When Big Vlad hits the floor
I once respected Vladimir Putin for his effectiveness, although I emphatically did not like what he did to neighboring countries, and also Russians with whom he disagreed. One can similarly respect the effectiveness of other despots such as Peter the Great and Catherine the Great without liking how they treated other countries or even their own people. When Peter the Great built Saint Petersburg, for example, tens of thousands of workers died from disease and privation, and some were eaten by wolves in the streets.
Putin's invasion of Ukraine, however, demonstrates a colossal lack of judgment that reveals him to be more like Nicholas II than Peter the Great. Nicholas II was the Tsar whose mismanagement of the Russo-Japanese War lost the entire Baltic Fleet at Tsushima, whose blunders led to the revolution of 1905, and who sent soldiers who lacked rifles to fight Germany in 1914. This is exactly why he was Russia's last Tsar; as stated by General Patton, "[People] love a winner and will not tolerate a loser."
Recent news reports show that the supposedly mighty Russian Army, including its massive helicopters and state-of-the-art tanks, are making limited headway against Ukraine's numerically inferior forces. The Russian Air Force has failed to gain absolute control of the air despite its numerical superiority and possession of fifth-generation stealth fighters. Even if Russian numbers eventually prevail, this fiasco has already told the world that the supposedly mighty Russian Bear is far weaker than he wants the world to know. If Russia's army and air force cannot subdue a weaker country like Ukraine, they would probably be torn to pieces very quickly by NATO's far more advanced and numerous weapons and combatants. It's as if Tsar Vladimir posed shirtless holding an enormous barbell over his head while flexing his muscles, only to have somebody discover that the weights were hollow and the entire assembly is perhaps a quarter of its apparent weight.
We can also imagine a big and supposedly tough bully who picks on somebody half his size. Maybe he wins the fight, but it takes him a lot of effort, and he goes away from the fight with some lumps and bruises of his own. This tells everybody who was previously terrified of the bully that he isn't so tough after all, and a bigger and stronger man might take him easily. Jim Croce's You Don't Mess Around with Jim is about how one such bully picked a fight with the wrong man, and Bad, Bad Leroy Brown is another. If we paraphrase Croce, "And you better believe they sung a different kind of story when Big Vlad hit the floor."
Sun Tzu 1, Big Vlad 0
There are also apparently morale issues in the Russian Army, as its soldiers are not quite sure why they are fighting the Ukrainians at all. Putin therefore either didn't read Sun Tzu's Art of War or he forgot what it said, because Sun Tzu said to ensure that you have the Moral Law or Mandate of Heaven on your side before you go to war. This means that your people must believe in the righteousness of your cause and are willing to sacrifice for it. The Second World War was a perfect example in which Americans who were enraged by the Pearl Harbor attack accepted rationing, saved leftover grease from cooking to make explosives, and bought war bonds. Ukrainians who are similarly enraged over the unjustified attack on their country are fighting very hard, and their efforts are now being crowdfunded by decent people around the world who line up with free people against despots.
We did not, however, enjoy the Moral Law in Vietnam where, even though we were again fighting very evil people, our own population did not understand this. Country Joe and the Fish put it very clearly: "And its 1, 2, 3 what are we fighting for? Don't ask me I don't give a damn, The next stop is Vietnam …Be the first one on your block, To have your boy come home in a box." Tsar Vladimir should have remembered that his country's experience in Afghanistan was similar.
Even if Vlad Wins, He Loses
Winston Churchill said accurately, "Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it." History has proven repeatedly that you cannot hold together a multiethnic empire whose identity groups do not wish to belong to it. The United States is in fact among the world's few successful multiethnic societies because of our history as a melting pot that took in people from every conceivable part of the world. Even our early Anglo-Saxon history is mixed because though we were then under British rule, we got immigrants from Germany (e.g. Germantown and King of Prussia in Pennsylvania), and French Canadians and Spanish Floridians were right next door. Detroit MI, Saint Louis, MO, and New Orleans, LA all reflect our French heritage and the Louisiana Purchase. French and English Canadians have coexisted for so long that they take a unified nation for granted, and Belgium's Walloons and Flemish have similarly managed to accept one another. History is, on the other hand, against any efforts to rebuild the former Russian Empire.
- The multiethnic Austro-Hungarian Empire broke up in 1918, and there had been a previous Hungarian revolt in the 19th century. Bohemia meanwhile tried to secede in 1618 which started a war that killed about a third of Central Europe's population.
- The Russian Empire also broke up in 1918. The Poles, who never wanted to be part of it, lost no time in leaving and neither did the Finns.
- Yugoslavia broke up when its people decided they would rather be Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, and so on than Yugoslavs.
- The USSR broke up at the end of the Cold War because the Ukrainians and others were never Russians, and had never wanted to be Russians.
- There has even been talk in the United Kingdom about Scottish and Welsh secession despite their long history of amicable relations. Most of Ireland meanwhile got out of the UK as soon as it could.
- Catalonia is talking about seceding from Spain, and there have been similar noises from Bavaria about leaving Germany even though the people are linguistically and culturally German.
Even if Tsar Vladimir succeeds in conquering Ukraine, he is unlikely to be able to keep it because the people do not want to be part of his empire. All he has done is to alienate the entire world, or at least the portions in which the people have a say in how they are governed, to fight a war with no prospect of long-term victory in sight.
You Can Help
There are a lot of organizations that are crowdfunding money to help Ukraine defend itself from Russia. Some are 501(c)(3) tax exempt which means they have been vetted by the Internal Revenue Service, and their Form 990s are public records so you can see how much they spend on expenses and salaries rather than donations. Here is a list from Time, and another from USA Today.
Photo credit: The Kremlin
Civis Americanus is the pen name of a contributor who remembers the lessons of history, and wants to ensure that our country never needs to learn those lessons again the hard way. He or she is remaining anonymous due to the likely prospect of being subjected to "cancel culture" for exposing the Big Lie behind Black Lives Matter.