You can go your own way*

In some history circles, an empire is sometimes defined as the rule of one group of people over another, different group.  This situation has, of course, been relatively common throughout human history.  That doesn’t necessarily make it morally justifiable.  As recently as the end of the First World War, America committed itself to the ideal of ‘self-determination’ as just one part of Wilson’s misguided internationalism under the “Fourteen Points.”  Politically, self-determination was convenient at the time, as it provided a moral cover to the breakup of such conglomerations as the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires… hodgepodges if there ever was such a thing.  The idea was that Slavs had a right to want to live in a Slavic nation, Turks in a Turkish nation, and so on.

So how to square that idealism with the current outrage that a part of modern-day Ukraine–itself a confusing construct–that is mostly ethnic Russian wants to be part of … Russia?

Pro-Russian lawmakers in the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea sparked a showdown reminiscent of the Cold War on Thursday, accelerating their bid to leave Ukraine and join Russia in a move that President Obama, the new government in Kiev and European leaders described as provocative and illegal.

Lawmakers in the autonomous region voted Thursday to join the Russian Federation and hold a referendum March 16 to validate the decision.

I’m not ignorant of the fact that Nazi Germany’s pre-1939 expansion was cloaked largely in terms of reuniting German populations with “the Fatherland.”  That said, the European powers had only themselves to blame that such a figleaf existed, since so many new nations had been artificially constructed by the Treaty of Versailles without regard to grouping people according to their identities.  In fact, one of the main objectives of the map drawing was to siphon off as many Germans as possible into other states.  Thus, it’s not surprising that Germans who found themselves after 1918 in some alien land were more than happy to be reunited with the rest of Deutschland, whether uber alles or not.

So before we invoke Godwin’s Law by comparing Crimea, 2014, to Czechoslovakia, 1939, let’s pause for a moment.  Those who would work the West into a frenzy to oppose the reunification of Crimea with Russia need to answer a question: why is this issue worth the bones of a single grenadier?  In other words, why should any soldier of the U.S., Britain, France or anyone else die to prevent Russians from living in Russia?  Is this why we spend exorbitant amounts on “defense?” So that we arbitrarily decide whose rights of self-determination are honored?

The Western powers in the 1930s were eager to avoid confrontation with Nazi Germany.  It wasn’t until after Munich, when Hitler seized the remainder of Czechoslovakia, that Western resolve to stop further expansion came into play.  This is for two reasons: first, Hitler showed he would not honor his agreements (i.e. the Munich “Peace in Our Time”), and second, “rump Czechoslovakia” was the first annexation that was not comprised of a majority of ethnic Germans.  In other words, Hitler had finished reunifying Das Volk, and was now imposing empire–German rule–on other peoples.

This is an important distinction, and the lesson should not be lost on today’s decision makers.  A considerable number of States in the world today are artificial constructs.  Far from being nations, they are conglomerations of convenience left over from the rapid devolution of Western empires after World War II.  Their borders are lines drawn on the map by foreigners, not by groups of people with a common identity.  Africa, in particular, is rife with this artificiality.

So, if we set the precedent of using force, in whatever form, to prevent Russians from joining Russians, are we then prepared to use force to keep Turkish Kurds separate from Iraqi Kurds?  And if so, what is the benefit to the American people for expending blood and treasure to do so?  If ‘government derives its just power from the consent of the governed,’ what business do we have interfering in such matters?

Americans need to think very carefully about this, lest we be drawn even further into the endless quarrels and squabbles of the rest of the world.  One could even argue it is time for the sun to set on the American Empire.  We, too, are a hodgepodge of peoples now, thanks to at least two generations of ideological warfare and the effects of immigration.  In the spirit of the Golden Rule, we might just ask: how would we react to foreign powers bent on thwarting our desire to go a different direction?

That question may not remain an academic one forever


* – Apologies to Fleetwood Mac… their song has been stuck in my head ever since I read about the vote in the Crimean parliament.  Yes, my mind works in strange associations sometimes!

3 thoughts on “You can go your own way*

  1. JT — I was wondering why I was humming something before I got to the end of the article! Your point is well taken, not that I have to convince you. I too, have wondered aloud just what the fuss is about! Then again, as you have suggested in earlier posts, funneling people’s minds towards one event or another is the shell game of our government. I say let the Russians “play on!”


  2. Pingback: Rolling over the odometer | A True Progressive

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