In punishing Putin’s criminality, we risk turning Russia into the Weimar Republic

World War I was no picnic for the Germans. About two million German soldiers were killed and countless others were crippled. The Austro-Hungarian Empire on the side of the Germans lost another million and a half.

The loss of life on the side of the Allies was similar, with about two million dead amongst France, UK, Italy and Romania, in that order. The American dead were a fraction of that, a little over 100,000.

The Allied country suffering the greatest number of dead was Russia, where life has always been cheap. Two million Russians were killed, matching the combined total of the other Allies. This proved a presage; the Russian dead in the next world war totaled over 20 million.

To the victorious Allies of WWI went the spoils. In the Treaty of Versailles, they confiscated about 10% of German territory and imposed punitive reparations of about $270 billion in today’s dollars. They prohibited the rebuilding of the German military (we know how well that worked over the next two decades) and stripped Germany of its overseas colonies.

Most humiliatingly, the Allies required Germany to acknowledge that the war had been all its fault. If WWI had been a football game, the Allies would have been flagged for end zone taunting.

The terms of the Treaty of Versailles were undoubtedly satisfying to the Allies, and perhaps gave them a measure of comfort that the Huns would not be at their doorstep again for a long, long time.

The monetary cost of the war, together with the harsh economic terms imposed by the Allies, crushed the German economy. Inflation escalated into hyperinflation as the price of bread went from one German mark to 100 billion marks over the course of four years. German currency was literally worth less than the paper it was printed on. The “Weimar Republic,” as the country was dubbed after the city where it was reconstituted after the war, is forever synonymous with runaway inflation.

Part of the hurt was emotional. Germany’s defeat in the war and the forced acknowledgement of blame stung German pride.

All those effects were as the Allies intended. But the result of those effects was exactly the opposite of what the Allies intended.

Out of the ashes of the Weimar Republic rose an evil but charismatic German leader capitalizing on the wounds of the war and the hardship and humiliation of his people. The rest is history.

To our credit, we learned from this. After we defeated the Germans the next time, we poured billions into rebuilding their country. That might not have been satisfying to us at the time, but it produced unprecedented wealth and freedom around the world for three generations – and a powerhouse alliance that helped us win the Cold War against a new breed of totalitarians. 

Fast forward to the next century. As evildoers go, Vladimir Putin is somewhere between Lia Thomas and Adolf Hitler. He’s worse than a messed-up cross-dresser who gets his jollies by stealing women’s sports trophies and exposing himself in their locker room, all to the adoration of equally messed-up wokesters. But he’s not yet as bad as the tyrant who started, conducted and almost won the biggest war in history and in his spare time murdered half the population of European Jews and expelled the other half.

Not yet. Putin is not as bad as Hitler, yet. But he’s plenty bad and plenty dangerous. I’m all for punishing Putin, and I wouldn’t mind seeing him hanging from a Moscow lamppost or in the sights of a Ukrainian sniper.  

But history – the real kind, not the 1619 propaganda kind – may have something to teach us again. We might learn from history that the resolution of WWII was far better for the world than the resolution of WWI.

Russia is a country of 144 million people, few of whom are to blame for Putin’s barbarous misadventure. The world’s outrage today is not focused like a rifle at Putin’s head but is like a cluster bomb loosely aimed in the direction of those 144 million people and their culture. We’re seizing the assets of Russians merely because they’re Russian. We’re cancelling Tchaikovsky concerts. We’re holding Putin’s daughters responsible for his criminality simply because he is their father. 

This may be more than wrong; it may be wrong-headed. In our justifiable zeal to punish Putin, we risk reducing Russia to an economic basket case. Out of that basket could come a new, charismatic and evil leader of a proud and desperate people. It’s happened before.

On a moral level, let’s at least consider whether our imposition of punishment on Putin’s people for his transgressions is consistent with our righteous principles of justice and fairness that are violated by those transgressions. On a practical level, let’s consider whether this punishment of Putin’s people serves to advance peace and prosperity or instead sets the stage for someone even worse than he.

The west has a war to win. That’s the immediate goal. Putin must be defeated, Ukraine must be freed. But let’s also keep in mind the long term and the big picture – after we win the war we also need to win the peace.

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20 thoughts on “In punishing Putin’s criminality, we risk turning Russia into the Weimar Republic

  1. Some little known historical facts to keep in mind. After WWI, the European Allies imposed draconian reparations on Germany, quite true. But the beneficiaries of those reparations were France and England; the USA, although entitled to claim them, never really did. In fact, in an effort to keep Germany afloat and enable it to pay those reparations to England and France, the USA loaned Germany huge sums of money, which it used to—you guessed it—pay reparations to England and France. Meanwhile, those two countries had borrowed billions from the USA to prosecute the war. They, in turn, used German reparations to pay their debt to the USA. (Are you getting a picture of who was financing this debt merry-go-round? Right, the good old USA. Some things never change.) I highly recommend research into The Dawes Plan and the later Young Plan. Of course, the onset of The Great Depression put all of these well-intentioned plans into the shitter. When Germany defaulted on its payment schedule, France and Belgium invaded and occupied The Ruhr, further embittering Germany, and you already know the rest of the story. Flash forward to the end of WWII, and again it was the USA which was used as the financing institution to rehabilitate all of Europe through the Marshal Plan. That Plan, thank God, actually did as intended and rebuilt Germany which was no longer “at our knees or at our throats,” in the words of Churchill. Likewise, we did the same thing for the defeated Empire of Japan (look up “The Dodge Plan”), and today, Japan is no longer a threat to world peace. (Whether it will still be here as a distinct country in one or two more generations is now an open question.) Point being, since the success of these financial aid efforts pacified Germany and Japan, one can only wonder why something similar was not even thought of after the dissolution of the USSR. Instead, the pan seemed to just pile on the dismembered federated states instead of trying to assist them and bring them into the modern world. And here we are today.

    • In the aftermath of WWII Germany and Japan were treated very much differently by the US. Even after WWI there was no reason to allow a united Germany to exist and even less so after WWII. If you’ll remember, rather than returning Germany to its many duchies, margaves and principalities, the country was split between the Allies and the Soviets, probably the worst possible outcome and one that wasn’t rectified for over forty years.

      On the other hand, with the Treaty of San Francisco, the US became the only power to have any say in the post-war situation of Japan. In fact, none of the Asian countries that had been invaded and occupied by Japan received any reparations or had anything to do with the terms of the treaty. Japan became a moored aircraft carrier off the Chinese coast. The reason Japan is no longer a threat to world piece is that it’s an American colony and still occupied by the US military.

    • Nice historical addition to Glenn’s column. Still, the immediate problem is to help Ukraine survive. As Clubber Lang said when asked what he expected from his upcoming fight with Rocky, “PAIN!.” We’ll have to endure a lot of that before we can decide how to behave as victors this time around and I’m not at all sure The West is up to the that. Russians on the other hand, have consistently proven themselves in the face of suffering.

  2. Indeed, “The West has a war to win.” But that war is occurring largely within its own boundaries, and its “combatants” cast different sets of eyes on the Russia problem. For the “Great Reset,” New World Order crowd, which encompasses the governments and “deep states” of most of the Western democracies (except notably that of Victor Orban’s Hungary), Russia has posed a disruption that calls for the kind of punishment being called for by Western in-the-tank media, presaging another Treaty-of-Versailles-style resolution should Ukraine and its backers “win.”

    For those seeking to preserve national sovereignty and culture, however, Western governments, without being as overtly violent and aggressive, are just as “evil” as Putin’s government, and certainly have propaganda machines that are just as well-oiled and nearly “total” in their ability to control the news. These people don’t believe half of what they are told about Russia, since they believe even less than half of what they are being told by their governments about their own country — about Covid, about claims that the greatest threat to America consists of domestic (white) terrorists, that “equity” is more important than the rule of law, that Putin caused our rate of inflation, and so on and so forth.

    Indignant cries over Putin’s “war crimes” and “genocide” fall upon jaded ears that can’t quite believe what is happening currently in Shanghai, yet another Covid lockdown so similar to what we have experienced for the past two years, and may experience again. There are a lot of monsters under are own beds, and Russia is far from the greatest among them.

    • I agree with your implied premise that Western Civilization is in decline for reasons that have little to do with Vladimir Putin.

      But I disagree with the suggestion that the decline is the fault of a discrete group of bad guys, or “monsters” as you call them. Unlike Putin, those “bad guys” (ie, Macron, Trudeau, Biden etc etc etc) are elected representatives of the people.

      If these bad guys start bombing maternity hospitals or committing other atrocities beyond the scope of the authority the people have given them, as Putin has, then they’d be in the same class as Putin and I’d be all for hanging them from the lamposts or seeing them in the sights of a Ukrainian sniper. But they haven’t.

      To the contrary, their bad deeds (which, I’ll repeat, are not in the same class as bombing maternity hospitals) continue to be performed with the express or at least implied approval of the people. And so it’s the people who are to blame. It’s the people who elect and re-elect what you call monsters. We have met the enemy and he is us.

      Stated another way, just because you hate Democrat “monsters” with all your might, doesn’t mean they’re worse than Putin.

      • Well, I didn’t say “worse than Putin,” rather “just AS evil,” in a different (perhaps slightly subtler) way, but with the same objective of totalitarian control over individual freedoms for the sake of some “greater good” that doesn’t look all that “good” to some of us. As for the enemy being us, see Bitter Klinger’s two replies, above, to Bill in Houston. As Tonto says to the Lone Ranger in an old joke, “What you mean, ‘we’?” (Yes, it is strange that Bitter Klinger’s identity badge is identical to my own. Kinda reminds me of what goes on in Propaganda World — Who is REALLY the voice of Joe Biden, or of the Washington Post?)

  3. I’ve known and know a number of girls and women named Karen. I cannot think of anything bad about any of them. One Karen I dated in high school. Others I’ve met and/orb worked with while becoming friends and colleagues with. All of them are very nice with nothing derogatory that I can think of nor remember.

    Yet “Karen” has become a pejorative in our current hyper “woke” culture. “Karen” has become a caricature of that middle-aged white woman calling 911 on kids riding their skateboards or on dog-walkers in urban parks, or also that woman demanding to see the manager because the lid on the Diet Coke was not properly fastened on top of the cup.

    I have thought that this pejorative “Karen” label is a real disservice to all of those nice Karens I have known. It seems unfair and arbitrary that a girl’s name has now become a political joke comparable to verbal leprosy. After all, these nice Karens had no choice in selecting their name when their parents named their daughters while still in the hospital nurseries.

    Likewise … the Russian people have become an international version of “Karen.” Russians, now viewed as pariahs and international lepers, have had very little choices in their leaders for hundreds of years. Whether it’s Czars, Bolshevik tyrants who butcher and repress, or autocratic imperialists like Putin, the Russian people never seemed to ever have had any choice in their leaders. They are just passed off from one regime to another … wash, rinse, repeat.

    Yet … and as I have said for quite some time now, Russia should be part of the West. Our West. Their culture and historical contributions from classical music to ballet, from poetry to great works of literature like War and Peace, put the Russians firmly planted in Western Civilization.

    But there has always been something tragic about the Russian people. I get the sense that Russians are most happy when they are at their most miserable. Is it their long history of despotic rulers? Is it the long cold Siberian winters? Is it the always plentiful Vodka? Perhaps it’s all three and more.

    This could also explain why some of the world’ s greatest novels are about Russian tragedy, love lost, pain, and suffering. Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, War and Peace, and Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago are among the most well known works of literature. I would be remiss to leave out Dostoevsky‘s epic Crime and Punishment so here’s that mention.

    In the end … it will most likely be the Russian people who will dispatch Vlad The Putin. We should be making common cause with these Russians, not treating them as Karens.

    Praying for the Ukrainian people and praying for all of those Russian people of good will, of whom there are a great many, this Holy Week.

    • Amen. And to your list of literary greats, I’ll just add that it’s my understanding that Russian students are required to read three works by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Our students don’t even get to read Huckleberry Finn. As for Twain’s book on Joan of Arc, most Americans never even heard of it.

      • Yes … Solzhenitsyn”s Gulag Archipelago and his other works are definitely an inherent part of Western Civilization.

        I remember the Mark Twain work that had a big impact on me was his essay The Damned Human Race, even more so than Huckleberry Finn.

        And while I disagree with Twain’s supposition of man’s Darwinian roots, his indictment reads oh so true all the same.

        Click to access Twain.damned.pdf

    • Thanks for the link. Vintage Twain. (But notice that in his “hip” way he is actually satirizing the theory of Natural Selection and affirming the older theological notion of Original Sin — our species’ development of “The Moral Sense,” which Twain calls “a disease.”)

  4. Poor Ukraine. Caught between the Axis of Evil and the Axis of Stupid. Take your pick as to which is which. There are strong arguments either way.

  5. I’m leaking these draft paragraphs from Part III of my “Workers of the World” series over at Substack.

    In 1943 America, there was an earnest and ongoing search for the ideological origins of the two modern totalitarian states: Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany. Among the unanswered questions:

    How did Germany’s Weimar Republic give way to the National Socialist Workers Party? How did the self-described “real socialists” conclude that the Soviets just weren’t doing Socialism right and needed to be taught a lesson? And how could the German people themselves – the inheritors of the Enlightenment – join “a mass movement [that] was not the tyranny of a diabolical few over helpless millions” and vote themselves into the Thousand Year Reich and the Final Solution?

    On the other side of the socialist front, how did the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party become the revolutionary Communist Party? How did “democratic socialists” arrive at the “absolute ‘scientific’ truth” that violence — “unrestricted by any laws” — would free the workers from their chains? (Lenin, The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, 1918.) What slippery slope allowed Leon Trotsky to publish In Defense of Terrorism in 1921 and wind up with a Soviet ice pick in his skull in Mexico City in 1940?

    To properly consider these questions, we must temporarily forget what has happened since: that National Socialism, as a political force, was buried in the mass grave it deserved, but that International Socialism went on to conquer China, North Korea, Laos, Vietnam, and Cuba, and now has its sights set on Africa, England, France … and America.

    “In the first Reichstag, in 1871, the Social Democratic Party had two seats; in 1903, eighty-one; and before the first World War, with one hundred and ten seats, they were the strongest party in the country. In 1932 the anticapitalist forces held two-thirds of the Reichstag seats — the Left Center, the Social Democrats, the Communists, and the Nazis (the last receiving private support from German capital).” (They Thought They Were Free, p. 334.)

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