That famous quote from 1961 belongs to Yogi Berra, all-star catcher for the New York Yankees, and was made in the context of on-going baseball events. Yogi had a way of mangling the English language, (or in this case, the French) but in a humorous fashion that sports writers loved to quote. If you’re interested, you can Google for other Yogisms. The trouble is, however, when deja vu keeps occurring in the unfolding events of mankind, it no longer becomes funny, but instead takes on tragic proportions. And the funny part is how it keeps happening over and over and over again. Today, we have history repeating itself, with devastating consequences, but with hardly anyone seeming to learn from the lessons of the past. Let us then try to understand how and why this is occurring.
I’ve written many times before about how Adolf Hitler and his Nazi thugs came to power in Germany in the the 1930s, and the ensuing consequences for the rest of Europe; but the 1930s so closely parallel today’s world events, that it bears repeating. Hitler became chancellor of Germany in 1932, largely through the democratic process. But upon taking office in 1933, Hitler swiftly abolished all semblances of freedom and democracy in Germany, as well as any future elections, and became dictator for life. If you opposed his regime, it was off to the concentration camps, or you were just simply executed. In contravention of the Treaty of Versailles which ended WWI, Hitler started to militarily re-arm Germany, soon after he took office. If the French had sent troops into Germany at that point, as they were legally obliged to do by the Treaty of Versailles, Hitler could have been quickly deposed, WWII could have been avoided, and 60 million deaths in Europe as a result of that war would have also been avoided. But the French did nothing but just stood by as the Nazi military grew in strength. After all, who wants to undergo the messiness of war when one could luxuriate in peaceful endeavors. So, seeing that both France and England were essentially paper tigers, Hitler made his next move in early 1938 by invading and swallowing up Austria. The pretext was that Austria was a German speaking nation, so they should have belonged to Germany all along. Never mind that Austria was a separate country with its own government; it now became part of the Third Reich. That event came to be known as the Anschluss, as the Allies (France, England, and now the U.S.) rationalized Hitler’s aggression as being no big deal. A policy of appeasement with Nazi Germany could forestall military engagement. Or so it was thought.
Hitler, now convinced that all of Europe was his for the taking, in 1938 moved his Nazi war machine into northern Czechoslovakia, again on the pretext that most of its inhabitants were also of German ethnicity. This time, the leadership of France and England started to become “concerned.” A conference was arranged in Munich, Germany between Hitler and Prime Ministers Neville Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier, of England and France respectively. The Munich Conference, as it came to be known, would go down in history as the ultimate failure of a policy of appeasement when dealing with aggressor tyrants. A pact was signed there in Munich on that day in 1938, that allowed Hitler to retain the spoils of his adventurism in Austria and northern Czechoslovakia as long as he committed no further acts of aggression. After the conference, Chamberlain came home to cheering crowds in London and proclaimed he had achieved “peace in our time.” The British were in ecstasy because they wanted so much to believe this was true. Daladier also returned to Paris and was similarly greeted by mobs of elated Frenchmen at Orly Airport. But Daladier didn’t delude himself. He knew that a long, bloody war was just around the corner. Looking haggard and sleep-deprived as he gazed upon the cheering mobs, he was heard to mutter-“the damn fools.”
The ink was no sooner dry on the Munich pact than Hitler moved his troops into the rest of Czechoslovakia and gobbled up the entire country. Might as well, since nobody was around to stop the Nazi war machine. France and England continued to look the other way. The U.S. Congress continued to follow a policy of strict isolationism, despite President Roosevelt’s desire to become militarily engaged. It wasn’t until 1939, when Hitler formally invaded Poland, that the Allies were forced to come to terms with the fact that WWII was officially underway, and they had better deal with it quickly. By that time, it was almost too late. In the East, the Nazi army drove to the very gates of Moscow. If Russia had fallen, all of Europe would have been under Nazi rule, except for Britain, and the British were hanging on by their fingernails. The German Luftwaffe was bombing London on a daily basis, until it was mostly a pile of rubble. It was only the long, bitter cold Russian winter that stalled the Nazi onslaught in the East, and allowed the Red Army to regroup and begin to push back against German troops. In England, Neville Chamberlain was quickly thrown out of office and replaced by Winston Churchill who rallied the British to engage in a stout-hearted defense of their homeland. But it wasn’t until U.S. forces finally entered the war in late 1941, that the tide began to turn in favor of the Allies. At the height of WWII, the U.S. would have 10 million troops fighting in both Europe and the Pacific, at an horrendous cost of lives and treasure. So much for waiting until the last minute to do what has to be done.
Now comes the deja vu part as we fast forward to present day. In Europe today, there is another tyrant who is on the move against his neighboring countries. This time it’s, of course, Vladimir Putin, the Godfather, or Boss of Bosses who rules Russia with an iron fist. For over a year now, he has decided to slice and dice neighboring Ukraine, annexing chunks of it into what he hopes will be another Russian or Soviet empire. The first chunk he bit off was Crimea, a sizable portion of what was once the Ukraine. France, Germany, Britain and the U.S. pretty much stood by and proclaimed that well, that’s how the cookie crumbles. The Allies did put into effect some mild economic sanctions against some of Putin’s cronies, but none have had any significant results. Next, Putin began supplying Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine with heavy weapons as they battle government forces that are trying to prevent the eastern part of their country from falling under Russian domain, as the Crimea has. Russian troops, undercover, have also joined the battle with the separatists. Thousands have already died as the war continues to rage. So last week, the PMs of both Germany and France, Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande, schlepped to Moscow to sign a peace accord with Putin that was supposed have put an immediate cease-fire into effect in the Ukraine. But once again, the ink was was barely dry on the accord when vicious fighting broke out and hundreds of government forces were slaughtered. Sounds a lot like Munich to me. Deja Vu. All over again.
All the while, the consummate evil of terrorism in our time continues to spread. Isis, Al-Qaeda, Boko Harem, Taliban or whatever you want to call these mass serial killers, are on the march and growing stronger. They’ve officially spread their wings in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Iraq, Somalia, Nigeria, and to a some extent in Jordan and Egypt. If the U.S. and its European allies struck militarily against these barbarians now, i.e. by putting boots on the ground, instead of just engaging in token bombing raids, destruction of these terrorists is within reach at a relatively small cost. Every day that we hesitate, however, they grow stronger and the cost of confrontation becomes more expensive and deadlier. But, after all, who wants to become engaged in an all out war. It’s so much messier that the peaceful pursuits we’re all engaged in. Who needs that. As I said, it’s deja vu. All over again.