There aren’t too many images in modern history as sad, as forceful a reality check as the 1938 one of British prime minister Neville Chamberlain waving his peace-in-our-time note on an English airfield after talks with Hitler in Munich.
Hindsight and around 75m deaths show that Chamberlain was wildly optimistic.
His efforts at appeasement did not, nor could they, avert catastrophe.
A Europe bled dry by WWI two decades earlier believed that most dangerous and seductive myth — it can never happen again.
To suggest we are at that point would be a wild, almost dangerously pessimistic exaggeration. However, it seems prudent to review history to see if imagined parallels, any obvious stepping stones, between today and the 1930s have a cautionary substance.
We, as the cyclical nature of history always does, seem to have reached the earliest stages of a trajectory that might lead to something very like disaster.
How else could you describe a situation where a clearly amoral, routinely dishonest American president tells four Democratic congresswomen they should “go back” to the “crime infested” countries they came from even though they are American citizens and all except one were born in America?
How else could you describe a situation where President Trump’s hate-mongering is amplified by South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham who poured fuel on the fire:
“We all know that AOC and this crowd are a bunch of communists. They hate Israel. They hate our own country.”
That divide-and-conquer tirade probably obviates his acknowledgment that “They are American citizens. They won an election. Take on their policies.”
However, that he is just one of the millions of Americans happy to cheer the White House poison is deeply worrying.
Can they, like the Germans of the 1930s couldn’t, not see ahead? The congresswomen, accurately, accused Mr Trump of leading an “agenda of white nationalists” but asked that Americans “do not take the bait”.
As Mr Trump will hector and spew until he gets the result he wants they may be as blindly optimistic as Chamberlain was in 1938. How very sad if entirely predictable.
The election, if that is not a gross misuse of democracy’s defining process, to identify Theresa May’s successor is at least as disheartening.
One candidate seems a poorly qualified accountant from central casting, the other a charlatan. Nevertheless, if either can secure the support of the number it takes to fill Croke Park — 82,300 —they will, for the immediate future at least, have a decisive role in the lives of millions . Outside of Russia, China or even North Korea, there can hardly be a greater affront to democracy.
Red-line rejections of compromise fill the air and even if they are just pawing-the-ground electioneering they are reckless. Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt have rejected the backstop but the EU has reiterated it is non-negotiable.
This sets a course to a no-deal Brexit and, possibly, the social and economic collapse that sent Chamberlain to Munich as a supplicant with a very weak hand.
The take-home message from that failure is that the world left it far too late to challenge the Nazis. The very limited options we have to apply it are beyond sobering.