest army in Europe, could have destroyed the miniscule force with which Hitler had re-occupied the Rhineland in 1936. And today, the military might of the United States dwarfs the combined power of Middle Eastern states such as Iran and Syria that support and harbor Islamist terrorists.