The current crisis in the Crimea has reminded me that while history does not repeat itself, there are sometimes patterns that are disturbingly familiar.
This time out: Germany 1918-1939, Russia 1991-2014, and peace in our time — again?
In 1918, Imperial Germany was on the brink of collapse on the Western Front, mainly due to failing military morale. Dire economic circumstances and social unrest forced the hand of the Imperial governments, which dissolved themselves, leaving a republic in their wake.
In 1919, Germany surrendered, losing much territory and prestige. In 1933, 15 years after the collapse of Imperial Germany, former soldier Adolph Hitler was elected and quickly manoeuvred himself into the position of dictator. He longed for the power of the former empire.
In 1936, 18 years after the collapse, Germany reoccupied the Rhineland with little consequence. In 1938, Germany occupied Austria and the Sudetenland, ostensibly to protect ethnic Germans. The world opted for diplomatic measures in order to avoid war.
British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain famously spoke of "peace in our time" after receiving German promises that they would not do anything else. In 1939, 21 years after the collapse of Imperial Germany, Hitler invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia with no significant response from the world. Emboldened, he then invaded Poland, plunging the world into war.
In 1991, the Soviet Union dissolved in the midst of military, economic and civil rights pressures. The Russian Federation formed as a republic, losing much territory and prestige.
Eight years later, former KGB officer Vladimir Putin became prime minister, but quickly manoeuvred himself into a dictatorial position. By his own admission, he longs for the power of the former USSR.
In 2008, 17 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia invaded portions of Georgia with little consequence. In 2014, 23 years after the collapse of the USSR, Russia occupied and annexed the Crimea, ostensibly to protect ethnic Russians.
The result so far has been some fairly limited economic sanctions and political disapproval.
Vladimir Putin has assured the world that Russia has no intention of going any further.
Peace in Our Time — again?
Putin is not a genocidal maniac as was Adolph Hitler, but he is very alike in his desire to recover the power of the empire he once served. The timelines are similar because men are mortal, and have only so much time in which to achieve their goals.
The key question is will Putin stop at the Crimea or continue to push until a larger conflict results? At this point we must hope that Putin keeps his word, although history shows us that men like him are not inclined to do so.
In 1938, during the crisis in Czechoslovakia, Chamberlain said "How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing."
And with that, Czechoslovakia was sold out in a vain attempt to prevent war. I hope that history will look more kindly on our responses to Mr. Putin.
» Marc George is a retired soldier who served 25 years in the Canadian Army. He is currently the Director of The RCA Museum in Shilo. He can be contacted via email@example.com or via twitter @TheRCAMuseum