Repost:  What Vladimir Putin’s War Has Taught Me

Before I get into the body of this piece, I’d like to say that the conflict in Ukraine is especially interesting and tragic because I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Poland during the mid-nineties, not long after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall.  I was sent to Rzeczpospolita Polska—I still remember quite a lot of Polish—to do teacher training and help establish and develop a new kind of educational institution that would produce teachers of foreign languages in that part of the world.

During my time in Eastern Europe, I fell in love with the region.  In fact, if given the opportunity, I’d return there in a second.  It doesn’t matter what country, really.  Just about any locale east of Germany would do.

Please take note of my title.  I did not call this “Russia’s” war.  I certainly think that Putin has his followers, but I feel—and this is confirmed by much of what I’m reading and learning about the situation—that the average Russian is horrified by what Putin is unleashing next door.  And I am sure that this will become truer over time.

It is my nature to observe and attempt to learn something of value from all the things I see going on around me.  I’d like to share some of what I’m learning—“learning” is probably not the right word because I already knew these things but hadn’t (perhaps) thought about them very much recently—while watching what’s taking place in a part of the world that is beloved and used to be very familiar to me.

Lesson One Too much power and wealth can make us sick and stupid.  There’s lots of speculation about Putin being “unhinged.”  That may well be the case.  Even if he’s still “all there,” he’s in possession of too much might and money.  These things can intoxicate, and Putin appears to be “drunk.”  The uber-powerful and wealthy can come to see themselves as being extraordinary and thus in possession of special powers of insight and such.  In fact, though, Putin is showing us that these things have blinded him, have caused him to behave irrationally and to miscalculate.  (This can happen to countries too.  In fact, Superpowers always end up thinking of themselves as exceptional.)

Lesson Two Living in extreme isolation is psychologically unhealthy and poor preparation for making important decisions.  We see scenes of Putin talking a lot on TV, but he comes across as someone who doesn’t listen very often to very many people.  We see him having meetings at very large tables with him sitting at one end and his interlocutor sitting at the other.  There is physical separation that symbolizes other kinds of distance.  To remain connected with others (and with reality too), we need closeness.  We need to open ourselves and to hear other voices and opinions.  Putin appears to be someone who’s stuck inside his own mind.  He’s listening only to himself and trapped inside a very tiny echo chamber. 

Lesson Three Most people are drawn to good things and repulsed by ugliness.  The Trump years confused me.  I began to think that the world really was equally divided between those who were attracted to bullies and bullying and those who wished to stand against these things.  In fact, I see the entire world coming together against Putin and the horror he is unleashing on his undeserving neighbors.  The situation in the Ukraine is restoring my faith in human beings.  Unfortunately, lots of people are going to die and suffer during this period.  Why does it so often take tragedy and bloodshed to bring countries and peoples of good will together?

Lesson Four Violence never pays off in the long run and violent people never prevail.  Aggressors may have the ability to harm and kill others, but they almost always end up losing.  Their nasty behavior causes others to rise in opposition.  Their opponents grow in number and become more and more determined.  Even if their antagonists or the law don’t end up getting them, they become emotionally and spiritually scarred by their sadistic behavior.  They may begin their lives as predators, but they eventually become prey, and they often die at the hands of someone who was seeking revenge.

I want to finish by declaring that I stand with the brave people of Ukraine!  

14 thoughts on “Repost:  What Vladimir Putin’s War Has Taught Me

    1. The war in Ukraine is more than a conflict in Europe. It’s a symbolic battle between growing authoritarianism and the forces that want a rules-based world order where people have some say over how they are governed. In other words, the latter has to win this one or we are all in jeopardy. Thanks for commenting.

  1. I agree on the four lessons and especially no. 2 is worrying. When the only point of reference is yourself you may end up crazy. And I am afraid this is going to happen to Putin, if not happened already and they hide it. I remember that during the Cold War time, politicians disappeared and the establishment used to say that they had a cold. Let’s hope that this war ends up soon. Have a look at this beautiful poster of the book fair in Kiev I think it says a lot of the hardship Ukrainian people are suffering. Thank you for reminding us about this war Troy! Sometimes we get used to the news and we may become indifferent.

    1. That is a beautiful poster that contains a powerful message. Thanks for send a link. Yes, crisbiecoach, we have to remind ourselves of this conflict from time to time. The 24-hour news cycle always tries to move us on to the new story which contributes to a collective inability to maintain a historical memory. I used to think it was a good thing to always be exposed to the “next story,” but this has had a collective damage on our ability to recall. Stories don’t just disappear because we cease to hear about them on TV. The older I get, the more I distrust all this new access and media we have at our disposal. Unless we are very careful, smart phones are going to make us very stupid. Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

      1. I agree on this Troy, I also don’t like this continuous flow of information that are mostly negative. Moreover, sometimes I wonder how ended up a piece of news that I heard before. Unless you do a careful search on the Internet you won’t be able to find any updates.

  2. Wise words indeed. I do pray that divisiveness will be healed by the recognition among the sane that we must ban together against a common enemy. It is painfully intriguing to watch the world spiral downward. It makes me wonder just how farther we must sink before we awaken and arise into a new world of peace, harmony and love. Clearly, we are incapable of fixing the mess that we have created ourselves. We need help from otherworldly resources!

    1. I hear a mixed message in your comment, and it makes me wonder if we are capable of coming together and fixing things. There is no guarantee we’re going to suddenly wake up and see the error of our ways. It is more possible that we will become more divided, more angry, more unwilling to compromise and cooperate. I’m not terribly optimistic about the future. Sorry to be such a downer. Thanks for the comment.

  3. Lesson 1 & 2.
    This reminds me of a quote :
    “Man is midway between a beast and gods.”

    He chooses to ascend or descend.

    Too much material wealth & power has the effect of dragging a man to the levels of a beast.

    Nice observations

    1. In my opinion, humans are quite a bit more beast than they are god-like. We are choosing to descend. Sorry if that sounds harsh and bleak. Just look at what we’re doing to our air, water, and the natural world in general. Do you see hope there?

      Thanks for the comments and kind words.

      1. Man has the disposition to choose to ascend or descend

        A few Ascend the majority descend.
        But why a majority descend is the question?
        And the answer lies in how the world system is so ordered.

  4. Too much power and wealth can make us sick and stupid. – this applies to us all. We think we are above everything else when we get a taste of wealth and power.

    Thank you for putting tour observation out. Hope this post gets more views. I’ll be sharing this.

    1. It seems the wealthy are capable of making the rules for all of us while they don’t see these same rules applying to them.

      I’m glad you think this should be seen more widely. Feel free to post it to social media. I would be grateful if you did.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

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