Tag Archives: History

The Crimea is as Russian as the Troika by Paul Ewing

Putin seizes Crimea? Get over it. Putin models the centuries-old authoritarian style of Russian leadership. He is the logical continuation of Ivan IV, Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, Nicholas I, Alexander III, Lenin, Stalin, and Khrushchev. The atypical Russian leader was the non-authoritarian Gorbachev, a man who stuck out like a sore thumb in Russian history. Those who are angered by Putin’s action need to place it in the context of Russian and Soviet history. We ignore this history at our own peril. We can not project our values onto Russia although we have been doing so ever since the 19th century. Western Europe should also take heed of this tendency.

To compare Russia to Serbia in Kosovo or to compare Putin to Hitler is absurd in the extreme.   Both analogies ignore crucial historical realities and self-destruct in the face of facts.  Hitler’s armies occupied the Crimean Peninsula in World War II. The Red Army, including its Ukrainian forces, drove the Nazis out.  And previously, immediately after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, Moscow’s Red Army defeated the White counterrevolutionaries in the Crimea during the 1918-1920 Civil War.*  In both conflicts Sevastopol proved crucial to Soviet victory.

The Ukraine and Crimea have always been of key geopolitical interest to Russia. At one time Kiev was the capital of Kievan Rus. And Russians are not likely to forget that France and Britain invaded Crimea in 1854 during the war that bears that peninsula’s name.  For most of the Soviet era the Crimea was part of  Russia. It wasn’t until 1954 that  Crimea became part of the Ukraine when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev  unilaterally gave it away.  What the Premier gives away yesterday the President can take back today. Remember Russia and the Soviet Union (and Russia again) have had very little experience with representative democracy.

Should the U.S. get involved? We’re bankrupt already from Iraq and Afghanistan and our “sanctions” are idle threats, paper tigers. Furthermore economic sanctions will hurt our economy more than Russia’s. Putin’s country sits on a gold mine of oil and natural gas.We might need some of it one day.

The best we can hope for is that there is no civil war in the Ukraine or Crimea.

*By the way the U.S. was one of the countries that intervened in the 1918-1920 Russian Civil War trying to “strangle Bolshevism at its birth” as Churchill had recommended.


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What if Abraham Lincoln Had Never Been Assassinated?

What if Abraham Lincoln Had Never Been Assassinated?

Historians are not supposed to play the “what if?” game. But we can always wonder! Given the above hypothetical, I propose that Reconstruction would have turned out better than it did. First off, Lincoln was a sublime politician. If anyone could have healed the wounds of war, it would have been him. In his second inaugural address he said those famous words regarding the Confederates, “with malice towards none, with charity for all.” Soon after his speech he was assassinated and Andrew Johnson– a man overflowing with malice for Southern aristocrats and their freed slaves–took over.

Johnson hated Southern plantation owners because he was jealous of their success. As a Southerner himself, he had not fared very well.  But Johnson hated one group even more, free Blacks. With his desire for punitive vengeance against the South, his transparent racism and his refusal to cooperate with the Republican reformers in Congress, the frustrated Representatives impeached him. He escaped conviction by one vote in the Senate.

Reconstruction proved a disaster. The Southern “Redemption” movement took over and the clock was turned back.  The promise of freedom vaporized as former slaves suffered the expansion of vagrancy laws and widespread KKK terror the federal government could not stop.  Without being given land of their own, freed slaves faced another kind of bondage, sharecropping.  But it got worse, much worse.  We know from recent research, the vagrancy laws themselves put many free Blacks into a horrible system of “neoslavery.”*  To pay off their fines for various forms of “vagrancy,” they were forced to labor in the most hazardous and unhealthy mines and factories of   corporations like U.S. Steel.  In these Southern ‘ death camps’ they died by the hundreds and were buried out back in shallow, mass graves. *   By 1877 Reconstruction was officially over and an abject failure, in this humble historian’s opinion.

If Lincoln had lived, significant parts of this tragic story would have turned out otherwise.

“The Untold Story of Post-Civil War Neoslavery”


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