That aphorism that is the title of this article — widely credited to George Santayana — should have been an ubiquitous tag on all Western media today, May 9, to mark the 78th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany. But it was not and virtually no one west of the Elbe River took time to reflect on the horrors of the Second World War and the defeat of the Third Reich.
Americans do not care because they did not pay a steep price in helping bring down Hitler. Just the opposite. America prospered and became the Supreme Global power thanks to the decimation visited on Europe. When Senators Bob Dole and Daniel Inouye were still in the land of the living, their physical scars from fighting in Italy provided a striking, visual reminder of how terrible war could be. But the fact was that very few families in America experienced the loss of a loved one who fought in either the European, North African or Pacific theaters. America got back to business and the memory of World War II fades into oblivion as the few surviving soldiers, sailors, marines and air men succumb to the ravages of time.
Who remembers? The nations and peoples who paid the most blood and who endured the most pain, that is who. Between China and Russia, as many as 56 million of their soldiers and civilians perished in that conflict. At least 26 million Russians at the hands of the Nazis while as many as 30 million Chinese were exterminated by Japanese soldiers. Those are staggering numbers and Americans simply have nothing in their experience to be able to grasp the magnitude of such losses. That is why Russia remembers and the grand children and great grandchildren of Soviet soldiers still march once a year carrying placard with the photos of their courageous ancestor. War on the scale experienced by Russia between 1941 and 1945 made an indelible tattoo, carved with blood on the soul of all Russians.
The failure of American politicians and the average citizen to understand this profound fact helped create the war in Ukraine. From the U.S. standpoint expanding NATO to the borders of Russia was just an administrative move. But Russia, who has experience multiple invasions from the West during the last 230 years, sees such decisions as an existential threat.
None of the World War II allies, other than Russia, commemorate the victory over Hitler with any comparable spectacle. The Russian “March of the Immortals” is without precedent. Almost all of the men and women pictured in the photos carried by modern Russians are dead, but the Russian people are making sure their memory lives on. Hence the concept of being “immortal.”
Here is one lesson of History worth remembering — when faced with an existential threat from a foreign power, Russia always prevails. Napoleon and Hitler learned the hard way. It appears that Biden and most other leaders in NATO member countries are intransigent when it comes to remembering that lesson from Russia and are again marching on a path to war with Russia that, if not halted, will compel them to discover the harsh truth belatedly learned by Napoleon and Hitler — do not go to war with Russia.