Archives for category: History

As regular readers know, I have received and posted several comments complaining that I don’t write posts showing “both sides” or “different sides” on Ukraine. They disapprove of my support for Ukraine and my criticism of Putin.

In some cases, the commenters have included links to articles or videos claiming that Putin had no choice but to invade Ukraine because…he felt encircled by NATO, or he needed to protect Russians in Ukraine, or Ukraine is overrun by Nazis, or some policy analyst warned that NATO’s expansion would provoke Putin. Other commenters claim that I should not post anything sympathetic to Ukraine unless I post equally sympathetic commentaries about places where the U.S. brutalized the local population or where other nations are suffering.

Let me explain. This is my blog. It is not CNN, FOX, MSNBC, or a network station. The articles I post are my choice.

My choice is to demand that Putin stop the war that he launched against Ukraine. Stop the killing of Ukrainians and Russians. Stop the targeting of civilians. Stop the bombing of civilian shelters and hospitals and evacuation routes.

I oppose this unprovoked war. Those who excuse and rationalize it are, wittingly or unwittingly, supporting the war. And they are supporting Putin. One comment, which I chose not to publish, claimed that the war was “provoked” by Ukraine. Rubbish. Another said that Ukraine is run by Nazis. Rubbish. Another said the war was created by Russophobes. More rubbish. NATO accepted ex-Soviet satellite nations because they asked to be admitted. NATO didn’t pressure them to apply. They wanted protection from Russia. Ukraine requested membership in NATO but the request was tabled, probably to avoid antagonizing Putin.

The nations of the world should have the right to choose their own government and not to be ruled by a puppet regime. Russia took a sharp turn away from democracy when Boris Yeltsin chose Putin as his successor. He has a long history of killing or imprisoning his critics and competitors. Now he has none, and he engineered passage of a law that keeps him in power until 2036. That’s almost half a century of one man rule. The usual words for such regimes are “dictatorship,” “authoritarian,” “totalitarian.”

For thirty years, the West has encouraged ties with Russia. The goal of the West was to integrate Russia into the global economy and promote healthy relations between Russia and the West. By his invasion of Ukraine, Putin severed the past thirty years of steady efforts to build ties with the West and to turn Russia into a normal nation that does not threaten its neighbors or threaten the world with nuclear war.

I will not post defenses of Putin. If you want to defend his actions, write a letter to the New York Times or the Washington Post. Or follow the tweets of Marjorie Taylor Greene, Madison Cawthorne, and the other members of the GOP’s Putin caucus.

One man surrounded the borders of Ukraine with nearly 200,000 troops. One man lied and said he had “no intention” of invading Ukraine. One man ordered the troops and jets and warships to attack Ukraine. One man gave the order to reduce Ukrainian cities to rubble and trap civilians who had no water, no heat, no food.


In my view, he is a megalomaniac, an imperialist, a man without a heart or a soul. He is Stalin reborn.

I will no longer post comments defending Putin’s cruel and unprovoked war. I will no longer give space to those who say he was afraid of being “encircled” by NATO. This gives him permission to invade Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia, even Poland and Hungary.

I have no obligation to post “both sides.” I don’t post both sides of the campaign to privatize public schools. I don’t post both sides on issues of racism or book banning or other issues that, in my view, are clear cut.

We can debate lots of issues. But I will no longer tolerate defenses of Putin and his war of choice. Please don’t waste your time or mine by posting comments justifying Putin’s war. I will delete them, and you will go into moderation where I can delete them before they appear.


Statement on Ukraine by scholars of genocide, Nazism and WWII

At this fateful moment we stand united with free, independent and democratic Ukraine and strongly reject the Russian government’s misuse of history to justify its own violence.

(February 28, 2022 / Jewish Journal) As we write this, the horror of war is unfolding in Ukraine. The last time Kyiv was under heavy artillery fire and saw tanks in its streets was during World War II. If anyone should know it, it’s Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is obsessed with the history of that war.

Russian propaganda has painted the Ukrainian state as Nazi and fascist ever since Russian special forces first entered Ukraine in 2014, annexing the Crimea and fomenting the conflict in the Donbas, which has smoldered for eight long years.

It was propaganda in 2014. It remains propaganda today.

This is why we came together: to protest the use of this false and destructive narrative. Among those who have signed the statement below are some of the most accomplished and celebrated scholars of World War II, Nazism, genocide and the Holocaust. If you are a scholar of this history, please consider adding your name to the list. If you are a journalist, you now have a list of experts you can turn to in order to help your readers better understand Russia’s war against Ukraine.

And if you are a consumer of the news, please share the message of this letter widely. There is no Nazi government for Moscow to root out in Kyiv. There has been no genocide of the Russian people in Ukraine. And Russian troops are not on a liberation mission. After the bloody 20th century, we should all have built enough discernment to know that war is not peace, slavery is not freedom and ignorance offers strength only to autocratic megalomaniacs who seek to exploit it for their personal agendas.

Statement by scholars of genocide, Nazism and World War II

Since Feb. 24, 2022, the armed forces of the Russian Federation have been engaged in an unprovoked military aggression against Ukraine. The attack is a continuation of Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014 and its heavy involvement in the armed conflict in the Donbas region.

The Russian attack came in the wake of accusations by the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, of crimes against humanity and genocide, allegedly committed by the Ukrainian government in the Donbas. Russian propaganda regularly presents the elected leaders of Ukraine as Nazis and fascists oppressing the local ethnic Russian population, which it claims needs to be liberated. President Putin stated that one of the goals of his “special military operation” against Ukraine is the “denazification” of the country.

We are scholars of genocide, the Holocaust and World War II. We spend our careers studying fascism and Nazism, and commemorating their victims. Many of us are actively engaged in combating contemporary heirs to these evil regimes and those who attempt to deny or cast a veil over their crimes.

We strongly reject the Russian government’s cynical abuse of the term genocide, the memory of World War II and the Holocaust, and the equation of the Ukrainian state with the Nazi regime to justify its unprovoked aggression. This rhetoric is factually wrong, morally repugnant and deeply offensive to the memory of millions of victims of Nazism and those who courageously fought against it, including Russian and Ukrainian soldiers of the Red Army.

We do not idealize the Ukrainian state and society. Like any other country, it has right-wing extremists and violent xenophobic groups. Ukraine also ought to better confront the darker chapters of its painful and complicated history. Yet none of this justifies the Russian aggression and the gross mischaracterization of Ukraine. At this fateful moment we stand united with free, independent and democratic Ukraine and strongly reject the Russian government’s misuse of the history of World War II to justify its own violence.


Eugene Finkel, Johns Hopkins University

Izabella Tabarovsky, Washington D.C.

Aliza Luft, University of California-Los Angeles

Teresa Walch, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Jared McBride, University of California-Los Angeles

Elissa Bemporad, Queens College and CUNY Graduate Center

Andrea Ruggeri, University of Oxford

Steven Seegel, University of Texas at Austin

Jeffrey Kopstein, University of California, Irvine

Francine Hirsch, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Anna Hájková, University of Warwick

Omer Bartov, Brown University

Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, New York University and POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews

Christoph Dieckmann, Frankfurt am Main

Cary Nelson, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Waitman Wade Beorn, Northumbria University

Jeffrey Herf, University of Maryland

Timothy Snyder, Yale University

Jeffrey Veidlinger, University of Michigan

Hana Kubátová, Charles University

Leslie Waters, University of Texas at El Paso

Norman J.W. Goda, University of Florida

Jazmine Conteras, Goucher College

Laura J. Hilton, Muskingum University

Katarzyna Person, Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw

Tarik Cyril Amar, Koc University

Sarah Grandke, Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial/denk.mal Hannoverscher Bahnhof Hamburg

Jonathan Leader Maynard, King’s College London

Chad Gibbs, College of Charleston

Janine Holc, Loyola University Maryland

Erin Hochman, Southern Methodist University

Edin Hajdarpasic, Loyola University Chicago

David Hirsh, Goldsmiths, University of London

Richard Breitman, American University (Emeritus)

Astrid M. Eckert, Emory University

Anna Holian, Arizona State University

Uma Kumar, University of British Columbia

Frances Tanzer, Clark University

Victoria J. Barnett, US Holocaust Memorial Museum (retired)

David Seymour, City University of London

Jeff Jones, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

András Riedlmayer Harvard University (retired)

Polly Zavadivker, University of Delaware

Aviel Roshwald, Georgetown University

Anne E. Parsons, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Carole Lemee, Bordeaux University

Scott Denham, Davidson College

Emanuela Grama, Carnegie Mellon University

Christopher R. Browning, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (emeritus)

Katrin Paehler, Illinois State University

Raphael Utz, Deutsches Historisches Museum Berlin

Emre Sencer, Knox College

Stefan Ihrig, University of Haifa

Jeff Rutherford, Xavier University

Jason Hall, The University of Haifa

Christian Ingrao, CNRS École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, CESPRA Paris

Hannah Wilson, Nottingham Trent University

Jan Lanicek, University of New South Wales

Edward B. Westermann, Texas A&M University-San Antonio

Maris Rowe-McCulloch, University of Regina

Joanna B. Michlic, University College London

Raul Carstocea, Maynooth University

Dieter Steinert, University of Wolverhampton

Christina Morina, Universität Bielefeld

Abbey Steele, University of Amsterdam

Erika Hughes, University of Portsmouth

Lukasz Krzyzanowski, University of Warsaw

Agnieszka Wierzcholska, German Historical Institute, Paris

Martin Cüppers, University of Stuttgart

Matthew Kupfer, Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project

Martin Kragh, Uppsala University

Umit Kurt, Van Leer Institute, Jerusalem

Meron Mendel, Frankfurt University of Applied Science, Anne Frank Center Frankfurt

Nazan Maksudyan, FU Berlin / Centre Marc Bloch

Emanuel-Marius Grec, University of Heidelberg

Khatchig Mouradian, Columbia University

Jan Zbigniew Grabowski, University of Ottawa

Dirk Moses, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Amos Goldberg, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Amber N. Nickell, Fort Hays State University

Tatjana Tönsmeyer, Wuppertal University

Thomas Kühne, Clark University

Thomas Pegelow Kaplan, Appalachian State University

Amos Morris-Reich, Tel Aviv University

Volha Charnysh, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Stefan Cristian Ionescu, Northwestern University

Donatello Aramini, Sapienza University, Rome

Ofer Ashkenazi, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Roland Clark, University of Liverpool

Mirjam Zadoff, University of Munich & Munich Documentation Centre for the History of National Socialism

John Barruzza, Syracuse University

Cristina A. Bejan, Metropolitan State University of Denver

Isabel Sawkins, University of Exeter

Benjamin Nathans, University of Pennsylvania

Norbert Frei, University of Jena

Stéfanie Prezioso, Université de Lausanne

Olindo De Napoli, Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II

Eli Nathans, Western University

Eugenia Mihalcea, University of Haifa

Rebekah Klein-Pejšová, Purdue University

Sergei I. Zhuk, Ball State University

Paola S. Salvatori, Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa – Università degli Studi Roma Tre

Antonio Ferrara, Independent Scholar

Verena Meier, Forschungsstelle Antiziganismus, Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg

Frédéric Bonnesoeur, Zentrum für Antisemitismusforschung, TU Berlin

Sara Halpern, St. Olaf College

Irina Nastasa-Matei, University of Bucharest

Michal Aharony, University of Haifa

Michele Sarfatti, Fondazione CDEC Milano

Frank Schumacher, The University of Western Ontario

Thomas Weber, University of Aberdeen

Elizabeth Drummond, Loyola Marymount University

Jennifer Evans, Carleton University

Sayantani Jana, University of Southern California

Gavriel D. Rosenfeld, Fairfield University

Snježana Koren, University of Zagreb

Brunello Mantelli, University of Turin and University of Calabria

Carl Müller-Crepon, University of Oxford

Grzegorz Rossolinski-Liebe, Freie Universität Berlin

Amy Sjoquist, Northwest University

Sebastian Vîrtosu, Universitatea Națională de Arte “G. Enescu”

Stanislao G. Pugliese, Hofstra University

Ronald Grigor Suny, University of Michigan

Antoinette Saxer, University of York

Alon Confino, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Corry Guttstadt, University of Hamburg

Vadim Altskan, US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Evan B. Bukey, University of Arkansas

Elliot Y Neaman, University of San Francisco

Rebecca Wittmann, University of Toronto Mississauga

Benjamin Rifkin, Hofstra University

Vladimir Tismaneanu, University of Maryland

Walter Reich, George Washington University

Jay Geller, Case Western Reserve University

Atina Grossmann, Cooper Union

Francesco Zavatti, Södertörn University

Eliyana R. Adler, The Pennsylvania State University

Laura María Niewöhner, Bielefeld University

Elena Amaya, University of California-Berkeley

Markus Roth, Fritz Bauer Institut, Frankfurt

Brandon Bloch, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Monica Osborne, The Jewish Journal

Benjamin Hett, Hunter College and the Graduate Center, CUNY

Volker Weiß, Independent Scholar

Manuela Consonni, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Svetlana Suveica, University of Regensburg

Izabella Tabarovsky is a researcher with the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute, focusing on the politics of historical memory in the former Soviet Union.

Evgeny Finkel is a political scientist and historian at Johns Hopkins University.

This article was first published by the Jewish Journal.

Jill Lepore is a historian at Harvard University and a writer for The New Yorker. In this recent article, she reviews a history of attacks on one of our nation’s most important democratic institutions: our public schools. To read the complete article, subscribe to The New Yorker. It is a wonderful magazine.

She begins:

In 1925, Lela V. Scopes, twenty-eight, was turned down for a job teaching mathematics at a high school in Paducah, Kentucky, her home town. She had taught in the Paducah schools before going to Lexington to finish college at the University of Kentucky. But that summer her younger brother, John T. Scopes, was set to be tried for the crime of teaching evolution in a high-school biology class in Dayton, Tennessee, in violation of state law, and Lela Scopes had refused to denounce either her kin or Charles Darwin. It didn’t matter that evolution doesn’t ordinarily come up in an algebra class. And it didn’t matter that Kentucky’s own anti-evolution law had been defeated. “Miss Scopes loses her post because she is in sympathy with her brother’s stand,” the Times reported.

In the nineteen-twenties, legislatures in twenty states, most of them in the South, considered thirty-seven anti-evolution measures. Kentucky’s bill, proposed in 1922, had been the first. It banned teaching, or countenancing the teaching of, “Darwinism, atheism, agnosticism, or the theory of evolution in so far as it pertains to the origin of man.” The bill failed to pass the House by a single vote. Tennessee’s law, passed in 1925, made it a crime for teachers in publicly funded schools “to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.” Scopes challenged the law deliberately, as part of an effort by the A.C.L.U. to bring a test case to court. His trial, billed as the trial of the century, was the first to be broadcast live on the radio. It went out across the country, to a nation, rapt.

A century later, the battle over public education that afflicted the nineteen-twenties has started up again, this time over the teaching of American history. Since 2020, with the murder of George Floyd and the advance of the Black Lives Matter movement, seventeen states have made efforts to expand the teaching of one sort of history, sometimes called anti-racist history, while thirty-six states have made efforts to restrict that very same kind of instruction. In 2020, Connecticut became the first state to require African American and Latino American history. Last year, Maine passed “An Act to Integrate African American Studies into American History Education,” and Illinois added a requirement mandating a unit on Asian American history.

On the blackboard on the other side of the classroom are scrawled what might be called anti-anti-racism measures. Some ban the Times’ 1619 Project, or ethnic studies, or training in diversity, inclusion, and belonging, or the bugbear known as critical race theory. Most, like a bill recently introduced in West Virginia, prohibit “race or sex stereotyping,” “race or sex scapegoating,” and the teaching of “divisive concepts”—for instance, the idea that “the United States is fundamentally racist or sexist,” or that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

While all this has been happening, I’ve been working on a U.S.-history textbook, so it’s been weird to watch lawmakers try their hands at writing American history, and horrible to see what the ferment is doing to public-school teachers. In Virginia, Governor Glenn Youngkin set up an e-mail tip line “for parents to send us any instances where they feel that their fundamental rights are being violated . . . or where there are inherently divisive practices in their schools.” There and elsewhere, parents are harassing school boards and reporting on teachers, at a time when teachers, who earn too little and are asked to do too much, are already exhausted by battles over remote instruction and mask and vaccine mandates and, not least, by witnessing, without being able to repair, the damage the pandemic has inflicted on their students. Kids carry the burdens of loss, uncertainty, and shaken faith on their narrow shoulders, tucked inside their backpacks. Now, with schools open and masks coming off, teachers are left trying to figure out not only how to care for them but also what to teach, and how to teach it, without losing their jobs owing to complaints filed by parents.

There’s a rock, and a hard place, and then there’s a classroom. Consider the dilemma of teachers in New Mexico. In January, the month before the state’s Public Education Department finalized a new social-studies curriculum that includes a unit on inequality and justice in which students are asked to “explore inequity throughout the history of the United States and its connection to conflict that arises today,” Republican lawmakers proposed a ban on teaching “the idea that social problems are created by racist or patriarchal societal structures and systems.” The law, if passed, would make the state’s own curriculum a crime.

Evolution is a theory of change. But in February—a hundred years, nearly to the day, after the Kentucky legislature debated the nation’s first anti-evolution bill—Republicans in Kentucky introduced a bill that mandates the teaching of twenty-four historical documents, beginning with the 1620 Mayflower Compact and ending with Ronald Reagan’s 1964 speech “A Time for Choosing.” My own account of American history ends with the 2020 insurrection at the Capitol, and “The Hill We Climb,” the poem that Amanda Gorman recited at the 2021 Inauguration. “Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true: / That even as we grieved, we grew.”

Did we, though? In the nineteen-twenties, the curriculum in question was biology; in the twenty-twenties, it’s history. Both conflicts followed a global pandemic and fights over public education that pitted the rights of parents against the power of the state. It’s not clear who’ll win this time. It’s not even clear who won last time. But the distinction between these two moments is less than it seems: what was once contested as a matter of biology—can people change?—has come to be contested as a matter of history. Still, this fight isn’t really about history. It’s about political power. Conservatives believe they can win midterm elections, and maybe even the Presidency, by whipping up a frenzy about “parents’ rights,” and many are also in it for another long game, a hundred years’ war: the campaign against public education.

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You may remember Fiona Hill. She was the nonpartisan Russia expert on the National Security Council who testified in Trump’s first impeachment trial. Politico interviewed her at length soon after Putin invaded Ukraine. Hill provides interesting political and historical insights into why Putin invaded Ukraine. She has been observing both Russia and Ukraine for many years, as well as Putin.

Hill says we are already in the midst of World War 3.

She warns:

Reynolds: The more we talk, the more we’re using World War II analogies. There are people who are saying we’re on the brink of a World War III.

Hill: We’re already in it. We have been for some time. We keep thinking of World War I, World War II as these huge great big set pieces, but World War II was a consequence of World War I. And we had an interwar period between them. And in a way, we had that again after the Cold War. Many of the things that we’re talking about here have their roots in the carving up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Russian Empire at the end of World War I. At the end of World War II, we had another reconfiguration and some of the issues that we have been dealing with recently go back to that immediate post-war period. We’ve had war in Syria, which is in part the consequence of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, same with Iraq and Kuwait.

All of the conflicts that we’re seeing have roots in those earlier conflicts. We are already in a hot war over Ukraine, which started in 2014. People shouldn’t delude themselves into thinking that we’re just on the brink of something. We’ve been well and truly in it for quite a long period of time.

But this is also a full-spectrum information war, and what happens in a Russian “all-of-society” war, you soften up the enemy. You get the Tucker Carlsons and Donald Trumps doing your job for you. The fact that Putin managed to persuade Trump that Ukraine belongs to Russia, and that Trump would be willing to give up Ukraine without any kind of fight, that’s a major success for Putin’s information war. I mean he has got swathes of the Republican Party — and not just them, some on the left, as well as on the right — masses of the U.S. public saying, “Good on you, Vladimir Putin,” or blaming NATO, or blaming the U.S. for this outcome. This is exactly what a Russian information war and psychological operation is geared towards. He’s been carefully seeding this terrain as well. We’ve been at war, for a very long time. I’ve been saying this for years…

What Russia is doing is asserting that “might makes right.” Of course, yes, we’ve also made terrible mistakes. But no one ever has the right to completely destroy another country — Putin’s opened up a door in Europe that we thought we’d closed after World War II.

Many state legislatures have passed laws banning the teaching of “critical race theory,” even though most legislators don’t know what it is. Many have banned the use of “The 1619 Project,” which puts the African-American experience at the center of U.S. history. Many have prohibited teaching “divisive concepts,” which presumably means anything controversial. The people passing these laws say they want “patriotic history,” the kind they learned as children, where America was the land of the free and brave, where nothing bad ever happened and all the heroes were white men.

History, think the Neanderthals, is a list of facts and battles and names to be memorized and recited.

But, writes Peter Greene, that’s not history at all. History, he writes, is a conversation.

Millions of words have been written about whether Putin interfered in the2016 election to help Trump. The matter will be debated for years to come, and I do not think the definitive answer has been revealed. Trump’s behavior while in office supported the belief that he was indebted to Putin. He was obsequious to Putin whenever they met. He always spoke admiringly about him and implied that they had a special friendship, akin to his “love affair” with the North Korean tyrant.

This article appeared in The Guardian in July 2021.

It begins:

Vladimir Putin personally authorised a secret spy agency operation to support a “mentally unstable” Donald Trump in the 2016 US presidential election during a closed session of Russia’s national security council, according to what are assessed to be leaked Kremlin documents.

The key meeting took place on 22 January 2016, the papers suggest, with the Russian president, his spy chiefs and senior ministers all present.

They agreed a Trump White House would help secure Moscow’s strategic objectives, among them “social turmoil” in the US and a weakening of the American president’s negotiating position.

Russia’s three spy agencies were ordered to find practical ways to support Trump, in a decree appearing to bear Putin’s signature.

By this point Trump was the frontrunner in the Republican party’s nomination race. A report prepared by Putin’s expert department recommended Moscow use “all possible force” to ensure a Trump victory.

Western intelligence agencies are understood to have been aware of the documents for some months and to have carefully examined them. The papers, seen by the Guardian, seem to represent a serious and highly unusual leak from within the Kremlin…

The report – “No 32-04 \ vd” – is classified as secret. It says Trump is the “most promising candidate” from the Kremlin’s point of view. The word in Russian is perspektivny.

There is a brief psychological assessment of Trump, who is described as an “impulsive, mentally unstable and unbalanced individual who suffers from an inferiority complex”.

There is also apparent confirmation that the Kremlin possesses kompromat,or potentially compromising material, on the future president, collected – the document says – from Trump’s earlier “non-official visits to Russian Federation territory”.

The paper refers to “certain events” that happened during Trump’s trips to Moscow. Security council members are invited to find details in appendix five, at paragraph five, the document states. It is unclear what the appendix contains.

There is more to read. It’s impossible to know whether these documents are truthful. Yet Trump’s lapdog attitude toward Putin and the dissension he caused as President, as well as his outright hostility towards NATO and our allies support the veracity of the document. The analysis of his character is spot on. Even recently, as Putin invaded Ukraine, Trump continued to praise him.

Someday historians will resolve the question. But not yet.

Vladimir Tismaneanu writes in American Purpose to denounce Putin’s claim that he is anti-Nazi. He is the author of “Putin’s Totalitarian Democracy.”

“Taming” Vladimir Putin is an impossible task, based on wishful thinking. Western democracies are procedural, contractual, constitutional arrangements. The FSB-controlled Russia is none of those things. Last month I watched the 2021 movie Munich: The Edge of War; Jeremy Irons plays Neville Chamberlain. I thought about the folly of putting trust in gangsters: A gentleman’s agreement with Putka the Bully is a stillborn project, a dead end.

Putka is a godfather, not a gentleman. To understand his “worldview” and modi operandi, read Mario Puzo and a history of the KGB, plus Karen Dawisha’s illuminating anatomy of Putin’s system as an authoritarian kleptocracy. For Putin, the legal person doesn’t exist. More, it should not exist.

In Putin’s Totalitarian Democracy (2020), which I wrote with Kate C. Langdon, we try to understand the origins and dynamics of Putinist political culture—its basic assumptions, conscious and subliminal goals, aspirations, apprehensions, affinities, and ambitions. Putin’s political hero is the late Yuri Andropov, who was the Soviet ambassador to Budapest when the Soviet Union crushed the Hungarian Revolution in November 1956. Later, in 1968, Andropov was KGB chairman when Warsaw Pact tanks smashed the Prague Spring.

Putin, when in his early twenties, identified himself with the fictional Soviet spy Max Otto von Stierlitz played by the charismatic Vyacheslav Tikhonov in the legendary 1973 TV series, Seventeen Moments of Spring. Stierlitz was a master of deceit, self-control, and logical deduction. This is most likely how Putin sees himself. But in what the dissident writer Vladimir Voinovich aptly called the “anti-Soviet Soviet Union,” there are many Stierlitz jokes.

Another source of Putin’s worldview can be found in Nikolay Shpanov’s propaganda novels, published in the early 1950s. Shpanov, an immensely popular author of military thrillers, endorsed and enhanced the narrative of World War II’s being the result of a Western conspiracy to destroy the USSR. This political myth endured, espoused by successive generations of party, Komsomol, army, and KGB cadres. For the ultra-nationalists, whenever Russia or the USSR lost a war, it was the result of a “stab in the back.”

Putin claims that he is an anti-fascist. That is absolutely false. I come from an anti-fascist family. My parents fought in the International Brigades. We lost close family members in the Holocaust. To call Volodymyr Zelensky and his supporters “Nazis” is not just moronic but nauseating. We know who the real fascist is—the KGB thug in the Kremlin with his militaristic delirium, Slavophile delusions, and imperial obsessions.

Years ago, I wrote in the journal Orbis about the Pamyat’s “patriotic society.” Putinism is the updated version of the Pamyat’s phobias, neuroses, and hatreds.

My father was born in Soroca, which was then in the Russian Empire, on February 26, 1912. During the Spanish Civil War, he joined the International Brigades. He lost his right arm in a battle on the River Ebro in 1938. His older brother, Abram, his wife, and his two children died, burned alive, in the Odessa massacre, which was ordered, planned, and perpetrated by Nazi Germany’s ally, the Romanian government of dictator Ion Antonescu. When Putin maintains that the invasion of democratic Ukraine is meant to “de-Nazify” a country whose president is a Ukrainian Jew, he commits an obscene infamy. He offends the memory of the Holocaust victims, including members of Zelensky’s family. I take personal offense at this ignominy. The scoundrel Putin is an assassin of memory.

Please open the link to read the rest of this interesting article.

David Remnick is the editor of The New Yorker. He has written about Russian politics over many years. In this article, he analyzes Putin’s rationale for invading Ukraine.

Vladimir Putin delivered a bitter and delusional speech from the Kremlin this week, arguing that Ukraine is not a nation and Ukrainians are not a people. His order to execute a “special military operation” came shortly afterward. The professed aim is to “demilitarize and de-Nazify” this supposedly phantasmal neighbor of forty million people, whose government is so pro-Nazi that it is led by a Jewish President who was elected with seventy per cent of the vote…

Putin, who blames Gorbachev for defiling the reputation and the stability of the Soviet Union, and Boris Yeltsin, the leader who succeeded him, for catering to the West and failing to hold back the expansion of nato, reveres strength above all. If he has to distort history, he will. As a man who came into his own as an officer of the K.G.B., he also believes that foreign conspiracy is at the root of all popular uprisings. In recent years, he has regarded pro-democracy protests in Kyiv and Moscow as the work of the C.I.A. and the U.S. State Department, and therefore demanding to be crushed. This cruel and pointless war against Ukraine is an extension of that disposition. Not for the first time, though, a sense of beleaguerment has proved self-fulfilling. Putin’s assault on a sovereign state has not only helped to unify the West against him; it has helped to unify Ukraine itself. What threatens Putin is not Ukrainian arms but Ukrainian liberty. His invasion amounts to a furious refusal to live with the contrast between the repressive system he keeps in place at home and the aspirations for liberal democracy across the border.

Meanwhile, Volodymyr Zelensky, the President of Ukraine, has behaved with profound dignity even though he knows that he is targeted for arrest, or worse. Aware of the lies saturating Russia’s official media, he went on television and, speaking in Russian, implored ordinary Russian citizens to stand up for the truth. Some needed no prompting. On Thursday, Dmitry Muratov, the editor of the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, and a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, said that he would publish the next issue in Russian and Ukrainian. “We are feeling shame as well as sorrow,” Muratov said. “Only an antiwar movement of Russians can save life on this planet.” As if on cue, demonstrations against Putin’s war broke out in dozens of Russian cities. Leaders of Memorial, despite the regime’s liquidation order, were also heard from: the war on Ukraine, they said, will go down as “a disgraceful chapter in Russian history.” ♦

Masha Gessen is a Russia-born journalist who writes frequently for the New Yorker and other publications. The following article, written before the invasion of Ukraine, appeared in The New Yorker. Reflecting the pre-invasion fears, the article was titled “The Crushing Loss of Hope in Ukraine.” Few believed that Ukraine would survive for more than a day or two in the face of the mighty Russian military machine. Gessen predicted a staunch Ukrainian resistance to Putin but expected that he would respond with overwhelming force, “the only way he knows.”

“Are you listening to Putin?” is not the kind of text message I expect to receive from a friend in Moscow. But that’s the question my closest friend asked me on Monday, when the Russian President was about twenty minutes into a public address in which he would announce that he was recognizing two eastern regions of Ukraine as independent countries and effectively lay out his rationale for launching a new military offensive against Ukraine. I was listening—Putin had just said that Ukraine had no history of legitimate statehood. When the speech was over, my friend posted on Facebook, “I can’t breathe.”

Fifty-four years ago, the Soviet dissident Larisa Bogoraz wrote, “It becomes impossible to live and to breathe.” When she wrote the note, in 1968, she was about to take part in a desperate protest: eight people went to Red Square with banners that denounced the Soviet Union’s invasion of Czechoslovakia. I have always understood Bogoraz’s note to be an expression of shame—the helpless, silent shame of a citizen who can do nothing to stop her country’s aggression. But on Monday I understood those words as expressing something more, something that my friends in Russia were feeling in addition to shame: the tragedy that is the death of hope.

For some Soviet intellectuals, Czechoslovakia in 1968 represented the possibility of a different future. That spring, events appeared to prove that Czechoslovakia was part of the larger world, despite being in the Soviet bloc. The leadership of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia was instituting reforms. It seemed that, after the great terrors of both Hitler and Stalin, there could be freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, a free exchange of ideas in the media, and possibly even actual elections in Eastern and Central Europe, and that all of these changes could be achieved peacefully. The Czechoslovaks called it “socialism with a human face.”

In August, 1968, Soviet tanks rolled in, crushing the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia and hope everywhere in the Soviet bloc. Nothing different was going to happen here. It became impossible to live and to breathe. This was when eight Moscow acquaintances, with minimal discussion and coördination, went to Red Square and unfurled posters that read “For Your Liberty and Ours” and “Hands Off Czechoslovakia,” among others. All were arrested, and seven were given jail time, held in psychiatric detention, or sent into internal exile.

Ukraine has long represented hope for a small minority of Russians. Ukraine shares Russia’s history of tyranny and terror. It lost more than four million people to a man-made famine in 1931-34 and still uncounted others to other kinds of Stalinist terror. Between five and seven million Ukrainians died during the Second World War and the Nazi occupation in 1941-44; this included one and a half million Jews killed in what is often known as the Holocaust by Bullets. Just as in Russia, no family survived untouched by the twin horrors of Stalinism and Nazism.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, in 1991, both Russian and Ukrainian societies struggled to forge new identities. Both contended with poverty, corruption, and growing inequality. Both had leaders who tried to stay in office by falsifying the vote. But in 2004 Ukrainians revolted against a rigged election, camping out in Kyiv’s Independence Square for weeks. The country’s highest court ordered a revote. Nine years later, when the President sold the country out to Russia—agreeing to scrap an association agreement with the European Union in exchange for fifteen billion in Russian loans—Ukrainians of vastly different political persuasions came to Independence Square again. They stayed there, day and night, through the dead of winter. They stayed when the government opened fire on them. More than a hundred people died before the corrupt President fled to Russia. A willingness to die for freedom is now a part of not only Ukrainians’ mythology but their lived history.

Many Russians—both the majority who accept and support Putin and the minority who oppose him—watched the Ukrainian revolutions as though looking in a mirror that could predict Russia’s own future. The Kremlin became even more terrified of protests and cracked down on its opponents even harder. Some in the opposition believed that if Ukrainians won their freedom, Russians would follow. There was more than a hint of an unexamined imperialist instinct in this attitude, but there was something else in it, too: hope. It felt something like this: our history doesn’t have to be our destiny. We may yet be brave enough and determined enough to win our freedom.

On Monday, Putin took aim at this sense of hope in his rambling, near-hour-long speech. Playing amateur historian, as he has done several times in recent years, Putin said that the Russian state is indivisible, and that the principles on the basis of which former Soviet republics won independence in 1991 were illegitimate. He effectively declared that the post-Cold War world order is over, that history is destiny and Ukraine will never get away from Russia.

Hannah Arendt observed that totalitarian regimes function by declaring imagined laws of history and then acting to enforce them. On Tuesday, Putin asked his puppet parliament for authorization to use force abroad. His aim is clear: in his speech, he branded the Ukrainian government as a group of “radicals” who carry out the will of their American puppet masters. As the self-appointed enforcer of the laws of history, Putin was laying down the groundwork for removing the Ukrainian government and installing one that he imagines will do the Kremlin’s bidding.

Putin expects to succeed because he can overwhelm Ukraine with military force, and because he has known the threat of force to be effective against unarmed opposition. Putin’s main opponent, Alexey Navalny, is in prison; the leaders of his movement are all either behind bars or in exile. The number of independent journalists in Russia has dwindled to a handful, and many of them, too, are working from exile, addressing tiny audiences, because the state blocks access to many of their Web sites and has branded others “foreign agents.” Putin’s sabre-rattling against Ukraine has drawn little protest—less even than the annexation of Crimea did eight years ago. On Sunday, six people were detained for staging a protest in Pushkin Square, in central Moscow. One of them held a poster that said “Hands Off Ukraine.” Another was an eighty-year-old former Soviet dissident.

What Putin does not imagine is the kind and scale of resistance that he would actually encounter in Ukraine. These are the people who stood to the death in Independence Square. In 2014, they took up arms to defend Ukraine against a Russian incursion. Underequipped and underprepared, these volunteers joined the war effort from all walks of life. Others organized in monumental numbers to collect equipment and supplies to support the fighters and those suffering from the occupation of the east, in an effort that lasted for several years. When Putin encounters Ukrainian resistance, he will respond the only way he knows: with devastating force. The loss of life will be staggering. Watching it will make it impossible to live and to breathe.

Fareed Zakaria said on CNN a few days ago that the Kenyan Ambassador to the UN gave the best response to Putin’s assertion about national borders. Basically, he said that all the borders in Africa were created by the colonial powers, but Africans have agreed to live with them because the alternative would be endless war.

Murtaza Hussain of The Intercept agreed.

He wrote:

AS EUROPE FACES the grim prospect of a land war on a scale it has not seen since World War II, it was Kenya’s ambassador to the United Nations, Martin Kimani, who delivered a message that struck at the heart of the crisis: a lingering nostalgia for empire.

At an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council, called to discuss the Russian aggression against Ukraine, Kimani did not just condemn the threat to Ukrainian sovereignty by President Vladimir Putin’s government. He went further, highlighting how an unceasing obsession over territory and borders is continuing to drive violence around the world, long after the European empires that drew those demarcations have vanished from the map. He offered an alternate vision of peace through acceptance of the borders created by the collapse of empires and nations in the 20th century, calling for economic and cultural integration instead.

“Kenya, and almost every African country, was birthed by the ending of empire,” Kimani said. “Our borders were not of our own drawing. They were drawn in the distant colonial metropoles of London, Paris, and Lisbon with no regard for the ancient nations that they cleaved apart. Today, across the border of every single African country live our countrymen with whom we share deep historical, cultural, and linguistic bonds. At independence, had we chosen to pursue states on the basis of ethnic, racial, or religious homogeneity, we would still be waging bloody wars these many decades later. Instead, we agreed that we would settle for the borders we inherited.”

Kimani’s remarks, which went viral on social media and in the African media, also criticized what he called the “dangerous nostalgia” for empire that leads countries to redraw borders by force to reunite with citizens of other nations with whom they share cultural affinity — the exact argument the Russian government has used to justify its invasion of Ukraine in support of Russian speakers there. Instead, Kimani called on Europe to follow the rules of the U.N. charter as the African Union countries have sought to do, respecting the sovereignty of neighboring countries “not because our borders satisfied us, but because we wanted something greater forged in peace.”

Now, let’s do a thought experiment and consider what it would mean if we reverted to the borders of olden times.

We Americans might start by returning Texas to Mexico, as well as large swaths of the Southwest, including the southern half of California.

Then we could give Florida back to Spain.

And if we are being truly considerate of historical claims, we should give everything else back to the Native Americans/American Indians who originally lived on the land.