1. Compare Hitler to Putin

Today we are holding a debate about one of the settings of the novel, Salisbury, England. Hitler concocted a plot in the novel Salisbury Affair to force Edward and Dora to hand over the Lawrence maps, key to world domination. He sabotaged their wedding at peaceful Salisbury Cathedral. Just weeks ago in March Putin, the Dictator of Russia, attacked a former spy and his daughter in Salisbury, England with chemical weapons. That marked the first use of chemical weapons in Europe since World War 1, one hundred years ago. Which attack was worse, Hitler’s or Putin’s? Two historians will debate the issue.

We will ask the first historian, Mr. Wilson, what he thinks of the issue. Then we will ask the second historian, Mr. Smith. Mr. Wilson, compare Hitler to Putin.

Putin aboard battlecruiser “Pyotr Velikiy” during Northern Fleet exercise in 2005

Mr. Wilson: Perhaps the better comparison would be Stalin to Putin. Stalin led the Soviet Union to victory over Hitler’s Nazi Germany, and expanded the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence to cover most of Eastern Europe, a state of affairs which lasted 45 years, from 1945 until 1990. Putin, by contrast, has so far managed only to recover Crimea and parts of the Donbas from Ukraine, and to prop up Bashar Assad in Syria in return for a Russian seaport on the Mediterranean and a military airfield in the Mideast. And Putin achieved these comparatively meager gains during Obama’s presidency, when America’s foreign policy went into full retreat in Ukraine and the Middle East.

We are being censored by Facebook from posting a photo of Putin. They think it is Russian propaganda. So instead of Putin we will post a picture of the old czar, Ivan the Terrible, from hundreds of years ago.

Throne of Ivan the Terrible

Apparently we can’t post Ivan the Terrible either. So we will continue to try to post. Otherwise we will consider in the future if we will hold our debates on Facebook. That question is now under consideration by Cheops Books LLC.

Mr. Smith, what do you have to say?

Mr. Smith: Hitler created the conditions for Germany to achieve a significant economic recovery during the worldwide depression of the 1930’s. Trade expanded, especially with Eastern Europe, and no sanctions regime hampered Germany’s economic growth. Putin has achieved no such economic recovery for Russia, which is still largely an economy based on mineral resources, especially oil and gas, with little diversification or modernization, and sanctions have severely crimped Russian economic growth.

Mr. Wilson: Hitler was the leader of a movement which eventually grew to where Hitler was able to become the democratically elected leader of Germany. Even after he ended the Weimar democracy, Hitler remained a very popular leader until well into the Second World War. Putin was merely the handpicked successor of his predecessor,Yeltsin, Putin has never led any broad movement of the Russian people, and his core support is confined to certain elites to whom Putin has granted key favors.

2. Was Hitler trying to take over the world?

Mr. Wilson: Hitler was not interested in the taking over the world. For instance, he had no desire to take over the administration of the British Empire; he wanted to leave that to Britain. He also had no plans for invading the United States. That would have required a much larger German Navy, which he had no interest in building. In fact, he entered into the Anglo-German Naval Treaty in 1935 with the intent of avoiding a naval arms race with Britain.

Mr. Smith: Hitler was, however, interested in becoming the dominant power in Europe, which at that time also meant being the dominant world power. And that would have inevitably brought him into conflict with the United States, even assuming Hitler had defeated and/or come to terms with France, Britain, and Russia. At some point, Hitler would have realized that to maintain Germany’s position as the dominant power in Europe, he would have to confront and defeat the United States, perhaps with the aid of Japan. Of course, events prevented this scenario from developing: Britain refused to come to terms with Germany, and Hitler proved unable to bring about an early defeat of Britain.

3. Is Putin trying to destroy the US?

Mr. Wilson: Putin wants to restore, as much as possible, the dominance of Russia in Eastern Europe and its role as a Great Power player on the world stage. Putin cannot realistically, and therefore has no interest in, “destroying” the United States. Putin, however, will gladly take advantage of American weakness, as he did during Obama’s presidency to annex Crimea and part of the Donbass and to enter into the Syrian civil war to prop up the Assad regime.

Mr. Smith: The age of “Carthage must be destroyed” is over. Nuclear weapons mean destruction will not be confined to “Carthage,” but will hit “Rome” as well. Some would-be regional hegemons like Iran (“Israel must be destroyed.”) ignore this lesson at their peril.

Cato the Elder on the book cover for “Carthage Must be Destroyed”

4. Did Hitler use chemical weapons?

Mr. Wilson: Although Germany stockpiled chemical weapons during the Second World War, Hitler did not authorize the use of chemical weapons on the battlefield for reasons that are not entirely clear. Some historians believe it was because of Hitler’s own experience of being gassed with mustard gas during World War I and temporarily losing his eyesight. Others believe that Hitler thought the risk of retaliation against German troops and/or “friendly fire” incidents too great. Goering testified during the Nuremberg trials that the reason was because effective gas masks had not been developed for horses, and Germany, unlike the Allies, heavily relied on horse transport due to a shortage of petrol. Thus, if Germany had attempted to use poison gas to stop the Normandy landings, retaliatory gas attacks by the Allies would have totally disrupted the German transport system for supplying its armies. Whatever the reasons, chemical weapons were not employed on the battlefield during World War II.

British poster

Mr. Smith: Of course, it is true that poisonous or toxic chemicals were used in the German death camps to kill millions of Jews, Poles, Slavs and Gypsies. It is generally believed that, although no written orders signed by the Fuehrer for the Final Solution have been found, Hitler gave oral orders authorizing the Final Solution. Whether Hitler specifically ordered the use of poison gas in the death camps, however, is a matter of pure speculation. Hitler tended to leave details to his lieutenants, especially regarding matters that he considered distasteful to talk about in the open.

5. Was it more dangerous during the 1930’s and 1940’s or right now?

Mr. Wilson: During the 1930’s and 1940’s. Approximately 60 million lives were lost during the Second World War. More recent wars involve far fewer casualties. We now live in the era of the Pax Americana. As long as that era continues, it will continue to be safer to live in the present.

Victims of the Blitz in London.

Mr. Smith: Right now. If a general nuclear war breaks out, which remains a distinct possibility, the loss of life and destruction will far exceed World War II. Iran is still seeking a nuclear weapon. North Korea until very recently was attempting to develop a nuclear-tipped ICBM. While talks are pending between the North Korean leader and the President of the United States, their outcome remains in doubt.

6. Should we treat Putin like Hitler?

Mr. Wilson: We certainly should not appease Putin, like Chamberlain sought to do with Hitler. The response of the West to Putin should be firm and united in opposition to Russian aggression and misconduct, such as the Salisbury incident – using poison gas to carry out assassinations on British soil. On the other hand, it is certainly not necessary to go to war with Putin’s Russia in order to deter Putin from engaging in aggression or bad acts, as the British did in September 1939 in reaction to Germany’s invasion of Poland. There are plenty of options for ratcheting up pressure on the Russians short of a war– many of which were not readily available to Britain and France in 1939.

Putin and Syrian president Assad

Mr. Smith: We should avoid going too far with pressuring Putin. The U.S. is getting too deeply involved in Syria and that could lead to dangerous confrontations. Already, there are reports of heavy fighting between U.S.-backed Syrian forces and Russian mercenaries, who suffered hundreds of casualties in a recent skirmish. Also retaliating for Assad’s use of chemical weapons could lead to direct conflicts between U.S. planes and Russian defenses.

Mr. Wilson: But there is a greater risk if we withdraw from Syria. Putin and his allies, especially Iran will, take advantage of such a US retreat from the MidEast. Putin is an opportunist, just like Hitler was a gambler. Only firm steady pressure will work to quell such leaders.

Mr. Smith: We also should not treat Putin as the ultimate bogeyman – as many in the United States have done regarding Hitler. Treating Hitler as the devil or the ultimate embodiment of evil simply avoids the deeper inquiry that is needed to understand how the Nazi regime operated. To say that Putin is so bad or deviant that a U.S. president should never even think of meeting or negotiating with him similarly goes too far.

We have reached the end of the debate. We hope you enjoyed it. If you want to view the picture gallery that goes with the debate, please go to the website page for Salisbury Affair at http://www.edwardwarethrillers.org.