By Jim Heffernan
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about two countries, two dictators, and two conferences in Munich that are separated by eighty-eight years of history. I’m talking about Czechoslovakia in 1938 and Ukraine in 2022. The ruthless dictators are Adolph Hitler and Vladimir Putin.
In 1938, a ruthless dictator, Adolf Hitler, wanted to expand his territory by taking over part of Czechoslovakia. His excuse was that the area he wanted, the Sudetenland, was historically part of Germany and its people spoke German. Czechoslovakia, oddly enough, did not want to give up its territory.
In September of 1938, Germany, France and England conferenced in Munich to discuss the situation with the hope of averting war. The United States was in “isolationism” mode and stayed home. Czechoslovakia was not invited to the conference. France and England told Germany that, just this once, it would be okay with them if Germany occupied the Sudetenland. Hitler promised that this would be his last demand for territory. Britain’s Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, considered the agreement a triumph. He boasted of “peace in our time”. Hitler occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia five months later. World War II began in September of 1939 when Germany invaded Poland.
Since 2014, Vladamir Putin had been behind an 8 year armed campaign to annex Crimea and two provinces in eastern Ukraine.
The hostilities began when demonstrations in Ukraine led to President Yanukovych, who was very corrupt and very friendly to Russia, being impeached and a new president being elected. Yanukovych fled to Russia. Russia responded by seizing Crimea and eastern provinces of Ukraine. They used the familiar pretence of historical ties and a common language. They also added the newly familiar pretense of “rigged elections”.
The two provinces on the eastern edge of Ukraine have been devastated by artillery and infantry duels since 2014.
Unlike 1938, there is now an annual Security Conference in Munich that has happened each year since 1963. Support for Ukraine has been a major topic since 2014. President Biden attended in 2020 and 2021. Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi, and Anthony Blinken (U.S. Secretary 0f State) attended in 2022. Also attending were over 30 Heads of State, 100 ministers and the heads of many of the most important international organizations like NATO, the EU and the UN.
Two days after the conference, Putin launched his “special military operation” to take over the entire Ukraine. Almost certainly the timing was a result of the continued and increasing resolve exhibited by the West. Putin expected Ukraine to fold, but he was wrong. At first, Russia gained wide swaths of territory, but Ukraine has erased those gains.
There are voices who declare that what goes on in Ukraine is not our concern. Just like in 1938, those voices are wrong. Dictators must not be appeased.
As always, I could be wrong. I welcome discussion at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sources: Wikipedia, Britannica, and the books “A Brief History of Ukraine” by Dominic Haynes and “Lessons from the Edge” by Marie Yovanovitch