There's a saying that goes, "You lose the argument when you compare your opponent to Hitler."
There's also a saying that goes, "We must learn from the mistakes we made in the past or we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past."
So we cannot compare Vladimir Putin with Adolph Hitler. We can only look at our history to see if there is something we can learn from it.
The 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin were Hitler's chance to show the world a new Germany that had overcome the economic and social upheaval caused by the First World War. Hundreds of thousands of smiling, flag-waving German citizens attended the Games in Berlin and German athletes won the most medals, despite that hiccup from Jesse Owens. Doubts about Hitler's intentions throughout the world were eased. Even the New York Times proclaimed that the Games brought Nazi Germany back "in the fold of nations" and "made them more human again."
At the same time, the seizure of homes and businesses owned by German citizens who were Jewish that began in 1933 was halted and hidden. The smokescreen of Nazi propaganda and gestures of goodwill at the Games allowed Hitler to continue with his covert plans that would produce the concentration camps and gas chambers that were part of the Holocaust, the Final Solution.
Vladimir Putin used the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi to proclaim a "new Russia." And by the spectacular opening and closing ceremonies, Russia's overall medal win and the thousands of smiling, happy Russian people we saw, Russia appears to be awash with culture and achievement. But there are also widespread reports many of these are the Russian elite who have bought into a system that provides them with comfortable livings and largesse -- not really caring about things such as freedom and democracy. Those who are without, or on the outside, have been hidden away, for the most part.
For sure, you don't want to complain about anything too loudly in Russia. Many dissidents, including candidates for the mayor of Moscow, face trumped-up charges of corruption, disorderly conduct or jay-walking.
All the while the Berlin Olympics were taking place, Hitler was secretly set on bringing other countries under his Nazi regime. By 1939, he had annexed Austria, taken over Czechoslovakia and made a deal with Joseph Stalin to divide control over Poland. Eventually, England and France stopped appeasing Hitler and declared war against Germany, but it was too late to stop the Nazi flag from flying atop the Eiffel Tower and England from nearly being bombed into submission.
Putin is a former agent of the KGB, the Russian secret service, and he has used its tactics of oppression and suppression to grab control of elections and any semblance of a free press in his country. His detractors feel Putin wants to return the Soviet Union to its former glory and power and reach and beyond. Evidence of Putin's approach to diplomacy and democracy is rampant in Chechnya and Ukraine.
With Russia (Putin) controlling the largest gas field in the world and his willingness to sell arms throughout the world, there is good reason to suspect, if not fear, the influence and power Putin is hoping to gain wherever in the world he can get it. But we lose our argument when we compare anyone to Hitler, so Putin's rationale for sending troops into the Crimea to "protect the interests of Russian-speaking citizens there" is nothing like Hitler's takeover of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia because "mostly German-speaking people lived there."
Twenty-two journalists have been killed since Putin took office. His suppression of free speech and his oppression of minority groups are well-known. Hitler became a dictator as soon as he was appointed chancellor of Germany.
I can't compare Putin to Hitler but I can say we must learn the lessons of history or we are doomed to repeat our mistakes.
And keep in mind how many people have said they wished they knew what Hitler was up to so they could have taken action sooner.
Don Marks is a Winnipeg writer.