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.
When technology changes history can't repeat and the lessons of history can become dangerous illusions.
When agriculture was invented you could obtain more power and wealth by stealing land from your neighbor and hiring lawyers to make it legal. When industry was invented you could still steal resources like mines, factories, and wealth and still use slave labor to build rockets like Hitler did. The source of the wealth and value was in the physical resources.
With our new scientific revolution where human knowledge is growing at about 10%/yr (number of scientific articles) and this increasing knowledge is reducing the whole concept of resources down into only energy and human "knowledge and creativity" being sources of value, things become more difficult to steal. When all what are commonly called "resources" become fungible (no steel, use fiberglass; no oil, use solar; no ammonia, use air, water and energy; no fisheries use water and energy to Hydrogen to single cell protein to fish food to fish; etc), the real source of value becomes between peoples ears.
Note that there hasn't been a profitable war of conquest in the last half a century. Most of the value in the stock market is no longer "book value" but has become this intangible stuff between peoples ears. All GM factories and resources have less value that what is between the ears of Tesla workers. Conquest not longer economically works and historical analogies are no longer as valid.
Putin still believes he can capture the value in peoples heads, but the more he destroys the more the true value of the people becomes unavailable. He has the illusion that capturing the body and the factory means capturing the mind and that isn't always true. The value he want between peoples ears will just go back to the old communist workers who "just pretend to work while the government pretends to pay them" and the economy rots.
Also note that the USSR was effective against Germany because the USA supplied half of their war material. Russian capacity to produce their own war material at scale over time is an open question. This is reason #1,000 why keeping China on the sidelines is so important.