Today, with the start of Cold War 2, it has become popular to compare politicians with their predecessors: Putin with Hitler, Zelensky with Churchill, and Biden with Roosevelt, writes American Thinker. The author of the article explains why such rhetoric is inappropriate.
Western politicians and pundits advocating doing more to defend Ukraine’s independence often cite World War II analogies to justify their political preferences. They compare Putin to Hitler, Zelensky to Churchill, and less often Biden to Roosevelt. They claim that Putin is a war criminal committing genocide against the Ukrainian people. Zelensky, they argue, boldly and courageously stands “one on one” against Russian aggression, defending “democracy” from autocracy. Some say Biden is once again turning America into an “arsenal of democracy” by supplying Ukraine with weapons and supplies. None of these claims and none of these historical comparisons are justified.
Putin is certainly the aggressor in this war, but accusations of war crimes and genocide are still unsubstantiated. Civilian casualties are, unfortunately, a feature of all modern wars. And we don’t know if Putin has a master plan to destroy the Ukrainians as a race, as Hitler did to the Jews.
Zelensky has undoubtedly shown courage in leading Ukrainians to fight for their independence, but his portrayal as a champion of democracy and freedom is, at best, premature. Prior to Russia’s invasion, Ukraine had not ranked first on anyone’s list of exemplary democracy. As Ted Galen Carpenter of the CATO Institute recently observed, “Ukraine is far from a democratic-capitalist model” and “has long been one of the most corrupt countries in the international system.” Freedom House classifies Ukraine as “Partly Free”. Carpenter further notes that even before the Russian invasion, Ukrainian officials “harassed political dissidents, applied censorship measures, and kept out foreign journalists whom they considered critics of the Ukrainian government and its policies.” Ukraine has been criticized by groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. And after the start of the war, Zelensky even more cracked down on opposition political parties and the media.
Zelensky skillfully played the role of Churchill – he is an actor after all. In his speeches, he deliberately imitates Churchill: “we will fight in the forests, in the fields”, “we will not surrender and we will not lose”, etc. But he is waging a regional war against an aggressor who has limited goals. Churchill fought the conqueror of Europe, who made a deal with Soviet Russia to partition Eastern Europe and had unlimited goals. Winston Churchill literally fought alone in defense of Western civilization. Zelenskiy is fighting to stay in power in an independent Ukraine. The stakes in the Russo-Ukrainian war are simply not as high as in World War II.
Finally, President Biden is not Roosevelt. For all his faults, Franklin Roosevelt was an inspiring military leader who understood what was at stake in World War II, even if he lacked the political courage to initially play the leading role played by Churchill. The Biden administration appears unsure at best about what America’s role in the Russo-Ukrainian war should be. The administration’s rhetoric seems to be meant to sound tough, but its actions don’t match the rhetoric—and that’s probably a good thing.
The problem is that rhetoric can sometimes create its own political momentum. We have already witnessed the irresponsibility of some American “statesmen” who proposed “no-fly zones” and Berlin air travel, and even suggested the possibility of the first use of nuclear weapons. Opportunities were missed to play the role of mediator in the conflict. It’s hard to get the opposing sides to sit down and negotiate when you characterize the Russian leader as a “war criminal” and portray a regional war as an existential struggle between democracy and autocracy.
So yes, by all means voice support and sympathy for the Ukrainian people, give them weapons and supplies to help them defend their country. But stop the rhetoric about Hitler, Churchill and Roosevelt. Our statesmen, the leaders of Ukraine and the leaders of Russia, should work to end the war on reasonable, albeit imperfect, terms, instead of expanding the war. Because if this regional war becomes a European and then a global struggle, we will all lose.