World War III Has Begun
It is easy to feel smart and insightful when you are judging the past, every historic event prepackaged and labelled for your convenience. Cleansed of unnecessary human nuances, the bad and good unemotionally defined in historical annals.
But here we go.
Just as we were starting to rebound from a recent pandemic called Covid, but before we had a chance to celebrate conquering its pervasive spread, we ran into something more dangerous. The war between Russia and Ukraine 2022: unexpected and bloody, with the bonus possibility of nuclear war in the near future. Feels inconveniently disorienting and insulting.
It is even more insulting because we believed that technological advancements had moved us beyond barbaric wars and its tanks, artillery and bodies left bleeding on the ground. This global event has had varying impacts on people: for some it is just a sad daily news update, shocking, irritating but treated more like a dessert after the main course. For others, the war is a personal tragedy, leading to questions about the immutable, absolute value of human life and its meaning.
Many brilliant minds stand helpless on the banks of this stream of disruption. And it’s not like any political leaders, socio-economic geniuses, or humanistic philosophers, writers, journalists are paralyzed in a state of narrow-mindedness, unable to predict and deal with the cruel consequences of the war. Despite all their intelligence, they are witnessing how history repeats itself — it is becoming an increasingly complex situation demanding a coherent response.
Whether in Putin’s mind the Russian-Ukrainian war was conceived as a small military operation or an exhaustive war to prove that the Russian ruler dared to defy and destroy the monolithic West — it all began with a simple insult.
There are a series of parallels, bloody reflections repeated throughout history, beginning with Temujin’s (Genghis Khan) resentment. Neighbors attacked a defenseless camp, looted it, and kidnapped the wife of the future Genghis Khan. Temujin eventually rescued his wife, but as spoils of war she had been claimed by one of his rivals, and was pregnant with her firstborn son. From that point forward, Temujin harbored a great rage, fueling a great revenge.
Without this insult to Temujin, there would have been no Genghis Khan campaigns. Without Vladimir Ulyanov’s resentment for his executed brother, there would be no Lenin, the great communist leader. Without the boys who bullied Coco Dzhugashvili, calling him a whore’s son, Stalin’s character would not have been cast. In turn, Hitler was not considered a talented painter, and Putin was not accepted into NATO, and thereafter honed a grudge against the US.
In a speech to an American audience, the famous Russian journalist Vladimir Posner blamed the US for “creating” Putin.
Posner claimed that Putin had offered to join the European Union and NATO, and was even ready to fulfill all the requisite conditions for Russia to be accepted into the “European family”, but was refused. In 2001, after the 9/11 attacks, Putin actively helped the U.S. in their fight against terrorists in Afghanistan and allowed NATO troops to launch a military operation from Russia’s backyard. But the West still refused to consider Moscow an ally and continued to foster a cordon of unfriendly regimes around it (Georgia, Ukraine, the Baltics).
Now the world has a leader following a modern iteration aimed at creating its own Great Empire. Putin is not unique here, but he does have a slightly different recipe.
As early as WWI, the power of weaponry and scale of destruction went far beyond previous national wars. National sovereignty, capable of opening the gates of this hell, came into question. Pan-European projects emerged; the League of Nations was created. But nothing came of the projects, the League proved powerless.
Back then, betting on empire-building seemed more realistic. Hitler played the nationalistic card as part of the roadmap to the Great German Empire before its end in 1945. But 77 years later, after failing to join NATO, with the gradually weakening of the European Union and the UN, Russia has found its own way to challenge US world domination and proclaim its own greatness.
In contrast to the prior Soviet Dictatorship, Putin’s regime has incorporated the Orthodox Church. Not because he is a religious man. Putin has no spiritual aspirations, despite the suggestions by some that he sees himself as a divine leader aiming to unite Europe and Russia. With the dry soul of an old chekist, Putin simply calculated the odds and saw a perfect equation incorporating a spiritual component. After being rejected by the West, he was desperately hoping to find a path to recognition as the one and only czar of Russia.
The idea of Moscow as a third Rome has long preoccupied the minds of Orthodox officials; now, thanks to the backroomevangelism of Russian intellectual Alexander Dugin, with his Eurasianism and a belief in the spiritual domination of Russia, the Church has seen the light: its preeminent position in the world order.
Dugin himself cautiously disavows all insinuations of fascism — his nationalistic ideas may seem very spiritual, except for one, which in the pursuit of Greatness and Dominance was overlooked by the Church itself: Dugin’s philosophy allows for the concept of “human sacrifice in the name of the Great Idea”. In one of his interviews, he states that if one is not prepared to die for the state, for a political idea, it is not really true politics. Inviting the Church to participate in this bold journey to Greatness, Dugin unequivocally abandons the essence of any religious or spiritual belief, namely: Love. There is no place for the concept of love for your neighbor, no turning the other cheek, not much about the core concept of faith or God. All of these mouthings are just spiritual fodder for his theoretical speculations on how to best achieve Greatness.
In attempting to distance his philosophy from Fascism and Communism, Dugin skips over an undeniable, fundamental congruence with these totalitarian systems: the devaluing of human life. According to him, human life itself, with its purported individual rights to freedom, is just a projection of the collective mind.
Perhaps Dugin himself did not expect that his theory, based on adding a few brushstrokes to the idea-sketches and masterpieces of other philosophers, was not viable and human enough, no matter how theoretically brilliant his final painting looked on dry canvas. The build-up to Russia’s “greatness” came through war crimes, murdering the innocent people of neighboring republics. Putin’s handwriting is the same in Chechnya as it is in Ukraine. Greatness was again paid for in human lives.
This was not understood by Stalin, who tried to strengthen and expand an empire that had lost its meaning. This was not understood by Mao. But simple, bone-deep common sense made it clear to Khrushchev that there was no military solution, and the Caribbean crisis ended in peace. Peaceful competition had begun. An empire unfit for peace was bound to lose, and the unfolding of a utopian era pushed the Soviet war machine toward doom. It held on through inertia and collapsed as soon as stagnation wound down and attempts at reform began. One cannot mend a dress that is too shabby; it is torn everywhere. No one was able to reconstitute a worn-out empire using rational principles. That is the future for all the Great Empire ideas built on human blood.
Now the clouds of resentment and hatred hang over Ukraine, Russia, and seem poised to stretch further to Europe and the US. How similar to what Boris Pasternak, the Nobel-Prize Russian writer dropped as a remark back in the beginning of WWII: 1913 was the last year when it was easier to love than to hate. To hate, to catch spies, to seek treason, to call all nations murderous. All that remained was to learn how to direct hatred from target to another as needed: from a German to a bourgeois, and then, when the bourgeois were kicked out, back to a German. Or to an American. The Bolsheviks were able to do this.
For those American politicians who call out for the renaming of “Putin’s war” to the “Russian war”: the only result of misguided semantics will be unstoppable growing hate. The US with its still deeply divided society can barely stand one another’s views, little will be needed to catalyze this into hatred for Russians. And from there the entire world will catastrophically be mired in total hate.
Waves of anger, fear, and despair are roiling in the minds of confused people in Russia as well, and they cling to the known, to the only leader they have. The one who has his own pain, resentment and insulted pride.
It seemed that a world order could be created by force, riding on the crest of passions awakened by World War I, which reached their peak in World War II. But World War II ended with the atomic bomb. The Russian-Ukrainian war started as a “special military operation” but has mushroomed into repeated threats of using nuclear weapons. Where does this end?
The idea of great empires is outdated and too costly. But global challenges remain. And to solve them requires us finding a path to overcome human passions — a path navigating the tension between reason and faith. And maybe mister Dugin can finally add one little chapter on the importance of Love, a calming idea that could give humanity a reprieve from endless wars.