Mark Twain famously wrote that “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” He made a compelling point. Consider the alarming parallels between the prelude to World War II and today’s international security environment.

In 1928, 15 states signed the Kellogg-Briand Pact in Paris. This multilateral agreement attempted to eliminate war as an instrument of foreign policy. Its signatories included the US, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan.

Japan was the first state to violate the agreement by invading the Chinese province of Manchuria in 1931. Within months, Tokyo consolidated its control over the resource-rich area and declared the autonomous state of Manchukuo.

Paris and London, Europe’s leading powers, did nothing in response. Washington stated that it wouldn’t recognize any accords signed between Japan and China that violated preexisting agreements with American companies.

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Emboldened by the slap on the wrist, Japan attacked Shanghai in 1932. The following year, Tokyo withdrew from the League of Nations. No economic or military sanctions were imposed against Japan.

Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was inspired by Japan’s success and emboldened by the weakness of the Allies. In 1935, Italy invaded Ethiopia to expand its empire in East Africa. The League of Nations agreed to sanction Rome.

Yet London and Paris were soft on Mussolini. Instead of imposing devastating consequences on Rome, the United Kingdom and France recognized the annexation of Ethiopia in the name of “not alienating Italy.”

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[The appeasement of Imperial Japan, Fascist Italy, and Nazi Germany taught the West that the cost of defeating evil increases every time we appease it. Nevertheless, the Free World is still repeating the mistakes of the 1930s.]

The Allies abandoned the principles of the rules-based international order (sovereignty and self-determination) that should’ve emerged in the aftermath of World War I.

Never two without three, German dictator Adolf Hitler was also emboldened by the lackluster response to Mussolini’s annexation of Ethiopia.

In 1936, three years after rising to power and withdrawing from the League of Nations, Germany remilitarized the Rhineland in contravention of the Treaty of Versailles and the Locarno Pact.

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Britain and France were both caught off guard by Hitler’s gamble. They failed to impose any consequences on Germany. Despite some concern in the American press, the US, then dominated by isolationists in Congress, did nothing either.

When Japan invaded China again in 1937, France and England were only concerned with their respective colonial possessions in Asia. Washington flirted with the idea of imposing sanctions on Tokyo but decided against it.

Congress was obsessed with putting “America first.” Even Japan sinking the U.S.S. Panay and killing 3 Americans during the evacuation of Nanjing didn’t stop the US from appeasing Tokyo.

Reducing tensions by appeasing dictatorships at any cost became the order of the day. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain basically handed Austria over to Hitler in 1938. While the French government was helpless, Congress remained isolationist throughout the Anschluss.

Emboldened once more, Hitler then annexed the Sudetenland in 1938 and the rest of Czechoslovakia in 1939. Washington was not a party to the Munich Agreement, but appeased Hitler all the same by enacting the fourth and final Neutrality Act because of its “America first” obsession.

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Only when Hitler and Stalin invaded Poland in 1939 did London and Paris stop avoiding reality. They finally recognized what type of dictators they were dealing with, honored their respective pacts with Warsaw, and declared war against Germany.

Europe was falling apart. Washington stuck to its “America first” obsession. Germany defeated France. London, left to fend for itself, begged for help. Unfortunately, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s hands were tied by US law, an isolationist Congress, and American public opinion.

An agreement where London provided basing arrangements to Washington in exchange for destroyers was nonetheless reached. Eventually, when the United Kingdom could no longer afford to pay for military supplies, that deal was replaced with the Lend-Lease Act of 1941.

Yet Washington wasn’t fully committed to the Allies until Japan launched a preemptive strike against US soldiers at Pearl Harbor before invading the Philippines and Indonesia, killing 2, 403 Americans. Only then did America finally understand what type of regimes it was dealing with.

After a decade of appeasement, more than a dozen countries occupied by the Axis of Evil, and millions of people slaughtered in the name of expansionist aggression, America finally realized that the world’s problems were always its problems.

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The Allies could’ve imposed devastating consequences on Italy, Germany, and Japan at the outset of their aggression. The costs would’ve been marginal compared to the bill they would pay by 1945.

Washington, London, and Paris appeased the Axis of Evil instead. Swathes of Europe and Asia were devastated. Parts of North Africa and the Middle East were too. More than 50 million people were killed.

The appeasement of Imperial Japan, Fascist Italy, and Nazi Germany taught the West that the cost of defeating evil increases every time we appease it. Nevertheless, the Free World is still repeating the mistakes of the 1930s.

Aggressors are appeased instead of confronted. Leaders conceal the Alliance’s power beneath a veneer of weakness. Isolationists repeat the same “[insert country] first” slogans. Populists portray the West’s prosperity as poverty. The list goes on and on.

These lies are nothing more than cheap excuses to abandon the West’s values, interests, and partners. They also embolden dictators like Russian President Vladimir Putin to set the world ablaze until the risk of being engulfed by the fire and the cost of extinguishing it reach existential proportions.

The best time for the West to have prevented further Russian aggression was in 2014, when Russia invaded Donbas and annexed Ukrainian Crimea. The next best time is today, by committing to Ukraine’s victory instead of just enabling its survival.

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The West’s adversaries are clear. They have said exactly what they intend to do – to Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan, the US, and the rules-based international order that underwrites western security and prosperity. It’s time to take them seriously.

The Western world neglects reality to its own detriment. By forgetting that the cost of defeating evil increases every time we kick the can further down the road, it seems that the West has learned nothing from the 1930s.

The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.

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Comments (4)

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pootinthewanker
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i would say nothing has been learnt from past mistakes,they made these dictators very rich and helped to build up these dictators armies,all that time they turned and looked the other way to the dictators wrong doings in the false hope that somehow these dictators would change,history tells us they never change,history tells us they are allways a major threat,sweeping stuff under the carpet does not fix the problem,the world should have taken pootin head on when he invaded Ukraine in 2014.

pootin is a nutjob
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@pootinthewanker, and now we are seeing a piss poor responce to the current pootins 3 day illegal invasion,trickle feeding weapons into Ukraine,leaving it all up to Ukraine to do the fighting,people playing politics while innocent Ukraine folk die on a daily basis,what is the point of even having the U.N or nato if they do not have the fortitude to take on pootie boy,i do get it that no one wants to start other conflicts but pootin will do just that all by himself if you let him run free,trickle feeding Ukraine weapons does not do it,either place boots on the ground or give Ukraine all the gear they need,Zelensky has been begging you folks for the right gear for two years now,how many more Ukraine folk are you prepared to watch die?

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Edlund
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I wrote the comment below to a Washington Post editorial making Monastiriakos' argument. I think this is what's going to happen. We should be optimistic in any event because to let the appeasers say whatever they want is defeatist. We have to help the Ukrainians keep their spirits up. Slava Ukraini.

Congress is going to pass the supplemental this month. The majority of Congress supports it. Biden is talking with the GOP on the border and he's sent Blinken and Majorcas to Mexico City to get Lopez Obrador's help. This is a serious effort to meet the GOP on this. They're going to get it done because they believe what the Editorial Board understands about the implications of Putin's invasion.

So do the Europeans. They'll find rules to exclude Orban from the vote on Ukraine aid. They've said it out loud. And they'll probably change the EU charter to eliminate one vote from sabotaging actions on European security. They have to. They've had 78 years of European peace. But Putin has well and truly threatened that. They have to be able to act. They're going to help Ukraine. They'll admit them to the EU. And to NATO once Putin is defeated.

These are also developments that have occurred alongside the counteroffensive. We can see only the counteroffensive or we can see what could really happen. We only wait for our governments to vote. They will. Ukraine will get the help it needs. We have to give it to them in our own national interests. Everybody knows that.

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John
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Retribution from the collective Ukrainian allies should have been swift and decisive. A 'shock and awe' military maneuver wiping out or sending home every invading orc in the first week. Every subsequent nefarious russian act met with a 10 fold retribution until his people dethrone him for his insane persistence in risking lives to steal from Ukraine. Sadly the allies tried to play this like most modern day parents and rationally discuss and sanction at ever escalating cost. But putin is not a child. He is a calculated murderous psychopath who enjoys sowing death and destruction. There should have been no discussion nor time afforded for this evil man to weigh each pre announced increment of support and then ramp up his mitigation strategy.

The worlds flawed response presently lies in abused EU, NATO, UN and American freedoms / policies. Strategically our key institutes of peace or defence all now either include Russia or optionally putin sycophants or plants (all MAGA leadership, Orban, Erdogen..etc) leveraging their veto votes to do putins' bidding. To have any future value, these institutes must now in majority vote, immediately enact a mechanism to prevent the russian criminal regime from derailing an appropriate international military response. It's time for some "War Act" legislative revisions in our institutes, as necessary, to stop all of putins' political plants in their tracks.

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eniac
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“Months ago, my neighbors stole one of our chickens.”
“What did you do?”
“We let it go and forgave him. But then two weeks later they stole all our turkeys.”
“What did you do then?”
“We let it go and forgave him. But then the following week they raped and killed our daughter.”
“That’s awful. Why did they do that?”
“Because we never avenged the chicken.”

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