Those Who Forget History Are Doomed To Repeat It

Never has that phrase been more true than in the case of Russian aggression in the Ukraine and its other neighbors. Yesterday’s Russian invasion of part of the Ukraine was not only predictable but I can predict with a fair degree of certainty that similar things will happen again or it will take a war to stop it. Why? Because it has happened before.

A brief history lesson:

Shortly after Hitler came to power, he occupied the Rhineland region, contrary to international treaty, because he said that it used to be a part of Germany and he was simply reuniting Germans. Major European powers and the world did little.

Later, Hitler threatened and then annexed the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia. His rationale was that the area held mostly ethnic Germans and he was moving in to protect them. World leaders at the time did very little to actually punish Hitler but infamously got him to agree not to annex the rest of the country, at which point British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declared they had negotiated “peace in our time” with Hitler.  Hitler later moved his army into the rest of Czechoslovakia and took over the whole country.

Encouraged by the previous appeasement and the ease of taking territory and gaining more power, Hitler decided he wanted still more. He then threatened part of Poland, the so-called Polish Corridor. Following the script, Hitler said that the area was full of ethnic Germans and it separated parts of Germany from each other and he demanded that Poland cede the territory to Germany. Poland finally was the country that decided to draw the line and refused.  That led to the start of WWII.

Most historians now agree that the early appeasement of Hitler, who claimed that he was just protecting ethnic Germans as he gobbled up territory, was what led to World War II. If the international community had stood up to Hitler early on, and when he was weaker, then quite possibly the world likely would not have had to live through another world war.

Move ahead to recent years… Russia threatened the neighboring country of Georgia and accused it of persecuting ethnic Russians living in two of its provinces. In August 2008, Russia announced that these provinces had declared their independence and had asked Russia for protection. Russia invaded and maintains direct control over these regions to this day. The world did little.

In 2014, Russia threatened Ukraine and invaded the area of Crimea. Russia later announced that it had annexed Crimea and that it had become a part of Russia.  The world complained and declared the annexation invalid but did little else.

Recently, Russia had been threatening the Ukraine again, complaining about the treatment of ethnic Russians in two other provinces. Since the beginning of the year, Russia has massed troops, planes, ships and equipment on the border of Ukraine as the threats grew louder. Then yesterday, Russia announced that the two provinces of the Ukraine (coincidentally the most industrialized provinces) had decided to declare their independence and asked Russia for protection.  Putin and Russia immediately sent armed forces across the border.

Does all that sound familiar?  I mean, really familiar?!

If we changed just a few words:  Putin for Hitler, Russia instead of Germany, and Ukraine and Georgia for Czechoslovakia and Poland, then you wouldn’t have to rewrite the story at all.

All this was so predictable. What made it so tragic was the reaction from the President of the United States, who had promised prompt and devastating consequences if Russia invaded. President Biden’s Press Secretary immediately held a press conference where she said that Russian troops had already been in these areas, under cover, for some years and so implying that the invasion was not as serious as it could have been.  Additionally, the United States has not yet announced any sanctions despite the fact that Great Britain and France did so within hours of the invasion.

In 2014, then President Obama did not learn the lessons from Neville Chamberlain. In 2022, President Biden (who, of course, was Vice President in 2014) did not learn the lessons from Barak Obama. And because our leaders are not students of history, even recent history, we find that a democratic country of Ukraine has been invaded yet again, and even more of its people now forced to live under a brutal dictatorship, one that reportedly already had “kill lists” of people to be executed even before the invasion.

Unfortunately, there are bigger problems yet to come because of the absolute weakness, ignorance and incompetence of current US foreign policy. Are we so naïve to think that China is not watching all of this play out? China has recently increased its threats against Taiwan.  Can we see any scenario where that does not get even worse after China sees all Russia was able to demand with hardly a reaction from the United States?

As the world learned with Hitler, the problem with appeasing power hungry dictators is that it only encourages their appetite for more. The price to learn that lesson was a second world war. Unfortunately, despite that high price, the lessons have been forgotten by too many.

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