By David A. Harris

original link:

As the world marks the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II, when German forces invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, is the history still relevant? Does it have contemporary meaning? Or is it destined to fade away, as the wartime generation of soldiers, eyewitnesses, and survivors reaches the twilight of their lives?

There are, I believe, five enduring lessons of this defining period in modern history.

First, a failure of imagination can be catastrophic.

That’s precisely what happened to many Western leaders during the fateful years from Adolf Hitler’s ascension to power in 1933 until 1939. They consistently, and shamefully, underestimated the true nature of the Third Reich. They ignored the repeated warnings, convinced themselves that the regime would follow a moderate course, and tried to go about business as usual.

American Secretary of State Cordell Hull said as early as April 1933: “Mistreatment of Jews in Germany may be considered virtually eliminated.” Former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George observed, in 1936, that “Germany has no desire to attack any country in Europe…” And George Fielding Eliot, an American military specialist, declared as late as May 1939: “The chances of Germany making a quick job of overwhelming Poland are not good.”