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The reasons why someone with no ties to a country he likely ...
Thomas LeeJul 10, 2022 (0)
Destruction in Kharkiv, Much nearer the actual front; this building in Kharkiv is completely destroyed by shellfire.
I grew up believing, and not wrongly, that the Soviets stood ready to rain nuclear fire upon the West. In 1983 it almost happened, thanks to a faulty Soviet early warning system that incorrectly showed the United States had launched five intercontinental ballistic missiles.
To me, the missileer who had the independence of thought to recognize that his instruments were malfunctioning, thereby preventing the Russians from firing back, is the greatest unsung hero of the 20th Century. The man on the button that almost-fateful day was Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov, who retired from the Strategic Rocket Forces as a lieutenant colonel. It was 26 September 1983, and only three weeks had elapsed since Korean Air flight 007 had been shot down by a fighter for straying into Soviet airspace. Both sides were on high alert due to both the shoot-down of the airliner and former U.S. President Ronald Reagan's somewhat reckless rhetoric. In that environment, it took a really strong man to do what Petrov did: trust his instincts even in the face of second missile warning, and with full knowledge that if he was wrong, the Gulag would be the best he could hope for. But trust his instincts he did – he correctly believed the equipment was malfunctioning – thereby saving the world from a catastrophic nuclear exchange.
Where I write this was once part of the Soviet empire, and traces of the Soviet system are everywhere, in transportation systems virtually unchanged, in architecture details. In Kharkiv, near the train station, there is a building-sized image of a Soviet Ukrainian man leading his troops against the Nazis, wearing the Order of Lenin on his soiled utility uniform. Lidia Litvak, one of two female aces known to history (Budanova was the other, and they were wingwomen for some time), a Russian fighter pilot in the Second World War – the great Patriotic War, here - went down over southern Ukraine, never to be found, when the expert fighter pilots of the Luftwaffe finally turned tables on her…but not until she had gotten some 11 of them.
On the other hand, a bust of Lenin overlooks the place we camped last week. I found it when it was my turn to take the garbage out, and he was grinning his tight-lipped, snarky grin at a heap of rubbish and a swarm of flies, the bane of southern Russia and Ukraine. There he was, relegated to the garbage heap of history, cast aside by the scientific dictates of dialectical materialism.
Therein lies the problem. The elevator in the apartment we all contribute to in Kyiv says UCCP – Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic --, and no one ever bothered to take it down. Is it ennui? Is it simple disgust, or is it a form of reverse nostalgia? It may be all those things.
People, too, are still stuck in the communist mindset. Passersby look down at the ground as you pass, and it is easy to see how a bodacious sort could get past barriers by snapping “komitet' – “committee,” meaning “KGB,” and simply walking by. People are still in terror of the secret police. So many traces remain of that vanished time that it is impossible to say it is gone. It isn't, and it shouldn't be, for we should remember the horrors of forced collectivization.
In fact, it seems to be creeping up in the formerly sane United States. I have a long view on things nowadays, and I do not like what I see. Cancel culture, restriction of freedoms by a Supreme Court gone wild, factionalism and hatred: such are the ingredients of revolution. Yet the end result of revolution seems invariably the place where we find ourselves now; nations born in strife seem to end in them, for they haven't the organic cohesion of those that emerged naturally.
Refer to the accompanying pictures. Vladimir Ilych Lenin, despite his expression of superiority, gazes over an empire of rubbish. A streak of urine anoints his head, courtesy of a young Kansan comrade. Maybe we in the US should take history to heart; maybe we who live in the alleged beacon of light, now tearing itself apart with sectarianism, need to pay attention.
It isn't that serious, say soldiers, which is what they say about anything that does not involve death, which is their yardstick, their baseline, their natural touchstone. I didn't expect to soldier at this age, approaching 50, but here I am, with guys half my age. In fact, that worked out well for them when I had to sign them out of Kyiv jail. They had gotten drunk and tried to talk to a Ukrainian beauty, of which not a few abound, but this one had a boyfriend who was a member of Kraken – Ukrainian Special Forces - and the next thing you know, they were calling their uncle. Ah, me…but as I signed them out, and signed the peace bond for 3000 gryvnia – about 100 US dollars – I realized how war has a way of sifting out the inconsequential. There was no judicial process, no permanent record, no payments to greedy attorneys…nothing but the reasonable expectation that boys thrust into battle would be a little rough when suddenly thrust back into civilization. The old jailer smiled as we left. “Good boys, strong boys…fight Russians, not Ukraines. God to bless you.”
He meant it.
We should all stop and take stock for just a moment. What is important is peace and prosperity, living and letting people live, regardless of beliefs, or creed, or something less than a hair's breadth wide – the color of one's epidermis, or the preference of partner. Spend too much time wrapped in such things, and find yourself – like Lenin, once the terror of the West – thrown away in a garden, overseeing a kingdom of trash.
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.