The Significance of This Moment in History

A number of opinions have been expressed on the significance of the current events in Ukraine.

Even here in the West, where condemnation of the Russian invasion is nearly unanimous, opinions about what it may mean for the future are varied. And this is understandable; a saying attributed to Yogi Berra goes "It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future", while Samuel Goldwyn is said to have phrased it as advice: "Never make predictions, especially about the future".

It turns out the first version seems to be the original, and it is from a section on political jokes in a book by a Danish politician.

That is definitely reasonable. The future can be affected by many factors of which we have no knowledge.

I will begin by looking at a couple of questions about which there are good points in the arguments for both sides.

Will this make NATO stronger or weaker?

One could say "stronger" by pointing at the following things: Other countries, like Finland and Sweden, are expressing new interest in joining NATO; several NATO members are inspired by the recent events to increase their military spending, particularly on their contribution to NATO; and there has been a strong and united resolve on sanctions, despite the difficulties Europe may face with heating fuel when winter comes.

But while Ukraine is not a NATO member, surely the fact that Russia's threat of nuclear retaliation against interference with their invasion of Ukraine was so effective must make many people living in European countries wonder if the United States would really risk nuclear bombs hitting their cities for the sake of the people of Estonia or Poland or wherever? If preventing the horrors unfolding in Ukraine was not enough reason, will a piece of paper really make all the difference?

Will the war ultimately be won or lost by Ukraine?

Some people say it will be won, because the fierce defense of the Ukrainian people, fighting for survival, and armed with equipment from the Western world, has led to massive losses on the part of Russian troops.

But Russia is much larger than Ukraine. And part of the reason that Ukraine could put up resistance is because Russia hadn't thought it necessary to use its missiles to reduce Ukraine's cities to rubble before invading, instead of after withdrawing.

And Russia has nuclear weapons.

So Ukraine can't possibly "win" in the sense of Ukrainian tanks being on the streets of a ruined Moscow, with Putin dead or in hiding.

If Ukraine doesn't lose - in the sense that the few Ukrainians who have not been expelled from Ukraine, and still survive, can no longer resist, and the country is ruled with an iron fist from Russia and settled with Russians - then the realistic possibilities for its "victory" look like this:

In the most optimistic scenario, sanctions lead to discontent by someone in Russia who is able to stop Putin. Hostilities end, and Russia under a new regime negotiates with the West to end sanctions.

Even in that case, it is unlikely that Russia will have to pay in full to rebuild the damage it inflicted on Ukraine. After all, if a heavy economic burden is placed on the Russian people now that they have a regime that is more to our liking... they will become discontented with it, and it won't last.

In other words, we've learned from what happened in Germany with the Treaty of Versailles.

It is also unlikely that Russia, when it ends this conflict voluntarily, would have to scrap its nuclear weapons - and its conventional ones too, and adopt a Peace Constitution like Japan's.

If for no other reason that the U.S. taxpayer would rather not have to foot the bill for preventing Russia from being invaded by the People's Republic of China.

In a less optimistic scenario, Putin will just lose interest in Ukraine, withdraw its forces, and the Ukrainian people can rebuild in the knowledge that Putin could just invade again any time he feels like it.

In either of these scenarios, then, the best one as well as the worst, the future economic development of Ukraine would be stunted because people would not be confident to invest their money into building industry within Ukraine.

Thus, to an extent, the aggressors will have won, instead of being shown to have lost by a strong, confident, successful Ukraine that is one of the world's leading developed economies. After all, the Ukrainian people have suffered so much, surely they deserve nothing less?

What are Vladimir Putin's Goals?

Since Vladimir Putin lied after Crimea about not having any more territorial desires in Ukraine, proceeding later to take parts of Donetsk and Luhansk, I am not inclined to trust what he says are his goals.

Looking at his actions, one can see whose playbook he is copying.

His invasion of Georgia was claimed to have been prompted by the mistreatment of an ethnic Russian minority in South Ossetia and Abkhazia within Georgia.

Just as allegations of the mistreatment of an ethnic German minority in the Sudetenland within Czechoslovakia was the claimed rationale for the German invasion of that part of Czechoslovakia.

After the invasion of Crimea, Putin assured the world that he had no further intent to acquire territory within Ukraine. Just as after the Sudetenland, Hitler claimed to have no further territorial ambitions in Czechoslovakia.

But Hitler then took over all of Czechoslovakia.

And Putin then took parts of Donetsk and Luhansk, and is now aiming at the conquest of all of Ukraine.

That the failure of the West to defend Ukraine would suggest to Putin that he could also get away with annexing some of the newer members of NATO that were once part of the Soviet Union, the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, hardly seems a stretch.

And either way, the world loses: NATO can respond in force, leading to a nuclear World War III, or it can fail to respond, leading to NATO unravelling, and Russia eventually conquering all of Europe, one country at a time.

Does what is now happening in Ukraine matter?

This seems like a question that it is indecent to even ask.

Every innocent life matters, on a scale it is impossible to comprehend!

But this question is asked, although usually in a form where it is phrased very differently.

Thus, some people will point out that claims that "the whole world" is outraged about what Russia has done are... exaggerated.

The industrialized Western world is outraged, yes. But what about all the rest of the world?

Well, if one uses mainland China, India, and Brazil as examples, it's fairly easy to dismiss those countries' positions as being meaningful.

The People's Republic of China: Xinjiang. Tibet. Tienanmen Square. And so on. Why would its government be concerned about evil, given that it is evil too?

Brazil: Bolsonaro has been willing to talk in public about exterminating Brazil's indigenous people. So he can be put down on the evil list too.

India: Although "the world's largest democracy", India is currently governed by a political party known as the BJP. Which is infamous for condoning sectarian violence by India's Hindu majority against minority group members.

But while it is easy to dismiss Third World indifference on the basis that few Third World nations are genuinely functioning democracies, there is more to this that we should not ignore.

The West was... somewhat... outraged when much the same happened in Kosovo as what is now happening in Ukraine.

But after Serbia finally stopped pumelling it, the world largely forgot about what was left of Kosovo, which was left to fend for itself afterwards.

It is said that Hitler asked, as he began to put into action his genocide against the Jews, "Who remembers the Armenians"?

Some people in the West do remember the Armenians - and in fact, considerably more than remember what went on in the Belgian Congo, today known as Zaire, under King Leopold II of Belgium.

Large numbers of that country's men were pressed into service on farms, where they were forced to work at an exhausting pace - those who slackened often ended up being mutilated as punishment, with limbs cut off.

While the Holocaust is, rightly, recognized as a profoundly significant historical event, this seems to be left as an obscure footnote to history, of which only a few have even heard.

So should we be surprised that many in Africa - or even many sympathetic to Africans - think that the West does not value African lives, and is completely hypocritical whenever it talks about human rights?

Of course, this view is... unfair. Of course the Holocaust garnered more attention. One reason is that the Jewish people are an integral part of most Western nations, and they have made immense contributions to the arts and the sciences. An even bigger reason, of course, that when Germany was carrying out the Holocaust, it also called itself to the attention of other Western nations by fighting World War II against them.

The economic and military might of such countries as Britain and France, let alone the United States, means that what happens to them will affect the destiny of the whole world.

What happens in the Zaire... will not.

That is the brutal reality that in the past has made history textbooks in the Western world... somewhat parochial. Efforts to remedy this, of course, run into a limit on the number of pages, and so the result is often simply a few feel-good pages about the contributions of other cultures, rather than any detail on what they have experienced.

And so, what are my conclusions?

Because I have no reason to dare to imagine that the United States has a magic wand to wave to eliminate Russia's nuclear capabilities, which would be followed by a crushing military defeat of Russia and an occupation which would wipe out any aberrant forms of Russian nationalism for good, I think the world will have irrevocably become a more dangerous place for the near future because of this invasion.

The West should have drawn its red line in Ukraine before Putin got a chance to draw his red line - long before the current invasion, shortly after either of the two previous incursions, Ukraine should have been drawn firmly within the U.S. perimeter of protection in a manner equivalent to being a full member of NATO.

But it's now too late to correct this past blunder.

We may be confident that the NATO countries are safe. But just as some of the people living in those countries are nervous, it's entirely possible that Putin may decide that what he got away with in Ukraine shows that the West is bluffing. And so he could call our bluff.

Which could mean the Baltic countries and the former Soviet satellites are conquered by Russia - or that a U.S. attempt to defend them leads to a global thermonuclear war.

Which, as we all know, is a Very Bad Thing.

Thus, while naturally it is generally felt that the United States did the only responsible thing, and yielding to emotion, and sending U.S. tanks into Ukraine to halt the Russian advance would have been insanity...

That could have been the right course, which would have made Putin back off, and the present course instead is the same course of appeasement which was taken when Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia, and which led to Hitler also invading Poland - which made war inevitable.

This is what we have to start thinking about.

During the Cold War, it was well realized that Mutual Assured Destruction was "insane" - but the alternative would be that the destructiveness of nuclear weapons would inevitably lead to dictators being bold, while democracies, controlled by ordinary people who want to live, would be timid, with the result that eventually the nuclear-armed tyrants would win and control the whole world.

We can hope and pray that, somehow, the Western world will be very lucky, even if such luck is, in some senses, more than it deserves.

But we can also realize that the situation for the survival of any kind of freedom in the world is far more serious than seems to be realized, and thus this moment in history demands more courage, and perhaps also more ingenuity and originality, than has yet been forthcoming.

And there is, of course, another factor.

Putin was willing to stave off an electoral challenge to his rule by enacting a law requiring opposition Presidential candidates to hold rallies in Moscow, and also intimidating anyone from renting a hall to Kasparov.

In the United States, some state governments are willing to enact measures that make it especially awkward for black people to vote. The number of polling stations is made very low in predominantly black neighborhoods, ensuring long line-ups to vote, and then laws are even passed to outlaw providing water to people standing in those lines.

Donald Trump was defeated in 2020 because the need for mail-in ballots due to the hazard from COVID-19 prevented such voter suppression measures.

The American people will be disappointed in Biden for not having prevented the tragedy in Ukraine. That may affect his popularity in the next election.

So, given the shift in the behavior of the Republican Party, could it be that if a Republican President is elected in 2024, and the invasion of Ukraine could be just the thing to tilt the balance in the favor of this, then since the United States would now be ruled by a leader willing to employ Putin-style tactics to hold on to power, the United States would become a tyranny, along with mainland China and Russia, the world's two other nuclear superpowers... meaning a perpetual night for freedom on this planet?

Of course, there is one reason why this concern may be overblown.

It is not as if voter suppression measures aimed at black Americans are anything new in American history, so if their imposition meant the death of American democracy, then it would never have existed.

Presumably, in order to impose a genuinely tyrannical regime on Americans, as black people wouldn't be the only ones to object to that, something would have to be done to coerce white voters as well.

How did Barack Obama become the first black President of the United States in 2008?

To me, it seemed the obvious cause was this:

There was a close election race between Obama and John McCain.

One news commentator dared to voice the "unthinkable": if a terrorist attack took place during the campaign, would that affect the outcome, so that McCain would win in a landslide?

While that didn't happen, the corresponding opposite event did. The stock market crashed.

Historically, the Democratic Party is known to be more concerned with addressing the problem of unemployment, such as may be exacerbated by a stock market crash.

And, shortly after, John McCain commented on it by saying people should not be too concerned, as the "fundamentals" of the economy were sound.

While that may be a true statement, it is well known that the physical capability of the country to continue full production is not sufficient to prevent mass unemployment following a stock market crash. As well, his words echoed those of Herbert Hoover following the 1929 stock market crash that caused the Great Depression.

Then, subsequently, when the Republican President George W. Bush showed more sense than McCain, and pressed Congress to enact emergency measures to contain the damage from the stock market crash... John McCain obstructed these measures until he got some more gravy for his state.

At this point, John McCain shouldn't have been able to be elected dog-catcher, right?

But yet, what actually happened come election day was this: Obama won narrowly, but the majority of white voters voted for McCain. If it hadn't been for black voters, McCain would still have won.

From my viewpoint here in Canada, it looks as though black voters in the United States are the only ones with any sense. Or, to be more precise, black voters as a group are one in which voters with sense are in the majority; there are plenty of white voters who do have some sense too, but they're in the minority among white voters.

In addition to the Electoral College, liberals in America blame a successful effort by certain sinister rich and powerful people to keep a huge bloc of American voters ignorant and stupid. I myself find it hard to come up with any other explanation.

But back in the 2016 campaign, Hillary Clinton reminded the Democratic Party - in a speech that has been twisted and distorted into the very opposite of what she actually said - that most of the people who were about to vote for Trump weren't "deplorable", they weren't bigots filled with hate, but instead they saw him as the only politician who was taking the economy, and other issues of great direct importance in the places where they lived, seriously.

The fact that Donald Trump actually managed to come so close to winning in 2020, despite cynically minimizing the gravity of the COVID-19 pandemic, apparently in hopes that the economy could hum along without interference either from pandemic restrictions or all the deaths that would result from a lack of public-health measures, so that as an incumbent during good economic times he would be re-elected, however, seems to indicate that the proportion of "deplorables" among Republican voters was higher than Hillary Clinton had estimated.

Are we then doomed? Will the tragedy in Ukraine be blamed on Joe Biden by enough misinformed Americans so as to lead to the Republicans gaining more power, and more opportunities to undermine democracy in the United States, leading to a world where Russia and China find a congenial partner in the Republican-ruled nation?

What Canada appears to need is a leader who will arrange for Canada to have its very own nuclear deterrent force prior to the 2024 elections in the United States, so that we will remain free, come what may.

Of course, that is extremely unlikely to happen.

Is there a solution that can happen? Can the Democrats win the 2024 Presidential elections? Can the Republican Party be led away from the madness of Trump back to being a sane and responsible alternative in the American political system?

I'm afraid that I don't have a course of action to recommend now.

Yes, we should do everything in our power to aid Ukraine, and sanction Russia. But those measures don't guarantee a solution to the problem. They don't guarantee a speedy end to the conflict in Ukraine, and they don't guarantee the future health of democracy in the United States.

How Did We Get into this Mess?

The root cause of Ukraine being left in a situation where this could happen, though, is not due to recent issues in American politics which allowed Donald Trump to get elected.

After Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, why didn't the United States see this as a major crisis, and respond, once Russia withdrew from Georgia, by providing Georgia with American troops, stationed all along its borders, the way American troops were stationed at West Germany's border with East Germany during the Cold War?

Why wasn't it seen as absolutely vital that a newly aggressive Russia not be permitted to take one more inch of territory from the Free World?

I mean, after all, if the West fought in far-off Korea and Vietnam because the advance of Communism everywhere had to be stopped, and this was because, in World War II, we learned the lesson of how appeasement doesn't work, then certainly that lesson is still as true today as it was then?

The answer is obvious enough.

We all remember McCarthyism; after the Korean War started, after the Soviets exploded their first nuclear weapon, people who, decades ago, were decieved by Communist propaganda, but who didn't support aggression, but did support things like a better deal for working people, or equality for black people, or for the schools to include evolution in their teaching of biology, were hounded and persecuted.

But nobody ever came for Charles Lindbergh or Henry Ford.

Political parties in the United States don't just listen to voters. They also listen to campaign donors, because without money to advertise, a political party can sink into obscurity and not be considered as one of the likely alternatives when voting.

And campaign donors are usually people with money to spare. So Big Business has an outsize influence over the political process.

From the Red Scare of the 1920s onwards, what was happening was easily visible. Yes, even under Lenin, Communist Russia was a cruel tyranny, and it was right to oppose it.

But Communism, with its goal of world revolution, with the call of Marx for the working people to rebel, was percieved as an existential threat by many businessmen. This was not true of Fascism as it rose in Italy, and it was not true of Nazism in Germany either.

Which is why it took until Pearl Harbor for the United States to join World War II. Instead of World War II starting, say, when Italy invaded Ethiopia. Or the day after the Kristallnacht.

Putin's Russia is Fascist instead of Communist. So the same elites who have promoted opposition to essential public health measures against the COVID-19 pandemic, who made it possible for an absolute disaster like Donald Trump to rise to power... saw Russia as being insignificant and no particular threat or concern.

As long as he isn't tempting the working class to rise up, invading the odd neighboring country and taking away its freedom is no big deal.

The trouble is, though, that definitely during the Cold War, while the Democratic Party under John F. Kennedy was taking the United States in the right direction, later on one couldn't simply say Left good, Right bad. Communism was an evil tyranny; the fault of the Right was not in opposing it, but rather in failing to oppose Fascism in equal measure.

And many on the Left were apathetic towards Communism. They claimed it was a lie on the part of right-wing forces that Russia was a tyranny. Basically, they were embittered by McCarthyism to such an extent that they were no longer objective.

Every threat to democracy, whether it uses ideological window-dressing from the Left or the Right, has to be opposed equally.

Oh, and by the way, another misconception needs to be disposed of here.

Hitler, of course, was the leader of the Nazi party. And "Nazi" was a shortened version of National Socialist German Worker's Party. There you have it! Hitler was a Socialist! Nazism was really just another variety of Communism!

Sorry, no. Any political movement that believes the place for women is Kinder, Kirche, Küche (Children, Church, and Kitchen) is not Left-wing.

But they're half right. Hitler was not a Libertarian. He was not a hard-line free enterpriser, in the "traditional liberal" wing of the Republican Party (Before Trump).

Where does one put Hitler - or, rather, Hitler's ideological window dressing; Hitler, like Stalin, was all about absolute power for himself personally; just like Russia under Stalin was no "worker's paradise", Hitler had no problems with declaring the Japanese "honorary Aryans" - on the political spectrum?

Hitler wasn't a Laborite gone wild, but he wasn't a Tory gone wild either. No.

The Nazi ideology combined advocacy for the workers over the capitalists on the one hand with social conservatism on the other.

Hitler was a populist gone wild.

And, just as the crimes of Stalin are no reason for people to stop voting for the NDP (in Canada) or the Labor Party (in the UK), the fact that Hitler's ideology was an exaggerated form of populism does not mean that populism is necessarily bad.

After all, I think many people, even if they don't want to see discrimination against the groups involved, feel that by emphasizing things like LGBTQ+ issues, rather than support for stronger trade unions... are falling into a right-wing trap that they're perfectly well aware of, and thus are missing the chance to become a mass movement that can win elections.

Historically, though, the record of populism has not been good. Before there was Donald Trump, there was Huey Long in the United States. Elsewhere, nearly every populist has turned out to be a demagogue; populist movements also tended to be racist or quickly co-opted by racism.

Thus, even if some problems are most obvious in the United States, the whole Western democratic world seems to be caught in a quagmire; the government isn't really under the control of, or working for, the overwhelming majority of the people who are ordinary working-class people.

Part of the quagmire is that because the education system hasn't been made to work properly, so that nearly everyone is well-educated, intelligent, and skilled in critical thinking, there are legitimate reasons not to quite trust the working class with the reins of government, which is why the problem has been allowed to perpetuate itself.

"Jeffersonian Democracy or Bust!" makes a good bumper sticker, but we also need a good plan to ensure we don't go bust.