Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

Our Dangerous Historical Moment

Obama and European leaders are repeating the mistakes of their 1930s predecessors.

by Victor Davis Hanson // National Review Online 

Photo via NRO

World War II was the most destructive war in history. What caused it?

The panic from the ongoing and worldwide Depression in the 1930s had empowered extremist movements the world over. Like-minded, violent dictators of otherwise quite different Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Imperial Japan, and the Communist Soviet Union all wanted to attack their neighbors.

Yet World War II could have been prevented had Western Europe united to deter Germany. Instead, France, Britain, and the smaller European democracies appeased Hitler.

The United States turned isolationist. The Soviet Union collaborated with the Third Reich. And Italy and Japan eventually joined it.

The 1930s saw rampant anti-Semitism. Jews were blamed in fascist countries for the economic downturn. They were scapegoated in democracies for stirring up the fascists. The only safe havens for Jews from Europe were Jewish-settled Palestine and the United States.

Does all this sound depressingly familiar?

The aftershocks of the global financial meltdown of 2008 still paralyze the European Union while prompting all sorts of popular extremist movements and opportunistic terrorists.

After the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, America has turned inward. The Depression and the lingering unhappiness over World War I did the same to Americans in the 1930s.

Premodern monsters are on the move. The Islamic State is carving up Syria and Iraq to fashion a fascist caliphate.

Vladimir Putin gobbles up his neighbors in Ossetia, Crimea, and eastern Ukraine, in crude imitation of the way Germany once swallowed Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland.

Theocratic Iran is turning Yemen, Iraq, and Lebanon into a new Iranian version of Japan’s old Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

The Western response to all this? Likewise, similar to the 1930s.

The NATO allies are terrified that Putin will next attack the NATO-member Baltic states — and that their own paralysis will mean the embarrassing end of the once-noble alliance.

The United States has now fled from four Middle Eastern countries. It forfeited its post-surge victory in Iraq. It was chased out of Libya after the killings of Americans in Benghazi. American red lines quickly turned pink in Syria. U.S. Marines just laid down their weapons and flew out of the closed American embassy in Yemen.

America has convinced its European partners to drop tough sanctions against Iran. In the manner of the Allies in 1938 at Munich, they prefer instead to charm Iran, in hopes it will stop making a nuclear bomb.

The Islamic State has used almost a year of unchallenged aggression to remake the map of the Middle East. President Obama had variously dismissed it as a jayvee team or merely akin to the problems that big-city mayors face.

Europeans pay out millions to ransom their citizens from radical Islamic hostage-beheaders. Americans handed over terrorist kingpins to get back a likely Army deserter.

Then we come to the return of the Jewish question. Seventy years after the end of the Holocaust, Jews are once again leaving France. They have learned that weak governments either will not or cannot protect them from Islamic terrorists.

In France, radical Islamists recently targeted a kosher market. In Denmark, they went after a synagogue. In South Africa, students demanded the expulsion of Jewish students from a university. A Jewish prosecutor who was investigating the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Argentina was found mysteriously murdered.

Meanwhile, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is being blamed for stoking Middle Eastern tensions. Who cares that he resides over the region’s only true democracy, one that is stable and protects human rights? Obama-administration aides have called him a coward and worse. President Obama has dismissed the radical Islamists’ targeting of Jews in France merely as “randomly shoot[ing] a bunch of folks in a deli.”

Putin, the Islamic State, and Iran at first glance have as little in common as did Germany, Italy, and Japan. But like the old Axis, they are all authoritarians that share a desire to attack their neighbors. And they all hate the West.

The grandchildren of those who appeased the dictators of the 1930s once again prefer in the short term to turn a blind eye to the current fascists. And the grandchildren of the survivors of the Holocaust once again get blamed.

The 1930s should have taught us that aggressive autocrats do not have to like each other to share hatred of the West.

The 1930s should have demonstrated to us that old-time American isolationism and the same old European appeasement will not prevent but only guarantee a war.

And the 1930s should have reminded us that Jews are usually among the first — but not the last — to be targeted by terrorists, thugs, and autocrats.

© 2015 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture.

24 Thoughts on “Our Dangerous Historical Moment

  1. empress trudy on February 19, 2015 at 8:53 am said:

    Ukraine is an interesting case because for the first time in quite a while European states are calling on a nation invaded by Russia to agree to a cease fire and to agree to a partial dismemberment of that invaded state. Nothing even in the Balkans in the 1990’s can compare. I think the only thing that does apart from Anschluss, is Cyprus in 1974.

  2. It seems to me that US interests with respect to the Ukraine are overly exacerbated by what always appears to me to be plans for western banking hegemony that go astray. America business gets along well enough with Russia and China. It’s our bankers that instigate these endless wars. “Our dangerous historical moment” would be mitigated greatly by reforming the existing privately owned, Federal Reserve System, first by issuing US Treasury-direct dollars, then by encouraging some state owned (not just state chartered but state owned banks…reference the Montana State model) to help bring forth other visions for living in this world beyond those our existing banking giants perpetuate for us.

    • Michael Marcus on February 20, 2015 at 6:15 am said:

      Dear Mr. Rich Buckley,
      Your reply, in response to VDH’s article about the similarities of today to 1930’s world on the edge of the greatest carnage in human history is classically perplexing. You sound like the same people of the 30’s who blamed the (Jewish) bankers for all the world’s woes. Are you serious? Maybe I misunderstand your comment, but I am willing to be guilty of “being confused” if that is the case. However, absent that misunderstanding, I can’t believe you actually made this commentary.

      Are you serious…”banking hegemony”? You sound like someone who has a axe to grind with the state of US banking system and are using this forum and the specific issue of Russian aggression to make an argument about the Fed! Really?

  3. A two year countdown of “peace in our time”—— in the meantime, our borders and europe’s are wide open from immigration. A massive terrorist event in the fully exposed Western World, may set the “peace in our time” veneer on fire. After 9-11, we have doubled immigration from Muslim country’s; the worst of the worst.The Leadership in the Oval Office and Senate—- if only we had elected blindfolded monkey’s throwing darts at a board, instead of the people we have in office now. The worst, anti-american politicians that money can buy, again and again.

  4. dear sir:

    an interesting post.–

    but, there is another mistaken path being followed, though it is not so obvious as we tend to see only threats to ourselves in “current events.” (kind of like television reruns, are they not?)

    putin follows hitler’s path, heedless & apparently oblivious to the risk he is undertaking. and, he makes a bad mistake, as did hitler, of confusing the west’s appeasement via its current leaders as being historically determined, and counting on it to be there forever. too bad for hitler, but he was not given mr. chamberlain to be there forever. the question becomes, does putin get obama and the current crop of western leaders forever, or will he face “sterner stuff” in the future? if he can “keep” the current crop of cream puffs to deal with, he comes out smelling like a rose. if he cannot, and if he faces a west led by some person with resolve, then putin will end up smelling like hitler’s corpse, and for much the same reasons.

    putin is dead, if only someone in the west has the guts to perceive russia as it really is, and that is monumental bluster without the ability to really project power beyond its borders. in short & simple terms, russia has arms, but, absolutely no logistical train. challenged with a western military presence in the ukraine, putin would have to back off …. he cannot get the fight there, right now.

    who knows how it works out. right now a banty rooster holds sway in europe. a genuine fighting cock puts putin right back into mother russia.

    john jay

  5. You know perhaps only time will tell if Eastern Ukraine is the new ‘Sudetenland’ for our time in Europe. It is apparent that the ‘Russian’ population there are akin to that portion of Czechoslovakia which drew Hitler’s attention. It was there that he went on to eventually incorporate its German population. This time it is the Ukrainians who have to deal with a dynamic, stealthful and determined poacher. Question is what will Vladimir the Great do next now that he has Debaltseve? And Europe looks by at the passing Russian parade and is mired in diplomatic platitudes.

  6. More pearls of wisdom from the god king—- “” Obama: islam has been woven into the fabric of our country since its founding””, from CNS news. The Menace from on high has spoken, and will most assuredly speak again to his dwindling subjects. He is a benediction, for the Republicans.

  7. Jordan badunk on February 19, 2015 at 3:19 pm said:

    Was this press release written by Israel’s own public relations ministry? How can Israel be the region’s only democracy when non-Jewish citizens have inferior rights and segregation? What does “Democracy” mean then?

  8. A depressing version of events and probably not too far from the mark.
    Another set of events are conspiring in the Indian sub-continent (the Kashmir issue) which will also be one of the center pieces of the war in my opinion.

    Would be really interesting to hear Mr. Hanson’s take on that issue

  9. The problems of today can never compare to the power of Germany and Japan in 1939 1941, The German or Japanese war machines would dispose of Isis and Iran and its allies in about 30 days.

    There would be no threat i the middle east or Asia if the US military were turned loose to clean all of these tin horn terrorist
    The most powerful war machine in the middle east Iraq in 1992 was disposed of in 100 hours

  10. Theophilus on February 20, 2015 at 6:58 am said:

    All of the aggressive powers on earth know that Obama is an arrogant weakling and they have only two years left to grab all they want before the next U.S. President comes into office, who will most likely confront these aggressive powers. Stay tune, for more audacious moves by the aggressive powers in the months to come….

    From a biblical perspective, the manifestations of aggressive powers on earth demonstrate time and time again, that evil exists and the source that spurs it on has an agenda that is beyond humans ability to contained it.

  11. What to make of the Anti-Islamic marches that are occurring in the UK as well as other European countries. Are these people considered extremists, because of their views on immigration? Will Paul Weston, and Farage be declared Terrorists?

  12. Doctor French on February 20, 2015 at 12:54 pm said:

    As an european i get this bad feeling of Déja vu.

    Pretty scary and depressing times we are living.

    As we say in french, l´histoire ne se répète pas, mais elle begaie……..

  13. What absolutely astounds me is that Jewish Americans continue to support Obama and the Democrats in spite of their largely hostile, arguably anti-Semitic, views toward Israel. Not just the usual Hollywood loons like Spielberg, Streisand and Weinstein but regular folks as well. How is this possible?? Why are they so blind to the truth and so ignorant of their history?

    But, what really keeps me awake at night is that we, who are watching what is going on in complete horror, are helpless. We have been deceived once again by the weakest, most complicit GOP bunch of hacks who stand refuse to stand FOR anything and are pathologically incapable of standing UP for the very folks who elected them. And, we are going to be dragged into the abyss alongside all of these idiots when tragedy does strike. God help us.

  14. The real question in my mind is whether ISIS is willing to partner with non-muslims in this WW3 landscape. We saw how Germany had to befriend Russia to avoid a 2 front war. I think ISIS is geographically in this same position. Currently, with the beheading and burning of non-muslims indiscriminately I think that answer is no. If ISIS is able to form a true partnership as Germany did (most likely that would be Iran) and put on hold their genocidal tendencies then the situation needs to be re-evaluated. Our next President had better like chess.

  15. BARBARA on February 21, 2015 at 1:01 am said:

    Our President has ceded the entire Middle East to Iran and neutered our military. Where are his priorities and loyalties? .

    Why did he rush arms to Morsi when the Muslim Brotherhood took power? Why did he promptly cut aid to Egypt when Al-Sisi replaced Morsi? If the President is really trying to limit Russia’s sphere of influence, why is he forcing Al-Sisi to turn to Putin for military aid?

    Why should the Egyptians, Jordanians and Kurds have to beg us for supplies and military intelligence, when they’re on the front line fighting ISIS? Both Jordan and Egypt requested help pinpointing ISIS bombing siites. The President refused. Why?? General Al-Sisi gave a speech in Cairo asking the Imams to modernize and reach out to the world. The President Obama didn’t congratulate him. Instead he gave a peculiar speech at the Christian Prayer Breakfast chastising Medieval Christians. In the same speech he shrugged off the plight of Christians and Ezidis who are being beheaded, crucified and enslaved daily, in our time. He dismissed the terror attacks at Fort Hood as “workplace violence” and the murder of French Jews in a kosher deli as “random violence.”

    Why is this President undermining our armed forces and erasing our borders when America is at increased risk from Radical Islam? The following reports are enlightening.

    Seven Problems with John Kerry’s Iranian Nuclear Clock
    by Gary C. Gambill
Foreign Policy Research Institute
February 2015
    http://www.meforum.org/5043/iran-nuclear-clock

    Egypt Under Al-Sisi: An Interview with Raymond Stock
    by Jerry Gordon
The New English Review
February 2015
    http://www.meforum.org/5014/egypt-under-al-sisi-an-interview-with-raymond

  16. Rocco Pirro on February 21, 2015 at 8:52 am said:

    A fellow named Hegel once said, “…The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history…”. How true!

  17. We should subdue the jayvees before they go Varsity.

  18. David Park on February 21, 2015 at 5:55 pm said:

    Weak minded short term thinking in the West has diddled while innocent thousands have died at the hands of the merciless. That is then and now. We have lost troops for decades who have been mangled or died for the benefit of ‘others’. The survivors and their dead comrades are disgraced by our politicians who have squandered victory after victory by the cowardly pursuit of political points, votes, popularity, money, and political correctness. War isn’t won by appeasements, wimpy empathies, and vacillations of will and purpose. Winning war is the destruction of a defined enemy until he either no longer exists or has so few combatants that continued conflict is impossible. There should be no thought of ‘establishing democracy’, ‘rebuilding infrastructure’, or ‘collateral damage’ UNTIL victory is complete. This way of victory should be a message to the next enemy. If this country has no will to fight for real victories, it will eventually be ruled by those who do.

  19. Do you deliberately keep your mailbox full?
    I recd your essay as circulated via email. I don’t agree with your assessment. My response was as follows…

    Well. Not exactly. The harassed Jews are proving to be, after multiple
    investigations, the perpetrators of 911.
    They control the banks, which are the instigators of so many wars. Bush had
    a list of seven nations to invade. All of them were ready to drop the
    American reserve currency, which controlled oil. We are increasingly losing
    our reserve status, which will be financially devastating, because that
    status allows the money press to run.
    War should not be the first response to situations we don’t like. Despite
    the media’s constant attacks on Obama, to the contrary, there seems to be
    some progress in the nuclear situation with Iran, which allows Iran to use
    it for energy. Many rogue nations have nuclear weapons, but we are still
    the only nation that has used them against humanity.
    I deeply appreciate Obama’s cautious approach vs warmongering. I appreciate
    his world view and his refusal to paint an entire religion with a broad
    brush of jihadism. Bush made 911 a religious war, but blamed the wrong
    religion.
    This nation is going to miss Obama when Repugs fully take over and finish
    the destruction that Bush began.
    The author is wrong about Israel and he seems to be pushing for war.
    To me, that makes him wrong on all counts

  20. Proudly Unaffiliated on February 22, 2015 at 3:40 pm said:

    Wrt to the mid-east: it appears that the Bush-Obama doctrine is in full flower which is to deconstruct the old order in middle east at any and all cost. Winning!

  21. Jews are targeted first in pogroms – worldwide and universally – this is quite true. But I don’t think WWII was anything but inevitable given the terms of the Versailles Treaty for Germany imposed by France. The reparations and inflation, oh my. What a mess. That was just like a ticking time bomb.

  22. Ellene Phufas-Jousma on March 27, 2015 at 1:11 pm said:

    Very disappointed in this piece by a historian I once respected….it contains falsehoods being promulgated by corporate news and their minions.

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