It was perhaps the oddest word to be introduced into the heated debate over the war in Iraq. In a speech to the American Legion in Salt Lake City, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warned against repeating the World War II mistake of "appeasement."
One definition of appeasement is "satisfying grievances." In the 1930s, the word became attached to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. He believed that Germany had gotten a bum deal in a settlement of World War I. And so, Mr. Chamberlain flew to Munich for a historic act of appeasement, and agreed to let Adolf Hitler take the German-speaking Sudeten part of Czechoslovakia.
Not appeased at all, Hitler then proceeded to gobble up the rest of Czechoslovakia and a huge chunk of Europe. So appeasement has also come to mean blindness to the reality of the threat. Chamberlain's coappeaser was French premier Édouard Daladier, who let the Germans march into the French-occupied Rhineland.
So what did Mr. Rumsfeld mean when he warned against appeasement in the face of a "new type of fascism?" Did he mean that those who criticize the conduct of the war, or the war itself, are weaklings ready to give away the store? Was he just upset because Democrats were calling for his resignation?
Whom was he referring to when he said, "It's apparent that many have still not learned history's lessons?" Rumsfeld has written to top congressional Democrats saying he meant no harm when he talked about fascism and appeasement.
What's he trying to do, appease the opposition?
• Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at National Public Radio.