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Similarities/differences between 2022 and 1939 (1 Viewer)

ignatiusjreilly

Footballguy
I initially had the idea to start a thread in the Politics Forum with a title like, "Is Putin the new Hitler?" but ... how should I put this ... I wasn't so sure that would produce the highest level of discussion.

Anyway, I was an undergrad history major, and I realized what I was really curious about was how to fit Russia's recent actions in a historical context. Because no, I don't think Putin is Hitler, but I do think we're perhaps in the scariest moment since World War II, and among the many directions things could go from here, outcomes even worse than World War 2 are definitely within the realm of possibility. That's why I specifically referenced 1939, because at that point it was still unclear where Hitlerism would end up.

So let's take a look at the record: On the one hand, we once again see a dictatorial leader of a proud-but-recently-humiliated state with a long list of grievances. That leader represents the vanguard of a worldwide movement of authoritarianism posing a challenge to democratic governance. Once again, the world is emerging from a searing emotional calamity (the Great Depression in the '30s, Covid now). And after some early troublemaking in semi-disputed border areas with large members of their own ethnic group, the dictator has crossed a pretty bright line with a completely unprovoked invasion of a neighboring country.

As for the differences, obviously the biggest one is that Russia is a nuclear state, which dramatically raises the stakes of any war they're involved in. On the other hand, they are facing a world much more united against them. Instead of a thoroughly ineffective League of Nations, we now have the UN and NATO. Also, Hitler skillfully played his rivals off against each other, first striking the Munich deal with France and England to take over Czechoslovakia, then turning around and signing the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Stalin to take Poland. If they had all remained united, it would have been far harder for him to achieve the successes he did in the late '30s. Hopefully, the same will be true with Putin this year. Also, it's been remarked in recent days that, even if he conquers Ukraine, Putin will have a hard time installing a puppet regime with any credibility. While that was also true in Poland in '39, the Poles were by far the exception. In just about every other state the Nazis invaded -- up to and including France -- there were local leaders more than willing to be German quislings. 

Anyway, I'm sure I could come up with more items for both lists, but the real question is, what do those similarities/differences tell us about how things are likely to play out going forward? If this really is another 1939, what do we need to do differently to ensure the next six years won't be as disastrous as the period of 1939-45 was? And if this situation is fundamentally different, how do we need to adapt to that?

 

rockaction

Footballguy
Russia is a nuclear state
That's where everything ends and is dissimilar in nature. The world is actually in no unified position other than begging Putin not to eradicate the whole lot of us. Once a madman has nukes, the world is his hostage. 

This is why it so dangerous for Iran to be working on nuclear weapons. They believe their province and wars come from and are in the heavens, while the old Soviets are still atheistic and think heaven is on earth, as are its wars. 

 

ignatiusjreilly

Footballguy
That's where everything ends and is dissimilar in nature. The world is actually in no unified position other than begging Putin not to eradicate the whole lot of us. Once a madman has nukes, the world is his hostage. 

This is why it so dangerous for Iran to be working on nuclear weapons. They believe their province and wars come from and are in the heavens, while the old Soviets are still atheistic and think heaven is on earth, as are its wars. 
I agree with you that the nuclear thing kind of dwarfs all the other elements. And I definitely don't want to see Iran get nukes. But so far at least -- and I absolutely reserve the right to change my opinion as events unfold -- we have not seen the same level of military adventurism out of Iran. It is one thing to support militia movements in Lebanon or meddle in Iraq's internal affairs. But what really makes a state dangerous is when, like Hitler and Saddam, they blithely ignore international borders and start invading sovereign states with the purpose of toppling their governments. That's why what Putin is doing now is so much scarier than what he did in '08 or '14. (It's also why, whatever you think of the Iraq War and how it was executed, the prospect of Saddam with nukes was so terrifying.)

But the combination of military adventurism and a nuclear state is something we've never dealt with before. I don't think we're heading for World War 3, but it definitely seems more likely than it's been in my lifetime. (I wasn't alive for the Cuban Missile Crisis, and I'm sure it was plenty scary, but that was also a very different kind of scary, since there was no actual shooting going on at the time.)

 

rockaction

Footballguy
we have not seen the same level of military adventurism out of Iran
As soon as they're nuclear, they will make strides to be a superpower in the Middle East, and it will be by military adventurism and implicit threats of nuclear destruction of Israel, which will put them squarely in our crosshairs, thereby causing most of Europe to protest our support of Israel, destabilizing the alliance of The West. 

There is a fleeting amount of time until this happens. Once Iran, China, and Russia are generally on the same page, then the "adventurism," or what I would call the "asymmetric WWIII" happens. Will we be smart enough to see it and fight it before it gets beyond our control or results in nuclear weapons being used? That's the question of civilization as I see it right now with respect to foreign policy. 

 

ignatiusjreilly

Footballguy
As soon as they're nuclear, they will make strides to be a superpower in the Middle East, and it will be by military adventurism and implicit threats of nuclear destruction of Israel, which will put them squarely in our crosshairs, thereby causing most of Europe to protest our support of Israel, destabilizing the alliance of The West. 

There is a fleeting amount of time until this happens. Once Iran, China, and Russia are generally on the same page, then the "adventurism," or what I would call the "asymmetric WWIII" happens. Will we be smart enough to see it and fight it before it gets beyond our control or results in nuclear weapons being used? That's the question of civilization as I see it right now with respect to foreign policy. 
This is getting away from the original topic, but what the hell, it's interesting.

The scenario you describe could certainly happen -- and like I said, I'd really rather not find out -- but it's worth pointing out that Russia and China have been nuclear, totalitarian-led states for decades now, and until last week, neither had ever engaged in the kind of military adventurism that I see as so uniquely dangerous (and yes, "until last week" is a pretty damn big exception to the rule, especially since how this plays out for Russia will very much impact how other authoritarians operate going forward).

For all the talk about Iran's crazy, suicidal mullahs, they've spent the past 40 years following the rational-authoritarian playbook, where the primary objective is staying in power. Contrast that with Saddam, who took over just a few years before the Iranian Revolution, spent the first few years consolidating his power (read: slaughtering Kurds) and then, in short order, launched invasions of both Iran and Kuwait. And what eventually happened to him? He was viewed as such a destabilizing force that the US went in and took him out. In other words, if your goal is to remain king of your own little sandbox, tossing sand in the face of people walking by tends to be a highly counterproductive strategy.

In fact, I would argue that the primary motivation for any country acquiring nukes these days is far more likely to be defensive than offensive. It raises the country's status in the eyes of its citizens (therefore improving the regime's legitimacy), and also makes it that much harder for other countries to destabilize or topple that regime. True, it would also make it easier to meddle in other country's affairs, but I still see a huge gulf between meddling and rewriting international borders via force. Iran may well end up doing the latter once they have nukes, but if they did, it would be the first time.

 

rockaction

Footballguy
In fact, I would argue that the primary motivation for any country acquiring nukes these days is far more likely to be defensive than offensive. It raises the country's status in the eyes of its citizens (therefore improving the regime's legitimacy), and also makes it that much harder for other countries to destabilize or topple that regime. True, it would also make it easier to meddle in other country's affairs, but I still see a huge gulf between meddling and rewriting international borders via force. Iran may well end up doing the latter once they have nukes, but if they did, it would be the first time.
I agree with all of this besides the "first time." I agree they will try and acquire nukes for defense and legitimacy and preventing destabilization before all else, but I still think that Iran, with its feet walking in the waters of jihad, will prove expansionist. It is odd that you view Iran as not having been "expansionist" when most of our post-Saddam fighting in Iraq was generally thought to be because of Iranian influence, either directly or indirectly. Same with other theaters (I hate that word) of war and fighting in the Middle East. Feels like they've been doing a ton of sand-flinging in the past twenty years. 

Don't forget, this is a regime installed in 1979. They've barely had time to get footing domestically. They're still hated by the more urbane citizens in Tehran and elsewhere. Feared, yes. But hated nonetheless. I remember the green ribbons of 2008 or so. They've done an authoritarian's job of rounding up dissent and punishing it, making it harder to be outspoken about dislike for the regime, but they're hated by a growing portion of the population nonetheless. 

 

ignatiusjreilly

Footballguy
I agree with all of this besides the "first time." I agree they will try and acquire nukes for defense and legitimacy and preventing destabilization before all else, but I still think that Iran, with its feet walking in the waters of jihad, will prove expansionist. It is odd that you view Iran as not having been "expansionist" when most of our post-Saddam fighting in Iraq was generally thought to be because of Iranian influence, either directly or indirectly. Same with other theaters (I hate that word) of war and fighting in the Middle East. Feels like they've been doing a ton of sand-flinging in the past twenty years. 

Don't forget, this is a regime installed in 1979. They've barely had time to get footing domestically. They're still hated by the more urbane citizens in Tehran and elsewhere. Feared, yes. But hated nonetheless. I remember the green ribbons of 2008 or so. They've done an authoritarian's job of rounding up dissent and punishing it, making it harder to be outspoken about dislike for the regime, but they're hated by a growing portion of the population nonetheless. 
Here's what I meant by that: My thesis is that Iran's leaders may be ideologically crazy, but they are operationally rational. What I've been describing in this thread as "military adventurism" -- the attempt to redraw international borders through frontal invasions designed to topple a country's government -- is fundamentally an "insane" action, precisely because if it doesn't succeed -- or even if it does -- a leader will likely end up suffering the same fate as guys like Hitler and Saddam. That's not what Iran has been doing. Their actions in Afghanistan and Iraq have been horrible, and have led directly to the deaths of US troops. But they're also pretty much the definition of sane. (Not to go all moral equivalency on you, but you don't think that if the government's of Mexico and Canada were simultaneously destabilized, much less as a result of actions by our main geopolitical rival, the US wouldn't try to ensure that whatever new governments arose in those countries were aligned with us? We might take different actions, but I think any state in that situation would have the same goals.)

I also disagree that 40 years isn't a long time. Both Saddam and Hitler were at war within 5-6 years of coming to power. In Putin's case it's taken 20, and even that seems long. The other thing with Iran is that their territorial ambitions are mostly limited by the size of their sect. There are very few countries in the world that are majority Shiite, and the vast majority of Muslims worldwide not only aren't sympathetic to Iran, they pretty much hate them.

In any event, one thing we all can agree on is, however dangerous Iran might be if a) they got nukes and b) engaged in military adventurism, both of those things are already true of Putin, which is what makes him the most dangerous authoritarian we've seen since Hitler. I just hope that the differences between 1939 and now mean that, ultimately, he ends up being less destructive rather than more over the next few years.

 

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