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We caught up with Kip Perry, producer/co-director, and Elan Bentov, co-director/writer, to talk to us about their experience shooting their latest documentary, The Price of Peace, which will be airing on public television stations this spring.
Q: What drew you to the subject of deterrence vs. appeasement?
A: Victor Davis Hanson’s book, The Seductions of Appeasement, was at the core of our interest in the subject. He outlined a cyclical pattern to societies’ preferences for appeasement and deterrence. He argues that extended periods of relative peace and stability result in a misplaced trust in empathy—thus, when appeasement is used to counter a threat, it eventually fails, and a deterrent strategy is required to regain stability once again. It is always tempting to pinpoint contemporary times within a larger historical context and we asked ourselves where we are in that cycle today and what conflicts of the past fit into that cycle.
Q: Before making the documentary, what were your feelings about deterrence & appeasement?
A: Deterrence seemed to us a posture, or image, rather than a political strategy, while appeasement was a wholly negative term—tantamount to cowardice.
Q: In making the documentary, did your opinions about deterrence & appeasement change?
A: As we researched the topics and investigated various anecdotes, our picture of deterrence and appeasement became clear. In the run up to WWII, appeasement was considered a positive and enlightened concept. If one puts oneself in the position of the war-weary Europeans after WWI it is not difficult to see why appeasement would be favored. It is an approach which relies heavily on trust, understanding, and mutual respect. A strategy which seeks to avoid war at all costs. Appeasement is not a concept which should be derided but, rather, admired as an ideal. Deterrence, we learned, is more expansive and forward thinking than we initially believed. It is far more pragmatic than appeasement, based, frankly, in the innate selfishness of mankind and hedging against that by taking violent or coercive measures to nip threats to stability in the bud. Victor’s explanation of societies’ reactions to deterrence is like a mirror held up to ourselves. He points out, rightly, that deterrence is ugly and by and large, we do not want to embrace it or fully agree that it is the most reliable way to maintain stability, and yet when a threat becomes too oppressive we tend to cry out for blood.
Q: Where was filming the most exciting…and why?
A: Our trip to northern Tanzania to film a family of Maasai was an unforgettable experience. There were so many topics to explore. They live such self-sufficient and independent lives and yet are simultaneously dependent on the various protections granted them by the government. It is an interesting balance which, sadly, implies a certain fragility to their existence—a contradiction between natural ruggedness and self-reliance. They were so very different from us; few possessions, polygamous families, and a life lived within a relatively small geographic area. They travel largely by foot and, we felt, though they see so much less than we do, they know and experience those things far more keenly than we know or experience anything.
Q: Was there any footage that was particularly meaningful to you?
A: We had been brokering an interview with Stanislav Petrov, “The Man Who Saved the World,” in his home outside Moscow. His health was failing and our trip to Russia was delayed again and again. Sadly, he passed away before we could capture his interview, but his son, Dimitri, agreed to appear on camera and relate his father’s tale of a narrowly averted Cold War nuclear apocalypse. Part of our shooting schedule involved following Dimitri to his father’s grave. We didn’t realize how affected he still is by the loss of his father. And while Dimitri is a stoic man, he was genuinely grief-stricken to stand before the still-fresh mound of soil atop his father’s grave. We realized that Stanislav Petrov’s actions, which were really quite impactful, if not widely known, were secondary to Dimitri who knew him simply as his father.
Q: Any interesting behind-the-scenes stories?
A: An undeniably lasting legacy of this production is that it resulted in the passing of a new law on the Falkland Islands. After the Falkland War in 1982, there has been an ongoing effort to clear minefields laid by the Argentine invasion force. We were filming one such mine-clearing operation from the air—buzzing the workers with our drone for a few minutes. The workers, dressed in full ordnance disposal armor, would pause in their highly sensitive task to look up at the drone. Like many places in the world there were no firm regulations in place for flying drones and so we went about our work—fortunately not causing any deadly mishaps by distraction. We later learned that the workers complained and a new law was passed prohibiting unmanned aerial vehicle operation around mine-clearing operations. We like to call it “The Kip and Elan Law.”
Q: Which do you think the U.S. should use toward North Korea—deterrence or appeasement?
A: Neither. We feel that diplomacy is the answer. It seems the only difference between appeasement and diplomacy is one’s own position. Making concessions from a position of weakness is appeasement while negotiation from a position of strength, we would argue, is diplomacy.
Q: Do you have a favorite Churchill quote?
A: Kip—“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
A: Elan—“It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations.”
Leading up to the onset of World War II, western democracies like Britain and France viewed a policy of appeasement toward Germany as the path of wisdom and restraint. It seemed prudent to make concessions to aggressors if it meant avoiding a bloody war. When Nazi Germany rearmed the Rhineland, annexed Austria, and seized an area of Czechoslovakia, the British and French response came in the form of paper: the Munich Agreement, which conceded these territories to Germany under the condition they make no land grabs. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declared to a cheering crowd that the agreement meant “peace for our time.”
Concessions often bring about peace in the short term, defusing tensions for a while… but the aggressor’s initial demands are not forgotten and, in fact, they are often bolstered by newfound doubts about their enemies’ resolve. As such, a greater conflict ensues. This was the case in 1939 when Germany broke the still-new Munich Agreement and invaded Poland, starting World War II.
The lesson of deterrence is one which is hard-learned time and time again. In this one-hour program, the insights of military historian and National Reviewcolumnist Victor Davis Hanson guide our investigation of the United States’ successful deterrence of enemy aggression in the past and the efforts to sustain it in an era of rogue nations and nuclear proliferation.
Ray Bradbury predicted a scenario that appears hauntingly similar to today’s environment for both entertainment and education. In Fahrenheit 451, Fireman Montag has stolen a book when he’s visited by Captain Beatty. Beatty tries to explain to Montag that books don’t actually need to be burned; no one wants to read them. The fireman’s job was simply to keep peace by removing items that might cause someone to feel inferior to their fellow man.
“Picture it. Nineteenth-century man with his horses, dogs, carts, slow motion. Then in the twentieth century, speed up your camera… Whirl man’s mind around so fast under the pumping hands of publishers, exploiters, broadcasters that the centrifuge flings off all unnecessary, time-wasting thought.
“School is shortened, discipline relaxed, philosophies, histories, languages dropped. English and spelling gradually neglected. Then, the bigger the population, the more the minorities. Don’t step on the toes of the dog lovers, cat lovers, … Mormons, Baptists, second-generation Chinese, … people from Oregon or Mexico.”
The concept of inoffensive behavior wasn’t created by government proclamation. “Technology, mass exploitation and minority pressure carried the trick!”
Welcome to the 21st century, folks, because the video generation is upon us. Our children are overloaded with information at a magnitude that is nearly incomprehensible just one generation removed.
While I’d prefer my teenage children would open a book on occasion, I’m much more concerned that they be exposed to ideas and concepts that will teach them—and their classmates—HOW to live in a free society.
How do we reach this audience with thought-provoking ideas that generate true critical thinking? It matters less today how they get the information, but that we find a way to guide the information toward their screens.