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Over the past few days, there have been multiple diaries and heavy commenting on the situation in Ukraine.  What is notable about the arguments---apart from their intensity--is how often those commenting justify their position by reference to historical examples.  One poster in particular seems to believe that Putin really is exactly like Hitler and the Ukraine/Crimea crisis is exactly like the Czechoslovakian crisis of 1938.  The conclusion that this poster and others like him reach is that failure to "stop" Putin (not defined) will inevitably lead to World War III just as the Munch conference inevitably led to World War II.  When this claim is questioned, the sceptics have been told to "read history".  Well, speaking on behalf of History, I want to issue a cease and desist order on this line of reasoning. Why follows below the orange barbed wire

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    --said by Winston Churchill, rallying the British people to resist German invasion in September 1940.  Fortunately, the British people and the world were spared that horrific invasion and the bloodbath that would have followed, as the heroic "few" of the Royal Air Force won the Battle of Britain. Why am I quoting this particular phrase from Churchill? Please follow below past the orange thingy for an explanation.

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Tue Sep 03, 2013 at 04:00 PM PDT

The Missiles of September

by Reston history guy

    Many comments and diaries have discussed whether the United States should launch cruise missiles against the Assad regime in Syria. The legality and morality of this has been discussed at length (I myself have written more than in several years). But it seems to me that the crucial issue is what the missiles are intended to accomplish.
     If you follow below the orange croissant, you will see my analysis of the possible consequences of a strike. It may well be flawed and incomplete, but unless we think through the possible consequences of our actions, we have no hope of ever doing the right thing. We may do the wrong thing anyway. But we have to try to foresee the effects of what we do.

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Sat Aug 31, 2013 at 05:45 PM PDT

Gunboat Diplomacy and Syria

by Reston history guy

    Yorktown left a bitter taste in the mouth of the British ruling elite. It was because of memories of losing America that they conceded self-government so easily and quickly to Canada (the Durham Report). And while they continued to be aggressive imperialists, for much of the 19th century the British preferred "indirect rule"; that is, selecting a native puppet ruler who would be compliant and helpful. This usually worked pretty well. But every now and then, the natives grew restless and then something had to be done. For an example of what the British did, how it worked out for them, and what all this has to do with Syria, follow me below the orange croissant.

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Reading Yahoo comments or watching right-wingers on T.V., or reading spectacular bits of wingnuttery quoted in DK diaries, one is struck not only by the shallowness of the arguments, but much more by the attitude revealed.  Kos and others have described it on many occasions as living in a bubble, and that is certainly accurate. But what fascinates and terrifies me is the boiling pool of emotion that causes wingers to live in the bubble: hatred of others, especially to the extent they are “different”; hatred not just of facts, but of reason itself; hatred of nuance, shades of grey, and above all, uncertainty.  
      Human complexity, and the importance of balancing deep commitment to principle while always listening to that little voice that says “But what if you are wrong?” is what this essay is about. Follow me below the orange spaghetti if you would like to ponder this with me. Spoiler Alert: I have no firm answers to give, no links for evidence. This is just an essay, for better or worse.

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Tue Jun 07, 2011 at 10:30 AM PDT

1914: A Cautionary Tale

by Reston history guy

 97 years ago, Europe and the world were grappling with business as usual: worker strikes, angry disputes between Left and Right,  and the usual run of sex scandals.  No one anticipated war (except, perhaps, civil war in Ireland). Indeed, most people thought that a European war, even if one did erupt, could not last more than a few months. Norman Angell’s bestseller, The Great Illusion, had proved that, and all the Very Serious People of Europe agreed.  Yet only four years later, 20 million people who had been alive and well that summer were dead.  Tens of millions more were shattered in mind or body, mourning loved ones, homeless, destitute, desperate.  What went wrong in 1914 is a cautionary tale for this humid summer of 2011.

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