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Similarities between the beginning of WW2 and the Russo-Ukrainian War

World War 1 had just ended. The Treaty Of Versailles effectively ended WW1. It caused German resentment that Hitler capitalized on to gain support, and that planted the seeds of World War II. That is parallel to Putin’s rise in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Like Hitler, Putin’s ability to take and hold power was likely driven in part by a war-torn country that was never integrated back into the free world.

The Fourteen Points [1] was a proposal made by US President Woodrow Wilson in a speech to Congress on January 8, 1918. The intent was a vision for concluding World War I in a way that would prevent another conflict. Most of Wilson's 14 Points were destroyed by the leaders of England and France when they convened in Versailles, France, to negotiate the treaty that would conclude World War I ( Treaty of Versailles). Wilson discovered that England, France, and Italy were mostly interested in regaining what they had lost and gaining more by punishing Germany.

President Wilson attempted to build a world organization that would provide some system of collective security in the Treaty. That was his vision for the League of Nations. Instead of resorting to war, nations were encouraged to talk out their difficulties, it was intended to prevent another world war. Wilson insisted on the League of Nations being a part of the Treaty. In order to get France and England on board, Germany had to give up territory, disarm weapons, and pay reparations. These payments would eventually lead to a collapse of the German currency during a hyperinflation period in 1921 and 1922.

Following the signing of the Treaty, Wilson returned to the United States and presented it to the Senate. Although many Americans backed the treaty, the president ran into opposition in the Senate. This led to the absence of the United States from the League of Nations. Despite this, the League of Nations attempted to prevent and resolve violence throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Though it was unable to stop WWII, some historians believe that if the US was a part of it WWII this may have been prevented.

After losing WWI, the German empire crumbled and a new democratic republic took its place. The Weimar Republic was the name given to the new German government. The Treaty of Versailles was pushed on German leaders of the Weimar Republic in June 1919. This pact was viewed by many Germans as retaliation for Germany's involvement in World War I. Germany was outraged by the Treaty, and Hitler exploited this. Hitler established the Nazi party in 1919, gaining support by giving Germany hope and eventually leading to his election.

Hitler used the collapse of the German economy and currency and resulting fear to control Germany and eventually dissolve Germany’s Democracy. To start he gave the German people an enemy by blaming the Weimar Republics' weakness on Jews. Hitler told the Germans he would get rid of the Treaty of Versailles. The Great Depression brought the German economy to a screeching halt and further polarized German politics. This is due to a loan recall in the United States, which led the country's economy to collapse. Unemployment increased significantly, poverty levels skyrocketed, and Germans grew desperate. Hitler and his Nazi party began to exploit the crisis and loudly criticized the ruling government. During this time the German Communist Party also began campaigning on the crisis and called for a revolution. Business leaders fearful of a communist takeover began supporting the Nazi party. In 1932 the Nazis held the largest number of seats. This began the takeover of the German Government by Hitler.

By 1939 Hitler was in total control of Germany and had amassed an army capable of taking over Europe. Few challenged his rise consistently in the west except for Winston Churchill, the soon-to-be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Germany’s invasion of Poland by Hitler in September 1939 prompted the United Kingdom and France to declare war on Germany, starting World War II. Winston Churchill believed World War II should have been called “the Unnecessary War.” He believed that “there never was a war easier to stop than that [World War II].” [2] Unfortunately, WWII became the deadliest war in history. When Hitler started WWII, no one stopped him. People were scared. They didn’t want what happened in WW1 to happen again. People being scared of another World War started WWII.

A similar pattern appears to be happening right now with Ukraine being the modern-day equivalent of Poland. The war with Russia and Ukraine was started by Russian president Vladimir Putin. He announced the launch of a "special military operation." This occurred after months of debate about Moscow's motives for amassing soldiers on the Ukrainian border. Ukraine was a key member of the Soviet Union until 1991 when it opted for independence. This was the Soviet Union's death knell. NATO advanced eastward when the Soviet Union fell apart. It drew in the majority of Eastern European countries that had previously been under communist control. It expressed its aim to admit Ukraine to the European Union (EU) in the future in 2008.[3] This did not sit well with Russia.

Putin views NATO’s expansion as a threat and Ukraine's membership as a "hostile act." [4] Over the course of a decade, Putin has used this grievance to attack Ukraine [5] Putin has been running a disinformation campaign to discredit the democratically elected Ukrainian president, urging Russians to help Ukrainians get rid of a “Nazi” [6] government and making unproven claims of Ukrainians wanting to be a part of Russia [7]. While some sanctions are being levied on Russia by the west, no one is interested in a direct conflict with Russia which has resulted in significant Ukrainian deaths and refugees to neighboring countries. The same was true in 1939 when Hitler invaded Poland. Will Putin push into NATO countries such as Poland, forcing other NATO nations to retaliate, resulting in WWIII?

In conclusion, the circumstances of Russia have similarities to those of Germany prior to WWII. Putin was able to rise to power in Russia in part because the collapse of the Soviet Union left the Russian people feeling defeated and cut off from the world. When people feel abandoned and unappreciated they are more willing to let go of the guardrails of peace and prosperity and support dictators whom they hope will be able to stand up to a world they view as a threat. After WWII the United Nations took a very different approach to Germany. The free world helped to rebuild Germany and bring the German people back into the global community.

Let this lesson from history be a lesson to humanity today … that all human beings are capable of doing horrific things … but when we show compassion to those in need we sow the seeds for a more inclusive and brighter future.



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