A Historical Feast of Death and Destruction—from the Peloponnesian Wars to Late Tomorrow NightRoundup
tags: war, Ukraine
Tom Engelhardt created and runs the website TomDispatch.com. He is also a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of a highly praised history of American triumphalism in the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. A fellow of the Type Media Center, his sixth and latest book is A Nation Unmade by War.
Excuse me if I wander a little today — and if it bothers you, don’t blame me, blame Vladimir Putin. After all, I didn’t decide to invade Ukraine, the place my grandfather fled almost 140 years ago. I suspect, in fact, that I was an adult before I even knew such a place existed. If I could be accused of anything, maybe you could say that, for most of my life, I evaded Ukraine.
All of us are, in some fashion, now living inside the shockwaves from the Russian president’s grotesque invasion and from a war taking place close to the heart of Europe. I was not quite one year old in May 1945 when World War II in Europe ended, along with years of carnage unparalleled on this planet. Millions of Russians, six million Jews, god knows how many French, British, Germans, Ukrainians, and… well, the list just goes on and on… died and how many more were wounded or displaced from their homes and lives. Given Adolf Hitler’s Germany, we’re talking about nothing short of a hell on Earth. That was Europe from the late 1930s until 1945.
In the more-than-three-quarters of a century since then, with the exception of the brief Soviet invasions of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968, a civil war (with outside intervention) in the early 1990s in the former Yugoslavia, as well as warring in marginal places like Chechnya, Europe has been the definition of peaceful. Hence, the shock of it all. Believe me, it wouldn’t have been faintly the same if Vladimir Putin had invaded Kazakhstan or Afghanistan or… well, you get the idea. In fact, in 1979, when the leaders of the Soviet Union did indeed send the Red Army into Afghanistan and again, just over two decades later, when George W. Bush and crew ordered the U.S. military to invade the same country, there were far too few cries of alarm, assumedly because it hadn’t happened in the heart of Europe and who the hell cared (other, of course, than the Afghans in the path of those two armies).
Now, the Vlad has once again turned part of Europe into a war-torn nightmare, a genuine hell on earth of fire and destruction. He’s blasted out significant parts of major cities, sent more than four million Ukrainians fleeing the country as refugees, and uprooted at least 6.5 million more in that land. Consider it a signal measure of the horror of the moment that more than half of all Ukrainian children have, in some fashion, been displaced. Since that country became the focus of staggering media attention here (in coverage terms, it’s as if every day were the day after the 9/11 attacks), since it became more or less the only story on Earth, little surprise that it also came to seem like a horror, a crime, of an essentially unparalleled sort, an intrusion beyond all measure. The shock has been staggering. You just don’t do that, right?
The Heartland of War, Historically Speaking
Strangely enough, though, the Russian president’s gross act fits all too horribly into a far larger and longer history of Europe and this planet. After all, until 1945, rather than being a citadel of global peace, order, and European-Union-style cooperation, that continent was regularly a hell of war, conflict, and slaughter.
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