Streetwise Professor

March 7, 2014

The History Rhymes Enough to Justify Taking Comparisons to 1936-1938 Seriously

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 4:02 pm

Historical analogies to current events can be illuminating, but dangerous.  Even if strong similarities exist, difference do too, and therefore caution is required when using them.

This is especially true with analogies to Naziism and Hitler.  Argudendo ad Hitlerum is fraught with peril, and is used far too cavalierly.

Hillary found out about the perils when she compared Putin’s incursion into Ukraine-and yes, Crimea is Ukraine-to Germany’s actions in 1936-1938: the occupation of the Rhineland, the Anschluss, the taking of the Sudetenland, and the eventual seizure of the rest of Czechoslovakia.  Her remarks unleashed a storm of criticism.

Mark this day in you calendars.  I am going to come to Hillary’s defense, sort of.  (As to why that is particularly remarkable, consider this bit of personal history.)

There are strong parallels between what Putin/Russia is doing in Ukraine now, and what Hitler/Germany did in 1936-1938.  Most notably, seizing pieces of sovereign territory,  using as a justification the imperative and right to defend fellow ethnics, and putting on sham plebiscites to justify the seizures.

Moreover, there are very strong parallels in the response of the European nations to Hitler’s aggression and Putin’s: that is, no real response at all.  A palpable fear to confront the aggression.  A willingness to concede one flagrant violation of a sovereign nation if the aggressor crosses-his-heart-and-hopes-to-die that he will be satisfied with what he’s taken so far.

There is also a parallel in the cravenness of many in the West (Britain and France in the 30s, Britain, France and Germany in the 2010s), particularly a call to recognize the aggressor’s legitimate interests.  (This is epitomized in the current situation by this piece in Reuters. Complete apologetic BS.)

But the pushback comes: Putin isn’t Hitler!

Well, Hitler wasn’t Hitler in 1938.  That is, we look back at events in 1938 seeing what transpired in the 1940s.  In 1938, no one had any idea of the monster that Hitler was to become.  In many ways, he was perceived like Putin is today.  An aggressive advocate of his nation’s interests, redressing historical injustices.  A reasonable, rational actor who would stop advancing once his nation’s legitimate interests were recognized, the historical wrongs reversed, and his co-ethnics protected.  Hitler then and Putin now were also widely viewed as ridiculous figures, prone to bizarre public displays, and hence not really dangerous.

And that’s exactly why making parallels to 1936-1938 are entirely appropriate.  Those judgments proved horribly wrong, and the consequences were horrific beyond belief.

Putin needn’t be anywhere near as evil as Hitler for the consequences of unchecked Russian aggression to be horrible indeed.  Meaning that the lesson of 1936-1938, that checking an aggressor can forestall truly frightening consequences, is valid today.  (And even Hitler could have been checked.  He was virtually petrified with fear when he went into the Rhineland.  It was the failure to stand up to him then which emboldened him in the years to come.)

What’s the downside of taking robust economic, non-military measures against Putin today?  Some modest economic pain.  What’s the upside? Deterring unpredictable, and potentially disastrous actions by an erratic autocrat emboldened by the weakness of his adversaries.

As insurance policies go, it seems like a very reasonable purchase.  Yes, we don’t know what Putin will do.  We don’t really know his ambitions.  We cannot look into his soul.  We don’t know how his behavior will change if nations opposed to him cave at every turn.

But is precisely that uncertainty which makes paying a premium today a bargain.  Hitler demonstrates what the tail risk is.  Putin doesn’t have to be nearly that far into the tail to be a grave danger to vast multitudes.

Better to take something of a hit now, in order to reduce substantially the risk of a future calamity.

That’s the lesson of the 1930s.  And Putin doesn’t have to be as evil as Hitler to make it imperative to take heed of that instruction.




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  1. Putin never wrote a Mein Kampf. The Western powers were hoping Hitler would just keep going East as he’d promised (never dig a hole for someone else, as Russians say). Had Hitler stopped at Danzig, and expelled the Jews (an ancient Euro custom) rather than killed them, he would have been considered the greatest German who’d ever lived. Or at least Bismarck 2.0.

    Comment by So? — March 7, 2014 @ 4:47 pm

  2. @So? The fact that Putin did not write Mein Kampf increases the uncertainty about his motives and goals. All the more reason to insure against the tail risks by stopping him now.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — March 7, 2014 @ 5:42 pm

  3. Putin has no history of Hitler-like ravings concerning ethnic groups so the odds of genocide and concentration camps are pretty much nonexistant. But your observation of the strong parallels with the 1930s is dead on. You aren’t the only one to make the connection. You might like this lengthy but informative article:

    Hitler without the genocide is basically Napoleon, right?

    Comment by AP — March 7, 2014 @ 6:04 pm

  4. To clarify, though: I’m not predicting or judging Putin as wanting a continent-wide or world war: that would be going too far. But vigilance and insurance against even a small possibility of this is a good idea.

    Comment by AP — March 7, 2014 @ 7:10 pm

  5. O, great. So absence of genocide and murders in effect justifies taking the property of others. It is OK to steal as long as no one is hurt.

    I wish you people could hear yourself.

    Comment by LL — March 7, 2014 @ 7:30 pm

  6. The similarity between Putin and Hitler (and for that matter, Kaiser Wilhelm II) is much deeper and more ominous: either one of them does not like the established world order and is ready to act to change it.

    This is why this relatively small burst is so dangerous. This is why it has to be nipped in the bud with extreme prejudice.

    Comment by LL — March 7, 2014 @ 7:33 pm

  7. Professor,

    Do you still believe that Yanuk was responsible for the bloodshed in Maidan (in light of the leaked conversation between Ashton and Paet)? Because typically those who want to change the status quo are the most violent and brutal. It’s either that, or they don’t win. For example, the Reformation succeeded because the Protestants were more batshit crazy than the catholics. And once you win, you get to write history.

    Comment by So? — March 7, 2014 @ 7:44 pm

  8. This is why it has to be nipped in the bud with extreme prejudice.

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Given the post-Soviet decay, a nuclear exchange is Russia’s best chance to catch up with the rest of the world.

    Comment by So? — March 7, 2014 @ 7:46 pm


    Comment by elmer — March 7, 2014 @ 8:26 pm

  10. The upside is that Putin is already beyond the life expectancy for Russian men. So containment might pay off faster.

    Comment by aaa — March 7, 2014 @ 8:51 pm

  11. So? As the Estonian FM pointed out, he discussed a lot of rumors.

    I know you take everything from Russian media as gospel, but do try and use the few brain cells remaining to you.

    There is already hard evidence the interior minister ordered the sniper attacks.

    Furthermore there is film of Berkut snipers firing on the crowd.

    Finally, the majority of protesters killed died from head and heart shots.
    This implies a high level of professional skill, which requires a high level of training.

    Comment by Andrew — March 7, 2014 @ 11:10 pm

  12. Russians are marking the homes of ethnic Tatars in Crimea.

    If that isn’t ominous, what is?

    Comment by Andrew — March 7, 2014 @ 11:32 pm

  13. Andrew,

    I know that logic is not your strong suit, but please bear with me. Cui bono? WHY would Yanuk order this? He had nothing to gain from it. A protected stand-off suited him just fine. He was not the one camping out in the cold. Escalation ALWAYS favours those who wish to change the status quo.

    If Berkut was so professional, why did it not simply scatter the protesters?

    Comment by So? — March 8, 2014 @ 12:04 am

  14. listen So? Your whole premise is (as usual) false.

    Take Syria for example, once again there it was the government that opened fire on protesters.

    Tianamin square, bloody Sunday, the current protests in Venezuela and Thailand.

    In all these cases it was the government that used deadly force first.

    I know your sub simian levels of intellectual honesty probably blind you to reason.

    Yanukovich had already tried to order the army to disperse the protesters. Apparently the army refused, hence Yanikovich sacking the head of the Ukrainian armed forces. Unfortunately for Yanukovich, his choice of replacement also refused. Yanukovich was playing for time, perhaps time to plan a get away, and I suspect he had about as much respect for that agreement as Putin does for othe nations territorial integrity. None whatsoever. Also note that your love interest Putin and the spider Lavrov both were OPPOSED to the agreement brokered between the opposition and Yanukovich, the Russian representative present REFUSED TO SIGN IT.

    Berkut were up against a very determined opposition, Riot police tactics work through intimidation. if the opponent is not intimidated then the police tend to become so. Also there were quite a few cases of riot police changing sides. Dictatorships, corrupt leaders, and autocrats all have a long history of using deadly force against demonstrators.

    It seems you are too illiterate to be aware of this fact.

    BTW, the current government has invited foreign police forces to assist in investigating who was responsible for the violence.

    Comment by Andrew — March 8, 2014 @ 1:22 am

  15. LOL, whatever you say Andrew. The Maidan catapult was the scourge of Berkut, sure. Those “barricades” were pure theatre. Any professional riot police force would have cleared out that mess in a matter of hours. It’s their job. I guess Berkut only had expert marksmen.

    Comment by So? — March 8, 2014 @ 1:42 am

  16. Ah So? You never said you have experience of Riot control tactics.
    The Berkut did try on several occasions, but I guess you were too busy too notice.
    They were driven off, and clearing a burning barricade is not as easy as you think, unless you use something like an APC or armored bulldozer.]
    You don’t really want to be the driver in a standard one clearing burning material.

    You really are a loathsome little type So? A true Great Russian Chauvinist. Of course it is vermin like you that explain why Russia is so hated in it’s former empire.

    Comment by Andrew — March 8, 2014 @ 1:57 am

  17. A good article.

    Demolishes the lies put about by quislings such as So? and Vladislav.

    Comment by Andrew — March 8, 2014 @ 4:52 am

  18. A former top security official with Ukraine’s main security agency, the SBU, waded into the confusion, in an interview published Thursday with the respected newspaper Dzerkalo Tizhnya. Hennady Moskal, who was deputy head of the agency, told the newspaper that snipers from the Interior Ministry and SBU were responsible for the shootings, not foreign agents.
    “In addition to this, snipers received orders to shoot not only protesters, but also police forces. This was all done in order to escalate the conflict, in order to justify the police operation to clear Maidan,” he was quoted as saying.
    One of the victims of the snipers was Alexander Tonskikh, 57. He told AP that at around 10 a.m. on Feb. 20, he and dozens of opposition fighters moved south out of the main battleground on Maidan.
    Riot police withdrew suddenly, he said, and an instant later snipers began firing from at least two different directions, from what seemed to be the rooftops of government buildings, between 200 and 300 yards away.
    He said dozens of people were “mown down like grass” as he and others crouched behind a waist-high stone wall, holding wooden clubs and metal riot shields.
    At least 10 people, he said, were killed instantly, and many others wounded. The bodies piled up on top of each other like fallen tree branches.
    Shooting then began from a third direction, he said. As he crouched with his back to a tree, he was hit by a bullet that entered his right arm, went through his right side, punctured his lung and lodged just below his heart.
    He then lost consciousness.

    Comment by Andrew — March 8, 2014 @ 9:35 am

  19. @So

    Yanusvoloch had nothing to gain from shooting and killing unarmed civilians???????

    First – the guy is an imbecile; he does not know how to spell the word professor, which he claimed to be; he refused to campaign Tymoshnenko in the presidential campaign because of his unlimited stupidity; his campaign consisted of “hey, how about those pretty girls in Odessa” and singing soviet songs

    This is the same guy who, during the Orange Revolution, advocated using tanks and armed forces against protestors

    Second – the idea was to kill a few civilians to scare people off – but that did not happen

    The militia were simply cannon fodder for him – they were ill-equipped and poorly trained. The did manage to get into their “turtle” formation with their shields, mimicking Roman legions from centuries ago.

    The tactic reminds one of the “sweeper” tactic used by the sovoks a while back – put poorly equipped people out front, and BEHIND them put professionals with guns. If the ones in front took any steps backwards, they would be shot from BEHIND.

    The militia were simply sacrificial lambs. Shooting one’s own and then blaming it on others is an old and brutal NKVD trick used many, many times. Hitler used it, too.

    That’s why the sniper bullets were all the same.

    This has already been discussed many times in Ukrainian media.

    People had enough of the brutal corruption in Ukraine, and the sovok mafia dictator regime of yanusvoloch. During which, by the way, big shots and their kids killed people left and right, willy nilly, with their SUV’s and also with guns, at their whim – and got away with it due to the Planet of the Apes “courts” established by the sovok mafia.

    Just one example – big shot shoots family man in front of kids for daring to swim in “his” lake – which was public. Another example – big shots shoots 55-year old man who lived with his mother for daring to take a shortcut across “his” fields, because the big shot claimed to be “lord of the manor” and could do whatever he wanted. And the local sheriff acompanied the big shot to do the shooting, which they they claimed was “heroic self-defense,” and for which it was proposed that the big shot should receive a medal.

    The people were supposed to run – but they did not. They used burning tires to create smoke screens against the snipers.

    And I have previously posted the links which reveal that Kremlinoid operatives were not only in Yanukonvikt’s government, but also arrived and stayed in Kyiv hotels in order to advise the snipers and Berkut how to conduct operations.

    Putler also thought that people would run.

    But they didn’t.

    And anyone thinks he will stop at Crimea is dreaming.

    Putler is shitting in his pants right now for fear of democracy coming to the Russian Federation.

    This is not about Russian speakers versus Ukrainian speakers.

    This is about those who want democracy – and those who want Putlerism.

    Comment by elmer — March 8, 2014 @ 10:54 am

  20. provokatsia, desinformatsia, and maskirovka

    those are KBG tactics which have been used over and over by Putler, including in Afghanistan

    Here is his former advisor who says that Putler will not stop in Crimea

    Comment by elmer — March 8, 2014 @ 11:47 am

  21. “Unfortunately, the only response to an all-out information war is an all-out information defence. The West used to be quite good at this: simply by being credible truth-tellers, Radio Free Europe and the BBC language services provided our most effective tools in the struggle against communism. Maybe it’s time to look again at their funding, and to find ways to spread their reach once more.”

    Comment by arthur — March 8, 2014 @ 12:08 pm

  22. Craig…
    Hillary advocated against Jackson-Vanek and the Magnitsky resolution in the summer of 2012. Isn’t our biggest problem the fact that the then Secretary of State so recently held this position? What can thinking be like throughout State? To be so off the mark about our main adversary? And isn’t this a prime question when vetting candidates for 2016?

    Comment by Louis Hansell — March 8, 2014 @ 12:33 pm


    Dear Mr. Obama (with nazi sign)not make order in Crimea go to your lavotry

    dear Mr. Obama order in your family with your wife

    OSCE go home

    RUSSiA our shelter

    sign – the new Casanova strip bar

    Comment by elmer — March 8, 2014 @ 1:07 pm

  24. @So,

    “ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Given the post-Soviet decay, a nuclear exchange is Russia’s best chance to catch up with the rest of the world.”


    “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Given the post-Soviet decay, a nuclear exchange is Russia’s best chance to catch up with the rest of the world.”

    It’s not about Russia, it is about Putin and his KGB/FSP oligarch pals. They have managed to catch up quite succesfully ( So, do you really want us to believe that Putin et co would want to lose all this earthly good for something so stupid as a nuclear suicide?

    We all know quite well why you want us to believe your BS: intimidation. But if, as it seems obvious by now, as Putin will not dare to get serious, intimidation loses its effect…gradually. Stalinism as lite version just is not enough in the long run. And as you well know by now, Putin nor Russia are not capable to risk more than pure intimidation can achieve. Therefore all that is left is a gradually diminishing power of taking advantage of fears that used to run deep due to the dark days of Stalin’s terror , but as new generations grow up, these fears will vanish gradually…

    Comment by Dixi — March 8, 2014 @ 2:53 pm

  25. Dixi,

    I was merely stating facts. Of course, there will be no nuclear or otherwise war with the West. Putin’s daughters live in the West (no-one knows where, but it’s presumed one daughter is in Holland). Lavrov’s daughter is in the States (a Columbia graduate, no less). So Putler is doing what he is doing with EU’s (Germany’s) acquiescence, if not blessing. After all, he is fighting the hated Sovok legacy. Namely Ukraine’s ludicrous borders.

    Comment by So? — March 8, 2014 @ 7:46 pm

  26. @Arthur,

    LOL, just, LOL. Neocon Applebaum, an Iraq War cheerleader lecturing on the “truth”. Did they ever find those WMDs? The West lost the moral high ground in 1999, the US completely so in 2003. “We do what we want, rules apply to others”.

    Comment by So? — March 8, 2014 @ 8:21 pm

  27. “We do what we want, rules apply to others”
    Not sure if this is ironically put position of US during Iraq war or sincerely put current Russian position.

    Comment by arthur — March 8, 2014 @ 11:24 pm

  28. A video about EuroMaidan – the cost of democracy

    Comment by elmer — March 8, 2014 @ 11:35 pm

  29. Pro-Russian thugs show their “kultur”

    Pro-Ukrainian activists have been beaten up by pro-Russian groups at a rally in Crimea’s city of Sevastopol.

    The activists were attacked with whips, a BBC reporter at the scene says, describing the scenes as very ugly.

    Russian troops and allied militias are now in de-facto control of Ukraine’s autonomous region ahead of a referendum, which Kiev says is illegal.

    The US has warned Moscow that any moves to annex Crimea, an autonomous region, would close the door to diplomacy.

    Ben Brown
    BBC News, Sevastopol
    It started peacefully. Ukrainians – many of them middle-aged women – waved flags and sang songs to celebrate the birth 200 years ago of Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko. They see him as the father of the Ukrainian language.

    But by the end of the rally, pro-Russian demonstrators had turned up to gatecrash the celebrations. A line of young men and Cossacks with whips stood and glared at the rally menacingly – tension rose, and arguments broke out, both sides telling each other that Crimea is “our country”.

    Then it turned nasty, very nasty. The pro-Russians chased a group into a nearby car park. First, they set upon the driver of a white van, smashing his windscreen. He tried to drive through the mob to get away but crashed into another vehicle and was attacked again.

    Another person was dragged into some bushes, kicked, beaten and lashed with a Cossack’s whip.

    We were threatened, too, by the pro-Russians and ran away before they set upon us as well. It was a terrifying moment, and a glimpse into the abyss that Crimea now teeters over.

    The violence erupted when pro-Russian groups attacked dozens of people guarding a rally to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Ukrainian poet and national hero Taras Shevchenko.

    The crowd threw missiles at a car as the activists tried to flee the scene, smashing windows.

    Some of the attackers were Russian Cossacks

    Comment by Andrew — March 9, 2014 @ 7:40 am

  30. Propaganda in Crimea:

    Comment by LL — March 9, 2014 @ 1:56 pm

  31. that should be = between the 2 pictures

    Comment by elmer — March 9, 2014 @ 9:27 pm

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