COMMENTARY | Hillary Clinton compared Russian leader Vladimir Putin to Adolf Hitler. Republicans have likened him to Josef Stalin. Others will no doubt connect him to Saddam Hussein, Benito Mussolini, or a host of other dictators.
But there may be a better historical example which seems to elude our politicians. And studying that analogy may help us better understand what Vladimir Putin’s plans are. If anything, his actions are more similar to that of the Japanese military government before World War II.
Hitler threatened, and then won the Sudetenland peacefully after negotiations with Britain and France produced a policy of appeasement. No one seemed to mind when he peacefully annexed Austria with his policy of Anschluss. That isn’t to say Hitler was a good guy, as we found out during World War II. But expecting that he would mimic Hitler’s moves would lead to incorrect predictions.
Stalin had a completely different style than Putin, even if both are ruthless. If Putin were Mussolini, he would have attacked some far away colony first. The Saddam Hussein analogy similarly fails.
Perhaps the reason we don’t understand the Japanese link is because we could get a history refresher. Most think Japan started everything by bombing Pearl Harbor. A few might be aware of his actions against China, which predate those. But how many of you knew about how Japan’s imperialism began with Manchuria, a region of China.
In 1931, on a pretext of a border dispute along its colony of Korea, the Japanese forces stormed into Manchuria. Certainly the League of Nations was upset, and sent a fact-finding mission to determine if collective security should be used against the Asiatic island nation. So Japan set up a puppet government in the resource rich region and called it the “Republic of Manchukuo.” Naturally this “new independent state” would become an ally of Japan.
Now doesn’t that sound a lot more like what we are seeing in the Crimea? Isn’t Putin trying to convince us that those aren’t armed Russians…they are “Crimean self-defense forces.” An “independent” Crimean parliament is welcoming Putin’s Russia.
The fact finding mission suspected that something was afoot, but the Republic of Manchukuo ruse worked. Unwilling to antagonize Japan, the League chose to ban the use of any stamps from the Republic of Manchukuo.
Realizing how feckless the League of Nations was, Japan left the international organization, and attacked the whole of China, leading to bloody attacks like the Rape of Nanking and the bombing of Shanghai, which eventually lead to deaths that might have reached into the millions. Only when Indochina was taken did the U.S. react, with oil sanctions. Japan used that as provocation to justify the aerial attack on Pearl Harbor.
Not only is this a better analogy, but there is a lesson to be learned. The West in general and the United States in particular shouldn’t stand for bullying and false formations of so-called independent republics. The non-response encouraged Japan to launch a war on the rest of Asia, as well as the United States. An unchecked Putin could produce similar results today, if we can muster little more than fact-finding missions and postage stamp bans.