Citizens of Vienna, Austria, could tell something major had happened when they awoke on the morning of March 12, 1938. A strange new sound—the pounding of thousands of hobnailed boots marching on cobblestone pavement—announced the arrival of German army troops. On major public buildings, dozens of Nazi standards had been unfurled, their black swastikas stark against the white circles and red backgrounds.
Three days later, Adolf Hitler made his triumphant entry into the city. Cruising slowly toward Vienna’s huge public square, the Nazi dictator never broke a smile as he raised his hand in the Nazi salute.
Behind the stern face, however, Hitler had every reason to be satisfied. Austria had just become a part of the German Third Reich, and it had happened without a shot being fired.
In one of history’s greatest acts of international bullying, Hitler had threatened the leadership of the smaller nation of Austria with military intervention if it didn’t take steps that soon allowed the Nazis to assume control of Austria and merge it with Germany.
Return to appeasement?
Are we seeing today a return to a dangerous policy of appeasement? The West’s reaction to the current Russian incursions into Ukraine bear striking resemblance to 1938, when refusal to stand up to Hitler led to a devastating world war. Russia’s president Vladimir Putin boldly and ruthlessly annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and, seeing little meaningful resistance, gave support to pro-Russian insurgents in Ukraine’s eastern provinces, which he seeks to “liberate” from an increasingly Western-leaning Ukraine.
But there’s more to it than that. Once a KGB officer in Russia’s Communist era, Putin longs for what he sees as the glory days of the old Soviet Union. He and millions of Russians felt the sting of the loss of Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania in the breakup of the Soviet Union. Now the virtual dictator of Russia, Putin wants to bring these areas back into the Russian sphere.
As an old Cold War veteran, Putin is also distrustful of what he sees as increasing NATO encroachment on Russia’s western borders.
The similarities to the years leading up to World War II are unmistakable. Just as Adolf Hitler sought to annex German-speaking areas of Europe, such as Austria and the Sudetenland provinces of Czechoslovakia, into his greater German Reich, Putin is more than willing to help “liberate” Russian-speaking Ukrainian separatists in the eastern provinces as they seek to unite with Russia.
Eager to prevent another European war after World War I, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s September 1938 meeting with Hitler produced the infamous “Munich Pact,” in which Britain accepted Hitler’s annexation of the Sudeten areas of Czechoslovakia. Proclaiming “peace in our time,” Chamberlain came back to England with a worthless scrap of paper. Less than a year later, Hitler invaded Poland, and World War II had started. Before it ended, some 60 million people would die.
Neville Chamberlain earned the dubious distinction as perhaps history’s greatest appeaser. History has a way of repeating itself. Are we now seeing a replay of those tragic 20th-century events?
Polarization on Putin policies
Increasingly stringent economic sanctions imposed by both Europe and the United States have failed to change Putin’s aggressive behavior. As a result, the European Union in late January decided to extend the measures, which include travel restrictions, a freeze on Russian assets, and restrictions to European capital markets.
Russian reaction has been swift. Andrey Kostin, chief executive of Russia’s VTB Bank, labeled these measures “economic war” and said that while they hurt the Russian economy, they will also affect European security. In conjunction with the falling price of oil, the main Russian export, the sanctions have put Russia into a severe recession, compounded by an inflation rate exceeding 11 percent.
Now in place more than a year, the sanctions may be hurting Russia even more than originally intended, says Anders Aslund, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and former economic adviser to the Russian and Ukrainian governments in the 1990s:
“We can see that no money has been going into Russia after July . No financial institutions dared to provide Russia with any financing more than a month after that. And that we know from talking to banks. The point is that the [July] financial sanctions have worked out as far more severe in their effect than anyone seems to have believed” ( PBS Frontline , Jan. 13, 2015).
Putin’s escapades in Ukraine, and implied threats to the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, have led to a dramatic increase in hardening European attitudes toward Putin and Russia.
As expected, Ukraine itself has seen the greatest shift in attitudes. Though the Ukrainians gained independence from Russia in the early 1990s, Russia has continued as Ukraine’s largest trading partner, and 80 percent of Ukrainians viewed Russia favorably as recently as 2013. That figure has dropped to 35 percent since Russia took over Crimea last year, with the majority of that coming from the largely Russian-speaking eastern provinces.
One wonders if Putin learned some propaganda lessons from Hitler’s experience. As Hitler preyed on German humiliation following World War I, Putin has played on the emotions of Russians stung by the loss of empire from 1989 to 1992, leading a clear majority of Russians—83 percent—to favor his actions.
Most Russians seem willing to ignore increasing economic hardship as the price to be paid for a return to Russian glory (Pew Global Attitude survey, as reported in The New York Times, July 9, 2014).
And just as the other European powers stood by in the late 1930s as Hitler gobbled up one European state after another, today France, Germany, Italy, Poland and other European nations stand by as Putin continues his aggression. Ukraine fights on alone with an army a fraction the size of the Russian forces and an increasingly crippled economy to support the effort.
Will Iran get nukes?
For more than a quarter century the leaders of Iran have pursued with single-minded determination their goal to acquire nuclear weapons. In spite of repeated assurances that a nuclear capability would be used only for peaceful purposes, current and past Iranian leaders have made no effort to hide their contempt for the tiny state of Israel and their determination to ultimately wipe it from the face of the earth.
Iran now has the means to deliver on its threats. Its arsenal of Shahab 3 missiles can deliver warheads up to 1,500 pounds to targets 1,200 miles away—putting Israel (and many U.S. military bases in the region) easily within range. The prospect of those missiles carrying nuclear warheads is chilling to Israel, which knows that one medium-sized nuclear weapon detonated over Tel Aviv could effectively annihilate the small Jewish state.
In the face of this danger, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been trying for years to warn the United States, Europe, and the world of the need to stop Iran’s nuclear efforts. Just as with Russia, harsh U.S. and European economic sanctions have crippled the Iranian economy but have failed to deter Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Like Russia, Iran has weighed the price and determined that the gain outweighs the pain.
March 2015 saw yet another Western extension in negotiations with Iran over a new agreement that would reduce economic sanctions in return for supposed iron-clad measures that would effectively delay Iran’s nuclear program for at least 10 years. U.S. President Barack Obama, eager to create a positive legacy for his final years in office, seems to want to go down in history as a peacemaker.
Many observers note that if he continues on the path of bowing to Iranian demands, he could go down in history as a latter-day Neville Chamberlain.
A growing chorus of pundits and others see the broad outlines of the agreement being negotiated with Iran as flawed, with sanctions being lifted in the face of few real guarantees that Iran would cease its nuclear program. As England did in 1938, would America give up critical security guarantees while hardly slowing Iran’s nuclear efforts? Would the current administration carry the appeasement stigma?
On March 18 Israelis went to the polls and reelected Netanyahu to a fourth term as prime minister of Israel. Less than two weeks before the election, he addressed the United States Congress, making an impassioned appeal for greater strength and resolve in the U.S.-Iranian nuclear negotiations.
“America’s founding document promises life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” Netanyahu told the U.S. Congress, “but Iran’s founding document pledges death, tyranny and the pursuit of Jihad.”
He went on to remind the lawmakers of the recent Iranian record towards America: “Iran took dozens of Americans hostage in Tehran, murdered hundreds of American soldiers, Marines, in Beirut, and was responsible for killing and maiming thousands of American servicemen and women in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Negotiations with deadly implications
Iran, Netanyahu said, has been on the march in the Middle East, gobbling up territory and using its influence to gain power. It now effectively controls four Arab capitals: Baghdad, Beirut, Damascus and Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. “At a time when many hope Iran will join the community of nations, Iran has been gobbling up nations,” he said.
In short, says Netanyahu, Iran wants to pursue its stated goal of the destruction, first of Israel, then of the United States. To Iran’s radical leaders, Israel is the “little Satan” and America is the “great Satan.” Iran’s goal in the current negotiations is to give up as little as possible in its quest for nuclear weapons while ending the onerous sanctions.
Some of the partners in the nuclear talks with Iran want to see a halt to Iran’s nuclear development progress, which would mean the dismantling of its estimated 19,000 gas centrifuges needed to enrich uranium, as well as the destruction of its existing stocks of uranium. Vigorous, unrestricted inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency would also be part of the deal.
Although details of the negotiations are murky and at times contradictory, The New York Times in a March 18 story said the U.S. has proposed limiting Iran to 6,000 centrifuges and merely requiring reductions in its uranium stockpile. If Iran broke the treaty by denying inspections, they would then need at least a year to develop a nuclear weapon versus the few months that experts believe they now need.
However, the initial deal would not require the destruction of any of Iran’s nuclear facilities, while leaving most of its uranium-processing centrifuges intact. If it decided to duck inspections, it could have a nuclear weapon with a few months. Also, as currently negotiated, any restrictions on Iran’s nuclear development would expire in 10 years.
“Now, 10 years may seem like a long time in political circles, but it’s just a blink of an eye in the life of a nation,” Netanyahu said.
As the broad outlines of the deal emerged, skepticism grew. Netanyahu stated it unequivocally: “That deal will not prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. It will all but guarantee that Iran gets those weapons—lots of them.”
Observers from around the world are already comparing Barack Obama to Neville Chamberlain for his willingness to agree to such a one-sided deal.
As Richard Rogovin of the Columbus, Ohio, Dispatch stated it:
“Today we have a Neville Chamberlain in the White House … and a leadership in Iran that bears a striking resemblance to the Nazi regime in every way …
“Like many British in 1938, some Americans are tired of war and would rather appease our enemies than offend them. History is repeating itself before our eyes, but some of us are incapable of seeing this”. (Columbus, Ohio, Dispatch , “Obama Pulled a Neville Chamberlain,” March 18, 2015)
Speaking to the Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom , prominent Harvard legal expert Alan Dershowitz, not one known for conservative views, drew similar comparisons, saying that Barack Obama might go down as another Neville Chamberlain if Iran gets hold of a nuclear weapon. “It would be better to have no deal at all than a bad deal,” he said (Feb. 18, 2015).
Netanyahu’s speech galvanized Congressional opposition to what many Congressional conservatives see as a bad deal for Israel, the United States and the world. Less than a week after his speech, 47 U.S. senators signed a letter to Iran’s leaders, putting them on notice that any deal with Iran would need the approval of Congress before it could take effect.
Western weakness foretold
Our 21st century sees Russia and Iran bullying Ukraine and Israel. Wouldn’t it be nice if these problems would simply go away? But they won’t just go away. America and Europe have the power to deal with them, but can’t seem to act. Why have we lost the national and international will to do so?
“I will break the pride of your power,” God thundered to our ancestors more than 3,000 years ago (Leviticus 26:19 Leviticus 26:19And I will break the pride of your power; and I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as brass:
American King James Version×). “And your strength shall be spent in vain” (Leviticus 26:20 Leviticus 26:20And your strength shall be spent in vain: for your land shall not yield her increase, neither shall the trees of the land yield their fruits.
American King James Version×).
Almost daily we hear of new attacks by radical Islamists. Whether beheading Coptic Christians on a Libyan beach, shooting dozens of foreign tourists in a Tunisian museum, or simultaneous suicide bombers killing more than 130 in Yemen, the level of barbarism seems to know no bounds. What is the meaning of it all? And more importantly, when will it all end?
Long-time readers of this magazine know that the Bible foretells the broad outlines of major world events. While it does not provide the details of just how events will unfold, it does tell us how they will turn out.
The good news is that after a time of growing world turmoil and trouble, a time of peace is coming to the entire world. Peace will come to the Middle East, and to Europe, in a way that the governments of this world know nothing about. Jerusalem, a city fought over for thousands of years yet holy to three religions, will be the capital of a peaceful kingdom that will encompass the entire earth.
“Now it will come about that in the last days the mountain [symbolic of a kingdom in Bible prophecy] of the house of the Lord will be established as the chief of the mountains, and will be raised above the hills [or smaller nations]; and all the nations will stream to it … The law will go forth from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:2-3 Isaiah 2:2-3 2 And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. 3 And many people shall go and say, Come you, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
American King James Version×, New American Standard Bible)
A peaceful new world order is coming. But in the meantime, Jesus Christ has given us our marching orders:
“Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house … Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning—lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say to you I say to all: Watch!” (Mark 13:33-37 Mark 13:33-37 33 Take you heed, watch and pray: for you know not when the time is. 34 For the Son of Man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch. 35 Watch you therefore: for you know not when the master of the house comes, at even, or at midnight, or at the cock-crowing, or in the morning: 36 Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. 37 And what I say to you I say to all, Watch.
American King James Version×).
Today we see history repeating itself. More than ever before, you need to be grounded in what is really important. Learn what God’s prophecies teach about our time, and be forewarned!