BY RICHARD C. GROSS
“Only the dead have seen the end of war.”
— George Santayana, Spanish-American philosopher, 1863–1952
We in the West watch the slaughter in Eastern Europe as if it were a football game, rooting for an underdog team as it courageously stands up to a stronger adversary.
Will it stop standing, hopelessly swept to defeat by superior numbers of forces?
Since when has war become a sport? We who are standing by should be ashamed. Where’s the United Nations? Sulking?
This little war — this mouse-that-roared-back war — is frightening because sooner or later the spectators could rush onto the field to help the little guy, with whom many bystanders sympathize.
Lots of folks love rooting for the underdog.
Oh, an injury on the field. The little guy gets hurt badly, down but not out. Oooohs and Ahhhhs from the spectators as everything stops. The big guy changes his mind and aborts his offensive. No penalties. So, the spectators start calling for an offensive by the little guy.
By all means, keep the game going. Keep the spectators entertained, regardless.
And so it is, with Ukrainians soldiering alone on the torn, ragged battlefields in a desperate war not only for their survival but, by the very nature of the conflict — a state fighting for freedom against an invading dictatorship and what it means for the West — a holy war for democracy.
“. . . “The stakes of Russia’s war stretch far beyond Ukraine,” Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said in a statement Feb. 24, the first anniversary of the conflict.
So true it hurts.
The West will forever thank these freezing Ukrainian soldiers for their sacrifice for the sake of everyone who can tell a tale and write and speak to audiences without fear. But the dead won’t hear the gratitude. Their kids will, but it means they lost their dads. What a price.
“I think the U.S. should be pushing for peace in Ukraine instead of funding and continuing a war that seems to be escalating and putting the entire world at the risk of World War III,” the bombastic Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene told the Guardian at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
Many conservative colleagues of the Georgia Republican share her view. She is an extremely vocal far-right presence in the House that threatens to blow up bipartisan support for Ukraine’s defensive war against Russia’s unprovoked invasion.
“Every Republican who supports this murderous war in Ukraine should be turfed out,” Steve Bannon, a onetime adviser to Trump during his early days as president in 2017, told the newspaper. To be “turfed out” is to be forced out of one’s position.
“Interviews with more than a dozen CPAC attendees elicited similar views,” Guardian reporter David Smith wrote. Some expressed sympathy for Russian President Vladimir Putin, he said.
Whose side are they on?
The conservatives appear to oppose America paying for the war more than it is opposed to Ukraine itself. Even Greene said she voted for “a resolution to support the Ukrainian people and condemning Russia’s invasion.”
A poll by conservative Fox “News” showed that 50 percent of respondents favor U.S. support for Ukraine in the war while 46 percent said there should be a “limited timeframe” about that backing, according to The Hill newspaper.
This is Putin’s war. He started it and needs to find how to save face to stop it. Any solid excuse will do, at this point. Our fate, not only Ukraine’s, is in his hands.
One incentive for Putin to find a way to shut down hostilities may be embarrassment over how the war exposed the myth of the strength and fighting prowess of his forces. It took a war with Russia by only one country, albeit backed by America and NATO, for the world to learn just how weak is Putin’s military, excluding his arsenal of nuclear weapons.
Another way to cease this, at least temporarily, is for a U.N. Security Council resolution separating the two forces and deploying a peacekeeping mission between them. That is, if Russia and China don’t veto it. It’s been done successfully elsewhere.
A problem with this scenario: Putin is a megalomaniac. Such people don’t change course very easily, if at all.
Imprisoned Russian opposition political leader Ilya Yashin: “As long as Putin retains power, war, or at least the threat of war, will be permanent.” Removing him from power is a prerequisite to “avoiding the risks of a new world war.”
“This man has gone mad from unlimited power and impunity, he has become a slave to his maniacal ambitions.”
Yashin was responding to questions from the Guardian. His lawyers gave his letter in blue ink lettering to the newspaper last week. He was sentenced to 8 ½ years in prison in July for a YouTube broadcast in which he accused the Russian army of massacring civilians in Bucha, Ukraine.
So, this is the enemy faced by Ukraine and its Western allies. It seems as if peace with Putin would be impossible. Yet the war should end before more soldiers and civilians die. Before it explodes beyond the borders of Russia and Ukraine.
As I write this, soldiers from both sides face each other along a 600-mile front line of trenches in the eastern Donbas region, in some places in sight of one another, according to New York Times writer Marc Santora and photographer Tyler Hicks intrepidly reporting up close and personal.
They could head to the rear, as if that were safe in that boiling cauldron. The soldiers can’t. Who among them will be next to die?
Richard C. Gross, who covered war and peace in the Middle East, the Pentagon and was foreign editor of United Press International, served as the opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.