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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Stauffenberg And Us: Russian Lessons From The Plot To Assassinate Hitler

The Stauffenberg conspiracy against Adolf Hitler can help us reflect on how regime change can happen when an autocrat is in charge. Historian Thomas Weber writes that resistance to figures like Putin — not assassination plots — must come specifically from those loyal to the regime.

Stauffenberg And Us: Russian Lessons From The Plot To Assassinate Hitler

Russian President Vladimir Putin portrayed as Hitler at a pro-Ukraine rally in Simferopol in 2014

Thomas Weber*

-OpEd-

In recent years, it has become fashionable to believe that the actions of Count Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg and his fellow conspirators offer no positive lessons for the 21st century. But 78 years after the assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler, on July 20, 1944, this view is no longer tenable – if it ever was.

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With Russian bombs falling down on Ukraine, Stauffenberg's spirit – and not his concrete actions – offers a lead into how Ukraine can be free again and how Russia can be welcomed back into the family of nations.

At a time when many Germans and other Western Europeans were under the illusion that they were living in a post-heroic age, the deeds of young patriotic officers like Stauffenberg became incomprehensible.

Admiration was increasingly directed to figures like Sophie and Hans Scholl, the Munich students who courageously wrote and circulated anti-Nazi pamphlets and paid the ultimate price for their deeds.


Stauffenberg and his friends, on the other hand, have been wrongly characterized as rats who abandoned the sinking ship: anti-Semitic and militaristic nationalists and Nazis who turned against Hitler only after the war was lost.

Never too late to do the right thing

In reality, both the Scholls and Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators are role models for the 21st century, albeit in different contexts.

The actions of Sophie and Hans Scholl inspire civil disobedience, the need to create social movements against the regime and to stand up — and not stand by — vis-a-vis tyranny and injustice. These are important lessons, though they are unlikely to bring about regime change.

Nor are similar actions of civil disobedience alone likely to end the war of aggression against Ukraine.

Precisely because Stauffenberg had put himself in the service of Hitler and his regime for years, the July 20 plot offers an inspiration for how both Ukraine and Russia can return to peace, dignity and freedom.

Stauffenberg is an example of how regime loyalists in Russia might listen to their conscience

Some of Stauffenberg's co-conspirators were former supporters of Nazism. They were loyal to the regime, either out of conviction or through compromise, and that is why the legacy of their actions is so timely today.

It takes pro-regime figures to turn against Putin and take action if we are to avoid a long and brutal war of attrition and years of misery, poverty and death.

That is why Stauffenberg is an example of how regime loyalists in Russia — and in all states that turn to tyranny — might listen to their conscience and initiate regime change. The message of the July 20 plot for regime loyalty in Russia is that you should follow your moral convictions and that it is never too late to do the right thing.

Black-and-white photograph of the aftermath of the assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler in July 1944

The aftermath of the assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler in July 1944

Bundesarchiv Bild

Don't make Putin a martyr

To be clear, the lesson of July 20, 1944 for July 20, 2022 is not to assassinate Vladimir Putin. This would likely give Putin martyr status, making it more difficult to end the war in Ukraine and restore Russia to a respected member of the family of nations.

The lesson is to do everything possible to undermine the respective function of those loyal to the regime. For some, it will mean saying "nyet" to Putin and their own superiors when they receive immoral orders.

For others, it will be taking proactive decisions and actions aimed at undermining the Russian war effort and the Russian government structure wherever possible.

And it's about spreading the message that at certain times, defying orders is a moral and patriotic duty, and that the time has come.

The problem we still face, however, is that we know little about the mechanisms of turning regime loyalists against tyrants and how to inspire regime loyalists to do so. Therefore, beyond the war in Ukraine, we need to rediscover the 20th of July conspirators and their ethical considerations.

In doing so, we must ask ourselves, even more wisely than has often been the case in the past, why they turned against Hitler. We need neither hagiographies about them nor incitement against them. We need to understand their mindset and take seriously the ideas and beliefs that inspired their actions.

*Thomas Weber teaches history at the University of Aberdeen.

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Society

In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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