If only our young people learned more about history and less about wokeism, perhaps they would understand history does repeat itself. For example, history tells us how conflicts almost eight decades apart set the stage for what is occurring in Ukraine today.
In 1936, fascist-based rebels of future dictator Gen. Francisco Franco began a three-year conflict to end Spanish democracy. He succeeded, aided by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany, which used the conflict to test its weaponry and tactics. Doing so successfully in Spain, a confident Hitler launched – along with some help from Japan – the world into a global war.
In late October 2015, Russia entered a four-year civil war in Syria, in which rebel forces had been seeking to oust President Bashar al-Assad. The rebels, supported by Gulf Arab and Western states, were close to defeating Assad when President Vladimir Putin came to his aid. Russian air power began hitting what he claimed were terrorist targets but which, in reality, were rebel targets. While the civil war in Syria still rages on, Russia still maintains military forces there.
But, just like Hitler had done in Spain, Putin saw Syria as an opportunity to test Russian equipment and tactics for use in a future conflict. It gave him a certain comfort level for a later invasion of Ukraine.
Syria proved to be a learning experience for the Russians. There was a tactic the Syrian army employed against the rebels that we have very recently seen Russia adopt in Ukraine.
For most of the Syrian civil war, government forces have distinguished themselves by becoming one of the world’s worst offenders in torturing and executing children. A United Nations (U.N.) report indicated that children as young as 8 have been used as human shields during Syrian army raids against rebels.
As Russian tank forces have fallen prey to Ukrainian anti-tank weapons, weaponry they had never encountered in Syria, they have now adopted the Syrian army’s tactic of kidnapping children to use as human shields. According to witness reports, the Russians have been placing them in front of their tanks, daring defenders to take the tanks under fire.
While it is inconceivable to think in modern times any nation’s ideology would accept the use of children as human shields, another current Russian ally demonstrated it had no compunction about doing so.
During the eight-year Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), Iranian soldiers suffered a high casualty rate attempting to advance through minefields protecting various Iraqi positions. So Iran hit upon the idea of utilizing its own children to march through the minefields, eventually clearing the way for an Iranian assault. The children, between 12-17 years old, wore red headbands emblazoned with the words “Warriors of God” in Farsi. The children knew what they were being recruited to do and were given a small metal key to wear around their neck, which, they were told, was their “ticket” to paradise “if” they died performing their mission. Apparently, so many of them did die that the mullahs subsequently ordered less expensive plastic keys for children to wear.
The U.N. is being kept busy with numerous reports of Russian soldiers committing war crimes in Ukraine. Mass graves – many containing civilians with their hands tied behind their backs – have been discovered in areas after the Russians have withdrawn. Their savagery is evident by cases in which they were not content just to execute civilians but to torture them beforehand as well. When the mayor of one Ukrainian town refused to cooperate with the Russian occupiers, she had her fingers broken and saw her husband and son executed before she too was shot.
Just as we get numerous reports of Russian war crimes in Ukraine, we also are getting reports that murderous acts by Russian mercenaries, conducting an anti-terrorist operation with government troops in Mali, generated hundreds of casualties. Mali has been fighting Islamists there for a decade. However, witnesses tell the story that combined Russian/Mali units have been forcing prisoners to walk in front of them in small groups, executing them from behind.
Russian atrocities are not something new to old-school Soviets. In 1985, four Russian diplomats were abducted in Beirut by Muslim extremists. They demanded that Moscow pressure the Syrian government to stop pro-Syrian militia forces from shelling rival Muslim positions in Tripoli. In response, Soviet secret police kidnapped a relative of the radical Lebanese Shia Muslim leader involved in the abduction, castrating him, shooting him in the head and then sending the leader his relative’s severed organs. The Soviet diplomats were quickly released.
Also evidencing the brutality of Putin’s “take no prisoners” mindset is an infamous video that circulated over the internet years ago. In 2011, Russian commandos took back control of one of their merchant ships after Somali pirates had captured it. The pirates were put back in their own boat and cuffed to it so they could not escape. After placing explosives in the boat and setting it adrift, the Russian commandos then detonated the explosives, immediately killing all onboard the pirate ship.
Putin should avail himself of two historical events as well.
In 1939, as the world focused on Hitler’s aggression, the Soviet Union’s Josef Stalin felt the timing was right to bring Finland back into the Soviet fold. Like Putin’s effort in Ukraine, Stalin launched an unprovoked invasion of Finland, expecting a quick victory. The Finns, like the Ukrainians, courageously countered the Russian invasion, forcing Stalin to recognize victory was not to be his and signing a peace treaty after three-plus months. Putin may have to come to the same realization with Ukraine.
Putin is ignoring a post-World War II history that should have imparted to all world leaders a very important lesson in accountability for war crimes their forces commit. Perhaps a virtual visit to the Nuremberg Museum, memorializing the accountability of Nazi Germany’s war crime ringleaders at the Nuremberg Trials, would be timely for him and his generals.
Are we surprised by Putin’s brutality? History tells us we should not be.
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