Some World War II History, 3/26
with relevance for looking at Ukraine
For someone like me, born less than a decade after the second World War, it made sense to read a lot of its history. But I wish that younger people at least knew some of the basics.
For example, you might have thought that Mr. Putin would have been satisfied with just taking over the Russian-speaking territories in Ukraine. But Hitler was given the German-speaking part of Czechoslovakia at Munich, and then proceeded several months later to take over the rest of that country.
You might be impressed with Ukraine’s resistance to invasion so far. But Poland resisted Germany’s much bigger invasion force, along with a Russian invasion force from the opposite direction, for several weeks. And did you know that the German army used a lot of horses in 1939? The tanks of course were decisive in battle, but supply vehicles were largely horse-drawn.
You might suppose that the West can provide Ukraine with enough munitions to enable them to defeat Russia. But in 1941, the United States as the “arsenal of democracy,” could not enable Britain to threaten Germany’s empire. Hitler was defeated by his failed invasion of Russia and by America’s formal entry into the war. And did you know that America entered the war against Germany only after Hitler declared war on the United States? He did so right after Pearl Harbor, in solidarity with Japan.
Twentieth-century historians of World War II stressed the industrial might of the Allies as the decisive factor in their victory. More recent scholarship has highlighted the importance of espionage, especially cryptography. Perhaps the West is giving Ukraine valuable assistance in this area. But Russia likely has agents throughout Ukraine, and they may play a decisive role in the war.
During World War II, both sides put a lot of effort into propaganda. They tried to emphasize to their populations the evils of the other side while shielding them from bad news about their own war efforts. The outcome of the war in Ukraine is going to disappoint one side, or perhaps both sides. This is likely to lead to a backlash from people who were led to expect better results. That includes Western spectators, should Ukraine fail to hold out.