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Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Smells like '38
I know it is more fun to read about fun stuff. Duh. And I like writing about fun things, telli9ng funny or sweet stories about my grandson, my marriage, my travels, my Gig Sky; about life and love. But not today.
There is a smell in the air. It is faint, but unmistakable. It is an ancient smell, the smell of a growing fever. It is rising in the Ukraine, but the scent has already reached Montana. A Ukrainian immigrant, who survived the Holocaust and came to the US to seek medical treatment for a son exposed to radiation at Chernobyl, wants to get the rest of his family out, and is worried about the people of Ukraine. I worry, too. Like him, I see parallels to a time long passed that led the dogs of war sniffing at the scent.
Vladimir Putin appears to want to re-establish the Soviet Union. Ukraine has always been a major part of Russia until its independence in 1991, an independence Ukrainians had always wanted and considered their right even under Soviet rule. Ukraine is also the largest country, by territory, to be fully contained within the continent of Europe, and has a population of nearly 45 million human beings. The Crimea, that part of Ukraine that recently declared itself desirous of returning to “Mother Russia,” is the current bone of contention, but the crisis looks, to us in the West, to be Putin’s play to rebuild the old Russia. We cannot know Putin’s mind, but the tension is mounting over possibilities.
What is worrisome is the parallels to 1938. Then, Hitler claimed that the Sudetenland was legally a part of Germany, as it was taken away by the Peace at Versailles. On the heels of absorbing Austria, Hitler took the Sudetenland as well, with Western appeasement raising only a mild protest. But Hitler’s ambitions lay outside his own borders; it remains to be seen where Putin’s ambitions point us. Ukraine is an independent nation that not long ago was included in the much larger Soviet Union – the politics of the current situation, though similar in smell to 1938, are complicated and still unfolding. Western response is cautious, as it should be.
But what of the danger? At this point, I know that the chance of a major war, involving nations instead of bands of terrorists, is small. I don’t see any profit in it for us. But Ukraine stretches from the Black Sea to the western edge of the old Iron Curtain, and strategically lies under the belly of Putin’s Russia. If Putin, as some have speculated, is thinking like a Nineteenth Century monarch, he may be feeling a little paranoid and protective, as well as possessive. Paranoia tends to be self-feeding. And fossil fuel resources abound throughout the region. The scent is there. And if war were to break out between East and West, it would not follow any convention yet known by Man.
Right now, the EU and the US are dancing around the Crimea with Putin. Our government is sending 600 troops to Poland for “maneuvers<’ to show our allies our commitment to protect them. I’m not certain what 600 soldiers are supposed to do to defuse the tensions – they seem more like a match to light them. A silly token match.
Do I think war will happen? No. But war fever is a subtle thing at first, a matter of propaganda and conditioning. The scent is faint at first. Just be aware. Personally, I would rather see Putin and Obama locked in a room together with a chess set, than see one life lost, before the smell and the heat mushroom into something no one can take back.
I was born in Holland in 1950. My parents immigrated to the US when I was two. I have many close friends and family on both continents. My wife Diane and I have been happily married since 1974. I have four children and one grandchild (two more are on the way). I love writing and sharing what I wrote most of all..