In assessing the motives and actions of Vladimir Putin, Hillary Clinton compared them to Adolf Hitler’s. Almost always a mistake. After 12 years in power, Hitler was dead, having slaughtered millions and conquered Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals.
And Putin? After 13 years in power, and facing a crisis in Ukraine, he directed his soldiers in the Crimea to take control of the small peninsula where Russia has berthed its Black Sea fleet since Napoleon.
To the Wall Street Journal this is a “blitzkrieg.”
But as of now, this is a less bloody affair than Andrew Jackson’s acquisition of our Florida peninsula. In 1818, Gen. Jackson was shooting Indians, putting the Spanish on boats to Cuba and hanging Brits. And we Americans loved it.
Still, there are parallels between what motivates Putin, a Russian nationalist, and what motivated the Austrian corporal. Hitler’s war began in blazing resentment at what was done to Germany after Nov. 11, 1918.
The Kaiser’s armies had defeated the Russian Empire, and the Italians at Caporetto, and fought the Western Allies to a stand still in France, until two million Americans turned the tide in 1918. When Berlin accepted an armistice on President Wilson’s Fourteen Points, not a single Allied soldier stood on German soil.
But, at Paris, the Allies proceeded to tear a disarmed Germany apart. The whole German Empire was confiscated. Eupen and Malmedy were carved out of Germany and given to Belgium. Alsace-Lorraine was taken by France. South Tyrol was severed from Austria and given to Italy. A new Czechoslovakia was given custody of 3.25 million Sudeten Germans.
The German port of Danzig was handed over to the new Poland, which was also given an 80-mile wide strip cut out of Germany from Silesia to the sea, slicing her in two.
The Germans were told they could not form an economic union with Austria, could not have an army of more than 100,000 soldiers, and could not put soldiers west of the Rhine, in their own country.
Perhaps this Carthaginian peace was understandable given the Allied losses. It was also madness if the Allies wanted an enduring peace.
Gen. Hans Von Seeckt predicted what would happen. When we regain our power, he said, “we will naturally take back everything we lost.”
When Hitler came to power in 1933, he wrote off the lands lost to Belgium, France and Italy – he wanted no war with the West – but set out to recapture lost German lands and peoples in the East.
He imposed conscription in 1935, sent his soldiers back into the Rhineland in 1936, annexed Austria in 1938, demanded and got the return of the Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia at Munich in 1938.
He then sought to negotiate with the Polish colonels, who had joined in carving up Czechoslovakia, a return of Danzig, when the British issued a war guarantee to Warsaw stiffening Polish spines.
Enraged by Polish intransigence, Hitler attacked. Britain and France declared war. The rest is history.
What has this to do with Putin?
He, too, believes his country was humiliated and shabbily treated after the Cold War, and sees himself as protector of the ethnic Russians left behind when the Soviet Union came apart.
Between 1989 and 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev had freed the captive nations of Eastern Europe, allowed the Soviet Union to dissolve into 15 nations, and had held out a hand of friendship to the Americans.
What did we do? Moved NATO right onto Russia’s front porch. We brought all the liberated nations of Eastern Europe into our military alliance, along with three former Soviet republics.
The War Party tried to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO, which was established to contain and, if necessary, fight Russia. Had they succeeded, we could have been at war with Russia in 2008 over Georgia and South Ossetia, and today over Crimea.
Now we hear new calls for Ukraine and Georgia to be brought into NATO. Are these people sane?
Five U.S. presidents who faced far more violent actions by a far more dangerous Soviet Union – Truman, Ike, JFK, Johnson, Reagan – refused even to threaten force against Russia for anything east of the Elbe river.
These presidents ruled out force during the Berlin Blockade of 1948, the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961, the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, and the smashing of Solidarity in Poland in 1981.
Yet, today, we are committed to go to war for Lithuania and Estonia, Obama is sending F-16s to Latvia where half a million Russians live, and the War Party wants Sixth Fleet warships moved into the Black Sea.
If there is a Cold War II, or a U.S.-Russia war, historians of tomorrow will as surely point to the Bushes and Clintons who shoved NATO into Moscow’s face, as historians today point to the men of Paris who imposed the Versailles treaty upon a defeated Germany in 1919.