Quxotic Opposition to Russia

Caucasus, early 1900s
Caucasus, early 1900s | Source

Relations with Russia should be much better than they are.

To some World War II historians, the heaviest fighting in the 1940s occurred on the Eastern front. In Berlin, the Germans surrendered not only to the western allies, but the Russian High Command as well. The bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima were not the only actions that prompted the Japanese to surrender; the Russian invasion of Manchuria also forced Japan to sue for peace. In Europe, the West claimed a monumental victory, but it could not have been accomplished without a great deal of help from communists. So who beat the Axis? And why does it matter? Today, an influential urge toward another world war is gathering momentum. Homegrown Hawks are no more content over the conquest of Afghanistan and a regime change in Iraq than Nazis were pacified by a sliver off Czechoslovakia, the Sudetenland, facilitated by the infamous Munich Pact. Is that terrible war really over? Or has worldwide aggression only learned to disguise itself again and again to create an illusion of peaceful intervals?

Unfriendly competition with Russia, an undesirable outcome of the war's aftermath, has by no means been diminished by the fall of the Berlin wall. It still exists. And General Patton's idea to drive onward from Berlin to Moscow, at least according to the acclaimed 1970 movie, is still a dream that does not fade. While the U.S. has no plans to invade Russia that anyone knows of, Russia is certainly aware that the last two big world powers, France and Germany, made just such a bid. America has to date not risked a campaign as insane as Don Quixote's battle against windmills, but it is not out of the question. How many countries in a coalition against Russia would be equal to the task?

In truth, there is something much too serious about battlefields, especially when they embrace every aspect of civilian life, for levity or pigheaded mentalities to hold sway. Facts speak for themselves. The ridiculous, media-fueled U.S.-Russian Federation feud, whether having to do with warheads or GDPs, provides some understanding as to why Americans harbor such an irrational hatred of Russians. The first wave of hatred, from 1917 to 1939, was probably the most justifiable, in terms of mass hysteria. Point blank, the Great Depression of the 1930s was alarming. From 1939 to 1945, however reluctantly, America grudgingly acknowledged a debt to "Uncle Joe" Stalin. From 1945 to 1991, communism intimidated America in a long-lasting Cold War. From then on, Russianism, for lack of a new term, has not threatened America in the least. The lingering taunt, "if you don't like it, go live in Russia", is without substance. Russia is not an alternate universe. Despite dubious elections, Russians do not shuffle about in chains, though excluded, in common parlance, from "the free world". Ever since the Red Army entered Berlin, American Hawks have been gnashing their teeth. It is hard to comprehend how Russia can still be regarded as an enemy after the August coup that led to a new, more conciliatory form of government, but one regime after another in Washington is bent on stirring up the same old hostilities. Thus are the flames of the next great, world-wide conflagration stoked. Hawks will not leave it alone. If only they could crush the Russians, face-to-face, mano-a-mano, not just in the kitchen but in the field as well . . . . Yes, if only.

And what good would it serve? With the exception of Charlie Wilson's War (2007) -- part factual, part Hollywood hokum -- Americans have never fared well against Russians in the various indirect conflicts that have brought them together. There was Vietnam, for instance, an unprecedented debacle and failed police action that requires no elaboration. There was also Cuba's Bay of Pigs, too, the outcome of which was so disastrous that it is difficult to even contemplate. And now, there is the Middle East, where, historically, many countries are befriended by Russia, and, possibly, breakaway satellites from the former U.S.S.R. Lately, once again, Americans responded in a predictable manner: they pointed missiles at Russia, whose designs on Europe and the Middle East are at best hard to discern. That is to say, Russians are not aggressors, though they may not want anti-Russians in their front yards, side yards, and backyards indefinitely.

In fact, in the years leading up to World War II, it was Europe not Russia that most eyed the acquisition of foreign soil by means of force. Germany's ambitious war on Russia may have been an attempt to unify Europe against Russia -- using land (what else?) as incentive. The unlawful confiscation of Russian land is a point of contention that both the Axis and the Allies, excluding Russia of course, could agree upon. In 1945, it would have had to wait. Has the time arrived at last? It has to be done differently, without Germans perhaps, or by means of impetuses not derived from European sources.

Capitalist ideologues are correct to boast of the exploits of their WWII defense of freedom against tyrranies. Are they as determined today as then? The question is largely theoretical and a definitive answer will never be known. Political systems are more complicated than ever. The communists who opposed the dictators of WWII were not ambivalent when it came to fascism. By way of contrast, today's democracies are more apt to weigh their options rather than thrust themselves wholesale up against forces of oppression. There are reasons. As a rule, ideological matters are convoluted; they resist clarity. Ideology, of course, was once Russia's strong suit. Much was promised in print matter and agitprop. In the absence of a communist Russia, notions disseminated by progressives, socialists, and diverse unaffiliated artists and writers, can, merely by virtue of the free interplay of intellectual product, shift a nation from Right to Left. And what of it? Theoretically, America can go either way. Conservatives do not insure either a bright future or pleasant present. What if liberals were to gain entry once again into the august chambers of back room power? Irregardless, it is doubtful that communists will ever control the post office or public schools, as once was feared. Alas, to be fair, liberals despise Russia as much as conservatives.

For some time now, the Right has been able to prevail against the Left on the airwaves as the authorized protectors of American freedoms and economic well-being. That is just the way it is. Rightists are more exercised and prone to hyperbole than liberals, but Leftists enjoy an adrenalin rush, too. Both intone against Russia at every available opportunity. Old wounds have never healed. Ultimately, after WWII, Russia did in fact wind up with Eastern Europe. But its stronghold eventually broke. The bold experiment that favored scholarship over authoritarianism against the excesses of capitalism did not work. People love pageantry -- kings, queens, presidents, and prime ministers waving from motorcades. It may be that the popularity of the Gorbachevs produced too strong a feeling of nostalgia for the Tsar and the court. A longing to return to what the nation had been for centuries must have lain dormant in Russian veins. Perhaps, in part, this is as much an explanation for the downfall of the communist state as economic pressure. But by their unprecedented capitulation to western capital, Russians proved that they were reasonable, not fanatical. The same cannot be said about the pugilistic rhetoricians of Washington D.C. insiders.

If nothing else, Russia is a powerful nation. It overlaps both East and West; it is impossible to ignore. Overseas, American troops are easily in its sites. How long will Russia permit international warfare in regions that affect her security? The Caucasus Mountains, the setting for Anton Chekhov's The Duel, though independent, are not far from the Levant, where countries are either already fighting or being whipped into bellicose frenzies. The Middle East, at best a conundrum, is even more so with the very maps of the region and its neighbors in perpetual motion.

Should war be considered as free a market as oil or sugar? Is that why there are so many of them? Are the successors of the Politburo adversely affected by the "bring-it-ons" of past and present administrations? Has the Glasnost and Detente of the latter days of the U.S.S.R. given way to a policy of relativism and accommodationism? It is unnerving how the Kremlin reacts to world events it strongly condemns in word only. How much longer will this courtesy be extended? To put it elsewise, our troops are in harm's way and the risk of a more direct confrontation is not worth the price. The tanks that dashed the hopes of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 are now nowhere to be seen. But for the sake of self-defense, they would surely re-materialize with a much greater arsenal.

In the past, Left-bashing often enough became hideous. HUAC sent screenwriters -- that is, to say, storytellers -- to jail. The Hollywood Ten helped guarantee the factory production of tons of nice but lukewarm, apolitical movies. The relentless clubbing of liberalism day after day seems to be working, that is true. But the potential for a steep body count, once right-wingers get going, is sobering. Wars never end in the 21st century. All are waged to the death. Few citizens have the least notion why this nation is involved in a dispute that maybe has to do with Islam, maybe not. Indefinite and interminable combat is beneath the dignity of a superpower and an irresponsible gambit toward a futuristic fantasy. Unfortunately, the need to fight is sometimes real. To not fight might serve the interests of Christian theology, but not nationhood. So, if fighting it must be at least let it not be a childish matter of king of the mountain with the Russians.

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