June 12, 2015

The Fallen of World War II - Implications for Today

This is a wonderfully crafted video depicting in simple, animated graphics the deaths of WWII, parsing them by country, theater, time, context, percentage of population, and in comparison to other conflicts. The video runs 15 minutes but it is well worth the time to watch. The Soviet figures are staggering especially when seen in comparison to others.

One takeaway should be the horrible cost of war. But a follow-on thought should be about the importance of taking steps to ensure such wars do not happen in the first place and this is where great debate ensues. Many people, with all the best of intentions, argue that when dealing with militant, expansionist powers the best approach is to offer concessions or to adopt a "less threatening" tone so as to allay whatever concerns or fears the more belligerent power cites as cause for their aggressive posture. Others argue that bullies will be bullies and will only respond to a stronger force.

I believe history offers sufficient evidence that dispels the notion that a more conciliatory approach works. Likely the most often-cited example is that of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain who, in September 1938, reached an accord with German Chancellor Adolf Hitler over affairs in Europe, leading Chamberlain to wave a signed document accompanied by the statement, "Peace for our time." A year later Germany invaded Poland.

This is the sort of situation that has bedeviled presidents before and since...when to draw a line and stick to it against the greatest pressures or pull-back out of fear that a strong posture might lead to calamity. As was the case with Germany in the '30s or the Soviet Union during the "Cold War" (Berlin, Czechoslovakia, and Cuba, among others) or in more current instances including Russia's invasions of Georgia and Ukraine, China's belligerence in the South and East China Seas, North Korea's provocations against South Korea, or Iran's repeated support of terrorism and pursuit of a nuclear weapon capability.

In short, I believe history shows that Roosevelt's "speak softly and carry a big stick" or Reagan's "peace through strength" are firmly rooted in experience and the nature of power relationships.

The video is available here and at its dedicated website here where an interactive version is posted.

The Fallen of World War II from Neil Halloran on Vimeo.

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