Posts Tagged With: neville chamberlain

DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN

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.

 

 

 

 

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THE UKRAINE DEBACLE

Hillary Clinton was right-0n target when she described Vladimir Putin and his Russian forces take-over of the Crimean sector of the Ukraine as being virtually identical to Hitler’s takeover of Chechoslovakia. In 1938, Hitler marched his Nazi troops into northern Chechoslovakia on the pretext that he was merely protecting the rights of the large German population that inhabited that region. This led to the infamous Munich conference between Hitler and England’s Neville Chamberlain as well as the Prime Minister of France. Hitler promised no further military incursions if his act of aggression was allowed to stand. Chamberlain agreed, and returned home to wildly cheering crowds when he proclaimed that that he had “achieved peace in our time.” At Chechoslovakia’s expense, of course. The French PM knew this was all a charade but was powerless to reverse the course that was unfolding. It was only a few months later that Hitler tore up the Munich accord by taking over the rest of Chechoslovakia, and then invading Poland, as World War II was on for real. The British finally came to their senses and replaced Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement, with the toughness and realism of a Winston Churchill.

So it is with Putin’s military takeover of Crimea. After all, he only did it to protect the rights of the large Russian populace currently living in Crimea. The first thing to know is that Putin is an old KGB mid-level thug who rose to power with the fall of the old Soviet empire. The KGB was Moscow’s equivalent of the Nazi Gestapo, and had used virtually identical Gestapo methods as standard operating procedure. Since knocking off his opponents and achieving ultimate power, Putin runs the Russian government Mafia-style. If anyone of significance crosses him, they’re either deposited in Siberian prison camps for the duration, or just simply eliminated. Putin’s economic system relies heavily on crony capitalism-his cronies receive all the capital, and the rest of the peasants are left with their vodka to blot out their unhappy lives. As I’ve said, it’s a Mafia-style government with Putin being the godfather, or the boss of bosses. It’s a primary reason that Russia is chief among all nations in the world, in actually losing population, due to a significantly declining  birth rate, that doesn’t keep pace with its death rate.

The thing is, however, that Putin is also a highly ambitious man, and is not satisfied with just ruling Russia. He has big dreams of re-assembling the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or USSR, and bringing it all under his command. In 2008, his troops invaded and took over half the state of adjoining Georgia, while President George W. Bush, and the rest of the world stood by and did nothing. He maintains an iron-grip on Chechnya, which is a Moslem country fighting for years for its independence from Russia. The Chechnians have resorted to unleashing horrific terrorist acts against the Russian people; but this has not dissuaded Putin from granting Chechnya its freedom.  The Ukraine, however, is the biggest prize in Putin’s ambitions, and the takeover of Crimea is just the beginning.

Just as Hitler got to preside over the 1936 summer Olympics in Berlin, shortly before the out break of WWII, Putin took center-stage over the 2014  just-ended winter Olympics in Russia, shortly before invading Crimea. Amazing how consistently history keeps repeating itself. Both men presented themselves as models of rationality who enjoyed world class sporting events as much as the next guy. Their sinister goals remained well-hidden during the Olympic festivities. But the wolf in sheep’s clothing eventually bares its fangs. And when it does people die.

The mess in the Ukraine began when its democratically elected leader decided to switch sides. Preparations had been made for the Ukraine to join the European Union, which would enable it to reap all the trade, economic, and other financial benefits that membership in the EU had to offer. The whole world expected that to occur, including the leadership in this country. But Putin could never allow that to happen. At the last minute, Putin persuaded the Ukrainian leader to renounce EU membership and, instead, come in under Russia’s umbrella. The Ukrainian people were up in arms and massive demonstrations started taking place. The government’s answer was to slaughter protesters by the hundreds as the streets literally ran with blood. Even more massive protests took place, and the Ukrainian government was finally overthrown, with its leader fleeing for his life to Russia. An interim government has been established, with a pro-western agenda. It was at this point that Putin decided on a military take-over of the Crimean portion of the Ukraine, which is now solidly inside the Russian orbit.

While President Obama and other western allies have generally denounced Russia’s military aggression, there’s not a lot options available to us. There was a time in recent history when the North Atlantic Treaty Organization had the military muscle to counter such Russian operations, but it no longer does. Today NATO is just a shadow of its former self. England, France and Germany have cut their military resources to the bone; leaving the U.S. to pretty much do all the heavy lifting. It’s one of the reasons why we sustain $700 billion dollars a year in Defense expenditures. But there is virtually no appetite in this country for further military adventurism for any reason. After being sapped by a decade’s-long war in Iraq, and a still on-going 13 year-old war in Afghanistan, the one thing almost all Americans agree on is, no more military involvements.

There has been talk of imposing economic or financial sanctions against Russia, but major problems exist with those courses of action too. Russia supplies western Europe and the Ukraine with almost all of its energy resources. Gas and oil flow through Russian pipelines to virtually every European country. If we imposed economic sanctions against Russia, Putin could just as easily shut down all Russian energy deliveries to the rest of Europe. It’s known as being caught between a rock and a hard place. So consider that Crimea is now permanently within Moscow’s sphere of influence. The real question is, however, whether or not Putin will be satisfied with just ownership of Crimea, or does he have all of the Ukraine within his sight. Stay tuned for further developments.

 

 

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WAR AND PEACE

No, this is not about Leo Tolstoy’s timeless masterpiece, which was required reading when I went to school, although that, in itself, would be worthy of serious commentary. (The book was so long, that the word going around school was that students were reading just every other page.) Instead this piece will be about war as being the ultimate failure of the human condition, and yet extremely necessary at times. Americans, as a rule, like to revel in peaceful pursuits such as making a living and trying to have fun whenever possible. We carry on about the Super Bowl (just completed in a very exciting game,) or other sporting events; go to shows, movies, or nightclubs; dine out frequently; or just have neighborhood parties where the booze flows like the River Ganges. We keep up with the Kardashians or the exploits of such tabloid stars as Brittany Spears and Lindsay Lohan. All extremely superficial but harmless, peaceful pursuits. But while we’re pursuing fun or otherwise going about our daily routines, something like 9/11 01 comes crashing down on our heads, as 3000 Americans are murdered without the slightest forewarning. Suddenly life isn’t so much about having fun anymore. Suddenly we shift from being a nation at peace to one going on a war footing. Suddenly, we’re a nation in mourning, soon to be followed by a real shooting war in some hellhole part of the world called Afghanistan, that many people barely knew existed or heard of, as we seek justice for the events of 9/11. Sometimes, war just comes wether we want it or not.

While war is an abomination for those involved, not going to war can lead to even worse consequences. I’ve written before about how the French and British were asleep at the switch as Hitler built his military machine in Nazi Germany during the 1930s. The French could have gone in as late as 1937 or 1938 and destroyed Hitler’s army and the Nazi regime, with little effort. Instead they did nothing. Instead, Britain’s Neville Chamberlain met with Hitler in Munich in1938, and attempted a policy of appeasement. Hitler, of course, saw this as a sign of weakness, which it was, and plowed ahead with his plans to conquer all of Europe by force. And the French and British, who tried to avoid war at all costs, soon were involved in the greatest war the world had ever seen. Over 60 million people died in Europe alone, as a consequence of the Allied policy of appeasement. In a human history filled with evil acts by evil tyrants, the Nazi’s were able to pull off the most evil event of all time, the Holocaust. Over 6 million Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and people opposing Hitler’s policies, were slaughtered in the gas chambers. The magnitude and extent of such evil is still more than the mind can comprehend for many people.

On the other hand, an example of where force was unwisely used was the fiasco known as the Viet-Nam war. It was a direct result of our paranoia and fear of world communism. Although none of our vital interests were even remotely threatened, the John Kennedy administration decided to consign hundreds of thousands of troops to another planetary hellhole-the jungles of Viet-Nam. The Eisenhower administration had initially got us involved in what was an essentially a civil war against a corrupt regime. But Eisenhower had sent over only a few hundred men to assist the corrupt government in office in its fight against the Communist rebels. However, when Kennedy, and then Lyndon Johnson became presidents, somehow, vital interests were manufactured, and up to half a million American troops were sent over to fight in Viet-Nam’s civil war. And unlike now, a draft existed in those days. So young men, often against their will, were drafted into the military and sent to die in the rat-infested, hellhole jungles of Viet-Nam. In the end it took Republican Richard Nixon to extract us from this folly created by Democratic presidents. Today we have peaceful relations with Viet-Nam and extensive commercial ties. Which is of little consolation to the near 60 thousand  Americans that perished in those jungles, or the tens of thousands of American lives ruined because of severe injuries. To say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of Viet-Namese that were killed.

After 9/11, war and peace were again major issues as the newly installed George W. Bush presidency took office. As I said earlier, we went to war in Afghanistan against the Taliban, ostensibly to seek justice for the slaughter of 3000 Americans on 9/11. It was, however, really a quest for vengeance, because the Taliban had fully supported Osama bin-Laden and his band of lunatic terrorists and the havoc they wrecked on American soil. What at first appeared to be an easy and quick victory over the Taliban has now turned into an on-going war almost 12 years in the making. It has been like death by a thousand cuts, as the Taliban have proved to be far more resilient than first contemplated. President Obama has stated his intent to pull our troops out of the war zones by next year, so that the Afghan army will supposedly be doing all the fighting. But will this lead to a resurgent Taliban taken back the country, so that all our sacrifice will be for naught? In any event, the American public is sick of the Afghan war, and by large majorities wants us out of there.

The Bush administration also went to war against Saddam Hussein in Iraq, on the pretext that Saddam was harboring chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction. Now there’s no question that Saddam was a very evil guy, and would have no compunctions about using WMDs;  but imagine everyone’s surprise when no WMDs were found after Saddam was driven from office. Overwhelming support for the war quickly crumbled, especially as it dragged on and on for years. President Obama finally extracted us from that one, but again not before the loss of about 6,000 American military and civilian lives; and the expenditure of almost a trillion dollars. Today a very fragile “peace” exists but widespread terrorist acts are committed almost on a daily basis. Will this country also descend into terrorist hell, making all our sacrifices be in vain?

Now the main evil threatening civilization on this planet is Iran’s rush to develop nuclear weapons. Iran’s fundamentalist Islamic regime has repeatedly threatened to wipe Israel off the map. Their fundamentalism and hatred of Israel are like bottomless pits. Nuclear weapons in the hands of the Mullahs running the country, creates the very real possibility of using those weapons against U.S or Israel. This would result in nuclear retaliation by Israel and the entire planet would descend into a nuclear conflagration. Even the roaches would not be exempt from extinction. So do we go in and take military action by bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities before they develop the bomb. The way the French should have gone in and wiped out Hitler’s army in 1938. Or, as is most likely the case, do we do as the French did, which is nothing; because neither the American public nor the present administration has the stomach for another war. Then we would have to live with a nuclear-armed Iran.

Like marriage, war and peace go together like a horse and carriage, don’t they.

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