By an extraordinary coincidence, I came across two cartoons today that despite decades between them seemed joined at the hip. The first (I’m told) has been knocking about on the internet, and is claimed by some to have been “leaked” from a secret archive in the KGB (or whatever initials the Russians are using these days). Sadly I can’t confirm the provenance, but the style and content (for what they’re worth) seem to add some credibility to the claim.
We’re back in the days of the Molotov/Ribbentrop pact, signed in August 1939 – effectively a non-aggression pact between Hitler and Stalin. The pact was so successful that it held for nearly two years – until Hitler stabbed his Russian ally in the back and started his ill-fated march to Moscow in 1941.
The cartoon, or propaganda poster (which it appears to be), shows a Russian and a German pilot rather improbably shaking hands in the air, from planes travelling in opposite directions, while German and Russian bombs fall in a steady shower on London. The Russian text at the bottom (I am reliably informed) celebrates the coming destruction of Britain’s capital city.
Fast forward seven or eight decades to the Adams’ cartoon in the Daily Telegraph of October second. Again, two planes. And bombs. Russia still represented, this time by president Putin, the modern incarnation of the Tsar of all the Russias (or at least one of them). And in the other plane, the USA, represented by President Obama. Putin shouts: “Bombs away” as his weapon descends onto Obama’s cockpit.
I don’t suggest for a moment that Adams had the Russian cartoon in mind (or was even aware of it), but the parallel is uncanny.
In 2015 as in 1940 we have a shaky sort of alliance between major powers, including Russia. Again, we have some pretence of cooperation and coordination. Again, there is deep suspicion and cross purposes. We have Russia and America, to all appearances, in Syria, fighting different wars against different enemies in the same airspace. Bizarre.
Karl Marx is credited with the famous quotation “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce”. There is no doubt that the Second World War was a tragedy. But this time, despite the humour of Adams’ cartoon, I fear that the situation in Syria is a tragedy too.