For those of us who study history, Mr. Putin’s actions are not unexpected; quite the opposite…they were an inevitability as China’s eventual takeover of Taiwan is. The next question to be asked is why is/was it an inevitability?
Simple: The West, since World War Two has been so averse to major conflict, so pacified by decades of “peace talk” and “remaining civilized” the will to fight has been drummed out of it. The West, most especially Western Europe was not only, understandably, traumatized because of the Second World War, they became pacifist in the extreme, couching that pacifism under the guise of “civilized”, not really understanding that the rest of the world really doesn’t think that way. The West, as a result, has had difficulty coming to grips with why the rest of the world has not embraced materialism and “peace”. They can’t fathom why anyone would want aggression or, dare it be said, war. It’s simply not “civilized”.
A further problem is the West’s reliance on the United States, a reliance exacerbated because of World War Two. Since that time, and because of the creation of NATO as well as the Cold War with the Soviet Union, the Western European nations have come to rely on United States money and military power, all the while allowing their own military to languish and atrophy. This does not mean military spending waned as the UK is #5 in the world, Germany #7, and France #8, but rather the will to fight or at least to appear willing to engage in conflict – two terribly different approaches. One can spend all they want on the best looking and most intimidating uniforms, but if they players are unwilling to play none of it matters.
The peoples of the West are unwilling to fight…their backbone atrophied largely because of two things; over-reliance on “big brother” (United States) and the terror that was World War II, the latter resulting in generations of children being taught to avoid conflict at all costs, including their personal lives. These are the ‘60’s kids—peace, love and togetherness and all that who have come to maturity and passed pacifism in all its forms on to succeeding generations.
The suggestion here is not that there should be a return to staged fighting in order to separate the weak from the strong as in ancient Sparta, but rather a return to the notion that sometimes we must be willing to engage, willing to confront, and even be willing to die in order to stop those autocrats and dictators from realizing their dreams of avarice and power. The world is not a peaceful place, regrettably, and so we should be prepared to do what we must. Sadly, the West is not.
This also does not mean to suggest that there should be war over Ukraine. The issues Mr. Putin bring up (security) have a long history in Russian lore. It should not be forgotten that Russia was invaded three times in devastating fashion. First, by Le Grand Armeé of Napoleon with devastating effect. Second, by Germany during the First World War, and finally by Hitler and Germany again during the Second World War. The notion of a “buffer zone” to secure Russian safety is not new and never has been. Therefore, it is not without reason Mr. Putin feared NATO on his front door in Ukraine. This is not to excuse his actions in the least, merely an elementary attempt to explain his reasoning (there is much more to this but then this article might be a book).
Further, this invasion was not without warning, the West’s impotence to address or even listen to his warnings making his current actions even more of a possibility. Mr. Putin echoed the same language since 2014 regarding the easternmost portions of Ukraine…the same argument’s Hitler made in 1936 – 1938. He spoke of uniting all the Russian people in those eastern territories (Hitler said ‘German speaking when he invaded theRhineland, Austria and the Sudetenland), accusing Ukraine of the “genocide” of Russians in the eastern portion of Ukraine (Hitler used that same terminology just before his AND RUSSIAN invasion of Poland in 1939), and taking a portion of it under the guise of “this is only what I want” before launching a full-scale invasion (Hitler did the same with Czechoslovakia in 1939). History has the answers – and rhymes…again.
The difference is the people in the 30’s were war weary but willing to engage despite their fatigue and hatred of war. Imagine a completely pacifist Europe in 1939. Today, the West is paralyzed, preferring the futility of sanctions to threat of the blade. The world sees that, and the Putin/Xi axis understands that which leads us to where we are today. Again, this is not an admonition for war for as George Patton once said, “”I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.” War, to quote a line, is an equal opportunity destroyer. However…
The notion that one is unwilling or unable to fight only empowers those with no scruples about engaging in conflict. They assume the power and they, then, become the ones who dictate the terms. This is where we are.