Back to the Twentieth Century

Has the Russian invasion of Ukraine “changed everything”? That is, will future historians rank the Ukraine War alongside the two world wars and Cold War of the twentieth century as a transformative event?

Or will the Ukraine war prove more akin to the September 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon? In its immediate aftermath, the catastrophe of 9/11 was widely perceived as a transformative moment, with just about everyone persuaded that it had “changed everything.” As a practical matter, however, its impact proved less than momentous. 

So, which will it be? Despite the journalistic certainties you may read in the Washington Post or hear on NPRthe honest answer is that it’s too soon to tell. Only with the passage of time will the full meaning of events currently unfolding in Ukraine become apparent. But I’m willing to put my money on the results being more like 9/11 and less like the world wars and the Cold War: a non-trivial event, to be sure, but one unlikely to divert the history of the twenty-first century from its pre-existing course.

Let’s face it: while not commonplace, horrors like the Ukraine war don’t exactly qualify as rare. In my lifetime alone, a list of comparably bloody episodes would include the partitions of India and of Palestine, the French Indochina War, major conflicts involving U.S. forces in Korea and Southeast Asia, the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, and the so-called Global War on Terrorism, not to mention sundry lesser episodes of interstate violence. (Apologies if I have overlooked your own personal favorite).

Read the full article in The American Conservative.