Does This Mean War?

by W.D. Ehrhart

The headlines these days are ominous.

“Russia warns of retaliation
if its demands are not met.”

“U.S. allies are stepping up
to counter Russia’s Ukraine threats.”

“Blinken: No concessions in
response to Russia on Ukraine.”

“Will there be a war over Ukraine?”

It’s enough to keep you awake at night. Russia may no longer be the Soviet Union, but it’s still the original Evil Empire: unrepentantly aggressive, a bully, eager to needle the West at every opportunity, willing to risk war to achieve its selfish aims.

Or so our government and our mainstream media would have us believe. But once again—as Americans have always been so adept at—we ignore the facts in order to present ourselves as the righteously aggrieved.

At the end of World War Two, the Soviet Union quickly gobbled up all of eastern Europe, installing sympathetic governments and creating the Warsaw Pact. Proof positive of Communist aggression.

But during that war, the Soviet Union lost 27,000,000 soldiers and civilians—more than half of all casualties suffered by all of the nations involved in that war. I am not for a moment arguing that Joe Stalin was a nice guy, but he was protecting his country from future depredations by a hostile West by making sure that the next time the West attacked Russia, they’d have to kill a lot of other people before they actually got to the Russians.

And then there was the Cuban missile crisis. Imagine the gall of those war-mongering Russians (okay, Soviets) to put nuclear missiles only 90 miles from our very shores. Talk about naked aggression. How much more blatant can you get?

Only years later did we learn that just prior to the Soviet introduction of missiles into Cuba, the U.S. had installed ballistic nuclear missiles in Italy and Turkey. So the U.S. is not threatening Russia with missiles on or near its borders; but when the Russians reciprocate, they’re obviously completely unjustified.

And what did Nikita Khrushchev ask for in return for removing the missiles from Cuba? Simply that the U.S. remove its missiles from Italy and Turkey. And he didn’t even demand that we admit we’d put missiles there in the first place. So the American missiles were quietly removed while the whole dangerous affair was portrayed as a great American victory and proof that we could and would stand up to the Russian bully.

And that brings us to the current crisis. There is a good deal of disagreement as to whether or not the U.S. promised Russia, after the break-up of the USSR, that NATO would not try to expand to include former members of the Warsaw Pact. But promise or not, it must surely be unsettling to anyone living in Russia that NATO now includes three former Soviet Socialist Republics, all with borders on Russia, and six former Warsaw Pact nations, several of these bordering directly on Russia.

Once again, don’t mistake me. I am not saying that Vladimir Putin is a nice guy. But I’d like to know how Americans in general and the U.S. government in particular would respond if Russia signed a military alliance with Canada and Mexico. By way of NATO, we’ve already done much the same thing to Russia, and now we want to include Ukraine in NATO as well?

Moreover, what purpose does NATO serve these days? NATO stands for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Turkey is in the North Atlantic? Albania is in the North Atlantic? And Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia? And then consider that nations like Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey make American democracy look like the Golden Age of Athens.

I have no illusions, and certainly no expectation, that the Biden Administration will muster the courage to choose the sensible and reasonable course of action here: promise Putin that Ukraine will never be part of NATO in return for a Russian promise not to invade Ukraine.* After the pummeling Biden got for ending our forever War in Afghanistan, I expect he feels enormous pressure to demonstrate that he’s really a tough leader who won’t back down from aggression.

And of course, if we do go to war with Russia, most of you reading this won’t actually be doing anything or going anywhere at all. It’ll just be that tiny little One Percent of our citizenry who will bear the blood price while the rest of us stand up and remove our hats for the Star-Spangled Banner at basketball games and hockey matches.

But I can tell you one bunch who are going to be really happy to see the U.S. and Russia go to war: that would be the Chinese. I just hope it doesn’t go nuclear.


*Here’s another fact few Americans know: ever since 1918, the Russians have never once broken any treaty they’ve signed with the U.S., though the U.S. has broken a number of the treaties it’s signed with the USSR/Russia.


W. D. Ehrhart is an ex-Marine sergeant who holds a PhD in American Studies from the University of Wales at Swansea, and taught for many years at the Haverford School for Boys.


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