The Ukrainian people are in disbelief about what is happenin...NEXT
My time in Ukraine, as much as time on other deployments, h...
Thomas LeeJun 17, 2022 (0)
So many aphorisms, wise sayings, koans…whatevers exist about
the power of truth. Keats wrote that it was the same as beauty, and inseparable
from it; it is said to be liberating, powerful…all that great stuff. And
finally Mr. Putin just dumped all the agitprop, the nonsense and idiocy he gets
people to tell themselves so they can sleep at night, and said it straight out:
this war is about expanding Russian territory, and more or less called himself
the czar. He compared the war he is waging against Ukraine to the expansionist
wars of Peter the Great, who was not called that for nothing. It was never
about Nazis, because there are more in the US right now than you would find in
the Azov Battalion: sure, from what I hear, they have some extremist ideology,
and can be a little ugly in their statements. But I also know they went down
hard, for they are mostly down, in a defense of eastern cities that will put
them in the ranks of the honored soldierly dead forever. It wasn't about whatever
else he said, for that was mere nonsense to keep the papers churning for a
while. It is and always has been about expansionism. He wants the port access,
the fertile ground, the somnolent beauty of the ancient cities. He wants to
Russianize, or re-Russianize, Ukraine, and add it to a country that already
comprises fourteen time zones.
He wants the Sudetenland. Or he wants Ukraine just like someone wanted the Sudetenland, and it appears, after early thoughts of compromise, that the pressure from within and without is not going to stop him. Forgive me here, if you are a Russian speaker: I will do the best I can. This word doesn't translate into English well, or at all. Rather, it bears explanation, so here goes: the word is pronounced “tselny,” or thereabouts, because English doesn't really have an equivalent sound for the opening “ts” part. But tselny has to do it, and means something like “rigid, hard or inflexible,” but in specific reference to personality. A person who has this quality is tough, hard and unyielding, but there is also an element of dangerous breakability in it, like when you make a bridge so strong that it will not fall, but never think to put expansion joints into it. As a sometime student of martial arts, mainly of the Chinese variety, I understand there is much credence given to being able to go with the flex, the flow, and not merely get into a battering competition like a western boxer. Now, from what I have seen, and sometimes unfortunately felt (ah, youth!) a highly trained western boxer is a dangerous man to mix it up with. However, they seem to have little longevity, and at the highest levels of the art, often cannot stand to an eastern fighter, one who bends like a reed in the wind. And Mr. Putin is a tselny sort of guy. He just came out and told us; wow, do we or do we not live in them time when belief in oneself, rightly or wrongly, can propel you to heights that ability would never have afforded you? The thing about a tselny person, or a dangerous, hot tempered western boxer, is that no one wants to make him mad…it's a bad idea. You might get busted up badly, or worse. But remember Muhammed Ali, the great Cassius Clay? Can you recall a coherent word he uttered in the last part of his life? No? That's because he dashed himself time and time against an unyielding thing, a fist, and over time, it knocked loose all the connections in there. He lost his mind. He drove his own ship on the rocks and sunk.
Hitler did the same. Stalin managed to die from his bad habits, but most strongmen of this century and centuries past did with their boots on, often ignominiously. They were hoisted on a petard made up of equal parts self-delusion and hubris. Trujillo, the Shah of Iran (sort of), President Ngo, maybe someone else who is a loud and angry lying ineffectual and ridiculous-looking buffoon, soon…you constantly poke people for what you want, you act inflexible and unreasonable, and too often, with all the power in the world you once had, you die like a dog, cowering in a bunker or in the back of an armored car. I can only hope that this happens to Mr. Putin, but since he really was a KGB guy, and since he seems to be surrounded by armies put there just to protect him, it's not likely. But he finally came out and told the truth, just at a time when the western powers seem to be truckling to his demands, in fear of his army or the economic oblivion continued war almost promises. And this might just be his undoing.
You think he'd be smarter. His honesty is refreshing, though, because maybe, maybe now the western powers will see that George Soros is right: WWIII is one NATO plane away, and I understand there's a US carrier docked in Sweden and there were B-1's over the Black Sea. Weapons arrive, but it isn't the weapons of the west Putin should fear. If anything, he's right: the US is thousands of miles away, and a tselny sort just cannot acclimatize his immovable psyche to a danger so distant…and seemingly so dithering. With someone from Russia with this quality of mind, there is one option: to crack him, break him, or allow him to break himself. He isn't crazy; he has a mindset we have no word for. He is very simply a man who you cannot say no to, for he would rather die than be denied. He has to be broken.
But we can help with that, if we get our house in order. I keep seeing just…nonsense in the western news. Putin sits chortling every night about the absurd divisions in the United States…insane legal and moral battles over who can use what bathroom, or call him, her or whatever pronoun self: who cares? If a guy wants to be called Miss Suzie Rumpelstilskin, that's his business, although I do reserve the right to smile a bit, when he can't see me. Putin would solve it by simply killing or locking away in still-extant GuLags the people he doesn't like. We, on the other hand, are supposed to be a beacon of justice, but idiocy and madness are ripping us apart, and thus destroying the only counterweight Putin fears. I have seen here, in my time in Ukraine, that there is a laissez-faire attitude we used to have, and now no longer do. I went to Poland for a gear expedition, and there saw an American: you can always tell them, and this guy was obviously about to have a cow right in front of the Ministry of Science and Culture. Turns out he had no knowledge of…well, anything, nor did he have tools to acquire it. He had no understanding of any culture but the one arguably present on Staten Island, but I got him calmed down, and after enduring a ten minute paean to Trumpism and the illusory dangers of “globalism,” did not leave him there, or send him to Romania as I wanted to, but instead helped him get to Kyiv. He was going to get stem cell treatment, and decided, since we got a private railroad car with two nice older Polish men, one of whom spoke English, to subject me to the ugliest-American harangue I have ever heard. The moon landing that never happened, how the police were right to kill George Floyd, how Trump was somehow the savior of the world, and that the Vatican, the Queen, Freddy Mercury (who faked his death, obviously) and an unknown billionaire, masquerading as a down-at-heel ratcatcher from Sacramento are really behind it all, propped up, of course, financially by a secret, murky, lurking bunch of invidious Jews.
When he went to the bathroom, the older Polish gentleman, who evidently could understand English, if not speak it, said to the other fellow something quick and sharp. The guy who spoke English clearly did not want to translate, but this old veteran insisted, before “Bobby” – who was 60 – came back from the WC, as it is politely and anglophilically called here.
“Ahh…” said Mariusz, the nice and educated English speaking guy said, “Mr. Kazimiersky” – he indicated the small older gent, from whose chest depended a whole like of medals, as men wear them on their suits here – “ he wants to know if you know your friend is crazy.” I did, I replied, and everyone laughed, just as Bobby returned.
Now why is this relevant?
Well, because in my short time here, I have seen the wheat separate itself from the chaff. I think I have a better idea of what is important and what not, and have had a nation of people who are really pretty poor by our standards…it makes me want to cry, I feel so humble…not allow me to pay for things, quite often, when they learn why I am here. Their roads are a mess, but they are getting better, and if someone tripped on a stone, he would not cast about for a legally blameworthy deep-pocketed party. He would feel clumsy, not get a lawyer. People will yell “hero” at you in the street, for they know who the foreign soldiers are…even the guys who maintain the trucks are heroes to them, because they have come here on behalf of a people they knew little of and couldn't find on the map in December.
That's the same quality, of truth and beauty, of power derived from within, not from an absurd haircut, a willingness to turn on everyone to suit yourself and a real innate meanness, that will be the rock Putin smashes himself on. Like another likely to smash himself politician, he has not reckoned on the moral fiber and the power of having right on your side. He just thinks he can do what he wants, and shake the nuclear stick when it pleases him. But like someone else, he will go down as a footnote, and the valiant defense of Ukraine by its humble, simple and good people will never be forgotten.
And I am so privileged to have seen it.
The writer is a former military man, now researching and writing about the Ukrainian Conflict. Questions can be sent directly to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Welcome to the discussion.