21 June 2016

An Ominous Anniversary: 22 June 1941

Remembering Barbarossa

Seventy-five years ago Germany unleashed a massive assault on the Soviet Union opening up the Eastern Front, the largest battleground in human history. Tens of millions would die over the next four years and the Eastern Front would take on a particularly sinister and horrific character with genocide, death camps, and ethnic cleansing. It was a brutal chapter in human history, the real heart of the war and for the people that lived through it... it can never be forgotten.

The war in the West was certainly bad enough. Those occupied by the Nazis went through a difficult time. There were deportations and finally by 1943 there were serious battles. The Western forces had resisted Hitler's push into France but after the evacuation at Dunkerque (Dunkirk) in 1940 and the stunning albeit relatively brief Battle of Britain, there was little in the way of actual battle in Western Europe. The North African campaign while serious war and very harsh resulted in the deaths of about 100,000 men. The Eastern Front had numerous individual battles that lost these kinds of numbers. There's just no comparison.

It was the invasion of Italy in 1943 that brought the war back into the West. This is not to downplay North Africa or the several failed attempts at battle in places like Norway and Crete but the scale of these struggles is miniscule when compared to what was happening on the front stretching from the Baltic to the Caucasus.

In the West, this chapter of the war is misunderstood, downplayed and often ignored. To Americans, the war was won by US soldiers landing in Normandy. It's almost pure mythology.

The Soviet Union could not have defeated Germany without western help and resources but the bulk of the fighting and shed blood, the real battle victory belongs to Russia.

The unification of Germany in the 19th century had destabilised the European balance of power. While Wilhelm II of Germany was hardly a virtuous character the massive blame laid upon him for WWI is both unjust and inaccurate.

The Versailles Treaty all but guaranteed a second war and created the conditions for Hitler's rise. The threat of communism allowed many in the west to view his rise as a positive move and supported him. This is another forgotten and deliberately ignored if not erased chapter from history.

At the conclusion of WWII, Germany was partitioned and Prussia eradicated. The partition eventually conglomerated into two sections, East and West Germany. When the Berlin Wall came down suddenly German unification became a pressing question and not everyone was comfortable with it. Margaret Thatcher at first resisted but the United States pushed for unification and German entrance into NATO.

I'm certain that Gorbachev (now 85) regrets this concession. History doesn't go away and in fact it's rearing its head and much sooner than anyone would have imagined.

A united Germany is almost always destined to dominate central Europe and due to its unfortunate geography there are always going to be tensions. Poland is also 'cursed' with geography that places it in the crossroads (or even crosshairs) and its land is not easily defended.

This time Poland under a new Right-wing regime has joined itself to the west and NATO. They are willingly submitting to occupation by NATO battalions and the positioning of a missile base in order to (they hope) guarantee their security. Time will tell if this was a prudent move.

Twenty-five years after German unification, Berlin sits astride the European continent, its political and economic master. With France as a partner, Merkel has become the most powerful person on the Continent.

But of course Merkel, her bureaucracy, military and intelligence apparatus are all subjugated to the United States. The US does not exercise absolute control but Germany is very limited in what it can or cannot do without the United States.

Germany's recent return to militarism was inevitable. As the nation has grown in power and influence it is inconceivable that they would sit by and allow other nations to wield power and reap the benefits. Germany wants to return as a 'player', an integral part of the Establishment west and rival Great Britain in terms of leadership and influence.

But German militarism has a bad history and if the EU crumbles, history will once more rear its head. The extreme example of Hitler does not have to be appealed to at this point. Historical, geographical claims and struggles coupled with economic dominance, the veil of security and moves against (perceived) potential aggressors and threats like Putin's Russia will empower and embolden German diplomacy and militarism.

Germany never really got into colonialism and thus does not have the international ties that nations like Britain and France have but Germany will be quite keen to exercise power in these theatres as well. This is especially true in terms of economic needs and desires.

But what does all this mean?

It's ironic because we have now reached the 75th anniversary of the Barbarossa. The seventy year process of German unification, militarism, defeat, resurgence and expansion came to its climax in June 1941.

While Germany in 2016 is a long way from Germany in 1941, from Russia's perspective there are disturbing parallels beginning to re-emerge and Russia encircled by NATO, pressed on every side, under attack in the Western media, its defenses undermined and troops moving toward its borders, has to be nervous. The push is dominated by the United States but a rising Germany acting in partnership with the US, if not directly as a satellite is very troublesome.

The new missile base in Romania, and the pending base in Poland coupled with NATO battalions being sent to Poland and the Baltics should make everyone nervous.

Belarus is ripe for a coup. Lukashenko is patently nervous and has made some overtures to the West, trying (it would seem) to triangulate his position and guarantee security. His nation could be the next flashpoint. The breakaway Moldovan republic of Transnistria is another possibility.

The American Right was determined to destroy Russia and was frustrated in this endeavour by the course of American politics and policy in the 1990s. The US continued working to undermine Russia's power and at one point it looked like Russia would become a US dependency. Not a few have believed that Yeltsin was more or less an American asset.

Putin's rise arrested this trajectory and now the US is determined to bring him down and break Russia's power and more importantly its potential power. Russia's economy is not all that impressive and the country is riddled with problems. Nevertheless it has the potential to exert a larger influence and that's what the US wants to stop and so they have been working in earnest to encircle Russia and stoke internal tension. I doubt an overt invasion is planned. If it comes it will be due to 'human rights' and a desire to 'quell' unrest and prevent civilian deaths and violence... the very violence they will work to foment.

Putin knows this and as he is pressured, his moves will likely become more audacious and desperate. His annexation of Crimea was just such a bold move that caught the West off guard. The resources were not in place to move, the time wasn't right.

But that time is coming and I'm sure many Russians are thinking about this as the nation remembers what happened seventy-five years ago.

Armies are on their borders, Europe is dominated by a new militaristic Germany. Is history beginning to repeat itself? Will Russia once more have to fight for its survival?


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