Predictably, many pundits have been comparing the tragedy unfolding in Ukraine to the beginning of World War II in Europe in recent weeks.
Typically, most of these comparisons have been simple, shallow, and wrong. However, emotional comparisons that invoke Hitler, Churchill, Nazis, and the Holocaust draw eyeballs, so they are common.
There are some similarities between the 1939 crisis and the Ukraine situation. For example, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ravings about Nazis in Ukraine resemble Adolph Hitler’s late 1930s rantings about the crimes Czechs and Poles were committing against Germans and Germany.
Similarly, Hitler used the presence of Germans in the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia to justify his efforts to dismember that country. Today, Putin uses the presence of Russians in parts of Ukraine to justify his efforts to seize Ukrainian territory.
There are some differences. For instance, Hitler relied on claims of racial and cultural ties to justify his actions. In contrast, Putin claims he is trying to restore historic Russian territory to the Russian Federation.
Russia is not Nazi Germany 2.0
Furthermore 1939, Germany was one of the world’s most scientifically and technologically advanced nations with a growing economy. In 2022, Russia is a backwater with a shrinking economy.
Notably, Russia is not in the list of countries with the 10 largest gross domestic products (GDPs). Instead, World Population Review estimates Russia has the world’s 12th largest GDP. Notably, Russia’s GDP is smaller than those of Italy, Brazil, Canada, and South Korea.
For all its faults, Hitler’s Third Reich was an industrial powerhouse with some of the world’s most advanced technology. News reports claim Russia cannot build automobiles or produce basic parts for airplanes.
Additionally, Nazi Germany had an efficient and professional army capable of outfighting the most elite forces of the Soviet Union, the British Empire, France, and the United States. Today’s Russian Army cannot even sustain an offensive against smaller Ukrainian forces or protect its convoys from drones.
Furthermore, Russia lacks the forces to carry the war beyond Ukraine. Instead of a Nazi style blitzkrieg, inept performance could bog the Russian Army down in Ukraine for years or months to come. Thus we could see a war of attrition similar to the U.S.-Vietnam War in which losses eventually force the Russians to pull out.
No, it is not 1939
A quick glance at history reveals few similarities between 1939 Europe and today’s. For example, late 1930s public opinion was against any war or military effort to contain Nazi aggression.
Notably, YouGov ranks Neville Chamberlain; the man behind appeasement and the Munich Conference, as the eighth most popular British Prime Minister of all time. In fact, 31% of the people YouGov polled liked Chamberlain in 2022.
Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement, giving Hitler territory to avoid war, was popular in the late 1930s and attractive today. In particular, many 20th century Britons wanted to avoid a repeat of the bloodshed of World War I.
To elaborate, the UK Parliament estimates 6% of Britain’s adult male population, or 880,000 men, died in World War I. The National Army Museum estimates the British Army suffered 57,000 casualties on just one day; 1 July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme.
Such horrors made any hint of conflict political suicide in 1930s Britain, as Winston S. Churchill discovered. The Conservative Party froze Churchill, one of its prominent members, out of the cabinet for a decade because of his reputation as a warmonger.
In contrast, military and other actions against Russia over Ukraine are popular. For instance, many Americans are backing the stupid and dangerous concept of a “no-fly zone” over Ukraine. To explain, “no-fly zone” is a euphemism for shooting down the Russian Air Force. In other words, they want to fight World War III over Ukraine.
In addition, Investopedia estimates almost 330 companies have voluntarily withdrawn from Russia over the Ukraine war. In fact, such giants as Amazon (AMZN), Volkswagen, Toyota (TM), Apple (AAPL), Samsung, Alphabet (GOOG), Daimler (Mercedes-Benz Group), BP, Royal Dutch Shell, and ExxonMobil (XOM) have left Russian on their own.
These companies are leaving because their executives fear a public backlash. I think many of these companies could afford to stay in Russia, but they are so afraid of public opinion they’re fleeing. Hence, there is no public sympathy for Russia outside the Russian Federation.
Notably, even such Russian sympathizers as former US President Donald J. Trump (R-Florida) have turned against Putin and Russia. Like the executives, Trump is jumping on the hate Russia bandwagon to keep abreast of public opinion.
Hence, refusing to urge aggressive action against Russia could be political suicide in 2022 America, as President Joe Biden (D-Delaware) could soon learn.
Nuclear Weapons and Peace
Fortunately, I think a no-fly zone is improbable because Russia has the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, with 4,500 to 5,977 atomic weapons.
One difference between 1939 and 2022 is that the United States and other countries are not free to intervene. Nobody wants World War III, which could lead to nuclear war.
Putin only invaded Ukraine because he knew his army did not face any American or European forces. I think Putin knows he cannot a war against the US or the European Union.
Nuclear weapons made the Ukraine War possible. Hence, this conflict casts serious doubt on the popular idea that nuclear weapons maintain peace.
Thus, I do not think the Ukraine conflict will spark World War III. Instead, I believe it will lead to a long and bloody war that could destroy both Ukraine and the Russian Federation.
My guess is we are at the beginning of a period of chaos and conflict that will lead to a new international order. Furthermore, I predict China will dominate that new international order. However, the outlines of that new international order are unseen.
Thus, there is a similarity to the eras at the beginning of World War I and World II or the period just after the French Revolution. Hence, the World War II comparisons to Ukraine are dangerous and unhelpful.