It’s been a few days since Russia breached the borders of Ukraine with a hostile invasion. Accompanied by dis-information, tanks, missiles and bullets, with Nazi history treading along side Vladimir Putin and the Russian invasion force, we are witnessing what could end up being the defining moment of our lives.
I’ve been reading The Rise and Fall of the 3rd Reich by William Shirer. Weighing in at over 1200 pages, it’s exhaustively thorough recounting the behind-the-scenes machinations of Hitler and his minions as they headed towards war. I’m still reading, but just finished reading about the details of the destruction of Czechoslovakia by the Nazi government. The parallels between that episode of Nazi aggression and Putin’s Soviet invasion of Ukraine cannot be ignored.
Hitler desired the return parts to the Reich of Czechoslovakia with a large German population. Berlin encouraged the German Nazi’s in those areas to agitate and cause social disruption. When that tactic proved insufficient, the Nazi’s added disinformation that the German population in Czechoslovakia needed protection from the Czech’s to turn international opinion in their favor. Neville Chamberlain and his French counterparts negotiated with Hitler to cede these areas back to Germany without war and without consulting the government of Czechoslovakia. England and France then refused their treaty pledges to Czechoslovakia to support the Czech’s military against invasion to force the Czech government to submit to the transfer of these regions to Germany. This removed the better part of Czechoslovakia’s defensive border with Germany, leaving the remainder of the country defenseless against incursion by Germany and other neighbors. Soon after, Hitler again used Nazi partisans within Czechoslovakia’s borders to create havoc, marched in his troops, and carved up the remainder of the former nation between Germany, Poland and others. Czechoslovakia as a nation-state ceased to exist. The region annexed by the Nazi’s is now Czehia and the country of Slovakia which ended up a Soviet State that later regained it’s independence in 1993.
This is exactly what Putin has done by annexation of Crimea, encouraging a partisan war in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, and then invading the rest of Ukraine he’s taken several pages from Hitler’s playbook. Putin has called the Jewish president of Ukraine a drug-addict and a Nazi, and pledges to denazify Ukraine. Using the specter of Nazi-ism against a democratic country while using a Nazi history as an instruction manual for war is the highest form of employing “alternative facts”. It remains to be seen what will remain of the borders of Ukraine.
Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union in 1941. A brutal and bloody war was fought right up to the edges of Leningrad before the Soviets pushed the Germans out and harried them all the way to Berlin itself. All that territory was ceded to the Soviets after WWII. The Iron Curtain held until the Soviet Union fell between 1989 and 1992 when the Wall in Berlin was taken down and the Baltic States ceded from the Union (including Ukraine in 1991). The Russian Army was the first to liberate a Concentration Camp when they pushed through Poland and liberated Auschwitz.
Putin, like Hitler, wants back land that was lost to Russia/Soviet Union over time. He also wants to prevent Ukraine’s admission to NATO, fearing that with a wider border shared with another NATO country will bring ever-closer dangerous (to him) ideas about Western-style democracy to the people living under his autocratic rule. The difference here is that although NATO and the separate World Power governments have not been speedy in their responses to Putin’s actions in Ukraine, there is no Neville Chamberlain in power in government today. With world leader seemingly learning some lessons from WWII history, here is no effort at appeasement. Sanctions are being imposed almost daily upon Putin’s Russia. Hopefully that’s enough to stop him and put an end to this invasion that could easily lead to World War III.
I have to wonder what my dad would think of Putin’s aggression? I look at the World today – with democracy on the decline and authoritarian governments arising all over the world – and wonder if everything suffered by European citizen and soldiers alike during WWII was worth the cost for a handful of decades of European safety and democratic expansion. After less than 80 years we’re sliding back into the conditions that led to the outbreak of WWII. How could we have failed to honor the sacrifices of so many millions of people to get to this sad state?
Where is American certainty that Democracy is good and Authoritarianism is bad? How far we have come from those days. America is so divided politically, that we cannot even agree what is truth and what is false. Trump’s advisor Kellyanne Conway coined the phrase “alternative facts” to describe the lies and falsehoods spewed from Trump’s White House starting with the size of the crowd at his inauguration and continued unabated since then. Nearly a third of the electorate danced down that path with her, now Mr. Trump was won the last election. These same people seem unconcerned about Mr. Trump’s own authoritarian leanings and don’t see January 6, 2021 as a Trumpian coup attempt.
Former President Donald Trump appears to idolize Authoritarian leaders like Mr. Putin and Mr. Kim of N. Korea. Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the former President of our Country has actually praised Mr. Putin for his actions and called him “brilliant”. It’s been 80 years since WWII, and our former POTUS thinks the aggressor against a democratic country is praiseworthy.
I have to wonder if the USA has permanently lost it’s way. What will it take to unite Americans again in the certainty that power belongs in the hands of the people and all citizens should have an equal voice in their governance?
Let’s hope it doesn’t take the outbreak of WWIII.