This is an audacious post – that is one built purely upon a moment’s connection of dots that may mean nothing. I’m hesitant to put it out there next to the high level of discussion of the ongoing posts about military strategy and history. But, then, this is blogging, too – bullshitting late at night.
Lately we refer to the thirties: not just in America, but throughout the world. Times are likely to get rougher in some places than here – and perhaps more here than in yet others. Parallels abound. In the twenties and thirties, we saw chaos & nihilism in Germany – humiliation, stubborn pride, fear of chaos as governments failed. But, we forget that the Cold War also ended with a defeat. Russia’s pride was insulted, its governments chaotic and then Putin took hold with a strong hand. We forget that war – perhaps because it didn’t seem all that much a triumph for Russia’s foes. For one thing, Europe didn’t feel like a victor and it was their territory: our contribution to NATO and cowboy example were important. (I wonder if their disproportionate and early gut reaction to Bush comes from a lack of ease with our role in that long peace from 1945-1990 – his cowboy style, his father’s presence in 1990.) Russia isn’t all that delighted because, well, why would they be? And we – well, we crow about it a bit, but it doesn’t feel like much of a triumph because by 1990 we didn’t feel we were really at war.
Analogies don’t make arguments, but prompt understanding. In Russia now, as in Germany then, lies a reservoir of bitterness. Russia saw itself as an international power, it would like that heady feeling again. It felt it could challenge America and held its own against lesser powers. It would like that position again. Meanwhile, however, the price for oil falls. Russia tries to find a footing. It bullies, plants its flag beneath the ocean, assassinates. And lest we think the old apologists all died off, we find new ones arising at places like The Nation. The Russians aren’t crazy: they don’t want to take us back to, what, the 7th century? They don’t preach irrational hatred. We are more likely to understand them and they us than we do a suicide bomber or a Taliban enforcer. What would be the point, I suspect they’d ask, of planting a dirty bomb in New York City. But as we nationalize our automotive industry, as we diss England, as we accept their perspective that defending countries around Russia is really launching attacks upon it, as we “reset” our relationship, we might keep in mind that Putin is not a leader who has surrendered the old way of thinking. It isn’t a cold war that seems likely; even less, perhaps, a hot one. But it might be good to keep in mind that pride, raw and tender, leads to its own irrationality.