Historical analogies are never perfect. But sometimes they are damn good. The Kremlin’s coup de main to seize control of the Crimea has a stark historical twin in Adolph Hitler’s 1938 Anschluss that took control of Austria. Under intense pressure from Berlin to accept annexation and facing an internal fifth column of Nazi sympathizers, the Austrian government organized a referendum vote on this issue. Fearing that the vote would go against annexation, the German government orchestrated a coup d’état by the “Austrian National Socialism” that seized control of the government in Vienna, swiftly followed by the entry of the German army. It was all over in a few days.
Of course, the annexation of Austria was the beginning and not the end of German aggression in Europe. Nor will seizure of the Crimea be the end of Putin’s. Hitler’s desire to build a Greater Germany is matched by Putin’s dream of recreating a version of the old Soviet Union. After the Anschluss, Hitler turned his attention to the Sudetenland, the western portion of Czechoslovakia with a large German-speaking population. Having succeeded in the Crimea, Putin’s next logical target will certainly be the Eastern Ukraine with its large Russian-speaking population. And he will use the excuse invented by Hitler: the need to protect ethnic Russians allegedly being abused by a foreign government.
The behavior of the Western media in the days leading up to the Kremlin’s march on the Crimea last week also bears striking similarities to how its predecessors in the 1930s addressed German aggression. Then, like now, major media outlets fell all over themselves explaining how Germany would never force itself on its smaller neighbor. Today’s RealClearDefense Morning Recon report savages the American media, reprinting the headlines from stories last week in which The New York Times, Foreign Affairs, The Daily Beast and The Washington Post all assured their readers that Russia was not going to invade Ukraine. Oops! If past is prologue, these same sources will next seek to justify Putin’s move and explain why opposition to the Kremlin’s aggression would be futile and even harmful to efforts to improve relations with Russia.
It is more than just ironic, it is tragic that the events in the Ukraine should take place just days before the Obama Administration is scheduled to roll out its long-awaited FY 2015 defense budget and its Future Years Defense Program for the period 2015-2019. As is already known, the FY 2015 budget will propose shrinking the U.S. Army to the smallest size since World War Two, retiring the Air Force’s entire fleet of A-10 tank busting aircraft and decreasing the number of Navy ships under construction. Moreover, Secretary of Defense Hagel has warned that if sequestration continues in effect in FY 2016, the U.S. military will have to endure devastating cuts in force structure, readiness and recapitalization. Back in the 1930s, England and France were at least beginning to rearm in response to Germany’s aggressive moves, not continuing to disarm.
Less than two weeks after the Anschluss, speaking in the House of Commons, Winston Churchill uttered words as prophetic then as they may well be today: “. . . historians a thousand years hence will still be baffled by the mystery of our affairs. They will never understand how it was that a victorious nation, with everything in hand, suffered themselves to be brought low, and to cast away all that they had gained by measureless sacrifice and absolute victory – gone with the wind! Now the victors are the vanquished, and those who threw down their arms in the field and sued for an armistice are striding on to world mastery. That is the position – that is the terrible transformation that has taken place bit by bit.”
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