Once there was a country which suffered a defeat that damaged the national psyche. It tried mightily to rebuild its international standing by flexing its military muscle.
The country considered itself to be the protector of those who spoke the same tongue, no matter where located. It started looking at weaker countries in which speakers of the mother tongue resided in defined geographic districts and asserted its protector rights, leading up to either annexation or creation of puppet governments of the contested areas.
Germany in the 1930s or Russia today?
There are definite parallels.
I have two favorite quotes which are applicable to the situation that is now facing the United States, the European Union, and NATO.
First is the well-known aphorism of George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
The second, lesser known, quotation from Robert Heinlein speaks to the future effect of ignoring Santayana: “A generation which ignores history has no past — and no future.”
During Germany’s ascendancy in the 1930s, Great Britain was the leading world power. On its watch, a series of prime ministers — Ramsay MacDonald, Stanley Baldwin, and Neville Chamberlain — effectively ignored Hitler’s explicit philosophy and goals as set forth in Mein Kampf and his rebuilding of the German war machine and industrial base after he became chancellor. This go-along to get-along attitude culminated in Chamberlain’s acquiescence at Munich to the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, up to now the premier example of appeasement.
Hitler’s goal was a Greater German Reich — Grossdeutsches Reich — which was to include all ethnic Germans and all the lands and territories which the German Empire had lost after World War I. This objective was embodied in slogans like Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer — “One People, One Empire, One Leader.”
If this wasn’t enough, there were tangible actions prior to Munich which foretold coming events, including a remilitarized Rhineland and the return of the Saarland through plebiscite.
Then there was the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria by Germany in 1938, which preceded the Munich Agreement by six months.
For several years there had been support in both Germany and Austria for the Heim ins Reich movement, alternatively, “Home into the Empire” or “Back to the Reich.” Nazi Germany had provided support for the Austrian Nazi Party in its bid to seize power from Austria’s Austrofascist leadership. Austria’s Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg tried to hold a referendum for a vote on the issue. A planned coup d’etat of state institutions by the Austrian Nazi Party took place and the referendum was canceled.
On the morning of March 12, 1938, the Wehrmacht crossed the Austrian border to be greeted by cheering German-Austrians. A day later, Austria ceased to exist and was annexed as a Reichsgau, an administrative area known as Ostmark, by Germany, an act forbidden by the Treaties of Saint Germain and Versailles.
The Nazis held a plebiscite the following month, asking the people to ratify the fait accompli. They claimed to have received a favorable vote of 99.8 percent.
Today’s situation in the Ukraine has echoes of the Anschluss.
Putin has declared Russia the protector of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers outside Russia. Putin wants to reconstitute tsarist Russia, which would implicitly make him the tsar. Crimea was his first move.
Russia considers both Crimea and Ukraine historically Russian. The Ukraine is splintered between the Europe-leaning West and the Russian-leaning East. Last November, President Viktor Yanukovych turned away from a historic trade deal with the EU to take a gift of $15 billion from Russia to pay off national debt, touching off massive protests against the move toward Russia.
On Feb. 21, Yanukovych signed a truce with the protest leaders but violence erupted again. The next day, he fled to Russia. The Ukrainian parliament voted to remove him as president and hold elections in late May, a move undisputed by the West, including the United States.
Late in February, Russian troops were spotted throughout ethnically Russian Crimea supposedly at the request of Yanukovych. The Crimean parliament scheduled a referendum for March 16 of which it was claimed that 97 percent of the population supported not only seceding from Ukraine, but joining the Russian federation. Western warnings and sanction threats provoked Russian reaction similar to that of the taunting French soldier in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Crimea is now part of Russia.
Secretary of State Kerry accused Putin of 19th-century behavior. President Obama said Russia was on the wrong side of history. In return, Russia’s deputy prime minister laughed off President Obama’s proposed sanctions as the work of “some prankster.”
We are entering a time similar to both the 1930s and 1950s. Putin is using the same logic as Hitler in eyeing expansion. His moves and words seem similar to Cold War rhetoric.
On March 23, USAF Gen. Philip Breedlove, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Europe, said Russia had assembled a large force on Ukraine’s eastern border that could be planning to head for Moldova’s separatist Transnistria region.
What is our credible response? NATO was created to stop Soviet expansion under U.S. leadership. What path will NATO and Obama choose?