Europe has seen no conflict like that in Ukraine in 75 years, harkening back to the Second World War.

Sure enough in the interim there have been the likes of the Hungarian Revolution, civil strife in Northern Ireland and the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia.

However, from a global perspective the political stakes now are considerably higher.

One can even draw a Gravenhurst connection to this crisis by saying it’s “déjà vu all over again.”

The current invasion of Ukraine has severely compromised the sovereignty of that nation. The war brings a threat of nuclear conflagration (whether with the use of tactical or strategic weapons) to the very threshold of the West and the NATO Block.

Whereas the scenario of nuclear mutual destruction post-dates the Second World War, the existential threat to the survival of Western democracies does not.

In 1936 at the outset of the Spanish Civil War (prelude to the world war) Gravenhurst-born Dr. Norman Bethune perceptively stated “It is in Spain that the real issues of our time are going to be fought out. It is there that democracy will either die or survive.”

In 1936, Gravenhurst-born Dr. Norman Bethune, second right, perceptively talked about the survival of Western democracies and international rules based order, writes historian Colin Old. And it was in Spain where Bethune developed all-important battlefield mobile blood transfusions.

Today people globally question just how far Vladimir Putin will go to upset the international rules based order. Are further western democracies at risk?

It is ironic that during the Spanish Civil War the then Soviet Union supported a clearly democratically-elected Republican government against fascist insurrectionists.

True, modern day Russia is a far cry from its old Communist Soviet Union.

No matter, the realities of war and the propensity for bare faced atrocities endure.

In the fog of war we hear reports from Ukraine of long lines of cars transporting refugees fleeing to Poland and being attacked from the air.

It was during the Spanish Civil War that Guernica became the test city to be blitzkrieged.

Bethune famously penned an article entitled ‘The Crime on the Road; Málaga to Almería.’ This article and photos taken by Hazen Size first notified the international community of the brutal assault on 130,000 refugees fleeing the fascists along the Andalusian coast.

Le plus que ça change…

For a map featuring Bethune in Spain visit; Norman Bethune Sites In Spain

Colin Old, Gravenhurst

Historian and former Parks Canada Bethune Memorial House employee