On March 5, 1946 – 68 years ago – Winston Churchill gave one of his most memorable speeches in Fulton, Missouri on the campus of Westminster College.
The World War was over; and Churchill, now in private life, was reflecting on the new order that replaced Hitler. Here are his most famous words, from what many call his greatest post-war speech:
“From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia; all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high, and in some cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow.”
This iron curtain held strong from 1945 until 1989. Ronald Reagan is often credited with implementing a daring strategy to coax these nations from the grasp of the Soviet Communists.
Once the Soviet Empire was removed, it was only a matter of time until the entire Soviet system, which depended on the slave labor of surrounding countries, totally collapsed. Soviet Communism was then thrown into the trash bin of history.
But today, the Russian bear is once again on the move. Vladimir Putin, who fancies himself the modern equivalent of an ancient Russian czar, is slowly expanding the Russian sphere of influence.
History Repeats Itself
Today’s crisis in Crimea appears to have much in common with the Sudetenland crisis ignited by Hitler in 1938.
The Sudetenland is the German name used to refer to the northern, southwest, and western areas of Czechoslovakia, which were mostly inhabited by German speakers. After the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of World War I, these areas – specifically the districts of Bohemia, Moravia, and German-speaking parts of Silesia – were given to the new country of Czechoslovakia.
Then, during the height of the Sudetenland crisis, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain met with Adolf Hitler in Berchtesgaden and agreed to concede Sudetenland. No Czechoslovakian representative was even invited to these discussions.
And Hitler, who was aiming to use the crisis as a pretext for war, demanded the immediate military occupation of the territories. This put the Czechoslovak army in an indefensible position. Months after Hitler took the Sudetenland, he conquered the balance of Czechoslovakia.
Chamberlain’s name and legacy will, for all of history, be equated with appeasing Hitler. Chamberlain refused to stand up to Hitler early and, as a result, Hitler came to disrespect the resolve of the Western European powers.
Obama is Our Modern Chamberlain
Right now, Putin seems to have an attitude that is equally cavalier toward the Western powers. Putin just ignores Barack Obama, John Kerry, David Cameron, and anyone else trying to maintain the current borders in Eastern Europe.
Of course, Crimea does have a Russian-speaking population that has voted repeatedly to be closely aligned or even integrated into Russia. (Much like the Germans in Sudetenland wanted to be in Germany.)
The question for all Western leaders to contemplate is what happens if Putin decides to take the balance of Ukraine the way Hitler took the balance of Czechoslovakia?
If Putin stops at the border of Crimea, not much will happen. Barack Obama will likely appease Putin and acquiesce to Russia’s annexation. But if Putin, as the czars before him, wants the entire Dnieper River under his control, then the darkness of war will descend across the old continent.
Only then will we know if Crimea is Obama’s Sudetenland.
This article originally appeared at CapitolHillDaily.com and is reprinted here with permission.
Photo credit: BeckyF (Creative Commons)
This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Informing And Equipping Americans Who Love Freedom