Beware Historical Comparisons

Caution Ahead: Errant Historical Comparisons
In the Russian occupation of Crimea, many have drawn parallels with 1914 and the events that led to the outbreak of the First World War. But Christopher Clark cautions against drawing such distinct comparisons.

He notes the complexity of the situation in the Ukraine arises precisely from the plurality of quite different historical narratives entangled in it and that the Ukrainian the “crisis can neither be understood nor solved using a single historic logic.”

In fact, he says, “the alignments implicated in the Ukrainian emergency bear little relation to the geopolitical constellations of 1914” before the onset of combat.

“At that time, two central powers faced a trio of world empires on Europe’s eastern and western peripheries. Today, a broad coalition of Western and Central European states is united in protesting Russia’s interventions in Ukraine. And the restless, ambitious German Kaiserreich of 1914 scarcely resembles the European Union, a multi-state peace framework that finds it difficult to project power or to formulate external policy,” he asserts.

Likewise, James Carden of the American Conservative warns against comparing the West’s essential acceptance of Russia’s claim on Crimea with the Munich Agreement, which permitted Nazi Germany’s annexation of portions of Czechoslovakia along the country’s borders.

 Instead he suggests looking to the Solidarity movement in Poland, particularly the crackdown on Polish dissidents by authorities, of which American officials were aware.

“What was the Reagan administration’s response? Contrary to what one might expect in light of 30 years of neoconservative mythologizing, Reagan’s response was marked by an abundance of caution,” he says, adding: “The Reagan administration responded with little more than some sharp rhetoric from Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and the suspension of roughly $100 million in economic assistance.”

How Do We Decide Which Conflicts Merit Attention?
As with the war in Syria, there are many voices advocating various responses to Russia’s aggression. Three years of war and hundreds of thousands dead in Syria, yet Ukraine remains the focus of global attention.

Gideon Rachman, a columnist with The Financial Times, tries to get at the root of the question — How do we decide what matters in the world?

“The moral of that story is that human suffering is not enough to command the undivided attention of the western media. We also have to feel that there is a risk that “We” (our nations, our neighbours) will be directly affected. And the west seems to have decided that we can live with the tragedy in Syria, without any threat of upheaval to our own lives.

“The reaction of western leaders to the crisis in Ukraine, however, has been rather different. They clearly feel impelled to act,” Rachman posits. He does not offer answers, but proposes several reasons, including the fact that in Ukraine, the victims are European and not Arab.

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