Democracy at stake

I am writing this on International Holocaust Day. Let’s step back in time to this month in 1939. There were no Nazi concentration death camps that we knew of, there was scant reason to suppose WWII was about to break out… hadn’t British Prime Minister Chamberlain declared that he had met and negotiated with Herr Hitler and provided a document to prove it. “Peace in our time” he declared as he alighted from his plane. But you must understand, that was most peoples’ understanding: their hope, their passionate desire; never to go through the wholesale slaughter of WWI all over again. They heard what they wanted to hear.

So too, today, we have people all over the world wanting, desiring, praying, and demanding peace at any cost, including pacifism, turning a blind eye, and trusting to luck. Are these people wrong? No, they are human. Could they be right? Yes they may, but it is hardly likely. Putin’s drive to revitalize Russia’s future by recapturing lands they once ruled as the USSR, strikes fear in democratic leaders around the globe precisely because of the global threat implied should he win or lose. If he wins, other authoritarian rules will be encouraged and chaos will break out. If he loses, as ex-Russian President Dmitri Medvedev says, the threat of nuclear war is real since the Russian Military could collapse creating a power – and anti-nuclear use protocol – vacuum. And, yes, authoritarian or military regimes like Hungary, China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Morocco, Vietnam, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Turkmenistan, and Iran would seize opportunity, either internally or internationally.

Furthermore, there is a big historical difference from the 1939 perspective here that we, as Americans, need to be aware of: America today is, as Jon Meacham said yesterday, either replaying 1920’s mode of isolationism which prevented us from helping stop WWII from starting or we’re in 1850’s divisive times that led to Civil War at home, weakening our global influence for almost 50 years.

The largest portion of the world’s population cannot either read or can’t get access to newspapers and reliable unbiased news. The only information they get comes from controlled media, commercial media (biasing news leaning away from warnings of dread), viral media that has no effective “guardrails,” or from radical communities or religions or sects such as the far-right groups in America. And let’s not forget that 2,000,000,000 Muslims are still taught of the supposed evils of non-Islam believers.

On the radio the other night there was an interview with a Leipzig (German) woman who remembers the end of WWII very well. She made an argument I have heard before, reflecting the inner belief of many of my German friends. She saw the firebombs falling, thousands of them, day after day, turning Leipzig into a burning funeral pyre. All she could remember was the palpable hatred felt towards Germans to allow such slaughter. She now knows they perhaps deserved it for what they had done to other peoples, yes, but the hatred then was overwhelming and she wondered if it ever could stop, even after the Allies were out of bombs. Remember, most Germans and most Allies, knew nothing about the death camps in 1945 – concentration camps, slave labor, yes, those they knew (there were over 1,000 after all). This woman was simply equating the Axis advanced, ferocious, war machine that the Germans had used on France, Poland, England and America with the retribution unleashed by the Allies on town after town in Germany, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians. Ah, you say, no German was innocent, they all contributed to the Nazi war effort. Careful what you say here, because so do each and every one of us bear some responsibility for every cruise missile, every bullet and what is, certainly, the most advanced war machine ever seen on earth now being called on to stop evil once again.

Now, I am not, really not, equating the USA to Nazi Germany. 1930s Germans thought as Hitler’s media machine taught them to think. Today, the perspective of the far-right and authoritarian players across the globe don’t see nor want to understand democracy, the voice of people, preferring instead people willing to be led, guided, told what to think and do. The only way for us not to have to watch the skies for a Leipzig-type retribution in years to come is to carry out our rightful and necessary disarming of Putin’s plans. We should not be thinking of stopping Putin, certainly not to unseat him, but simply allow the Ukrainians to protect their country. We don’t want nor need a puppet-type US-style government in Kiev. What we need to do is walk the thin line of support and not get involved, so that Ukraine can prevail and, in so doing, reign in autocrats around the world from getting ideas which would threaten us all – including those inside our country clearly wanting to split the nation as they did in the 1860s. Democracy is at stake here, not merely a free Ukraine


Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now lives in New Mexico.

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