You’ve heard it said: those who don’t learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it. Did you have that feeling yesterday?
Here’s a timeline from the past:
On March 7, 1936, the German military, at the command of Chancellor Adolf Hitler, moved into the demilitarized Rhineland. Britain and France scolded.
On March 12, 1938, Germany annexed Austria.
On September 30, 1938, Gerrmany annexed the Sudetenland, later swallowing the rest of Czechoslovakia. Once again the world watched. Harsh words were spoken and no action was taken.
On March 23, 1939 Germnay seized Memel, Lithuania.
On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. You know what happened next. The world woke up, and before the conflict ended and Hitler was stopped, more than 11 million people had died in the Second World War.
The lesson was that inaction in the face of agression by a dictator can have negative consequences. It would have been easy to stop Hitler in 1936, or even 1938, but the political will wasn’t there. Ever the opportunist, he continued his expansion, believing the leaders of other countries were weak. He gambled, and won, again and again.
So here we are in the 21st century, more than 80 years since the start of the Second World War. There is no-one in political leadership today who has any memories of that time. What they know they learned from the history books. Were they playing close attention?
In August, 2008, Russia, led by Vladimir Putin, attacked Georgia. Russian troops remain in part of the country.
In February, 2014 Russia attacked Ukraine, annexing the Crimean penisnsula and setting up puppet governmentds while sponsoring guerilla warfare in eastern Ukraine. Sanctions were imposed, the Russian economy took a dip, then recovered.
In 2015 the Russian military turned the tide in the Syrian civil war, supporting President Bashir al-Assad and not the rebel groups supported by the US and others. Other countrues scolded President Putin for his actions. Assad’s forces, with Russian aid, crushed their opponents.
January 2022, Russian troops move into Kazakhstan to put down a pro-democracy movement. (This is just one of several Russian incursions over the years in its former satellites, some of which pre-date Putin’s presidencey.)
February 24, 2022, Russia invades Ukraine.
Now what? Is this the point where the world says no? Are we back to September 1939? Or is it September 1938 all over again? The leaders of the free world are trying to come up with a response.
History tells us that dictators only seem to understand force. They don’t understand the reluctance democracies have to engage in armed conflict, but they will do whatever they can to exploit that reluctance.
Not only does the fate of Ukraine hang in the balance, but so does the fate of the pepople of Taiwan. If Putin continues unchecked, the Chinese are almost certain to move to conquer Taiwan. Let us hope our leaders know what they are doing.