Perhaps so, as we watch Vladimir Putin move into Ukraine militarily on
a similar time frame. Hitler showcased his newer, brighter, more modern and
friendly Germany in the 1936 Olympics, catching both the eye and the approval
of the world in spectacular fashion. His was the first televised games and filmmaker
Leni Riefenstahl, a Hitler favorite, put together a $7 million extravaganza
titled Olympia, an enormous sum in
the middle of the Depression. Putin has just closed the most expensive Winter
Olympics ever staged, to similar worldwide acclaim.

Behind the curtain
of the Olympic flag, Hitler was demanding ‘autonomy’ for the 3 ½ million Germans
‘oppressed’ in bordering Czechoslovakia. He got his way from British Prime
Minister Neville Chamberlain in Munich and the Czech Sudetenland was absorbed
by Germany within six weeks of the closing Olympic ceremony.

announced at the time, “How horrible,
fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on
gas masks here because of a quarrel in a far-away country between people of
whom we know nothing.”
Thus was Peace in Our Time announced to the
world, followed by a full-on invasion of Czechoslovakia, then Poland and,
finally World War II.
The Olympic-invasion metaphor today is in Ukraine, another quarrel in a far-away country between people
of whom we know nothing
. The comparison is spot-on, a nation ‘annexed’ by
Russia in 1939 and becoming newly independent in 1990, shortly after the wheels
came off the Soviet Union in 1989. Ukraine is a democratic republic of 45
million people, an independent nation the size of Texas, with nearly twice its
Adding to the confusion, but reinforcing the similarity, the
current flap is over the Crimea and the Crimea bears a resemblance to the
Czechoslovak Sudetenland. Crimea is a small Ukrainian peninsula, hanging off
the bottom of the country and dipping into the Black Sea, a major point of
access for Russian shipping and their Black Sea Fleet.
This is no small
deal and the stakes are high enough for the world to pay attention. The present
circumstance has to do with Ukraine’s desire to move toward and eventually join
the European Union, a move that horrifies Putin, who is trying to regain rather
than lose what is left of the old Soviet Union.
Kiev, Ukraine’s Capital, erupted in flames and enraged its citizenry
when Viktor Yanukovych (elected President in 2010) suddenly reversed Ukraine’s steady
and popular move toward Europe, opting to accept a $15 billion offer of
economic aid from Russia—presumably in return for turning away from the
European Union. Putin says there were no conditions to the aid package, but the
dog was on the hunt.
Streets aflame and casualties mounting, Yanukovych attempted
concessions. Prime Minister Mykola Azarov quickly said “I affirm with full authority that the
negotiating process over the Association Agreement is continuing, and the work
on moving our country closer to European standards is not stopping for a single
.” But the citizenry was having none of it and two months later Yanukovych
abruptly fled his office, showing up briefly in Eastern Russian-speaking
Ukraine to make a brave statement of still remaining constitutional president
of the country, then leaving for the friendlier confines of Russia.
Putin’s troops—now on the streets of Crimea and likely as I write this
expanding into Eastern Ukraine—are the result of a plea from that exiled
president to protect Russian lives and
specifically his life and his interest, although Putin had very
much his own interests at stake as well. Echoes of the Czechoslovak
American President Barack Obama has told Putin there will be repercussions and a price to be paid if troops are not withdrawn. The European Union
and United Nations are less forceful, but apparently unified in their criticism
and China has yet to weigh in. Yet this incursion comes on the heels of the
recently closed Sochi Winter Olympics. One huge difference in the circumstances
is that neither the West nor Russia is either apt or willing to escalate this
present situation into another broad war. The days of major wars between world
powers are likely gone, but the time of minor conflicts with major players
behind them is upon us and very much in the forefront of modern history.
So the question remains, are we hearing echoes of Germany’s 1936
Olympics and Neville Chamberlain’s querulous claim that he had achieved “Peace
in our Time?”