Television’s history channels are an opportunity to put current issues in perspective and think about the similarities with unfolding history.
Airing in recent weeks were ‘WWII in HD’ and ‘WWII in Color’ that focused on events leading to war to the conclusion, with the atomic bombs dropped on Japan.
This country had no interest in joining the conflict as people were war-weary in the wake of World War I and were in the Great Depression. Defense capabilities were low and diminishing. We did not have the military or desire for war. Conditions today are similar, except the economy is in a “recession.”
“Recession is when a neighbor loses his job. Depression is when you lose yours,” is attributed to Presidents Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan. In either, many people are jobless and the economy is bad.
Polls show there is little support for war. End Stool visitors also are concerned about the number of deaths and injuries over the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and how rapidly terrorists undid that effort.
Interest in the downing of a passenger plane over Ukraine and that country’s struggle to remain free of Russian influence has cooled. Crimea has faded from memory, even though it is a few months old. World-wide terrorism is beyond belief.
This column’s concern is greater than its usual contributors.
Crimea, Ukraine and other actions by Russian despot Vladimir Putin – and this country’s state of mind – reflect the state of the world leading to WWII as Germany and Japan expanded country by country, wantonly killing people.
Putin has worried me since assuming command of Russia when appointed prime minister in 1999 by Boris Yeltsin. In December 1999, Yeltsin resigned and appointed Putin president. Putin has filled one of those roles since then, always retaining ultimate power.
“Putin is a thug,” Richard Yatzeck said, when informed of the topic of this column. “He is a throwback to Russia (of the Cold War) authority. He is very popular with the people of Russia.”
“Russia was less dangerous during my early visits,” he said.
Yatzeck retired after 48 years teaching Russian literature and literary traditions at Lawrence University. He spent a year studying at Moscow State University and directed Associated Colleges of the Midwest’s off-campus study programs (1991 and 1997) in Kransnodar, Russia. He also organized trips – beginning in the 1960s – to Eastern Europe and in 2012 published, “Russia in Private.”
Hours collecting information about Putin, reveal a complex person driven by personal experiences.
Putin was recruited in 1975 by the KGB and spent much of his career in East Germany where Russia had 380,000 troops and intermediate range missiles.
He was to obtain technology and recruit Westerners from large electronics companies. He also was interested in military electronics and intelligence. His KGB service ended in 1991.
It was the end of the Cold War (1949-1991) under Mikhail Gorbachev, when Russia adopted sweeping democratic reforms, with relaxation of the repressive system.
It gave freedom of choices and lifestyle to a melancholy people and also established a free market system.
Putin is comfortable with a free-market but not with democracy.
His career was twice overturned by the democratic process and consequently sees it as his greatest threat. Gorbachev’s move West ended importance of KGB and his first career and an election ended his association in the St. Petersburg administration.
Putin has support of the people to return the old-style command system.
He has mastered Orwell’s “1984” that truth is a little fact with spin repeated often enough that becomes Big Brother’s reality.
It is how he places blame for shooting down a plane with 298 passengers aboard with a SAM missile on Ukraine, when there is evidence it was fired from Russia.
“I would like to note that this tragedy would not have occurred if there were peace in that country, or in any case, if hostilities had not resumed in southeast Ukraine. And certainly, the government over whose territory it occurred is responsible for this terrible tragedy,” Putin’s Ministry of Truth.
His role as peacemaker is a shell game with the U.S. its main dupe. Libya and Syria have become more violent and less stable and Iran continues to move forward on its nuclear program.
Chaos and deaths have resulted as terrorism spreads.
Russian troops to Crimea on March 3, 2014, shifted its allegiance from Ukraine. Putin said it was because of the dominance of ethnic Russians in the key port area who needed protection of the mother land.
A problem is we are naive about geography and cultures.
Ukraine is the largest country, 233,062 square miles, entirely within Europe. The population of 45.5 million includes 77.8 percent of Ukrainian ethnicity. It is bordered by seven countries, including Russia, and the Black Sea. It is a global breadbasket, being the third largest grain exporter in 2011.
Its government is similar to ours with separate powers – legislative, executive and judicial. It has the second largest military in Europe.
Russia collectivized farms in the early 1900s and the famine of the 1930s claimed 10 million Ukranian lives as food stocks were forcibly removed by the Soviet government.
Putin is a master of words.
Perhaps a few words are the only answer.
“Speak softly and carry a big stick,” – Theodore Roosevelt.
Whittling away the stick that defends us does not make us safe, but vulnerable.