Wednesday, September 03, 2014

You're like Hitler!

This may come as a bit of a shock, but I don't agree with Owen Jones. Recovered? Right. He's written an article about David Cameron's reported (but private) remarks to an EU Summit on the growing crisis in Ukraine.
"We run the risk of repeating the mistakes made in Munich in '38. We cannot know what will happen next," Cameron was reported as saying. "This time we cannot meet Putin's demands. He has already taken Crimea and we cannot allow him to take the whole country."
Jones sees this as nothing more or less than inflammatory rhetoric:
Let’s resist the Hitler comparisons, which intend simply to shut down any reasoned discussion, to demonise all those who are not hawks, and to ratchet up tension.
But here's the thing: the comparison between Putin's foreign policy and Hitler's up to 1938 is a perfectly good one. In fact, the central rhetorical underpinning of Putin's expansionism is almost uncannily reminiscent of pre-war Hitlerite Germany. In both cases, they exploit non-existent outrages and humiliations visited against minority ethnic groups (German or Russian) within multi-ethnic border states, and demand initially that regions within those countries be 'returned' to the father/motherland.

This was the modus operandi in the Sudetenland in 1938, where local ethnic Germans acted as proxies for the true guiding force in Berlin. Hitler created an international incident over the treatment of the Sud-Deutsch that led to the partial annexation of Czechoslovakia as a precursor to a full-blown invasion the following year.

Hitler also employed this technique against Poland, with the treatment of ethnic Germans in the Danzig corridor being central to the propaganda build-up to the invasion of Poland. Agents provocateurs were used, and local proxies staged acts of terrorism in support of Nazi foreign policy.

Now look at how Putin has managed his regional expansionism: he has concentrated on the "abuses" suffered by ethnic Russians in Eastern Ukraine; he cited the same issue as a reason for the invasion of Georgia in 2008; he has raised the same concern in Estonia. Hitler and Putin are unambiguously playing the same card.

They're playing it, essentially, for the same reasons too: the absorbtion of neighbouring states into a greater German Reich, or a reborn Soviet Union. It's an accurate comparison, and a fairly enlightening one as well.

Should it be made though? Isn't Hitler so uniquely evil that he defies comparison? As a side note, isn't especially unfair to compare a Russian leader to Hitler "after all, the Soviet Union was absolutely instrumental in the defeat of Nazism, suffering well over 20 million fatalities. In the case of Russia, comparisons to Hitler could hardly be more insulting." Taking this latter point first, no it isn't. Not only were there fairly obvious points of comparison between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, but they began the Second World War as allies, and invaded Poland together, shaking hands over the ruins.

More broadly, there is a reasonable argument to be made that Hitler makes a poor comparitor: the evil of his regime overpowers more or less any comparison you could make. It's also often a thinly veiled attack on the propriety of whatever is being compared: "you know who else...". When, however, the comparison is being made with a short autocrat who manipulated the democratic process to get into power, and then abused it to stay there; and who is cynically manipulating ethnic tensions in neighbouring states in order to foment sufficient unrest to justify an invasion: then I think the comparison is just fair enough.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


I agree with many of your blog posts, but not this one.

The government in Kiev is a viciously Russophobic regime that came to power as a result of a western-backed coup. It incorporates far-right elements. It has been waging a war against its own citizens in the east of the country, killing many of them. Moreover, Putin's ambitions are not remotely comparable to Hitler's. He is aware of his country's weaknesses, such as its declining population, but sees himself as the protector of ethnic Russians everywhere. I would say that comparisons with the Sudeten crisis are, to put it mildly, deeply misleading and likely to lead us astray, perhaps disastrously.

9:20 am  
Blogger Tim J said...

"He is aware of his country's weaknesses, such as its declining population, but sees himself as the protector of ethnic Russians everywhere."

Which is *exactly* how Hitler described himself in relation to ethnic Germans. The comparison is obviously not a total one, but there are uncanny rhetorical similarities.

10:03 am  
Anonymous James said...

If anyone is interested, this is a good article on how the Ukrainian crisis has been misrepresented in the West:

3:20 pm  

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