Comparing Saddam Hussein to Hitler does not argue for war, as President Bush suggests, but rather for containment.

Beginning in 1933, Hitler rearmed Germany to become a formidable military power in 1939. By contrast, Iraq’s military capability has been reduced significantly since 1991 and is dwarfed by U.S. military power in the region.

In 1936, Hitler violated the Versailles treaty by militarizing the German province, the Saarland, without international resistance. The United States, by contrast, has vigilantly enforced a no-fly zone over parts of Iraq.

Under Hitler the German government and society sought to exterminate the Jews, and the United States and Europe remained shamefully quiet. Hussein, too, brutally murdered Kurdish rebels before 1991 — and the U.S. again remained shamefully quiet — but since then most Iraqi Kurds, protected by the no-fly zone, have enjoyed relative autonomy in Northern Iraq.

Finally, in 1938, Hitler annexed Austria and occupied Czechoslovakia, again with no substantial international resistance. When Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, by contrast, he was removed forcibly by an international coalition led by the United States.

In short, if the French, British and Americans had acted toward Hitler’s Germany as the United States and its allies have acted toward Iraq in the last 10 years, Hitler would not have been able to wage the war he did and millions of lives would have been saved.

After World War II, the United States again faced a brutal tyrant, Josef Stalin, who was far more dangerous than Hussein. Both Truman and Eisenhower chose to contain this threat, rejecting calls for preventive war from the extreme right. This time, vigilance and patience did save millions of lives.

History suggests that containment works, and that Hussein has been contained, despite his efforts to break free. But President Bush, lacking the wisdom and fortitude of his predecessors, has chosen preventive war instead.

Hundreds of Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis are likely to lose their lives unnecessarily.

James Richter, Lewiston

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