No, it’s not 1938, because in 1938, Britain and France confronted the fascist dictators, without their, then, ingrate progeny, the USA.
Yes, it’s 1938 in all other ways: Russian dictator Putin has instigated a combination of vicious alarm, demented propaganda, false justifications, brutal invasions, referenda with transparent boxes, and annexations, seasoned with total contempt for international law, that is very similar to what German dictator Hitler pursued in 1938.
In 1938, the (so called) democracies did not act perfectly: the Nazis could have been terminated without the carnage of 3% of the world population killed by the war that followed. Indeed the top German generals had asked Britain and the USA to help by declaring that they would adopt the same tough line as France.
Not only the Anglo-Americans leaders declined to do so, but, instead, they betrayed the trust the German generals had put in them, by denouncing them, his subordinates, to Hitler. (Don’t be surprised if standard historians, well fed by their plutocratic universities, are careful to never mention this fact; I should make a list of the 100 most inconvenient and never mentioned facts of WWII.)
Just as in 1938, the democracies do not know what to do, in 2014, because they are still in a placid state in which they fear war more than anything else, and the invading dictator knows this. That makes the corrective action that the democracies need to take, obvious.
The aim of this essay is to show how to avoid more of a parallel between 2014 and 1938 than we have already achieved. This is not easy, because the exact same psychological dynamics are in place in 2014, as in 1938. Placidity encouraging ferocity, ever more.
The fascist instinct has taken over a great power, once again.
I did not acquire this opinion in the last 5 weeks: my “From Russia With Hate”, nearly 6 years old, saw the present Russian war hysteria coming.
March 1938: The Nazis want to annex Austria. Austrians don’t really want this. Austrian Chancellor Schuschnigg calls a vote March 13. Nazis are angry: what if Austrians voted against the Anschluss? March 10, Schuschnigg is forced to resign, and is replaced by a Nazi, while Hitler’s divisions enter the country “at its invitation”. The Austrian army surrenders.
April 10: the Nazis organize referenda in Austria and Germany to approve the annexation. They win by 99.7% and 99.08%, respectively. (Notice the resemblance with Crimea’s 97%.)
That’s what Goebbels, laughing, called “Total Democracy”.
Correctly, the Western powers have declared that Putin’s referendum in Crimea, organized in similar circumstances, after a military occupation, to be null.
At this point, in April 1938, having got away with something enormous (the invasion of a country), without having fired a shot, Hitler underwent a neurohormonal change, and started to feel that he could get away with anything. He had to show that he could bend the world to his will (lest his generals assassinate him, which they tried to do repeatedly, for years, with remarkable bad luck.)
Similarly, Putin has to show his generals and plutocrats, that he, and he alone, can get away with anything.
Unsurprisingly, then, Hitler declared that the Sudeten Germans inside Czechoslovakia were also an oppressed minority and needed to be protected inside Greater Germany. Czechoslovakia, a Slavic nation with its own language, just delivered from a long German oppressive occupation by the Versailles Treaty of 1919, was determined to fight. Its protector was mighty France.
However, France had three problems, in this order: Washington, London, and Berlin. (See note)
The first error of democracy in 1938: the USA was collaborating with Hitler rather than with France and Britain. (See note on USA duplicity) OK, with its racial oppression of people of color, the USA was not a fully representative democracy, and many of its racist leaders could only be sympathetic to the racist Nazis (in particular, the U.S. Army was segregated and “inter-racial” marriages outlawed in many states).
In any case, in 1938, officially in the interest of peace, the British Kingdom and the French Republic persuaded the Czechs NOT to defend themselves against Hitler. Big mistake. When France was invaded in May 1940, half of the Wehrmacht’s tanks were Czech (they had been seized by the Nazis, or produced meanwhile, in Czechoslovakia).
First lesson: A successful invasion makes the invader stronger. Hitler became ever stronger by invading ever more. In such a case, the earlier the war, the better. At this point some in Russia still doubt Putin’s wisdom. The more Putin invades without firing a shot, the more devotees he will have.
Let’s not tell the Ukrainians NOT to defend themselves violently from the Kremlin’s maniacal dwarf.
Maniacal? Putin’s main idea is that the disappearance of “the USSR was the Twentieth Century greatest tragedy”. (Even Hitler did not dare say something that stupid, such as the disappearance of the Second Reich was the Twentieth Century greatest tragedy.)
Hitler’s argument for the annexation of the Sudeten was that there were three million Sudeten German in Czechoslovakia, and they wanted to live in Fatherland Germany (OK, he used “Vaterland”). Never mind that there was no free media in Germany to present another discourse.
His true reason was that Hitler wanted to invade all of Czechoslovakia, and re-establish Germany as the master of Eastern Europe.
Putin’s argument is that there are two millions in Crimea, and they want to live within Mother Russia. Never mind that there is no free media in Russia, or that this will-to-Russia is actually fundamentally racist.
Putin’s true reason is that Putin wants to invade all of Ukraine (the detailed preparations for the annexation are known).
Second Lesson: When a dictator’s has tipped into the Dark Side, expect the worst. That’s the wise thing to do. Putting one’s head in the sand to protect one’s neck is naïve.
Hitler was superficially correct, about the Sudeten: the Germans there were really German, they happened to be living where the natural, mountainous border of Czechoslovakia was.
Putin is obviously wrong: 40% of Crimea is made of people who fear Putin and his kind. 12% of Crimea is made of Tatars who sneaked back, as survivors of Stalin’s genocide on 1944. They do not have tender memories of their assassins.
The Czechs had excellent fortifications. They could have defended themselves at a cost higher than the Nazis could have paid. (See Note on fortifications.)
The Czechs fortifications were nearly as good as the French Maginot line. That was breached nowhere (and caused huge losses to the Mussolini’s fascists army in the Alps.)
The British were understandably afraid to confront Hitler in 1938: they had only a few divisions, and no modern air force. In appearance, the French were ready militarily, but did not look forward another world war, after getting several millions killed or mutilated in the First World War. (See military and strategic notes).
There was a military problem: what was the French army exactly supposed to do if Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia? The French army faced the “West Wall” (= Siegfried Line). Thanks to their enemies in Washington and London, the French had been prevented to establish their military frontier on the Rhine in 1919.
In 1944-45, the Allies, with a combat-experienced, five million men army, facing no more than 50 small German divisions, would take 6 months to break through the Siegfried line, although the democracies had air supremacy, and much more of everything than the Nazis (who were reduced to diluting their explosives, and make their mines to wound rather than kill).
So the 45 French divisions that squeezed in a very small front in September 1939 could not make a decisive attack.
Similarly, it has been said that it would be folly to oppose Putin militarily. The same was said when Hitler invaded the Rhineland, or Spain, in 1936.
The French Prime Minister had no illusion in 1938. As he stepped from his plane, he was applauded for having preserved peace at the Munich Conference. He muttered: ”Les pauvres, s’ils savaient.” (“Poor little ones, if they only knew.”)
What the French PM knew was that Hitler had crossed a psychological Rubicon, a tipping point signaling the collapse into the Dark Side. Hitler had changed to a different neurohormonal regime, where dominance is exerted in a lethal way. Hitler had decided that the Franco-British could not do a thing, and were unwilling to impose their will. (Hitler knew also that his allies in the USA would insure on-going collaboration with the corporations of the USA.)
Similarly, Putin has decided that Obama is weak. Certainly someone who needs a teleprompter to speak is no strong in his head. It is as if he advertises that he is a puppet, reading what his masters wrote
Certainly Putin noticed this. And who are Obama’s masters? Plutocrats, the very people Putin barks orders to. Thus, in this dog eats dog hierarchy, Putin is top dog, Putin noticed.
Hitler went through the same exact logic… Except he failed to notice that the power of the American plutocrats who had made him, and enticed him, rested on a nation-continent, the USA, the power and nastiness of which he grotesquely underestimated.
Similarly, Putin even more grotesquely underestimate the power of the USA and the European Union, combined.
On March 22, 1939, Hitler annexed much of Lithuania. The Germanoid mobs were hysterical with nationalistic bigotry. The West was tolerant of this madness… Not realizing for a moment that it meant the minorities therein would be hated with as much folly. True, German speaking people were in a majority, but they had clearly sunk into the deepest evil.
On February 22, 1938, PM Chamberlain had admitted to the British Parliament: ”We must not give false hopes to small states by promising them the protection of Society of Nations (SDN, ancestor to the UN undermined by the USA) because we know nothing of the sort can be done.”
After annexing part of Lithuania, 1939, Hitler crossed a new step in his neurocognitive degeneracy. He said in a discourse, on March 23: “We don’t want to hurt anybody, but it was necessary to put an end to the suffering that the world imposed on the Germans in the last twenty years… From now on the Germans from Memel are part of the Reich… Even if the rest of the world does not like it.”
The glory and might of Hitler was at its apogee. The world trembled in front of Nazi Germany. All of Hitler’s annexations had happened without a shot fired. Was not Hitler a genius? A liberator? Who could deny his love of the Vaterland?
Six years later to the day, one German out of ten was already dead. Millions more would die. Entire German cities had been wiped out. Territories that had been German for 7 centuries were lost forever. Nazi Germany had become synonymous to infamy.
Same story, potentially, now.
A difference, though: we know history, and are keen not to repeat the same mass neurohormonal disaster in the same way. The time to stop the vengeful Russian mind-set is now.
Hyper nationalistic Russians are explaining the degeneracy of their homeland (a place with no free press) by twenty years of Russian suffering imposed by the world, invented just the same as the twenty years of German suffering that Hitler had invented by 1938.
Retrospectively, the Franco-British plea to the Czechs to accede to Hitler’s demand has been seen as an enormous mistake. “Munich” for years was the butt of jokes. It is time to remember this.
What could have stopped Hitler? His generals told us: only the knowledge, among his most serious supporters, that a catastrophic war was in Germany’s future, if Germany kept the same leadership.
What is the solution that this allows us to draw with Putin? Putin heads a coterie of plutocrats, many of whom will pay a heavy price if the West goes to war.
Those who support Putin have to understand that the West will go to war if Putin stays in power. And the time is now. Not in a month or two, after Putin has annexed more territory.
Let’s not forget that the hyper nationalistic drive in Crimea, just as in annexed German majority areas in the 1930s is oriented against minorities. Then non-German, now non-Russian. Basically Russians want to kill Tatars, same as in 1944.
Human rights, and civilization need a credible military threat. A threat that the people who support Putin believe. A threat that their world will die. As simple as that.
That should start with sanctions that hurt… the West. The USA ought to immediately lift their embargo on gas and oil to the Europe Union, and the Europeans should turn off all the trade to Putin. For starters. Also discrete but efficient military equipment ought to be sent to the Ukrainian army.
As it is obvious that, if undeterred, Putin will invade the rest of Ukraine just as his mentors Stalin and Hitler used to annex, invade and deport. Putin, just like Hitler, will lose when shooting starts.
1) USA duplicity note: in 1938, France and Britain alone confronted Hitler, Japan, Italy, and Stalin knowing full well that, as in World War One, in 1914-1917, the USA were keener to exploit the situation for its own profit, to start with. A proof of duplicity: Roosevelt replaced the anti-Nazi ambassador, Dodd, by a pro-Nazi.
2) Note on fortifications: In 1940, the Nazi army, going through Luxembourg, hit the French fortifications at their thinnest, thanks to intelligence provided by the Prince of Wales; however, the Nazis suffered huge losses crossing the Meuse, had to use suicidal charges, and nearly gave up.
3) Military Note-unpreparedness of Britain: Britain had no army, and no air force; it was rushing flat out to build itself a modern air force, but it won’t be ready for another two years; same for some armor.
4) Strategic note: The enormous sacrifice of 1914-1918 had saved France and the French Republic. However France had not recovered the natural borders of France on the Rhine, which had grievous military consequences, both in 1914 and 1940. Even worse: Anglo-American interference had lined up on the side of re-nascent German fascism after 1918, entangled with Wall Street and USA corporations. Hence the lack of enthusiasm of the French to die for the same racket.