Making historical assumptions

By: Rabbi Rachel Esserman

Recent discussions about the Iran Accord have compared President Barack Obama to Neville Chamberlain. Chamberlain’s Munich Agreement with Nazi Germany allowed Adolf Hitler to annex the Sudetenland section of Czechoslovakia. What’s interesting is the assumptions people make about how history would have changed if the pact had not taken place:
1) Hitler would have stopped his plans for the conquest of Europe and everything would have returned to the status quo.
2) Or if Hitler had waged war at that point in time, then Great Britain, France and their allies would have defeated him and ended his rule of Germany.
3) Or the slaughter of Jews in Europe would not have taken place because either of the above would have occurred.
While I know that it’s impossible to predict history, it’s hard to believe that Hitler would have given up his plans for conquest. That leads me to wonder whether or not he would have started the war immediately if the Munich Pact hadn’t been signed, or if he would have waited – invading Poland the following year as actually occurred. Would that have made a difference to the future of Europe? More important, would the Allies have been able to stop him? While the conquest of Poland was a surprise, the French were well-aware that Germany was going to attack them. It took less than a month for German forces to complete that invasion and for Hitler to visit Paris. What would have happened to Great Britain? Would England have been conquered, or would it have been able to continue the fight?
Of course, there is no way to answer these questions. However, the initial problem still stands: If there had been no Munich Agreement, would Hitler have stopped? I don’t believe that would have occurred. Is this relevant to today’s discussion about the Iran Accord? No, because while historical comparisons are interesting, they don’t allow us to predict the future.
Lest this sound like I am against the Iran Accord, I’m not. It seems to be the best we can do for a variety of reasons. (That doesn’t mean I think it’s perfect, but it’s the best option available at this time.) To show my support, I was one of 340 rabbis to sign the Ameinu petition urging Congress to back the deal. Are we correct in urging support? My conscious tells me yes, but I respect others with different opinions, since no one knows what the future holds.