— Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (1878), trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude, 1918. (via andrewstuntpilot)
There’s a rule in debate: Whoever mentions Hitler and the Nazis first loses. It’s a good rule. Hitler and the Nazis are an extreme example of history and ideology. Few people think or govern in extremes and therefore the comparison in a debate is usually for shock value and rarely a good argument.
Yet, for the first time in a very long time I heard a speech from a political figure that truly deserved to be compared to Hitler: Putin’s press conference on the annexation of Crimea.
Putin said a lot of troubling things in the press conference. He offered a view of history that went all the way back to the 900s to justify his philosophy and offered a narrative of history that showed Russia as a law-abiding model state and the West as picking and choosing the international norms to justify their decisions while ignoring others.
He seemed to be nostalgic for the unification of peoples under the Soviet Union and argued that the break up of the Soviet Union unfairly split up ethnic Russians across borders.
His view of history is deeply flawed but here is where it is accurate: Yes, the West does pick and choose when to follow the law and when to ignore it, but Russia does too and to an even greater extent. Yes, the collapse of the Soviet Union did alienate Russians who ended up outside their native lands.
But here is where he was so wrong, dangerously wrong: You cannot claim that the historical land of Kievan Rus in the 900s means Kiev belongs in Russia. Just check out this map of Europe from the 900s to see how much has changed since then. You can’t talk about how the collapse of the Soviet Union scattered ethnic Russians among countries without mentioning how the creation of the Soviet Union from the Russian Empire forcibly relocated dozens of ethnic groups, forbade the practice of religions and use of languages that had been spoken in those lands since way before Prince Vladimir of the 900s. You can’t accuse the West of ignoring historical precedents when you recite history in a way that is so factually inaccurate and fueled by propaganda it sounds like satire. You can’t call those fighting for Ukraine’s freedom “anti-Semitic” when you completely ignore the horrible restrictions that the Soviet Union placed on the movement and lives of the Jewish people. You want to talk about a people who have been unfairly scattered, Putin?
And you can’t say that you will do whatever is necessary to protect ethnic Russians and that you will use “legal means” to unite ethnic Russians without being compared to Hitler, who used the same logic to take the Sudetenland.
Hitler used medieval German history to create an ethnic history for the German people, just as Putin has created his own narrative for ethnic Russians. Hitler criticized the international community for unfairly blaming Germany for WWI and his criticism was justified, just as some of Putin’s critiques of the West are.
I’m not trying to compare Putin to Hitler for shock value and do not believe that Putin plans any kind of mass murder or genocide. Instead, I bring up the Hitler comparison because Hitler’s ideology’s natural conclusion was the conquest of Europe. We look at the leaders who thought sacrificing the rights of the people of the Sudetenland would be enough to appease Hitler as naive. Thinking that Putin will stop at Crimea is even more naive, because we have a powerful precedent.
-Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
I read this book because I wanted a light read. I was in for a surprise. This book doled out some hard, heavy truths.