A Stack Ranking of Awful Invasions
In this era of whataboutism, it’s easy for Russia to say: “What about Iraq?” as justification for Ukraine. You wouldn’t think in this day and age you actually had to explain that using someone else’s bad behavior to justify your own general shittiness makes zero sense — you can both be (and are) fucking wrong — but after the way our culture has evolved in the US, you very much do have to explain it. We’ve made childish petulance a legitimate form of expression. As a corrective, let’s put recent invasions in some sort of context by putting them in order of awfulness.
- German Annexation of Sudetenland. Everyone loves War World Two. Never has it been so clear who was evil and who was good, right? Sort of. Western European states sold out Czechoslovakia in a misguided bid to appease Hitler, which would have been bad enough on its own; but the origin of the entire sordid affair was a blatant provocation: claims of mistreatment of ethnic Germans. There is a galling hypocrisy intrinsic to the interplay of helplessness and violence. Cries of persecution by the powerful lead in only one direction: towards bloodshed. And so it was here. Sudetenland was the opening salvo in the campaign that would introduce the industrialization of murder. For that and for the callous way third parties helped the Nazi regime carve up a sovereign country, Sudetenland is worse than even bloodier invasions.
- Germany Invades Poland. Poland had only just become an independent country in the aftermath of World War One, when Germany invaded. As in Sudetenland, the invasion was prefaced on lies about Polish aggression. It was a mismatch, given Poland’s only recent statehood, while Germany’s war machine had been priming itself for this moment. The invasion was over quickly, and well, we all know how the rest of the war went. Nazi made Poland host the most notorious concentration camps of the war: Auschwitz, Treblinka, Sobibor. As in the case of Czechoslovakia, Poland’s fate was further decided by agreement between separate powers, with the Soviet Union gobbling up one half of the country. Poland lost a fifth of its prewar population, and many of its cities were bombed to the ground. Peacetime brought subjugation by the Soviet Union. No wonder Poland couldn’t join NATO fast enough!
- The Second Gulf “War” [sic]. Let’s call it what it was: the American invasion of Iraq. Was it waged on false pretenses? Oh yes, it was. The Bush Administration knew full well and good that the evidence for weapons of mass destruction was flimsy at best, but they trotted it out and trumped it up anyway. Was it unnecessary? Oh yes. Saddam Hussein was a brutal, murderous dictator and deserved to be taken out, but the US didn’t as a policy do that sort of thing. No, this was to prevent another 9/11 attack, and one of the other false pretenses cited was that Iraq was conspiring with Al Qaeda. Never mind that Al Qaeda was Shia and the Baath Party was Sunni-dominated — we decided to invade Iraq instead of, say, Saudi Arabia, the country most of the 9/11 hijackers were from and which had well documented financial ties to Al Qaeda. The invasion was a total disaster (one that is still unfolding, even if we don’t talk about it anymore). It plunged a well educated country into violence and ruin, making millions of people’s lives significantly more miserable and resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians.
- Russian Invasion of Ukraine. For an invasion to be truly awful, it has to be unnecessary, it must be started under false pretenses, and it must be that kind of exercise of power which reinforces historical iniquities. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine checks all three boxes. Was Ukraine going to join NATO and was NATO then going to position nukes in Ukraine? Not soon, if ever, and to the extent Ukraine might want to join NATO, a better way to discourage its desires might be…oh, I don’t know…not annexing a major portion of its territory?!? Was Ukraine murdering ethnic Russians? Sigh. It’s one of those things that’s so ungrounded in fact you hate to dignify it by stating the obvious: there is not and never has been any evidence of this, because it never happened outside of the fevered minds of Russo-supremacist manchildren. Is Ukraine in fact the victim of historical Russian persecution, not the other way around? Well, given Putin’s stated desire to restore the Soviet Union, let’s not forget what the Soviet Union did to Ukraine (i.e.: killed some three to five million Ukrainians through starvation). For bonus points, an awful invasion unleashes indiscriminate death on civilian populations, as well as destroying cultural treasures. It’s too soon to know if Russia’s invasion will check that fourth box and rise even higher in this list.
This is a very partial list. China’s annexation of Tibet probably deserves a spot. I’m tired. I’m tired of having to explain that none of these justifies any of the others. Any of us can (and should) be horrified by the invasion of Ukraine and by the invasion of Iraq. We need to recommit ourselves to international law and abide by it instead of carving out exceptions that make a mockery of it. Each one simply begets the next and compounds the human misery of conflict.