June 12, 2017
Two generations after the Baby Boomers, Americans are still urged to loathe Russia. A US celebrity said recently two coming soccer events in Russia (2017 FIFA Confederation Cup and 2018 FIFA World Cup) “…are also major contests for hearts and minds: occasions for Russia to impress the world — because all through my life we’ve been taught to fear and dislike ‘Big, Bad Russia’.” One is reminded of Sarah Palin’s 2007 VP candidates’ debate.
Moderator: “Describe your foreign policy objectives.”
Sarah Palin: “I can see Russia from my window.”
But as our leaders rage against Russia, I prefer to listen to history: it misleads none but those who seek to rewrite it. Since the USSR fell (1989) the USA has invaded or devastated eleven countries with “shock-and-awe” blitz, while Russia has invaded none, not one. But it would be madness be to provoke a war with Russia. As we swagger from one confrontation to another, we’d do well to give the Russians a wide berth: to let sleeping dogs lie.
Russia’s new pacifism doesn’t make them saints, or cowards. They are just recoiling from the horrors of being repeatedly overrun by invaders, something the USA has never faced. A Pravda columnist put it this way: “Russia destroyed the army of Napoleon… when he invaded Russia in 1812; then 130 years later … Hitler, when he invaded Russia. That victory was won at the horrific sacrifice of over 26 million Russians killed, or starved to death, and the destruction of thousands of their cities; which is why Russia does not want to fight another war ever again….” President Eisenhower showed similarly mature restraint in 1956 when he stared down Britain, France, and Israel as they invaded Egypt over the Suez Crisis. A just warrior knows when not to rattle the saber.
Now we are spoiling for a fight with Russia. Hollywood’s patriotic fiction, “The Longest Day,” misled us into thinking the USA won WW-II. True, the USA won the Pacific war almost unaided, but it was really the USSR that destroyed the Nazi Werhrmact.
Three poignant facts from WW-II history underscore that point:
- Google “USSR” and you’ll see a nearly horizon-to-horizon sweep of red, showing lands liberated by Marshals Zhukov and Rokossowski: It is over 200 times the area liberated by Eisenhower’s forces (Italy, France-Belgium-West Germany).
- Those battles of the Russian Front were the largest in history, and “characterized by unprecedented ferocity” (Wikipedia).
- Historians estimate that of every ten men killed in the European WW-II Theater, nine died on the Russian Front.
So, if we are spoiling for a fight with Russia, a gratuitous war at that, we should first ask the French and the Germans how indomitable the Russians can be as adversaries.
There’s another bit of Russian wisdom we are yet to acquire (Russia being five times as old as the USA). From the dark centuries of Tsarism, followed by Stalin’s terror, they learned know how easily the hard-won freedoms of a people can be chipped away in times of national crises, as leaders cry “Wolf!” incessantly and demonize imagined enemies day and night. Riveting the people’s attention on national enemies is the career politicians’ most effective ploy to paralyze a people’s will and render them willing —even eager— to give up their personal freedoms at the behest of a “wise” leader.
The USA is arguably the most affluent country in history and, until recently, one with a most appealing portfolio of ideas regarding human progress; and we are a continental superpower embracing 4 time zones across the North American continent. But Russia has made its own contributions to world history, and is a supra-continental superpower, spanning eleven time zones across two continents: Europe and Asia. For us to keep demonizing Russia long after communism ended (“Putin’s the new Hitler”) is beyond quixotic: it’s idiotic. There’s room enough on earth for all of us.
Compared to Russian, the USA is a pubescent nation and, like a teenager, suffused with in-your-face hormones. A teenager who won’t learn to control those hormones runs the risk of foreclosing on adulthood. Lessons from major wars are loaded with heartbreak. And the tragedy of that heartbreak is that its consequences are visited more heavily on our progeny than on us, the provocateurs.
It is time to re-think our priorities once again, to transcend a greed for material dominance. Hopefully, we are the same USA whose foreign policy was once graced by the magnanimity of the Marshall Plan and the Berlin Airlift. Must we conquer a people before we can befriend them?