Musings on Contemporary Waffle
There is something that the western media hasn’t touched on that much about the world reaction to the horrific attack on Ukraine this month by Russia. What has become crystal clear to me, however, is not that V. Putin is such a bastard to have initiated this aggression on a peaceful nation – that is as surprising as discovering that a maggot has pierced the cover of some peacefully waiting leftovers in your fridge and has proceeded to devour what it’s found. Maggots are rather predictable, as are Russian despots.
No, the fact that Putin has invaded is not the surprise. What is noteworthy instead is the quality of the world’s reaction to the actions of this particular despot.
The intensity with which the world has reacted negatively to Putin’s actions has uncovered a kind of appreciation in very many people that Europe stands for something that is essential to many of us, and that we — who feel and appreciate what it means to be free human beings — now feel compelled to express in our outpouring of loathing for the leadership of Russia and in our heart-felt sympathy for Ukraine.
As I’ve watched the events unfold, and observed the reactions of people like me in dozens and dozens of countries, I’ve realized that a line has been crossed that has existed since WW2 for a vast majority of us in the West, and I would say now becoming relevant for a proportion of Asia, as well, given China’s now more frequent hostile overtures towards its neighbours and especially towards Taiwan.
There is no way to look at the current matter-of-fact madness of Putin without being reminded that WW2 ended only 76 years ago, well within the lifetimes of the parents of some of us. My mother will be 81 this year, so that is one lifetime of memory that contains the catastrophe of WW2. We are all the children of that time, in one way or another, regardless of our ages today.
The next milestone after WW2 that made a difference to the lives of so many in the West, and in the East as well, of course, was the fall of communism in Europe, beginning in 1989.
When I say “fall”, I don’t mean something that happened by accident, but something that ran its course, that expended itself in the natural course of its grotesqueness throughout the 20th century.
The shrapnel of the larding of lies upon lies of the greatness of Soviet Russia, the nuclear threat, the lack of amends for the misery of communism wrought upon other nations, are all in us who lived the reality of it with family caught inside of the Soviet sphere of influence, or of those in the world who simply disagreed with the brutal denial of freedoms that communism sustained and the threat of nuclear war that it stoked.
Realize that for 40-50 years we heard the lies, saw the brutality of constant surveillance, heard from the dissidents, watched the invasions of peaceful nations such as Hungary and Czechoslovakia, then Afghanistan, and then after 1989 saw the machinations against Georgia, the rule of oppression created in Chechnya, the taking of Crimea, and the ultimate evidence of the disgusting charade of the Russian leadership’s justification for war now against Ukraine.
I don’t want to hear about how America has also made these mistakes, in Iraq, for instance. To use someone else’s mistake to justify your own still makes your actions wrong. So, to those who quickly assert that America “has also done it”, don’t preach from that hilltop of moral ambiguity, where you justify your wrongs by pointing to those of others. Moral high ground is gained by avoiding mistakes that others have made, and not by repeating them. Moral high ground is also captured through apology, amends, and further protection against those wrongs, as Germany and Japan accomplished after WW2, and that the USA ultimately showed, in its way, by finally exiting from Afghanistan.
As for Russia, it does not apologize for anything, and so remains stuck in the mindset of the Bolsheviks, Stalin, and Brezhnev – names and terms that seemed resigned to history but that now rear up like ghosts to haunt us again.
Russia seems oblivious to its constant culpability in the past, oblivious to the poison of its hubris and lack of simple awareness of the destructiveness of its particular arrogance that its leadership over decades and centuries has inflicted on the world and, especially, on its own people.
And so, what I see is the world remembering 1989. That was a peaceful fall, though it was brutal for Russia, but also it was so at its own hands. For much of the world it was a relief that it did not end in nuclear conflict or some lesser destruction, and only in regime change and a swing to democratic principles inside more of Europe, and the strengthening of the rule of law that underpins those principles.
But, no one has forgotten that things could have ended differently in 1989.
And so, what I see today is the world completing the unfinished business of securing the future in a more forceful way than by simply believing in the miracle of 1989 and hoping that it would stand on its own as the watershed moment that it was.
Now we remember again, and see the return of, the shitty lies and outright assault on human rights and freedoms across the “Soviet Bloc” that lasted for almost half a century. What I see is people remembering the cancer on the doorstep of Europe, and at the backdoor of democracy. The old wounds that the Russian leadership seems to be reacting to now, of having lost an empire 30 years ago, seem to be countered now with the remembrance of our own “old wounds”, of having to deal with this insidious poison of Russian intolerance, and denial of truth and opportunity even for its own citizens, and destruction of the opportunity to fully become members of an international community that wants, has, and maintains societies that respect basic human freedoms.
And with the tanks now come those memories, and the anger and the disgust, all over again. It is the feeling in so many of us of a kind of allergic reaction to the return of the world pre-1989.
The world seems to have decided that it has had enough of the disease of Putinism, of the state-sanctioned corruption, the wild greed, the endless lies, the thievery and thuggery, and now the threat and reality of senseless violence from Russia, again.
The pent-up disgust since 1989 of how Russia has taken advantage of European stability and wealth to park its loot, and against whom now they slyly suggest annihilation, is the last straw, it seems, for the West and for much of the world, given the expression of disgust demonstrated at the UN by the vast majority of member states.
I am not going to predict that this is the end of Putin. If not Putin, there will likely be someone else. Often the pragmatism of thinking in the regions of Russia that have suffered under corrupt and brutal leadership is that those creatures have to be tolerated, because the next one who gets sent out might be even worse.
But as has also been the case in the past, Russia devours itself, eventually, usually – since it never learns from its mistakes. And now the line in the sand has been crossed beyond which we no longer agree to hope that things get better and that Russia reforms itself on its own.
As I say, the memories have come back of the anguish wrought by Soviet Russia of only a few decades ago; the misery of constant brutal denials of simple truths, and the refusal to take responsibility for that misery, going back through Stalin, that was inflicted on so many.
If this is Amen to V. Putin and his KGB circle, then that is as it should be. There are always going to be many like him prowling the world and waiting to take over from the last one. But if this mistake of attacking Ukraine means the end of this little, stinking creep and disgusting chauvinistic few who surround him, then history has moved in the right direction.