Mr. Mead, for God’s sake, when you’re in Lithuania dispell them of any notion they might have of the U.S. going to war with Russia on their behalf, NATO alliance or not. Such sobering talk is needed for Lithuania’s own good as it will help prevent that country from having expectations that never will be fulfilled.
And as far as NATO goes, that alliance has been stretched to the point of meaningless. And besides, NASTO is a one way street; the U.S. carries the burdens but when we need help, the rest of the alliance is AWOL. Fact — a fact that the American public sees.
And as far as the U.S. military needing to continue to stay in Europe, that is a most dubious assumption. And why must we stay, so Europe can continue to have a welfare state? Sorry, but you Foreign Affaires boys can’t sell that anymore.
And in case you haven’t noticed it, Mr. Mead, America’s chief security concern is not in the Middle East and it is surely not in Europe. It is with the fracturing of Mexico on our unsecured southern border. That’s where resources need to be directed.
This is a wonderful and informative blog post; thank you for it, Mr. Mead. It’s almost as if you were nice enough to take us along with you on your trip to Lithuania.
You did say one thing that I’m not entirely convinced is right. Speaking of the American decision to abandon the Eastern Europeans, you said,
“I have no doubt that Roosevelt and Truman were right to avoid war with the Soviet Union after World War Two. Yes, it consigned hundreds of thousands of people if not millions of people to exile, deportation, torture and death. Yes, it made a mockery of allied war aims; Britain after all had gone to war to protect Poland in 1939. Yes, it committed us to the grotesquely expensive and drawn out Cold War, fought out under the grim shadow of the nuclear arsenals both sides built up. But war over eastern Europe in 1945 was unthinkable; containment was the best we could do.”
I think that it’s far from clear that the United States made the right decision when it acquiesced to Soviet domination of what became the “Soviet Republics” or the Warsaw Pact allies of the Soviets.
Of all the nations that emerged from World War II, the United States was by far the wealthiest; it had by far the most intact infrastructure; technologically it was more sophisticated than any of its allies or adversaries and of course, at the time, it had a monopoly on nuclear weapons.
It is far from clear that to protect the Eastern Europeans, the United States would have had to attack the Soviets. America could have used its military might to more artfully motivate the Soviets to stand down in the East; it could have threatened a nuclear attack on its former World War II ally; it could have stood up to Stalin instead of permitting him to ride rough-shod over American political leaders. If none of these measures worked, the United States could have attacked the communist forces not in Russia itself but in the nations that eventually became Soviet vassal states.
Obviously these would have been tough measures; in many ways, they would have been tragic. But would they have been more tragic than the millions of people who died, were exiled, were tortured or were consigned to lives of virtual slavery because the U.S. chose to avert its eyes?
ps: As long as you mentioned your “Queens Estate,” as a former resident of Queens myself, I thought you might be interested to know that the best Cajun Restaurant in New York just opened up only a few miles from where you live. It’s called “Cooking with Jazz.” It’s located at 179-22 Union Turnpike in Jamaica Estates. They have the best fried oysters anywhere this side of New Orleans. Their jambalaya is also great.
When I worked in Queens, my preferred lunch joint was Pio Pio, in Rego Park, on Woodhaven.
Now that there is something of a resumption of chilly relations with Moscow, I wonder if we run the risk of telegraphing too much reluctance to intervene anywhere, on behalf of anyone–be they Iranian dissidents, or a stubborn Israeli government. Is it coincidence that, just as we take an almost ostentatiously hard line with Israel, that Hamas chooses to start firing more missiles at Israel again?
Sadly, a genuine disposition to recast international relations on the basis of mutual respect is interpreted by much of the world as a token of weakness.
Just how much claim do other countries have to our blood and treasure in the name of their own “freedom?” And on what moral basis are we obligated to sacrifice the lives of our young men for others, especially when said others irresponsible and feckless behaviors worsen their risks (a la the Uropeans)? Just asking Walter.
I certainly don’t blame the post-WW2 leadership of the West for not dragging the world into another fight. We would have destroyed Europe to save her. What happened in the East was tragedy and no doubts, but the West did stay the course in a 50 year struggle, and managed to both prevail, AND avoid nuclear apocalypse. In our current struggle with the islamofascists, I hope we can say the same 50 years from now.
We fought WWII to liberate the Poles, and all we did was to convict them to 45 years of communist slavery. Did we really win WWII at all? We defeated nazism with the help of the commies, but we were left putting up with people who weren’t much better.
In the last two years I have spent 2 full weeks in Lithuania. Their story is so deep and so full of sacrifice; sacrifice for life, liberty and family. The stories of not just the KGB, but Stalin, the expulsion of children, women and men to Siberia…only to have them return years later are soul wrenching. They are an amazing people and it is a beautiful country!
Thank you for this fine article. I knew nothing of Lithuania until I signed up for a year of teaching at a Christian liberal arts university here in Klaipeda. In that year I have grown to know and love the Lithuanian people. They wear a sadness in their faces borne of generations of being the grass the elephants trampled when they fought.
Though their history is tragic in many ways, the spirit of these people is not broken. The young people are full of hope, learning English, looking westward for jobs and education. We Americans must listen to these peoples of the Baltic states — Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia — as well as their neighbors in Belarus and Ukraine.
The Russian bear isn’t stirring too much these days, but it’s been 20 years and hiberation only lasts so long. This region is so amazingly pivotal to global politics and so receptive to the U.S. right now. I pray that the Obama administration will wake up to the importance of the Baltics.
My connection with Lithuania is slight but rewarding–listening to Jascha Heifetz, whose soulfulness is overlooked, and had to have been the product of a culturally rich time and place.
North of Lithuania is Latvia, my ancestral land, where I bicycled in 1995 on the 50th anniversary of “V-E Day,” meeting the Mayor of Liepaja and representing The Churchill Centre..
When I said “Churchill,” he said “Yalta,” and things got sticky. “You should have nuked them in 1945,” he said of the Russians, telling us about the fifty-year Soviet occupation he had experienced as a boy. He had strafe marks across his belly where Soviet guards had wounded him when he approached the patrolled beaches after curfew…
I said the British and American public in 1945 would never have stood for such a thing. Churchill wrote that had he returned to Potsdam, the last wartime conference, he would have forced a “showdown” over Poland. What the result would have been is a matter for conjecture. Much of Eastern Europe, given harsh reality, had no chance for liberty by 1945; but this is not an excuse to denounce Churchill’s efforts to save what he could. (See, e.g., “Churchill and the Baltic,” on winstonchurchill.org.)
The Mayor persisted: “You should have done it anyway. Think of how much blood and treasure you would have saved yourselves–not to mention us.”
As in many things, what you think about such questions often depends on where you grew up.
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“The Russian bear isn’t stirring too much these days, but it’s been 20 years and hiberation only lasts so long.”
Rest easy, Mark J. Russia is a dying country. Its birth rate and life expectancies are so low that within 20 years, the country may well cease to even exist.
If you doubt me, check out the stats yourself.
Here’s a heads up. Watch China take resource rich Siberia right from under the noses of the Russians via demographics and illegal immigration.
We fought WWII to liberate the Poles, and all we did was to convict them to 45 years of communist slavery. Did we really win WWII at all?
Are the Poles free?
You might not like how long it took, but then the burden is upon you to describe how you would have freed them sooner and what the cost of that would have been. Certainly it was terrible for the Polish freedom fighters who suffered but what would a “war of liberation” have done to all Poles?
To maintain an alliance for 50 years through five changes Presidential party affiliation is a substantial accomplishment. And doing so we kept the alternative alive so that when the Poles finally decided to throw off the yoke of their oppressor, they were able to do so without outside interference. Congratulations to them for beginning the end of World War II and setting the example for a new generation of people rising to secure their own freedom.
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I am of Lithuanian ancestry, luckier than most because my grandparents had the foresight to immigrate to America before Europe went to pieces in 1914-1945 (my grandfather, drafted into the German army, left his service medal from the Kaiser to us). I have relatives there still, including two who managed to get out of the Gulag alive. This is a touching article, and I appreciate Mr. Mead’s obvious sympathy for all those in eastern Europe who endured the Nazi-Soviet crucifixion of those peoples.
Unfortunately, I also must agree with Mr. Mead that we could do no more than contain the Soviet Union after 1945. Stalin would not have tolerated any interference in his domination of eastern Europe. Any war between the Red Army and ours would have left vast numbers of our guys killed or crippled and half a continent reduced to stone age conditions. (And that’s assuming we won.)
I worry about the future; would we really send U.S. troops to fight in Europe if the Baltic nations or Poland were invaded by Russians? I have a familial attachment to the people there, and from a ‘strategic’ point of view we’d have good reason to intervene, but I have a stronger familial attachment to America, and a lot of Americans would die. I’m too old to fight and I don’t know if I could ask some twenty-year old from down the block to suffer mutilation or death for strategic considerations.
The best we can do now is to help build up the military forces of those nations to the point where they can offer some sort of armed resistance, assisted, maybe, by bomber or missile attacks on Russian troops. There is one difference between Stalin’s Russia and Putin’s: the Russian population is shrinking now, and their traditional strategy of overwhelming their enemies with superior numbers is no longer viable. This is a major weakness that we can, and should, exploit.
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“Developing American power and reinforcing its economic foundations at home, building alliances, promoting democracy, deterring aggressors: when we do these things well, people thrive. When we fail, they die miserably, and in droves.”
If this is the case, then we had better be prepared to see the spreading of a lot of death and misery in the years ahead. American power and prestige is being slowly but intentionally diminished in a way that the country hasn’t seen in thirty years.
Incidentally, speaking of Queens and the Mead mansion, and the KGB, Yevgeny Yevtuskenko, the brave poet who confronted the Kremlin with some unpalatable history in his poetry, later adapted by Shostakovich for his Thirteenth Symphony, based on “Baba Yar”, used to live in Queens, relatively recently I believe. I think he taught at Queens College.
Thanks for Bushe’s: USA was only 37th state that recognised Independant Lithuania in 1991. We newer forget Iceland efforts – they was first. But great thanks to President Reagan, who destroyed Red Evils Empire.
Its great as your other blog posts : D, appreciate it for posting .
GM will be released tomorrow.