The world watches tensely as the situation in the Ukraine unfolds. With estimates that anywhere from 6,000 Russian forces to 16,000 Russian forces have entered what is supposed to be part of a sovereign nation, the world looks fearfully on–and rightly so. Amidst all this drama unfolding, I can’t help but be beckoned back to a high school history lesson that makes this situation in Ukraine sound all too familiar, and even more fear-invoking.
We need to rewind to 1938 as what would come to be known as one of the most gruesome conflicts in world history began to sprout its roots. In Germany, a charismatic leader rose to power that most of us would like to forget: Adolf Hitler. It was this man’s intended purpose to, in a nutshell, conquer the world while uniting “the German people.” It was under this guise that Hitler first set his sights upon his southern neighbor: Austria.
Much like Ukraine, Austria at the time was suffering from “economic stagnation and political dictatorship.” Culturally, Austria would fit well into Nazi Germany–a seamless transition, in the eyes of Hitler. In reality, however, Austria was going to hold a plebiscite to determine whether they wanted to join Germany, seeing as how many individuals were sympathetic to the cause already. This plebiscite, however, was something that Hitler feared would fail him, leading to the eventual demise of his rationale for invasion and annexation. Not wanting to take the risk of a public vote, Hitler ordered Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg to cancel the referendum. Bowing to pressure from Hitler, Schuschnigg obliged, allowing Germany to enter while Schuschnigg himself fled the country. Anschluss or annexation of Austria had succeeded. As Hitler’s army advanced, they were met with celebration and welcome on behalf of the Austrian people, some calling the annexation “the war of flowers.”
If only they had known the consequences of their celebration.
After that first step, Hitler continued pummeling through Europe, with the allies appeasing him every step of the way as World War II began. The rest, we can say, is history.
Returning back to 2014, we see a very similar situation in Crimea. In a country that continues to suffer from a destabilized political and economic system with a strong minority of Russians living in Ukraine, one could say that Ukraine was “ripe for the picking” much like Austria was.
As a world, we saw the devastating effects that the Nazis wreaked on the world at large, and we have also learned of the number of individuals who suffered at the hands of a regime that stated that it was “doing the right thing.” With the situation in Ukraine, it’s important that we don’t forget the past when developing our response to this atrocity and blatant disregard for a nation’s sovereignty.
History has a way of coming back to haunt us. It’s important–since lives depend on it–to show that we have learned our lessons from history and we won’t allow these acts of aggression to go unpunished.
Hank Prim | Hillsdale College | @HankPrim