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There’s the Rub

Might is right

When P-Noy first compared China’s leaders to Hitler, his statement was met with mixed reactions. The masa of course applauded it, but not so the more critical sector of the public. Certainly not so non-Pinoys who, though sympathetic to the Philippines in its confrontation with China, found the comment overboard. I myself said it missed history by a mile, but if that was what it took to rouse the world to China’s growing expansionism, so be it. Living under the shadow of a tyranny right at our doorstep was just as bad as living behind the barbed wire of an occupation.

Over the last few weeks however, I’ve begun to look at the comment in a new light. Not because it accurately captured the spirit of China’s aggression—that aggression remains nowhere near what Hitler did in the late 1930s, which plunged the world into an apocalyptic war—but because certain events today hold not very faint echoes of it. Even as China has been exhibiting expansionist ambitions in Asia, claiming virtually the whole of the South China Sea as sovereign territory, Russia is threatening to invade a neighboring country.

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For those who have not been following their current events, that country is Ukraine. Last February, Ukraine experienced its own version of People Power, though more bloodily, the residents of Kiev protesting their president’s, Victor Yanukovych’s, decision to back off from a trade deal with the European Union and turn to Russia instead. The demonstrations lasted several days and ended nearly on the same date as our own People Power, Feb. 22. With the same result, Yanukovych, like Marcos, fled the country tail between legs.

The difference being that Marcos fled to the United States while Yanukovych fled to Russia. Washington supported the uprising against Marcos (after supporting Marcos for a long time) while the Kremlin condemns the uprising against Yanukovych. Yanukovych is pro-Moscow while the interim government that succeeded him, which has promised elections in May, is pro-West.

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Last week, a counter-uprising took place in Crimea by pro-Yanukovych loyalists, a group that, observers believe, was organized and led by Russian elements themselves. The new government has been at pains to put it down. Presumably to protect Russian citizens in Ukraine, the Kremlin is preparing to invade it.

US State Secretary John Kerry has condemned “the incredible act of aggression” and warned of economic sanctions and Russia’s alienation from the Western world. “You just don’t, in the 21st century, behave in 19th-century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped-up pretext. If Russia wants to be a G8 country, it needs to behave like a G8 country.”

One is tempted to say that China’s and Russia’s recent belligerence demonstrates that those two huge communist countries, erstwhile or current, have not entirely outgrown their expansionist and militaristic instincts to learn the ways of the 21st century. Vladimir Putin seems to have forgotten that that the USSR, of which Ukraine was a part, dissolved more than two decades ago and Ukraine has become a sovereign state. And Wen Jiabao and Hu Jintao seem determined to push China back to its isolationist and paranoid times. They seem to have an out-of-this-world view of this world and are spinning out of control. Surely it must have to do with the atavistic impulses of their ideology?

Not at all. It has nothing to do with the communist ideology. In fact, what makes US President Barack Obama’s and Kerry’s remonstrations equally out-of-this-world is that it’s a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Kerry would be a lot more believable in pointing out the odiousness of “invading another country on a completely trumped-up pretext” if the United States had not in fact invaded Iraq on a completely trumped-up pretext just 10 years ago.

Lest we forget, the Iraq invasion was justified in the name of self-preservation, Saddam Hussein apparently harbored weapons of mass destruction aimed at the heart of America. Lest we forget, the Iraq invasion had no global sanction—America defied the United Nations on it—and had only the veneer of the “coalition of the willing” going for it. And lest we forget, it had absolutely nothing to do with Osama bin Laden, the presumed mastermind of 9/11, in whose name—fighting antiterrorism—it had been carried out.

Self-preservation, or at least the preservation of Russian lives, is Putin’s justification for invading Ukraine, as though he needed a justification for doing as he damn well pleases. Can he be any madder than Dubya, aka George Bush Jr.?

What all these suggest is that the penchant of nations to look at the 21st century through the prism of the 19th century is by no means rare or unusual today. It may be deviant when looked at from the point of view of rationality but it is not deviant when looked at from the point of view of reality. It’s becoming more common now than ever: Might is right. Three of the most powerful nations of the world have resorted to it or are resorting to it. The United States has invaded Iraq, Russia is about to invade Ukraine, and China’s bullying could very well lead at least to war, if not invasion, if it goes challenged.

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Or if it is not a throwback to the 19th century, then it is at least a throwback to the 20th, particularly the Germany of the 1930s. If I remember right, Hitler was how Bush was called by furious critics of the Iraq invasion. Arguably, fittingly: He didn’t just embark on occupation outside his country, he embarked on repression inside his country, mounting a culture of paranoia, of which Homeland Security remains an obdurate reminder.

P-Noy’s reference to China’s leaders being a Hitler may be a humongous hyperbole, to put it euphemistically. But these days, it makes you think twice.

These days, it makes you wonder.

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TAGS: Benigno Aquino III, China, Conrado de Quiros, Hitler, opinion, territorial dispute, There’s the Rub, West Philippine Sea
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