BUCHAREST, Romania -- We came here to film a World War II documentary for FOX News and came away with a lesson in leadership.
T his capital was once at the far edge of the Roman Empire. After "The Great War," it was known as the "Paris of the East." During World War II, the city was hit by both American and German bombs -- and abandoned behind the "Iron Curtain" at war's end.
For nearly five decades, Romanians endured Stalinist repression. Bullet holes in buildings at city-center attest to the fury of their 1989 revolution, which bought freedom with blood. Today, the metropolis is teeming with sky cranes, heavy-duty investors, upscale hotels, classy boutiques, car dealerships and glistening new shopping malls with full parking lots. Yet, for all the modern appurtenances, it is also a city that bears the scars of what can happen when great powers fail to act greatly.
Romania's deposed monarch, King Michael -- the sole surviving head of state from World War II -- kindly granted us a lengthy interview for our "War Stories" series. What he and his people endured in the last century should serve to remind today's leaders of the horrific price paid when despots bent on tyranny go unchecked.
On Tuesday, when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- the wild-eyed, anti-Western, genocidal zealot who runs Iran -- announced that the Islamic Revolutionary Republic had successfully enriched uranium, people here in Romania began asking us, "What will America do to keep Iran from building a bomb?"
It's an understandable question in this East-West crossroads, where history has been such a tough teacher. For more than three years before Adolf Hitler plunged Europe into world war, no one did anything that mattered to prevent it. Winston Churchill's warnings went unheeded by Great Britain, France and the United States. Cases of Japanese, Italian and German aggression were referred to the League of Nations -- which dithered and did nothing. When the bloodletting began in earnest, Romanian dictator Ion Antonescu allied his country with the Axis because he believed Hitler would win. It was a disastrous decision.
By the summer of 1944, hundreds of thousands of Romanians were dead, wounded or prisoners of the Red Army. In August, young King Michael organized a coup, overthrew the fascists and joined the Allied cause. He begged for British or American help to save his country from the Soviets -- only to learn that President Franklin Roosevelt had already decided not to oppose Stalin's plans for invasion and occupation.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.