History places no demands upon us. It does not dictate courses of action, but rather records outcomes that have resulted from various choices being made at the time.
Depending upon your point of view, those outcomes are either positive or negative. The wise among us draw parallels to today’s challenges in order to benefit from the lessons learned by others. History, however, is not a great predictor of the future, but it certainly can be an influential one.
If we go back in human history 2,000 years, we see a Roman Empire seeking to expand – to provide economic benefit to its people through conquest. Every people that tried to placate the Romans by yielding to their demands were eventually overrun by its military juggernaut. On the other hand, those who employed active resistance – the Scots, Germans and Persians – were able to preserve their cultures and self-rule.
When Napoleon sought world dominance through political alliance and military advancement, it was not appeasement that curtailed him. Napoleon was only stopped by the stronger military alliances of the threatened nations.
And of course, the prime example of appeasement was during the Nazi regime’s rise to power in the 1930s. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain tried to placate Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, and in so doing he set the stage for World War II.
Today, we are confronted by the totalitarian ideologies and expansionism of Russia, Iran and China.
Russia annexed the Crimea, occupied Eastern Ukraine and intimidates Eastern European countries. Iran seeks to expand its fanaticism across the Middle East. And China seeks expansion by claiming the South China Sea, squashing prodemocracy resistance in Hong Kong, annexing Taiwan and creating an economic empire that will eventually strangle all competition.
Each of these states is testing the waters to see what Western styled democracies will allow and, in absence of resolve, they will continue to assert themselves unless substantial resistance is employed.
I am not making the case against the people of these countries, but rather against the regimes that control them. These regimes know they must focus their people’s attention elsewhere by expanding their sphere of influence or be overwhelmed by their own people.
Hence, they plead the case for manifest destiny and a return to national greatness. Regrettably, most of the populace are easily swayed by the disinformation they are constantly subjected to.
These people are not our enemy; they are forced into complicity by the indoctrination of their oppressors. They live in a world without truthful news and where expressions of personal freedom are denied. And, when confronted with choosing between personal safety and the will of the state, the majority will choose safety; they have been programmed to do so.
It is not their fault, but it does carry consequences – potential dire consequences for the rest of the world.
I am not arguing for violent conflict or a return to the excesses of the “cold war” — just the opposite, I am seeking to avoid it. But of note, history demonstrates that authoritarian regimes are not turned back by placation and empty threats; they are only turned back by steadfast determination and strength.
Western-styled democracies require unity to survive against adversarial ideologies. The United States has a part to play in this unification. We must not again become an isolationist country. Instead, we must seek symbiotic alliances with other democratic countries for the benefit of all.
History is a hard taskmaster … unfeeling and incessant; you ignore it at your own risk.