Saturday, April 25, 2009

Penny Wise; Pound Foolish

Contrary to Communist mythology, the Western capitalist democracies did not try very hard to counter the 1917 Russian revolution. There were some small missions by military units but no real effort. On the contrary, motivated by other priorities, distaste for intervention, and opposition from their domestic lefts, Britain and France did little. They did not support Poland’s requests for help when it might well have brought down the new-born Bolshevik government. Nor did they aid independent republics established in Byelorussia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, and other places.

In response to this policy, Winston Churchill wrote to British Prime Minister David Lloyd George in July 1920: "We are deliberately throwing away piecemeal the friends who could have helped us. Halfhearted war is being followed by halfhearted peace. We are going, I fear, to lose both, and be left alone….We are just crumbling our power away."

By today’s standards, and even those prevalent back then, the French and British were acting nobly, letting countries (or at least those with the most guns in them) battle things out on their own, avoiding violent entanglements, acting in a “non-imperialist” manner, yet the result was a 75-year-long dictatorship over the USSR’s citizens, the creation of millions of victims elsewhere, and the costs of World War Two (Nazi Germany being a reaction against and in some ways copying the USSR; Soviet Russia and Germany being allies from the 1920s; Stalin’s alliance with Hitler giving the green light for the beginning of the war through the German-Soviet invasion of Poland)

Today, the unwillingness to counter (and often even to coddle) radical forces and ideologies—so visible in dealings with countries like Iran, Syria and North Korea or movements like Hamas and Hizballah—brings short-term self-congratulation and avoidance of trouble. In the long run, it is ensuring decades of strife and bloodshed.

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