History repeating itself. That’s the phrase du jour; a way to try to understand what is happening in Ukraine. Enigmatic Putin, and the parallels with Hitler taking over the Sudetenland and all the invasions that followed on from that, reverberate like an echo from history.
The past is repeating itself, but then it always does. Think back to the attack on Pearl Harbor, on 7/12/41- an out-of-the-blue challenge to American might that was repeated almost 60 years later on 9/11/2001 when planes went crashing into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Once again, America was challenged, and it responded.
My childhood was a literary diet of Victor, Warlord, and Commando comic books, where the Allies battled the Nazis – white hats versus black hats. It was simple to see who the bad guys were. Even as a child I knew who I would fight for.
And here we are again – an easy-to-understand conflict, where we root for the feisty underdogs, and the brutish invaders are plain to see, as is their despotic leader. History repeating itself.
Those comic-book tales and all the movies that went with them – of nations at war against a ruthless enemy – have returned. But it’s different, because instead of imagining what it must be like to live in a time when people have to find the gumption needed to defeat a dangerous megalomaniac, we now must face that challenge ourselves.
A crucible of historic proportions is upon us. How we deal with it will define generations to come. We are in the midst of epoch-making history.
How does it feel? Like in the comic books? Will we live up to the deeds of the heroes of Warlord and Victor, or of our ancestors who brought a Nazi despot to heel?
Will history repeat itself for Putin, too? Will he end his days holed up in a bunker and with only a bullet for company in his final moments, or will he use the technology at his fingertips – tech that Hitler never had – and push the button to go out with a real bang.
After all, what has he got to lose? His country’s economy is soon to be in freefall, he is ostracised across most of the globe and will soon be a pariah in his own country. And on top of that, of course, there are the health rumours…
That walk of his, for starters – the ‘gunslinger’s gait’… the way Putin rolls his body as he moves and usually swings one arm… you’ve seen him do it, but maybe never gave it a name. Well, the medical experts have, and some of them say it’s an early indicator of Parkinson’s disease. So, if Putin has Parkinson’s and he’s on a downward physical trajectory, what has he got to lose if he decides to push the big button.
If you were him under those circumstances, what would you do… watch as your body betrays itself and forces you to relinquish the almighty power at your fingertips? Yes, of course, you have your hundreds of billions of dollars squirreled away, but what is that without the power, the fear and the accolades that come with holding the highest office in the land?
For a man in pole position like he is, would mere billions be enough of a consolation to forsake his position as numero uno? Maybe sanctions mean nothing when you’re body is failing you. Maybe getting to play with all those military ‘toys’ at your disposal, truly testing their capability, is preferable to going out with a whimper and with Parkinson’s.
The analysts talk of an ‘off ramp’… something that will help Putin climb down from the perilous height upon which he has placed both himself and the world. But maybe there is no ‘off ramp’. Maybe he really does want to go out with a bang.
We were here before… on the edge of nuclear catastrophe, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. History repeating itself. Thankfully, Nikita Khrushchev, the Russian leader at the time, blinked first and nuclear destruction was averted.
Whatever Putin decides to do next, though, we can only respond to the challenge before us. There are people in desperate need; people on our doorstep, dying before our eyes. So, do we stand up to the despot or let him ride roughshod all over them and all over our consciences… the very thing that makes us human?
That choice may not even be ours to make. There might be a nuclear winter whether Nato sends in troops or not. Putin might do the terrible deed anyway. So, I ask again – do we stand up to the despot now or not?
I don’t think history has all the answers, but it does tell us what the outcome was when our grandparents stepped up and took on a dictator.
We are in their shoes now and must make history of our own.
Warlord, Victor and those Commando comics are no longer idle fancies – the dilemmas they posed about courage and sacrifice face us right now.
We must decide. We must act; for failure to do so risks us losing that most important treasure of all, our consciences – the essence of our very humanity.
Putin has taken so much already, can we really allow him to take that, too?