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    Tuesday, August 23, 2005

    A Modern Polish Corridor

    This week Israel completed it's historic pullout from the Gaza Strip. In all, about 8500 Israeli settlers were evacuated from a strip of land containing about 1.3 million Palestinians. Israel occupied the Palestinian land during the war in 1967 against Egypt because it thought the Palestinians might be sympathetic to the Arab Egyptian cause. It moved in the settlers to form a border of settlements as a security measure.

    We have all heard recently about how the settlements have become a liability and Israel is pulling out. As I looked on the map I noticed that it looked remarkably similar to another map I had seen many times in my history classes.Now I understand the limitations of drawing parallels between different times, places, and wars. Obviously there are things that do not add up, however, by looking at the similarities, we can then judge more correctly whether the differences will impact the causation and results of the situation.

    Before World War I, Germany controlled a large expanse of territory in Europe. For many reasons we will not get into here, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, Austria declared war on Serbia, entagling alliances caused many other nations to become involved, and four years later millions of people were dead and Germany was divided. The map on the right shows the post-WWI divisions.

    What is significant about the map is that ethnic Germans lived in a large expanse of land not readily connected. In the west, Germany stood large, although it lost Alsace-Lorraine. In the east, Germany was separated from East Prussia by the Polish Corridor. The Polish Corridor was predominatly ethnically Polish, however, East Prussia was almost exclusively German. To deal with this connundrum, the League of Nations decided to allow Germans free movement across the Polish Corridor, and make Danzig and it's surrounding area a "Free City" under administration by the League of Nations.

    SO, at the end of World War I German-speaking people were divided arbitrarily by an outside power into two uncontiguous parts, separated by an ethnically different area and an ethnically similar area. Danzig was predominantly German. The 1923 census showed that people in the area who were 100% German made up 348,493 of the 366,730 inhabitants (95%).

    Throughout the 1920s and 30s, the Nazi party used the feeling of disenfranchisement to stoke the feelings of the German people and take power. The party repeatedly brought up the image of a backstabbed people, where the government sold them out when great Germany was on the brink of winning the war. Because of this, Hitler gained 37% of the vote in 1932 and the Nazi party became the largest party in the Reichstag. In 1933 the Nazi Party took over Danzig.

    A large part of Hitler's justification for invading Poland was Danzig and East Prussia. He successfully bullied the rest of Europe in obtaining Checkoslovakia, and assumed that Britain and others would sit around and bellow but do nothing else when he took the Polish Corridor. Hitler argued that Germany was wronged to lose the Corridor, Germany needed liebensraum, it needed a connection between itself and East Prussia, and Danzig--already Nazi controlled and 95% German--should be returned to its ethnic motherland. If Britain and others did nothing about Anschluss, Sudetenland, and the rest of Checkoslovakia, why would it do anything about such a small piece of land as Danzig and the Polish Corridor?

    Ultimately, the world did have a problem with Hitler occupying the Polish Corridor, and six years later 47 million soldiers and civilians on both sides lay dead as the allies rolled into Berlin. "Where are you going with this?" You ask. In 1948, history started to repeat itself, and we have been trying to hold back the floodwaters ever since. In 1948, a foreign country arbitrarily went into Palestine and divided it against the will of the Palestinians (see picture on the left).
    In miniscule, Britain did to Palestine what the League of Nations did to Germany. It divided what had been a predominantly ethnically and religiously homogenous area into semi-contiguous areas with Jerusalem occupied and ran by the United Nations. Before this time, early zionist Jews had lived in harmony with the Palestinians under Palestinian law. Britain, bowing to demands of vocal Jews outside Palestine and the guilt felt by not stopping Hitler from causing the holocaust, set up the modern Israeli state.

    Now Israel is backing out of the predominantly Palestinian Gaza Strip, and out of some parts of the West Bank. What does this accomplish?? Eventually this sets up a Palestinian state with two uncontiguous parts separated by an ethnically and religously different state that also happens to harbor extreme animosity for the Palestinians. Is there any surprise that ultra-nationalistic groups (like the Nazis were) wield large amounts of power in both the Israeli and Palestinan camps? It has taken over 50 years to stall what the Treaty of Versailles accomplished in a day, but only with copious amounts of intervention on both sides and not without a good dose of bloodshed. Will this situation turn out like its historical forebear (one country invading the other under a nationalistic government under the pretext of unifying a country arbitrarily divided by a foreign power)? How long will it take before this happens? Would the feeling of kindred between Arab nations and Muslims work as strong as the old-world alliances that caused World War I and II? Can humanity afford another world war where the lines are divided with mostly Arab/Muslim nations on one side (and probably China/North Korea) and US/Britain (probably India/Japan too) on the other?

    I hope it doesn't turn out the way it did 66 years ago, but my hope is dim. Too much animosity, even if only among fringe groups. It only took a group of 8 assassins to kill archduke Ferdinand and light the powderkeg of animosity between Austria-Hungary and Serbia and envelope all of Europe in war for almost 30 years. I would not be surprised to see a similar scenario play out here.

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