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Deconstructing Stephen F. Cohen
By Jonathan Gallant
May 8, 2022

In 1938, it was possible to construct a semi-plausible argument against "demonizing" Hitler and the Nazis. After all, their popularity in Germany rested on the Nazis' economic revival of the country, and on the perceived unfairness of the Versailles Treaty at the end of World War I; it could be that correction of some of that unfairness might mollify German public opinion. Moreover, the issue of Czechoslovakia was complex, the Sudeten Germans did feel that they were not receiving enough respect from the Czech government. And, however crazy Nazi propaganda seemed, surely social factors and economic costs would prevent Germany from attempting anything as sociopathic as invading sovereign nations in Europe. Such theses were advanced in support of appeasing Nazi Germany, leading Neville Chamberlain to sign over the Czech Sudetenland to Germany at Munich in the hope of gaining "peace in our time".

How would papers advancing these arguments look 20 months laterafter the Nazis had taken over the rest of Czechoslovakia in March of 1939, invaded Poland that September, and invaded Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, and Belgium in the spring of 1940? Surely, by that time such arguments would have met nothing but bitter laughter. In May 1940, Neville Chamberlain was honorable enough to resign as Prime Minister, events having proved that what had seemed semi-plausible to him 20 months earlier was, in fact, clearly nonsense, and demonstrably had been all along.

In late 2018, Stephen F. Cohen, the Nation magazine's favorite Russianologist, published "War with Russia? From Putin and Ukraine to Trump and Russiagate". The book makes semi-plausible arguments against "demonizing" Vladimir Putin. It explains that his popularity in Russia rests on the economic revival of the country; that its recent sociopolitical character was not all Putin's fault; that many Russians feel that their nation does not receive enough respect from the US, western Europe, and NATO; and that social factors and high economic costs would surely prevent Russia from attempting anything as sociopathic as invading a sovereign nation in Europe. As for the "demonization" of Putin, the book offers the following soothing advice:

Various accusations against Putin, like the late Senator John McCain’s allegation that: “Putin [is] an unreconstructed Russian imperialist and KGB apparatchik …. His world is a brutish, cynical place …. We must prevent the darkness of Mr. Putin’s world from befalling more of humanity” provide ideological underpinning for US aggression.

Stephen F. Cohen died just as the book was published, so we don't know what he would say about it today, after Putin lied his head off about the Russian troops surrounding Ukraine, then sent them into Ukraine in a blatant. aggressive attempt to conquer the country for the Russian Imperium.  An emeritus professor of History, Cohen had some regard for facts, and might perhaps have disavowed those arguments which events had just falsified, in the same way that Neville Chamberlain resigned from office. But who, today, would go so far as to recommend Cohen's arguments of 2018, already demolished by the facts of 2022? It would be like recommending discussions of the flat earth after the Magellan/Elcano expedition and Sir Francis Drake's Golden Hind had returned from circumnavigating the globe. Who would do such a thing, going beyond confirmation bias into fantasyland?

Well, the answer is simple: Counterpunch does such a thing. In a May 6, 2022 articleCounterpunch enthusiastically endorses the 2018 book by Stephen F. Cohen.

Jonathan Gallant is professor emeritus of genetics, University of Washington Medical Center

This article was originally posted on the Euston-USA Google Group


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