Any and all of us can be heroes with we dedicate ourselves to doing what is right. That is the beautiful thing about heroism and righteousness – not the fake shit people try to force – the hard bitter, beautiful necessary kind like being shown by both Russians and Ukrainians right now. In the intellectual sphere where Americans can demonstrate respect for human equality and freedom, I wish to take this opportunity to speak to the American perspectives on the conflict. I also wish to explore how America may proceed to take responsibility for its past mistakes that helped allow this war and help build a better future, whatever that requires of us. Before that, I feel obligated to make some disclaimers.
I want to start this difficult essay with a sobering fact: most of the Russians invading Ukraine right now may still not know they are even fighting a war. It has been demonstrated that Moscow believed they could send a mostly conscripted army into a neighboring country as if it were another military drill. It turns out many of the Russian troops are more surprised by this war than the Ukrainians they are unwittingly fighting. It seems likely, if hard to confirm, that Russian forces have already suffered severe losses and Ukraine is still mobilizing and improving its efforts to counter all Russian operations, even sinister terror attacks by infiltrators behind the front lines. All of this must be taken with due caution as there are obvious reasons for the defenders to misrepresent things to the world as much as the aggressors. On the other hand, the Ukrainian government seems to be taking great pains to live up to the European ideals they wish to claim as part of their independence, being as open and honest as they can be rather than taking advantage of the situation. For this, I do not entirely reject their claims as propaganda. I simply refuse to deny the possibility I am wrong on that. I am first on the side of truth, then on the side of the innocent, and only then on the side of the righteous. I hope the following discussion will demonstrate this. I can and will side against my own country’s government and policies where I can find fault in them.
Enough of the disclaimers now, I hope.
To the brothers and sisters of Russia: Outside a powerful minority that doesn’t have to speak openly to influence things, America mostly wishes it didn’t have to deal with this, either. Most of us want better roads and schools and jobs here at home, not foreign conflicts to send our troops towards. There are lots of Americans who don’t want to have to deal with the Russian government; many others have learned that Putin has kind of a problem for a long time. Despite our complicated histories with each other, most Americans barely give any thought to it on a normal day in what were normal times. Many Americans don’t understand their own Constitution anymore, let alone the NATO charter or Cold War and Russian history. This kind of thing is the challenge of our times, right up there with climate change.
How can the ordinary citizens of the world help each other right the wrongs of their governments without making things worse for each other? How can Americans and other peoples of the world help people like the Russian people be heard, feel secure in your own country to speak with full openness and honesty about whatever you choose, and find happiness and prosperity without further violence? Is there any way the Russian people can undo such an awful political system as theirs without risking everything?
See, whenever there is a major war in Europe, America has tried not to get involved, but America exists because Europe forcefully made itself the center of the world through the same imperialism that inspires said wars and then Americans took that imperialism as an excuse to conquer most of the best land of our entire continent, committing crimes against humanity on the indigenous nations along the way. So, now we are so large and wealthy even our economy alone can tip the balance of power in Europe. WWII basically taught us that even if we try to stay out, that may increase the bloodshed, whereas the Cold War mostly avoided any major war at all by being as involved as possible without taking over directly. We learned to trust our own ideals in away we didn’t before, though many Americans still don’t really understand those very ideals. This is part of how we elected that disaster Trump and then threw him out.
Only a major war could compete for the attention of Americans right now with Covid still around and our own civil strife brewing menacingly. Now we see Ukrainians fighting for their homes and country and families, and we are reminded that our ancestors twice had to do the same, long ago. We want Ukrainians to win this war for their independence, but that doesn’t mean we want ordinary Russians to lose anything. However, we also can’t risk direct involvement because of the nuclear weapons our countries possess. Tet it is hard to see how this kind of thing isn’t inevitable with the nature of the Russian government and no other way to influence that government than by reminding the Russian people of a hard truth: none of us are really separate in this world. We are all connected by cause and effect of a coherent world in which we often live as if divided in different virtual realities of our own minds.
You may not be used to the difference, but in America our rights our so broad that people have died from Covid-19 as they continue to rant about the vaccines being evil – literally their dying breathes defending the lies that killed them. We all have so much to do to be a part of improving the world for the children of today to have something better tomorrow. In America, we must deal with our ignorant assholes like Trump and those who still support him without violating the very rights we are trying to protect. Y’all in Russia apparently need to consider how to free yourselves in much more fundamental ways. In “Captain America: The First Avenger” the scientist who invents the super-soldier process to create Captain America to fight Nazi Germany says to the future Captain, “most Americans don’t realize that the first country the Nazis invaded was their own” and more and more Americans will need to understand that in many ways the same is true now in Russia – Putin invaded your state and turned it more and more against you to settle some argument with us. We will remember that America is relatively safe from Putin compared to the Russian people themselves
If there must be something done with Putin, I expect words and necessities of life will do more than planes or tanks ever could. As an American, there is little I can or should say about the affairs of the Russian people other than that. We do not want conflict with Russia, but we can more than accept many forms of competition. Most Americans also want a world that is diverse and imperfect over some utopian idea of equality. Perhaps one day the world will run on Chinese computers using Russian software bought with American money. Who knows? But we certainly can’t have anything half that good if we remain afraid of each other and allow ourselves to become hostile or our governments hostile in our name.
To my Ukrainian brothers and sisters: We in America see you and are overwhelmed with joy at your bravery and ideals, even as we are shocked and pained by the suffering you endure so tragically. I, for one, am sorry we failed to find a way to avert this. It may never have been in our power to do without something worse taking its place. That is a question only higher powers can answer and we all share the human dilemma of never getting such a revelation. However, we will continue to do what we can as best we can. this may mean that only our arms and funds can be allowed to reach you. Just know that some of us would be willing to join you directly in the fight, if such action made sense and was needed. We are so impressed that this may not even be needed. We thought that you might need us worse than France or the United Kingdom did over 100 years ago. In your tenacity and cunning to defend yourselves, we see a reflection of ourselves that some of us are afraid we may be losing. Thank you for showing us and the world that free, fun-loving people defending themselves are the most terrifying enemy of all. We hope this tragedy will at least educate the other tyrants of the world that the best they can hope for against free people is peace because war against freedom and democracy will always be their end.
In keeping with that, I hope that America will commit even more to the peace that follows that it has to the war. I hope we can use our brains and distance to offer wise counsel to Europe as to how peace and security can be offered and trusted by ALL nations, both you and Russia. That is the great tragedy: by trying to fairly offer aid and defense to small countries we have given the larger country its own pretext to fear. Our greatest leader once said “the only thing to fear is fear itself” and he offered this wisdom when fear of the last European war threatened to sideline us against the coming of the second despite it, by comparison, to be an obvious threat to our country, too. I do not believe that Putin will last long enough or have the power to so attack another country after Ukraine. I will thus resist calls to directly interfere with Russian affairs beyond aid to Ukraine in this conflict. While I disagree with my President that Americans shooting at Russians is automatically World War 3, I respect his care not to test the theory that it might. I simply believe that Russia will evolve from this and we owe it to all to right our negligence in allowing conditions which led to Putin’srise to power there.
That, not NATO, is America’s real sin here, in my opinion. After the collapse of the Soviet system we rushed in to try and make money and prove our ideas as fast as possible. This instead allowed the utter destruction of true law of any kind there. Gangsters and thieves stole the vast wealth of the Russian people for themselves, creating the kind of desperation a man like Putin could exploit to take total control. I understand also that some of this is also about Russian history and culture. If Russian politics are to change, its culture must change. America and the rest of Europe can not do that. We can only continue to try to demonstrate our cultures and values and how many nations may still act as one world when called to do so. We may be able to offer material encouragement for improvements in legal and political culture in Russia before they are fully implemented and demonstrate our honesty and commitment by making good on those promises once Russia’s promise begins to be truly realized.
The rest of the world is watching us all. We must accept that ideals can’t be used as pretexts for power anymore. They are promises to ourselves and each other and are more valuable than anything else because they are the only things shown to have the potential to end all unnecessary suffering and end all violence between human beings. They are the best of us – our legacy to future generations. We should not discount them or abandon them. We must instead learn to trust them and take risks to keep them. If we can risk ourselves to make peace, that is so much better than doing the same to win ashes through war.