How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

As history repeats itself, it matters how the world responds

It is uncanny how history repeats itself. The Grolier Club in New York City recently presented an exhibit that celebrated the 75th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II. Called “The Power of Words and Images in a World at War,” it displayed more than 200 documents, broadsides, letters, maps, posters, telegrams and propaganda that reflected the reality of war and what people were seeing and saying at the time.

An exhibit brochure explains that “the power of words and images reached new heights during World War II…. Leaders in the U.S., Great Britain and Germany understood that people’s emotions and morale are at the heart of social and political movements. The good and the evil are driven by what was said, how it was said and how it was visualized. Alone or together, words and images were so powerful they could stand alone, requiring no further explanation.”

The exhibit points out that Joseph Goebbels’ propaganda ministry was unprecedented in its relentless and ubiquitous marketing of the Nazi Party, using words and slogans, regardless of their truth, to reinforce Nazi ideas. He was the architect of “‘if you tell a lie often enough, people will believe it….’ Hitler’s images and words were everywhere. The image of the swastika appeared everywhere – inside of light bulbs, in the center of Christmas wreaths, on poker chips, jewelry, china and silverware.”

The display got me thinking about Vladimir Putin’s blatant lies about what occurred during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the recent downing of commercial passenger jet Malaysia Airline Flight MH17, which, strong evidence suggests, was shot down by pro-Russian Ukrainian separatists. In the tradition of Goebbels, Putin has been hard at work spinning alternative explanations for the invasion (acting to protect the rights of Russian citizens in the Ukraine is redolent of Hitler’s claim that he was taking over Czechoslovakia and attacking Poland to protect ethnic Germans) and the shooting down of the passenger jet (the bizarre theory that the Ukrainian military shot down MH17, believing it was Putin’s plane).

Fortunately, nowadays, due to the internet, it is much harder to hide the truth about the killing of 298 innocent people behind an iron curtain. Hopefully, the Russian people are aware that their government supplied and trained the separatists in the use of the weapons that were used against the plane.

The presence of the internet and social media do not, however, preclude the necessity for world leaders to speak and act forcefully in the style of FDR and Winston Churchill when heinous acts of terrorism occur and those responsible are unwilling to assume responsibility for their actions.

FDR’s immortal words after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, on Dec. 7, 1941, would be “a date which will live in infamy” and Churchill’s vow that “we shall never surrender” sent an unmistakable message to the Allies regarding the resolve of the United Nations.

The Grolier exhibit pointed out that Hitler’s aides wrote after the war that der Führer “was shaken by Churchill’s pronouncements about fighting on the beaches, in the streets, in the fields.” The free world needs to send a similar united message to Russia, that an action such as shooting down Flight MH17 will not be tolerated.

The Grolier exhibit reinforced how lucky we were that FDR and Winston Churchill were around when Hitler arose on the world stage. No doubt Putin is also testing how far he can push the U.S. and Europe. More and more, it is becoming clear that Vice President Biden got it right in a face-to-face meeting with Putin. As he tells it, he said: “‘Mr. Prime Minister, I’m looking into your eyes, and I don’t think you have a soul…’ And he looked back at me, and he smiled, and he said, ‘We understand one another.’ ”

There is no doubt that Putin is assessing how far he can push the West. He probably anticipated the U.S. sanctions that target his inner circle, oligarchs, banks and energy companies. But he may not anticipate much retaliation from Europe, because those countries are concerned he will shut off their gas supplies.

It is to be hoped that President Obama and European leaders are up to the challenge of dealing with someone who, like Hitler, lacks a soul. In the tradition of FDR and Churchill, they need to send a strong message to Putin that further Russian provocation in eastern Ukraine will not be tolerated. To date, the Obama administration has taken the view that the best way to get Putin to reverse course is by having the United States and the 28 nations of the European Union impose ever-toughening sanctions on Russia. If sanctions don’t work, consideration should be given to providing defensive weapons to Ukrainian forces.

Moreover, it is time to send an unequivocal message to Putin that further invasions, like the one into southeastern Ukraine under the pretext of a humanitarian peace-keeping mission, will result in NATO moving forces into Poland and other Eastern European NATO countries, particularly the Baltic republics. Nobody wants a “hot war” between Moscow and the West, but history has taught us that appeasement when dealing with those who lack a soul is not an option.