It was only twenty-one years after the First World War that the Second World War began. Perhaps it was not time enough for the horrors of total war to sink in. So, it was tried for a second time in 1939 with even more devastating results. The world has not been the same and not necessarily for the better.
Now it has been seventy-six years since World War Two, plenty of time for serious reflection. There’s the added incentive of the danger of ever advancing nuclear weapons whose impact was demonstrated by the incineration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War Two – its only use but sufficiently instructive.
But has this intervening time been put to thoughtful use? Today’s national leaders appear to have a weak grasp on history, even of recent years. In the internet age knowledge is quick to come by but perhaps too much too soon. We are nothing if not present-minded. Spare us the complicating past.
So, the Ukraine war is the fixation of the moment. A pressing event it is but not seen in context. Like all wars it’s brutal and should be ended as soon as possible, but emotions unrelated to history keep that from happening. Weapons pour in along with rousing rhetoric to keep Ukrainians fighting and also dying with little chance of defeating larger Russia.
There’s understandable agony over civilian deaths which occur in every war, especially from bombing, as the U.S demonstrated in its recent wars. In World War Two – often called the “good war” – Germany, Russia, Britain and the U.S. deliberately targeted civilians in order to break the morale of the enemy population. It didn’t work but the slaughter was prodigious.
Much-demonized Putin must be judged in the context of Russian history. No easy going, sociable democrat could have pulled Russia out of the chaos he faced on assuming office in 2000 with the legacy of oppressively brutal communism and financiers from abroad looting the country. It took a seasoned operative. Yet he is more vilified by the historically ignorant than the mass-killing Stalin who in his pursuit of world conquest crushed one people after another, including his own. By contrast Putin is a cautious autocrat
The media must read some history so that it doesn’t rediscover Russia time and again. The New York Times, which failed to report the massive starvation caused by Stalin in Ukraine in the 1930s, is breezily egging on Ukrainian troops today. A recent piece in the Sunday Times declared that the cold war with Russia today is worse than the one occasioned by Stalin, who imposed his tyrannical regime on all of Eastern Europe and half of Germany after World War Two and later ordered North Korea to attack the south, leading the U.S. into another war. In fact, Stalin and communism are not even mentioned in the piece. It all begins with Putin.
The two world wars at least had the excuse of entangled alliances and clash of ideologies. Today’s Ukrainian war is simplicity itself for which there’s a simple solution: keep Ukraine out of NATO and let serious negotiations bring an end to the war with as little outside interference as possible. The only losers will be those who want to elevate the conflict into a world-shaking event to the detriment of the world.