Ready for World War III?Roundup: Historians' Take
tags: Russia, Ukraine, Crimea, World War III
While analyzing Vladimir Putin, our latest foreign devil, I wonder if many of our born-again Russian experts could pass a simple exam evaluating and explaining the possible impact of Russia’s past on him? How many know enough about Russian history to know about Mikhail Bakunin, Alexander Herzen, Nicholas I, Nestor Makhno, Konstantin Pobedonostsev, Anton Denikin, Serge Witte, P.N. Wrangel, A.V. Kolchak, or even perhaps U.S. General William Graves on their relevance to current Russian history? Would they know anything about Nicholas Danilevsky, who dreamed up Pan-Slavism, a principle based on the hypothesis that a common cultural tie and language formed a brotherhood, or ought to form one, among Slavic people?
My guess is that few will. Most are instant experts. What we now see and read are how my friend, a longtime reporter, once described journalism: the first draft of journalism rather than the first draft of history. Our media chatter is of another Munich, a new Cordon Sanitaire, or encirclement, of Russia, spheres of influence, the Crimean Anschluss (memories of the Nazis marching into Vienna in 1938 and being hailed by Austrians) even the unthinkable possibility of Cold and nuclear wars.
The Times and our major media are filled with frightening commentaries, some evoking 1914. Roger Cohen’s nightmarish recollection of Gavrilo Princip, the 19- year-old Bosnian supposedly selected by Voya Tanksovich, the head of the ultra-nationalist Serbian Black Hand, to kill an inconsequential Austrian archduke and his blameless wife in Sarajevo in June 1914 and proceed to spoil everyone’s summer holiday and the rest of the bloody century. Cohen, in a later column, ridicules CNN’s “breaking news” obsession with that missing Malayan airliner, concluding, rather frantically, that, as we all remained fixated on trivia, Putin could “invade” Estonia and WW III begin....
Mark Sternberg has just edited the eighth edition of Nicholas Riasanovsky’s definitive A History of Russia and is now writing a history of the Russian Revolution. In “Putin’s Russia is Far More Complicated than A Mere Autocracy,” he draws attention to what he views as a serious misinterpretation drawn from Churchill’s famous Westminster College speech in 1946, when he warned the west about his former ally Stalin.
“Winston Churchill famously called Russia ‘a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma’ –a phrase that makes me cringe when it shows up in contemporary journalism…. Part of the problem is that we forget Churchill’s point: there is a key. “Russian national interest” [my italics]....
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