In November 1918 a blind man was lying on a cot in a German military hospital. He had temporarily lost his sight to to the effects of a British gas attack.
The young man was an Austrian, a decorated runner serving with a Bavarian infantry regiment. On the 11th of the month he heard that WWI had ended and Germany had surrendered. All that he had fought for, all that he had sacrificed for, all that was was, was lost. Through his tears, through his clinched fists and psychic chaos, he vowed revenge. Adolf Hitler would make good on his revanchist promise. It is the same, decades later, with Vladimir Putin.
Those of us who have served a cause know the loyalty and commitment one can bring to it. It’s especially true regarding service in uniform. My US Army service is still an important part of my life, though I left the Army in the 80s.
The ultimate mission of my service, as it was for all of us in the US military then, was to win the Cold War. We did. I can hardly imagine the trauma of losing. That was a wound that haunted many I knew in the Army who had served in Vietnam. True, we never lost on the battlefield there. True and also, given that war, irrelevant.
Our loss in Vietnam, to a point the same feeling as was felt by the future German madman, must have seared deep. It likely went to the depths of the soul. Putin had his own moment of similar torment, the fall of the Soviet Union.
Putin had grown up in the communist system, been programmed by it, and had joined its most vile appendage, the KGB. He rose through the ranks and prospered. He was a complete creature of a Red fascist state. When it fell, like Hitler, he rationalized his defeat by blaming others. For Hitler it was the Western democracies and the Jews. For Putin it was America.
Both targets of blame were preposterous. The Germans fell because their last offensive was stymied by American troops. The German battlefield drubbing caused the allies to go on the offensive themselves. This led to the Kaiser’s Army throwing in the towel. The Soviets fell because the internal contradictions of socialism finally caught up with them, with a helpful push from Ronald Reagan.
The truth didn’t matter to either Hitler or Putin. They externalized their revanchist pain and made the world pay for it. History gives us the hideous details on Hitler’s program of revenge. We’ve seen Putin’s, in Georgia, in Crimea, now in Ukraine, every day in our media.
Thus we would do well to beware of those who can’t get over the psychic wounds of a great political loss. Their egos cannot process defeat, so they lash out in bile and irrationality. As we’ve seen in history, such individuals can go to great lengths to avenge themselves. They can even take millions with them down the path of frenzy in a rabid quest for twisted redemption. They bring little but harm, bitterness, and hysteria. This is a lesson of history we only forget at our own peril.