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General News    H3'ed 6/7/22

Tomgram: Andrew Bacevich, Trapped in the 1930s

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Let's face it, we're on a different planet, even if you might not know it most of the time living here in the United States. After the old Cold War ended, it turned out that it wasn't as easy as our leaders imagined to be the "sole superpower," "the indispensable nation" on Planet Earth. And you can see the results of that even now, when so many of those in Washington yearn to be on an all-too-old globe, as TomDispatch regular Andrew Bacevich suggests today. Our leaders seem to feel comfortable opposing the Russians as if we were still in the Cold War or the "fascists" as if we were in World War II (as does Vladimir Putin who claimed from the first moments of his invasion of Ukraine that he was doing so to "denazify" the country).

The Republicans would, of course, prefer to live in a wildly Second Amendment-ized universe, as interpreted by the National Rifle Association and carried out by mad 18 year olds with legally purchased military-style weaponry. Meanwhile, the Democrats of the Biden administration now inhabit a new (or perhaps very old) version of the Cold War and yet it turns out that even Russia isn't enough of a repeat to make them happy. Joe Biden and crew are also working hard to recreate a similar dynamic with China. Add to that a Supreme Court unlike any in recent memory and a Congress in utter gridlock (if you're not talking about appropriating more money for weaponry for the Ukrainians), and I could go on.

Worse yet, I understand why few enough of us really want to be on the planet we happen to inhabit right now. You know, the one that's heating to the brink of" well, who really knows what; the one where a figure not previously from our political history at all, a billionaire grifter with a knack for self-pity, could possibly win the White House a second time and preside over a country and a system in the sort of disarray that would once have been unimaginable. But let me stop here and turn you over to Andrew Bacevich to consider the moment in history we actually inhabit. Tom

The F-Word (The Other One)
Repurposed and Misapplied


Timothy Snyder, Levin Professor of History at Yale University, is a scholar of surpassing brilliance. His 2010 book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin chronicles in harrowing detail the de facto collaboration of the Third Reich and the Soviet Union that resulted in the murder of millions of innocents. On any bookshelf reserved for accounts that reveal essential truths of our past, Bloodlands deserves a place of honor. It's a towering achievement.

I just wish Professor Snyder would stick to history.

According to an old chestnut, the past is a foreign country. Even so, similarities between then and now frequently interest historians more than differences. Few, it seems, can resist the temptation to press their particular piece of the past into service as a vehicle for interpreting the here-and-now, even when doing so means oversimplifying and distorting the present. Historians of twentieth-century Europe, Snyder among them, seem particularly susceptible to this temptation. Synder's mid-May op-ed in the New York Times offers a case in point. "We Should Say It," the title advises. "Russia Is Fascist."

Introducing the F-word into any conversation is intended to connote moral seriousness. Yet all too often, as with its first cousin "genocide," it serves less to enlighten than to convey a sense of repugnance combined with condemnation. Such is the case here.

Depicting Vladimir Putin as a fascist all but explicitly puts today's Russia in the same category as the murderous totalitarian regimes that Snyder indicts in Bloodlands. Doing so, in effect, summons the United States and its NATO allies to wage something akin to total war in Europe. After all, this country should no more compromise with the evil of present-day Russia than it did with the evil of Hitler's Germany during World War II or Stalin's Soviet Union during the Cold War.

For Snyder, therefore, the job immediately at hand is not just the honorable one of assisting the Ukrainians in defending themselves. The real task " the obligation, even " is to decisively defeat Russia, ensuring nothing less than democracy's very survival. "As in the 1930s," he writes, "democracy is in retreat around the world and fascists have moved to make war on their neighbors."

As a consequence, "if Russia wins in Ukraine," he insists, the result won't simply be the brutal destruction of one imperfect democracy, but "a demoralization for democracies everywhere." A Kremlin victory would affirm "that might makes right, that reason is for the losers, that democracies must fail." If Russia prevails, in other words, "fascists around the world will be comforted." And "if Ukraine does not win" " and winning, Snyder implies, will require regime change in Moscow " then "we can expect decades of darkness."

So once again, as in the 1930s, it's time to choose sides. To paraphrase a recent American president, you are either with us or you're with the fascists.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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