After the most horrible, bloody century of war in history — 1914 to 2014 — wouldn’t you hope that humankind has learned something about war and peace?
After all these years, we are still attracted to war like mindless, flying insects to a lightbulb on a dark night. In recent decades, we’ve certainly not hesitated to invade, shoot and bomb, using ever more-effective killing and maiming technology. But we’ve also perfected the art of economic war. Politely known as “Economic Sanctions.” At this very moment, the U.S. and Great Britain are threatening to unleash the equivalent of unlimited economic war on Russia.
The economic sanctions are intended to defend the “sovereignty” of Ukraine and Crimea, whatever “sovereignty” means in that part of the world, with it’s emotional history and artificial national boundaries. In the course of such defense, economic sanctions and/or military intervention might just as well destroy Ukraine and Crimea. Sort of like the U.S. destroyed Vietnamese villages to save them, and invaded Iraq to save it, instead ransacking and wrecking Iraq for ten years before abandoning it.
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As the Ukraine reached the boiling point in recent days, I’ve engaged in discussion with Clarissa, a blogger who knows much more about Russia and Ukraine than I do. She’s posting daily about the developing situation. You can scroll through her many posts and interesting discussion threads at her blog.
I’ve been learning a lot, but also arguing a lot. I used to think I understood this kind of stuff. But as old age sets in, I find I no longer understand anything about the human obsession with war, both military and economic.
Below I express my puzzlement in comments I’ve written for Clarissa’s blog.
I guess I’m being blindsided. I read every story about Ukraine and Crimea in this morning’s Washington Post, including an analysis of the emotions and history involved by a former colleague of mine at the Baltimore Sun. I don’t give any credence to cable news speculation.
Forgive me, but I have read no credible evidence that this is anything but a civil war of WORDS involving Russia, Ukraine and Crimea. In fact, if it is a civil war, I’d put the emphasis on the word “civil.” There’s much hand-wringing about a Russian “invasion” of Crimea. Really? Has a single shot been fired? The Russian and Ukraine soldiers in fact seem quite chummy.
The main issues seem to be emotional grievances regarding the official language in Ukraine (reminds me of Quebec’s grievances against English-speaking Canada), “sovereignty,” and which paper money to use. I suspect the “crisis” might blow over if the U.S. would butt out and Ukraine simply decided to recognize both Russian and Ukrainian as official languages.
I do not understand what makes the U.S. and European countries so self-righteous that they must declare economic war on Russia. Yes, I see one blog report that one person has been tortured and killed. There are anecdotes about “volatile protests,” outside agitators and thugs beating up people. As a journalist, know the difficulty of confirming such anecdotes.
In the U.S. most of this would be called street crime, police brutality, or “the right to gather in public and express grievances,” protected under the Bill or Rights. How many confirmed casualties in Ukraine or Crimea? I’m serious. There are 500 murders a year in Chicago. Multiple murders every weekend in Washington and Baltimore. Is it more dangerous right this moment to be in Kiev or in Chicago?
The U.S. government “said the vote was rigged and discounted it as illegal.” (The Washington Post) I ask: How does the U.S. know that?
I’ve studied politics my whole life, and I have no trouble at all believing that a large majority of people in Crimea would vote allegiance to Russia, and did so on Sunday. Where is the evidence to the contrary? (Yes, 97% seems an obvious exaggeration. So what?) I cannot even verify the election results in my own state, Maryland, where we use a computerized voting system with no way to audit the results. If the computers have not already been hacked, they will be some day soon.
It seems to me that the U.S. and Great Britain foment wars and economic hardship by meddling in internal affairs of other countries.
Sorry, I know I sound naive, and maybe I am. I have a healthy skepticism about what is true or false or propaganda or posturing. — John
Clarissa responds to my comment:
“The main issues seem to be emotional grievances regarding the official language in Ukraine (reminds me of Quebec’s grievances against English-speaking Canada), “sovereignty,” and which paper money to use.”
– These are definitely not the central issues for anybody in Ukraine or Russia. Honestly, this is the first time I hear about paper money in this context at all. I get my news from Russian and Ukrainian media and people I know who live in these countries.
“In the U.S. most of this would be called street crime, police brutality, or “the right to gather in public and express grievances,” protected under the Bill or Rights.”
– If the Russian troops crossed the US border, would this still be called street crime and police brutality?
“I suspect the “crisis” might blow over if the U.S. would butt out and Ukraine simply decided to recognize both Russian and Ukrainian as official languages.”
– In 1994, Ukraine, Russia and the US signed the Budapest accords in which the US promised not to butt out in case Russia violates the territorial wholeness of Ukraine in its 1994 borders. Out of these 3 countries, Ukraine is the only one that fulfilled its part of the agreement by handing over its entire nuclear arsenal to Russia, the country that has invaded right now. If the US didn’t want to have anything to do with what is happening in that area, it shouldn’t have signed the agreements. Wouldn’t you agree that you can’t enter into a contract, get everything you wanted from the other party, and then refuse to fulfill your part of the obligations you freely undertook?
” Is it more dangerous right this moment to be in Kiev or in Chicago?”
– If you look at the map, you will see that Kiev lies pretty far from the Russian border, there are no Russian troops there. Yet. The invasion is taking place in the Lugansk, Kharkov, Mariupol’, Kherson and the Crimea areas. Tragically, these are, indeed, highly criminalized areas. 😦 However, now on top of the street crime and the mafia, there are foreign troops there.
“It seems to me that the U.S. and Great Britain foment wars and economic hardship by meddling in internal affairs of other countries.”
– Russia has been invading Ukraine long before the US even existed. This is not about the US and definitely not about the UK, which has been selling itself to the bandits from Russia for years.
“Sorry, I know I sound naive, and maybe I am.”
– I’m very grateful to you for trying to understand.
end of Clarissa’s reply
My further response:
“- If the Russian troops crossed the US border, would this still be called street crime and police brutality?”
“- Russia has been invading Ukraine long before the US even existed. This is not about the U.S. and definitely not about the UK.”
Both good points! And you can see the absurdity when you place the above two statements side-by-side in historical and geopolitical context. I’m not an expert on any of this, so I hesitate to make the following analogy, and I welcome more knowledgeable observers to correct me:
Doesn’t it seem that Russia, Ukraine, and Crimea have a long history of marriage of convenience and breakups? Tumultuous relationships, to be sure, trial separations and divorce, friendly or otherwise. But they are geographically intertwined; they HAVE to live near each other over the long run, and so they do. As you point out, this love-hate affair has been going on since LONG BEFORE the U.S. existed. I agree, it’s NOT about the U.S. or the UK, so what gives the U.S. and UK the right to declare economic world war?
Regarding the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, in which the U.S., Britain, and Russia reaffirmed their commitment to Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty, and Ukraine agreed to return its nuclear weapons to Russia. Well.
The salient point here is the nuclear weapons. You could keep an international courtroom full of lawyers busy for a century, arguing what the wording of the Budapest Memorandum (contract?) means.
Would the world be a better place if Ukraine had those nuclear weapons at this moment?
A few Ukrainian NATIONALISTS would say “Yes,” but they would be crazy. Everyone else, especially Russia, Crimea, U.S. and UK, understands, in retrospect, the wisdom of the nuclear weapons accord made at Budapest. After the past century of European and Russian history, can’t we all agree that emotional NATIONALISM is not sufficient reason to start a shooting war?
And thank God the U.S. and UK commitment to the territorial “sovereignty” of Ukraine is definitely not a “mutual defense treaty” requiring the U.S. and UK to defend militarily the sanctity of the region’s artificial boundary lines.
What exactly does the word “sovereignty” imply in this case? Can anyone untangle the history and mythology behind these lines on a map? Let Russian, Ukraine, and Crimea work this out in divorce court. — John
Let me repeat that I respect Clarissa and her knowledge of Russia and Ukraine. I appreciate her willingness to engage in informative discussions with me and others on her blog. I recommend her blog for anyone following developments in the Ukraine.
Is there any conclusion? Is history ever over? When will we ever learn?
— John Hayden