Bullying seems to be an all too common human trait. It’s where a stronger person, seeing someone perceived to be in some way weaker, will impose his will upon that person or group in order to humiliate and at the same time, exalt the bully and make him feel superior. Bullying occurs at all levels, even on the international level.
Bullying is seen as the cause of World War II. England and France, especially, did not want to risk another world war, so rather than confronting Hitler and Mussolini, they stood passively by and let them take what they wanted. The Allies used threats, rather than actions, in an attempt to stop them. This is always futile. The term for this approach became known as appeasement.
Hitler took over the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia, and then all of Czechoslovakia, then Austria, and finally half of Poland. At this point the Allies said, “Enough!” and declared war on Germany.
Bullying and appeasement started World War II, but in typical human fashion, we humans – this time, we Americans – overreacted to appeasement with what has been called the Domino Theory during the Cold War (1946 to 1991). During this era the U.S., with its democracy and capitalism, was pitted against the Soviet Union’s socialistic dictatorship.
If you have ever set up dominos in a long file and then knocked one over, you will see all the adjacent dominoes fall over in turn. This word picture describes the fear of communism spreading throughout the world after World War II. If one country fell to communism in the world, then neighboring countries in turn would also fall. The Domino Theory is an overreaction to the thinking that brought on World War II – appeasement.
Overreaction, however, did not occur at first. President Harry Truman was confronted in 1948 with the Soviet Union cutting off the roads and trains into the free half of Berlin 100 miles inside communist East Germany.
During this incident, known as the Berlin Blockade, Truman did not overreact and start World War III by using the army to force its way into West Berlin, nor did he take advantage of our monopoly on nuclear weapons. He also did not appease and let the city fall to Stalin’s bullying. Instead, Truman decided on a middle course, by supplying the city with food and fuel through the air in what has been dubbed the Berlin Airlift.
Truman’s middle-ground approach forced Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, instead of the Americans, to decide whether to fire the first shot of World War III. He chose not to. After 11 months of Allied planes landing every 60 seconds 24/7 in Berlin, Stalin blinked and ended the blockade.
The overreaction to appeasement came after the Soviets had developed both the A-bomb and the H-bomb in 1949 and 1953, respectively, and after North Korea had invaded South Korea in June 1950, initiating a bloody conflict. When President Eisenhower became president in 1953, he took a more reactive stance toward the spread of communism that he named the Domino Theory.
As a result of this overreaction to appeasement, the U.S. government toppled democracies in Iran in 1953, in Guatemala in 1954 and in the Congo in 1960, to name three. In other words, the United States, out of fear, bullied weaker democratic nations to keep the dominoes from falling to the communists and starting World War III.
Because of the Domino Theory we became embroiled in the Vietnam War at great cost to our soldiers, to the Vietnamese and to our trust in our government. Two presidents, Lyndon Johnson, who was forced to drop out of the race for another term, and Richard Nixon, who was forced to resign because of anger over the war and the Watergate scandal, were affected by the Domino Theory gone awry.
Ironically, it was Nixon who came to understand that the Domino Theory was too black and white and rigid. Instead of the United States facing communism in Vietnam, we were actually facing a nationalist movement where the North Vietnamese saw the U.S. as just one more bully – an imperialist power like the Chinese, the Japanese and the French before us.
Nixon understood that communism was not a united blob, but it was made up of nations like the USSR and the People’s Republic of China, who deeply distrusted each other. He used these divisions to force the North Vietnamese to negotiate a treaty, playing the Russians against the Chinese who put pressure on their ally, North Vietnam, in order to gain U.S. support.
Bullying is a major human problem. It can take place at all times in our lives at all levels, from personal to international. The lesson we can learn is how to deal with bullying like Truman did – in a balanced, measured and creative way. It means we must act maturely and rationally. We must learn to deal with our emotions and let our intellects rule over them.