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Russia Profile Weekly Experts Panel: the Wars of History [1]

 
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Vladimir Belaeff, Global Society Institute, Inc., United States:

Although the cynic who defined history as "politics directed at the past" is himself long gone, this writer is of the firm opinion that there is indeed a genuine, objective science of history - based on facts, verifiable through source data. Everything else that claims to be "history" is anything but that science.

Under the guise of "history" we witness yet another variant of political propaganda, with murky objectives, perhaps not understood even by its own mouthpieces. There are several distinct themes in the tangled and contrived narrative about the start of World War II now circulating in Eastern Europe. It is notable that this narrative is rather specific to that region, and to a narrow circle of propagandists, claiming to be "historians."

One theme is to blame the Soviet Union for the start of hostilities in 1939. The alleged fulcrum is the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact. There is no logical explanation why this particular agreement is selected, unless one recognizes that the purpose of the discussion is to somehow involve modern Russia in events that are 70 years in the past. Why is the Soviet-German Pact the cause of hostilities rather than the Polish-German Non-Aggression Pact of slightly earlier vintage, or the Munich Agreement ceding the Sudeten area to Germany, or the Versailles Peace Conference that created the Sudeten German problem in the first place (U.S. President Woodrow Wilson thus violating his own principles of national self-determination), or the French defeat in Sedan, or perhaps Prince Otto van Bismarck, who unified modern Germany?

The chain of causality can be manipulated at will, so it is obvious that the central idea of the above theme is not any kind of serious scientific enquiry, but straight anti-Russian propaganda. It is not surprising therefore that Russians, who as a nation have been harmed the most by World War II, are righteously angered by the insinuation. This is how xenophobia is engendered.

Determining culpability in hostilities through analysis of diplomatic activities is futile. Human affairs are very complex, and chains of causality are many, and chains of events are susceptible to dishonest selectivity. There is a truly scientific method to identify the culprit in a war, based on the epistemologically parsimonious science of the venerable William of Ockham. It is simple. Who fired the first shot? In World War II this fact is known and unambiguous. It was Nazi Germany. It is almost embarrassing to have to re-state such basic truths.

Another theme is the comparison of Nazi Germany with the Soviet Union. Because a truly scientific treatment of the subject would be vast and would require huge volumes of verbiage, paradoxically the comparison is more susceptible to a "sound bite" treatment. In reality the two countries, societies and political systems were extremely different. This recognition does not imply a justification of Stalinism, or a preference for either system, of course. But to compare or equate the two societies (the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany) indicates either intellectual frivolity or intellectual dishonesty.

What can modern Russia do about these crooked ideas? One thing has been done: the Germany-Soviet Union Non-Aggression Pact has been denounced by the highest legislative authorities of the Russian Federation, as Putin recently reminded the world in Gdansk. Another thing that can be done is education of the world community about the processes that took place 70 years ago. Yet one must also recognize that for those who direct their xenophobia toward Russia and the Russians, ultimately no factual argument will be convincing. They operate beyond logic and scientific facts. We believe that these propagandists of xenophobia will be inevitably marginalized by the world community.

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[1] Published with permission of Russia Profile.

 
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