So after writing a blog about the dangers of abusing Godwin’s Law, I’m about to Godwin myself in the worst way. I can’t help it–as much as I hate making this comparison, the current situation with Russia reminds me of the eve of World War II.
There’s the Eastern European country which nobody in the West knows much or cares about. Back then it was Czechoslovakia, now it’s the Ukraine. There’s the invading country making up exaggerated stories of persecuted ethnic minorities, and naturally, the way to save those minorities is an armed takeover. There are the economic rewards which the invaders stand to gain. Eastern Ukraine is rich in industry and energy resources, and this means much more to Vladimir Putin than the Russian-speaking population in the region ever will. And then there is the rest of the world, looking on and making vague gestures of condemnation, but unwilling to invest blood and treasure in a fight they don’t feel a connection with.
But of course, the modern-day Russians are not Nazis. This is where a Godwin comparison always collapses. Yes, Russian society is guilty of a few human rights abuses. But the last time someone in Russia killed millions of people was far back in the last century. So are we witnessing the historical chain of events leading to another global war? It’s possible. But it’s also possible that Putin will be satisfied with grabbing the riches of eastern Ukraine and leaving the impoverished western part of Ukraine for Europe to deal with. And Russia’s military threats may be empty posturing, a la North Korea doing its nuclear dance without ever lobbing any missiles at anybody. Maybe what we’re watching is the universal process of a powerful country trying to get more territory. Jumping into a wider conflict would be foolish and draw too much attention, so instead the invader nibbles away, bite after bite. So how should we react? It’s difficult to decide when we don’t know what Putin’s intentions are. If we’re too soft and diplomatic, are we walking down the road of appeasement again and could we be emboldening Putin to commit further aggression? But if we choose the kind of tough response which John McCain seems to favor for every situation in the world, would we be rushing into an overseas quagmire, the way we have too many times in our history?
The only thing I can say is that I hope this isn’t the prelude to another world war. It’s too overwhelming to even think about. I’m not ready for something that big–I’m not good at dealing with a delay to my Facebook connection, much less WWIII. I have to wonder if today’s generation is up to a challenge like this.