It is odd that no one seems very upset about Crimea being stolen from Ukraine by Russia. But it is a country that no one has heard of and it is so far away from the US. Yes, they did take a vote in Crimea to join Russia (under the watchful eye of 20,000 Russian troops not wearing any insignia), but that is not the point at all. If a vote was taken in Maine to join Canada, or in Southern California to join Mexico, would we just shrug our shoulders and say “whatever”? When groups of counties in California and Colorado try to secede and form new states, the news is full of stories and talking heads saying they cannot lawfully do that. But when it comes to foreign aggression, the result is a resounding “Who cares?”
Carlos Santayana said, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Seventy-six years ago, Nazi Germany annexed the Sudetenland, a region of Czechoslovakia where a majority of residents were German. Again, Germany justified the move to protect the German residents against the Czech government, although there was no evidence of any discrimination. Now, I am not comparing Putin and the Russians to Hitler and the Nazis, but the similarity of the situations is startling.
Of course, you don’t have to look that far in the past to see the same thing. In 2008, Putin and Russia invaded and annexed part of the nation of Georgia. It was the same old story. “We must go in to protect our fellow Russians”, even though there was no evidence of harm to them. Where will this end? Will anyone care if all of Ukraine is annexed? What about Moldova? The Baltic States? Poland? Hungary? Eastern Germany? And the list of former Soviet satellites goes on.
My point is not that we should ship 100,000 troops (or any troops) into Ukraine. But when our leadership says Russia is acting out of weakness, or that Putin is acting like a 19th Century leader for whom there is no place among enlightened 21st Century leaders, the specter of their naiveté gives me a sick feeling in my gut. The world is a nasty place. Putin, Kim Jung Un, Mugabe, Khameini, Assad, and Bashir are all 21st Century leaders. You and I can go to Starbucks and have a latte, or sit back and write books about the future, but we cannot allow ourselves to be led by those who do not understand the dangers of the world around us. Let us not be blinded by our disinterest anymore. Martin Niemoeller famously said:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.