How Even Without Use Nuclear and Cyber Weapons Have Enabled Mass Murder
And How Putin Unintentionally May Bring Down Trump in the Process
I write this with tears in my eyes as I watch on TV how the modern equivalent to the Nazis’ crushing of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in 1944 is unfolding as Russians are doing the same to the Ukranians in Kiev. Even almost 80 years later, the technology and methods are the same. The Ukranians use guns and Molotov cocktails to slow the advance of the Russian tanks, just as the Jews did in Warsaw. The Russians respond, as did the Nazis, by blowing up the apartment buildings from where the brave attackers launch their weapons. The only difference between now and then is that the Russians have missiles and more advanced bombers to crush the opposition. Despite the courage of Ukranians, led by their remarkable leader President Zelensky, we all fear that eventually, as food, water and ammunition run short, the result in Kiev will be no different than it was in Warsaw (Of course, I dearly hope I am wrong about this).
Meanwhile. we and others around the world look on helplessly and hopelessly. Critics have charged that Putin has been emboldened by America’s humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan. There is no question that that recent episode – still reverberating though no one is noticing now – was a dark stain on America that cannot be erased. If you have any doubts about this, take time at some point to read this remarkable essay by George Packer. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2022/03/biden-afghanistan-exit-american-allies-abandoned/621307/.
Nonetheless, it is obvious that Putin was going to swallow Ukraine anyway, not to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO, which was simply one of his many pretexts, but because he feared that the Russian people could eventually want what their neighbors in Ukraine had -- a vibrant democracy and a growing economy – and eventually drive him from power. Moreover, now in his 70s, Putin, who had never forgiven his bosses for allowing the old USSR to dissolve, had to be sensing his own mortality and wanting his place in history as the modern Czar who righted that “wrong.” MAGA Russian style.
And he knew he could do it, though he almost surely didn’t bank on the courageous opposition of the Ukranians. Rather, Putin feared no Western opposition, not primarily because America was exhausted and humiliated by Afghanistan and politically divided due in part to his largely successful disinformation warfare campaign here, but thanks to his nuclear and cyber arsenal. He knew that America and the West would not challenge him for fear that he would start World War III or take down our critical infrastructure. In short, Putin cynically knew and has exploited the mutually assured destruction nuclear and cyber weaponry has made possible: mass murder in plain view, on the world’s televisions.
The irony, if that is what it is, is hard to escape. Nuclear weapons as awful as they are, when held by enemies, allow mass murder with conventional weapons.
Pundits debate whether Putin is rational or crazy enough to bring down destruction on himself and the rest of us. Either way leads to the same result: we impose no more than “sanctions” and provide some arms for the Ukranians to defend themselves, because that’s all we can do without running even the scintilla of a risk that the world will be destroyed, or our way of life crippled by cyberattacks.
I have hesitated up to now in these posts to write about politics – though I came close in my last post (https://robertlitan.substack.com/p/an-impending-sense-of-doom?utm_source=url) – the tragedy unfolding before our eyes leaves me no choice. There is no other way to say this: there are insufficient words in the English language to condemn the appalling, despicable positions taken by those public figures in our country, led by Donald Trump, but closely followed by Mike Pompeo and Tucker Carlson, who have praised Putin – who this week threatened us all with nuclear annihilation -- and thus given him ammunition beyond his wildest dreams to justify his actions to his own people on his television networks. If Rupert Murdoch had even an ounce of decency and humanity left – which up to now he has shown no evidence that he has – he would throw Carlson and others who echo his views off his network.
I end, however, with some words of hope, though tinged with tragedy. Americans would do well to read their history and see how Pearl Harbor and then Germany’s declaration of war on us in 1941 ended the public’s fascination and embrace of America’s up-to-then most infamous defender of Nazi Germany, Charles Lindbergh. Trump and his acolytes are much larger figures today than Lindbergh was then, but I still have enough faith in America that we now could be at or near a Lindbergh moment with them too.
True, we haven’t been attacked as in 1941, but the horrors in Ukraine are staring us right in the face and shocking us all (or most of us anyway). While Trump may have had a hold on, say, 70% of identified Republicans, up to now, Republican party identifiers make up only about 1/3 of the electorate. Republican candidates rely heavily on Republican-leaning independents to be successful. Fortunately, about 1/3 of the electorate are independents. My belief is that most of them, even though now very down on the Biden Administration, will not be able to stomach voting for public figures who have thrown their lot in with a modern war criminal.
That doesn’t mean Democrats will win the White House in 2024, let alone keep control of both chambers of Congress in 2022. But I believe the events we are witnessing will embolden others in the Republican party to take on Trump, and conceivably topple him from the party’s leadership position. This isn’t to say I personally am happy about those who might take his place – whether it be Governors De Santis or Abbott, or Senators Cruz, Rubio, or others, who have sided with or benefitted from Trump’s rise. But Trumpism as we have known it is endangered – and, if I am right about all this, Vladimir Putin will have made it possible. While untold numbers of Ukranians have died and will continue to do so. While the world watches.