Nothing would make almost any living human being happier these days than the news the genocide in Ukraine was coming to an end. We wake up every morning, or in my case, every few hours as a sufferer of nighttime issues, hoping that the TV screen will broadcast news of a real end to the unbearable misery there.
But we must not get our hopes up. As astonishing as Russia’s brutality in its unprovoked assault has been, and as much as we may wish that Putin is losing and may give up this horrific adventure, the history of the region and the way that people like Putin have behaved historically sadly tells a very different story.
Ukraine is part of the world that is no stranger to violence and mass genocide. Nor is Putin. This becomes clear with an examination of them both, continuing the important contributions of Yale University’s Timothy Snyder, as documented in his international best seller, the 500-page “Bloodlands, Europe Between Hitler and Stalin,” published in 2010.
This frequent contributor on MSNBC and author of the more popular “On Tyranny, 20 Lessons from the 20th Century,” and his most recent, “The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America,” (2018), Snyder’s chronicles of what he calls Europe’s “Bloodlands,” an area encompassing Poland, the Balkans, Belarus, Ukraine and parts of western Russia, and its incredible history of violence and the systematic death of masses of ordinary civilians.
This is the kind of world that Putin is used to. Incessant pain and death is simply par for the course for him. The number of casualties of even his own people does not figure into his calculus of success or failure. If there must be a decades-long trench warfare to gain the few precious yards of advantage to achieve a strategic goal, then so be it.
Numbers of deaths associated with what we’ve come to know as the Holocaust, the murder of six milllion Jews under Hitler, were only a fraction of what heppened in the Bloodlands overall in only 12 years between 1933 and 1945. The estimate is that 14 million people, total, died in that stretch and most horribly, most not in German concentration camps, but were civilians murdered by sheer starvation and depravation.
Moreover, the perpetrators were not only the German Nazis, but Stalin’s Soviet forces as well.
This is a terrible reality that we in 2022, separated by time from what is now coined as the Second World War, must familiarize ourselves with. The wanton slaughter of innocents, as we are now seeing with the benefit of the kind of media capabilities that did not exist then, is nothing new to Putin and his victims. It’s happened more recently in Chechnya, parts of Georgia and from 2014 on in parts of Ukraine.
The evil has swarmed in from all sides as innocent people, just happy to live unassuming lives as simple children, hard working adults and the exhausted elderly, are not permitted any of this. They can’t just live and eke out an existence, loving whom they love, reveering their heroes and movie stars, and playing out the cycles of their lives, enjoying moments of happiness they can capture in the process. They are not allowed such ordinary moments of life. Cruel monsters called their leaders instead subject them to untold miseries and loss.
In the “Bloodlands,” Snyder wrote, “During the consolidation of National Socialism and Stalinism (1933-1938), the joint German-Soviet occupation of Poland (1939-1941) and then the German-Soviet war (1941-1945), mass violence of a sort never before seen in history was visited upon this region. The victims were chiefly Jews, Belarusians, Ukrainians, Poles, Russians and Balts, and the people native to those lands. The fourteen millions were murdered over the course of only 12 years, 1933 to 1945, while both Hitler and Stalin were in power.”
“Though their homelands became battlefields midway through this period, these people were all victims of murderous policy rather than casualties of war…Not a single one of the 14 million mudered was a soldier on active duty. Most were women, children, and the aged. None were bearing weapons, many had been stripped of their possessions, including their clothes.”