Containers of Dodge trucks awaiting shipment to Russia under the lend-lease agreement, August 1943. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; Alfred T. Palmer, photographer (LC-USE6-D-002838) In 2022, we wait with bated breath to see how Putin will mark “Victory day”, the day of celebration that marks the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany. Meanwhile, in Washington DC as well, they are summoning the ghosts of the past. If Putin evokes the Great Patriotic war, on our side the references are to the Cold War, World War II, the spirit of the enlightenment, ancient battle of democracy against autocracy and so forth.
"For us to revel in mythic references to the 1940s and 'the American story' is a shameful, sentimental self-indulgence. If we are to evoke the past at all, let us do so in a critical and exploratory fashion."
Maybe there is value in adopting a vision of what we want to be, even if it isn't exactly what we are or have been. As Lincoln pointed out on many occasions, the Declaration of Independence's bold claims about equality did not reflect at all the state of equality in America at its writing, but it was the most important of American documents precisely because it set forth our ideals. Who we saw ourselves as ultimately led us to become more like that. This is not to say that critical examination of America is wrong, but rather that rejecting our ideals because of past hypocrisy surrounding them is foolish and wrong.
Lend-Lease is a mythical narrative in Russia just as much as it is in America. Branding our aid to Ukraine is not likely to cause Russia to reflect it as more hostile, it will instead recall the historical circumstances of the first case even to their minds. If we gloss over the small details even in the US, so will they surely not come to see it in these critical terms as a "trap" likely to ensure war. Just the action of calling it Lend-Lease itself does not reasonably push us further into escalation, it is in fact a propaganda of shame which may help deescalate if anything.
So I cannot help but feel that this article really isn't about the calling of it Lend-Lease, but more a cautionary tale about escalation implicit in real material aid to Ukraine under the guise of a cautionary tale about mythologizing. And that is a much more uncomfortable conversation, because I think the fault lines are less academic and more political than Tooze is admitting here. It is really a discussion of how much are we all willing to risk our own lives for the lives of strangers, i.e. the same debate that existed back then.
On the international law aspect of Lend Lease, Mulder’s book on sanctions suggests that the US policy was within that (by then) established framework that had rewritten the laws applicable to neutral nations. So I’m no longer convinced it was such a black and white situation as was referenced in your piece.
I had understood that Hitler’s antisemitism played a significant role in how he viewed the US and the inevitability of conflict with it. The books cited only reinforce this view.
Nevertheless, the recent antisemitic comments by Russian FM Lavrov, which do not appear to be shared by Putin, might better be understood as a political framework to keep the Russian public on side as the toll of the conflict becomes more evident. Sadly, there is a deeply ingrained streak of antisemitism that has always permeated Russian Orthodoxy and, as a result, the larger Russian society. It’s not an iron rule applicable to all, but it seems a majoritarian impulse nevertheless.
Ultimately, the aims of Germany were contrary to American national interests and the reality was that there could be no accommodation, war was coming and the only question was whether the US might still have Allies standing when it arrived. If what I wrote is an accurate assessment, and there’s no way to know, then Lend Lease made, as the saying about diplomacy has it, the inevitable happen sooner.
How does this all affect our thinking about Putin? Will he take the view, if pushed to the wall and sees no exit, that (like Hitler in his bunker) it was not a personal miscalculation but a failure of the Russian people who proved themselves unworthy of their historical mission. Will that translate into Putin reaching for the Apocalypse? Or, if enough bad news continues to flow from the Ukraine misadventure, will Putin be removed internally? We cannot possibly know.
The problem in international affairs is what a resolution might look like and to what extent it may be said to reward aggression. Russia’s apparent brutality (even factoring in some element of media exaggeration) and conscription in the Donbas (if true) might well turn Ukraine’s russophone population against Russia. Then Putin has no face saving exit but potentially a long, grinding counter-insurgency on his hands.
Back to your article’s point, I think matters have evolved since WWII and both proxy wars and the syphoning of armaments and intelligence to a belligerent without yourself declaring war are fairly well established. The question is whether Russia will now change those rules.
Americans are an ignorant, sentimental, complacent, self-indulgent people. Also, sometimes, goodhearted and brave. We are always trying to figure out who we are, appropriately, as more than older places, that's a moving target. Thanks for the historical perspective.
To follow the morons in charge of this to wherever it leads with blinders on is mad. Unfortunately, it is becoming an existential battle for both sides. God help us, Republicans aren't going to help.
The point is to increase the cost of losing to the United States, so as to be able to invoke the Sunk Cost Fallacy as an excuse to escalate still further..
Muh American Credibility!
I would suggest reading "Day of Deceit" by Robert Stinnett, then re-reading the above timeline of events.
Great points. While the land lease of 1941 was when the USA put in the mantle of the world leader the current conflict is the challenge. Is the USA still up for its job. The stakes are enormous. The loss of Ukraine in this war might mean only that the age of the American world order is really over and we are in some transitionary multi polar world. It would also mean that the US is unable to protect its allies. And they should seek new alliances.
For Russia it is an exista too al threat. If it loses it means the whole idea of the Russian world must be scrapped. A new national idea will have to be found. Probably a similar transformation into a more docile democratic nation as Germany and Japan after the WW2.
USA cannot let Russia win in Ukraine because the end of the American age will be a catastrophe for the West as a whole.
Russia neither can lose this war. It will be the end of the pretense to be a superpower with its sphere of influence.
Are we short of a direct confrontation between Russia and the West?
I would like to see some appreciation of the opponents to this grotesque idea; i.e. Scott Ritter, Jacque Baud, Alexander Mercouris, Col Macgregor and many others.
Tooze suggests that the analogy between the March 2022 Lend-Lease legislation providing aid to Ukraine and the March 1941 original goes well beyond names. He sees both as very risky escalations and, quite reasonably, warns his readers that we should take care. In his view, the original Lend-Lease program “set America on an inescapable path towards war,” merging two regional conflicts into a truly global conflict in which we had ‘boots on the ground’. He also appears to see the January 1942 Wannsee Conference, the conventional beginning of the Holocaust, as, at least in part, a response to Lend-Lease.
On Tooze’s account of American involvement in the war, I should think the British, in particular, would have a rather different view. And it appears to pass over the long and vexed American debate about our proper response (see Lynne Olsen’s THOSE ANGRY DAYS).
The suggestion that the Wannsee Conference and the Holocaust were in any way provoked by Lend-Lease appears to be unwarranted. The bulk of the killing may well have occurred after Wannsee, but, according to Richard Evans’ THE REICH AT WAR, Germany began using gas to kill patients in mental hospitals, especially Jews, in Germany, in December 1939 (p. 84). Evans also notes that “In February and March 1940, virtually the entire Jewish community of Stettin, numbering over a thousand, was deported on Heydrich’s orders under such appalling conditions that almost a third of them died of hunger, cold and exhaustion en route. In the course of 1939, 1940 and the first four months of 1941, a series of uncoordinated actions led to the deportation of more than 63,000 Jews into the General Government, including more than 3,000 from Alsace, over 6,000 from Baden and the Saar, and even 280 from Luxembourg. … As a first step, Hitler envisaged the concentration of all the remaining Jews in the Reich, including the newly incorporated territories, into ghettos located in the main Polish cities, which, he agreed with Himmler and Heydrich, would make their eventual expulsion easier. The American correspondent William L. Shirer concluded in November 1939 that ‘Nazi policy is simply to exterminate the Polish Jews’, for what else could be the consequence of their ghettoization? If the Jews were unable to make a living, how could they survive?” (p. 57)
According to Wikipedia, “At the time of the Wannsee Conference, the killing of Jews in the Soviet Union [by Germans] had already been underway for some months. Right from the start of Operation Barbarossa – the invasion of the Soviet Union – Einsatzgruppen were assigned to follow the army into the conquered areas and round up and kill Jews. In a letter dated 2 July 1941, Heydrich communicated to his SS and Police Leaders that the Einsatzgruppen were to execute Comintern officials, ranking members of the Communist Party, extremist and radical Communist Party members, people’s commissars, and Jews in party and government posts. Open-ended instructions were given to execute ‘other radical elements (saboteurs, propagandists, snipers, assassins, agitators, etc.)’. He instructed that any pogroms spontaneously initiated by the occupants of the conquered territories were to be quietly encouraged. On 8 July, he announced that all Jews were to be regarded as partisans, and gave the order for all male Jews between the ages of 15 and 45 to be shot. By August the net had been widened to include women, children, and the elderly—the entire Jewish population. By the time planning was underway for the Wannsee Conference, hundreds of thousands of Polish, Serbian, and Russian Jews had already been killed.” (wikipedia.org/wiki/Wannsee_Conference)
Escalation should never be undertaken lightly, but, as Timothy Snyder observes in ON TYRANNY, neither should one “obey in advance.”
In 1941 the United States produced 70% of the world's oil and its GDP was 2.5 times that of Germany and 4.4 times that of Japan, with much room to grow given its access to resources. The USSR economy was nearly equal to that of Germany. In 2022 the US GDP has been overtaken by China (PPP) and Russia is equal to that of Germany (PPP), with the growth engine of the world being in the East (with ASEAN and India refusing to side with the US), not in a slow growing Europe with increasing resource issues.
The sane are in China and Russia, the insanity is that of the US pushing an aggressive NATO to Russia's borders and fostering regime change (2014) in Ukraine and then training and arming a Ukraine military integrated into the NATO command structure. This proxy war (because that is what it is) will not end well for the West. The only question is if they will be insane enough to escalate further, Russia and China are happy to watch the slow relative decline unless forced to take action.
I appreciate the careful historical analysis and thought which went into the strategic questions at the very end. I have written fairly extensively about the war since the very beginning, and readers who are interested can find find my postings here: https://wordpress.com/posts/gracchibros.wordpress.com; the Ukraine commentary has eight posts starting on Feb. 25, 2022 the latest on April 21st.
In my commentary on the siege of Mariupol, I was calling for an airdrop/airlift/humanitarian/military no fly zone (March 8th) as soon as it was apparent the deep trouble Ukraine was in, and would be in, and still is by the loss of that key port, which essentially undermines its economic ability to export its products by sea.
I don't think I was naïve militarily or strategically, as I anticipated that any of these tactics to re-supply implied getting to a NO FLY ZONE with all the possible escalatory steps involved: suppression of Russian electronic and anti-aircraft missile systems, including those beyond Ukrainian soil, most likely in very southern Russia itself; it could have been argued on the best moral grounds if it was done just to get the civilians out, worth the risks of escalation on those sound grounds; yet all I hear on CNN, almost equivalent in its censorship of differing views to official Washington policy, is how important the southern sea coasts of Ukraine are, how badly Russian wants them, especially Mariupol - in which case March was the month to act...but all we get are "heroic resistance" stories...Biden and NATO were unwilling to face those risks in early/mid March.
If I was willing to run those risks of escalation then, the situation we are in now looks to me that if Putin doubles down on or after May 9th, imposes a draft or more, then our level of aid to Ukraine while increasing, will be insufficient to drive the Russians out and to create a viable Ukrainian state and economy. Therefore, I think at some point air intervention will be necessary, perhaps starting with the transfer of A-10 anti armor attack aircraft. Will they be effective without the other layers of peeling off the Russian air defenses? Including the other aircraft whose work logically precedes the A-10's specialties. I don't know, but I doubt it.
But does the West understand that so much has happened to remind us of Timothy Snyder's accounts in "Bloodlands" that Ukraine is not going to compromise since so much of their country and its southern coastline have been lost or destroyed, they can't stop at the compromises which everyone saw a month ago (from Prof. Mearsheimer to Yanis Varoufakis).
That's a round about way of me agreeing here, with Lend Lease in 1941 being a defacto declaration of war by the US and I said it in the posts in March, that we, the US and much if not all of NATO are at war with Russia now, we just don't want to admit it and the risks it involves but the measures necessary to even save the Ukraine, and push the Russians out to regain the borders of 1991's Independence Vote, amount to calling Putin's bluffs, undefined ravings as well as nuclear threats. Sorry, that's where we are and when the truth is known about the conduct of Russia in Mariupol, the escalatory pressure will go up mightily.
Where do these ideas come from, e.g., "FDR's denunciation of Kristallnacht"? He waffled and did little. The US response came from Interior Secretary Harold Ickes, and despite FDR.
The pages above contain many myths, like the notion that "the American Century" getting traction in 1941, let alone at any time in the 1940s. There's no documentation for this. The American Century might have been trumpeted in the better drawing rooms of the northeast coast, but was repellent in Chicago, Dallas, Seattle, and elsewhere in the country at least until the Korean War.
As for lend lease, it got out of control, just as the noninterventionists predicted. Start by calculating how much of the vast amount of aid sent to Stalin--with no accounting by Congress-- was dedicated to maintaining the Gulag in the midst of war. Am not seeing that figure....
spending more on Ukraine than on the Climate. That says a lot about priorities.
Remarquable travail de la DW ! Et bizarrement j’observe que la Russie face à l’Ukraine recoupe très évidemment la France face à l’Algerie. Ce n’est certes pas par hasard que les amis de Putin en France / le Pen Zemmour l’Action française / sont aussi des tenants de l’Algérie française : l’Algérie n’est pas un pays le peuple algérien n’existe pas…
Impérialisme et Colonialisme sont à la source de ces politiques. Timothy Snyder a fort bien montré que cette réthorique était identique à celle du chancelier Hitler et que par- delà l’Ukraine elle recouvrait aussi Pologne et pays baltes, entre autres cibles potentielles de Putin.
Le moindre risque aujourd’hui c’est de faire tout / Tout / pour que la Russie soit défaite. Autrement la machine de guerre repartira de l’avant et ce sera bien pire. Nous avons / Allemagne et UE / eu tout faux en 2014 - le résultat et là en 2022.
Ce que vous dites Adam est intéressant mais l’heure n’est plus à noyer le poisson et à finasser.
Very well put.
We are already at War with Russia, we're just using Ukrainians to fight it, and when all of then are Dead, and that day is not far off, we will used are EU Puppies to fight the Russians. The problem is that Russia will be forced into their fall back Survival of the Russian State Plan and then the War will arrive in the American Homeland.