Ukraine, Terrible Choices and Snark

My German son, David Meyer-Lindenberg, told me that one of his best friends, Misha, needed body armor. Misha is Ukrainian, and like so many others, he has taken up arms to defend his nation against Russia. To do so, they need to be able to fight, which means everything from ammunition to helmets, food to medical supplies.

So far, the battle has gone better than expected, which creates a bizarre mix of idealistic expectations and naivete. Young women proclaim they have a “crush” on Zelensky, as if that’s what matters to him at the moment. Protesters have taken to the street in Washington against the war, as if that might change Putin’s mind. The Empire State Building is lit at night in the gold and blue of Ukraine to show support, which is nice but puts no bullets in empty chambers.

Assuming Putin anticipated the invasion to be swift and easy, he’s come to the realization that it won’t. He’s now made himself and his country an international pariah, which backs him into a corner. To back away now would be the ultimate humiliation for Putin, and since he’s already despised, better to be a despised winner than loser. There is nothing more dangerous than a cornered animal.

Problems on the Russian side are mounting. Supply lines are stretched thin. Sanctions are wreaking havoc on Russian markets and its public. Its advance on the capitol of Ukraine, Kyiv, had bogged down. There is now a huge Russian convoy moving toward Kyiv which may well bring far greater violence and the fall of Kyiv. The US and NATO could act to stop this convoy, but it would likely start World War III, which would take this from bad to worse. But then, if it isn’t stopped, will Zelensky still be sexy to young American women when he’s dead? Will David’s pal Misha get to grow up and become what he should have been?

Can we sit by and watch the next phase of this invasion kill civilians, destroy a nation, and do nothing?  That’s unfair, of course. Sanctions are being imposed by many countries. Monetary and military support is being provided, although it’s unclear how this is actually happening since they need ammo now, not a week or month from now. Since we can’t airdrop supplies without risking running into Russian airplanes over Ukraine, how they get to where they’re needed is unclear. And then there’s that damn convoy coming to destroy Kyiv.

NBC’s chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, presented the dilemma.

Perhaps the biggest risk-calculation/moral dilemma of the war so far. A massive Russian convoy is abt 30 miles from Kyiv. The US/NATO could likely destroy it. But that would be direct involvement against Russia and risk, everything. Does the West watch in silence as it rolls?

We could stop it, but we can’t stop it. Whether we could “likely destroy” the convoy or find some lesser action that would save Kyiv isn’t the point. Once the US or NATO engages directly with the Russians, the likelihood of this invasion expanding into a world war is very real. The likelihood of Putin wiping out Kyiv if we do not take action of some sort against this convoy is also very real. Sending “thoughts and prayers” won’t save any Ukrainian life.

For raising this question, Engel became the target of ridicule, snark and memes by the unduly passionate. How dare he even suggest (did he?) that we start World War III? How disingenuous of him to say we’re watching in silence, when they’re twitting up a storm in support of the brave and sexy Ukrainians? Even the Statue of Liberty was draped in the Ukrainian colors. What more can we do?

Tom Nichols, late of the War College, offered the unpleasant adult view of the situation.

Way too many of you have lived in a world of peace and security for so long that you cannot even imagine the cataclysmic risks you’re advocating. This is not a game and it’s not a social media campaign. Sober up.

To act is to risk likely world war. To not act is to condemn Zelensky, Misha and million of Ukrainians who asked nothing of Putin but to be left alone to likely death and destruction. And the best the idiocracy can muster is to ignore this untenable reality by hiding behind their screams of bravado and snark, issued from their smartphones in the safety of their warm homes.

As Nichols notes, if NATO intervenes in the Ukraine, it will ultimately prevail over Russia, but at massive cost. While Russians on the street may not support Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, they will support Putin’s defense of the Motherland from NATO. To pretend that NATO can swoop in and save the day with barely a scratch is insanely naive. If there are millions to die in Ukraine now, there will be multiple millions to die should this become World War III. And they will still be dead after we win and hold a parade to our glorious victory.

But in the meantime, we need to hear about, see, think about the flip side of reality, that our “doing nothing” beyond what we’re already doing won’t stop that convoy from reaching Kyiv. Zelensky doesn’t want to die. He doesn’t want his people to die or his nation destroyed or subjugated. But he needs a lot more than thoughts and prayers from the brilliant little shits who ridicule Engel for putting the harsh and awful reality in front of their very delicate eyes, that there are choices to make that will end up badly no matter what.

To the extent we’ve become a nation of over-educated snark warriors, they will go to battle armed with memes and empathy, lest anyone harsh their bravery with a mean dose of death no matter how sick their burns. They don’t even risk a paper cut for their fierceness. As for me, I don’t want Misha to go without body armor, or ammunition, or food, or breathing. I don’t want any Misha to die. And no one will be saved by the snark of children on twitter who refuse to suffer the terrible choices with which we’re faced.

43 thoughts on “Ukraine, Terrible Choices and Snark

  1. David

    Ah, Max. I remember him from the old days here, too smart for his own good and yet stunningly simplistic at every turn. I see he hasn’t changed, except that he’s found popularity among people as shallow and childish as he is. The amount of effort put into misinterpreting Engel’s twit is impressive, as he does nothing more than raise the issues that need to be raised. Better to reimagine reality than confront the harsh reality that we’re facing.

    A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

    1. SHG Post author

      I used to think that Max had great potential if he ever grew up. Sadly, that hasn’t happened.

      1. Miles

        They truly believe their twitter existence is relevant and that adults desire their approval. We’ve raised a generation that will never grow up.

      2. SP

        Maybe if you hadn’t been such a smug asshole about it, “for the intellectually challenged,” you wouldn’t have earned all the ridicule you received.

        1. SHG Post author

          I’m disinclined to waste my time explaining the obvious to people who choose not to see it. Contrary to what your mommy told you, not everyone cares about the opinions of children. If that makes me a smug asshole to the kids, I’m okay with that.

        2. Skink

          The ridicule doesn’t matter if it’s from those who can’t or won’t think. That seems to include you. Not being able to think means you’re in the wrong place. There’s another hotel down the street, and they don’t care if you’re too lazy to think beyond the messenger.
          I made you a reservation. Enjoy your stay.

  2. KP

    “To not act is to condemn Zelensky, Misha and million of Ukrainians who asked nothing of Putin but to be left alone to likely death and destruction. ”

    It would stop tomorrow if Zelensky surrendered, instead of delaying the obvious and making it all a lot worse. Russia was trying not to destroy the place, just neutralise the military, but if they need to use the ‘American way’ of bomb everything flat then clean up, I suppose they will.

    Either way, they want American missiles out of the close neighbours and a neutral Ukraine where the attrition of Russian-speakers is stopped. Leaving ‘Zelensky, Misha and million of Ukrainians’ alone will only push the ball further along the road for later. America won’t stop until Russia is destroyed. This is the first push-back.

    Any time others want to try their luck they can.. Russia said “Why would they worry about a world that Russia wouldn’t be in”

    1. SHG Post author

      True, there is always the option of surrendering and becoming a captive nation of the soviet union. Does Putin’s penis taste that delicious?

      1. Nyx

        There’s no dishonor at all in surrendering to live another day in the face of a vastly superior enemy. But there is in goading on others to get themselves killed from a place of perfect safety, as so many in the West are doing.

        1. SHG Post author

          If this was surrendering and the Russians went home and left the Ukrainians to their country, I might agree. But it’s not.

          And if you think this is happening not because this is their choice, but because others are “goading” them, that’s nuts.

        2. David Meyer-Lindenberg

          Misha could leave, you know. Some friends and I offered to pull him out. And many of those fighting with him could get out too. They don’t want to.

    2. Miles

      It’s not as if Ukraine is a sovereign nation, entitled to do whatever a sovereign nation is entitled to do. It’s easy. Just capitulate. You’re very smart.

    3. miketrials

      How’d you enjoy your visit to Munich? Didya bring us back souvenirs, like a nice big box of peace in our time?

    4. norahc

      Appeasement and capitulation worked so well 80 years ago, so why wouldn’t it work again?

      Oh wait, I actually remember my history lessons.

    5. Mike V.

      “It would stop tomorrow if Zelensky surrendered, instead of delaying the obvious and making it all a lot worse. Russia was trying not to destroy the place, just neutralise the military,”

      KP, I bet that is what Hitler said about the fighting in Poland as well. Why should a sovereign nation allow itself to be invaded and annexed? Ukraine’s military doesn’t have the capability to attack Russia and never has. It would be on the order of Mexico trying to invade the U.S. So why would Putin want Ukraine’s military neutralized?

      For that matter, unless he is trying to put the USSR back together would he want to annex Ukraine? History has shown us how appeasement works out, badly in every case.

      1. B. McLeod

        The present package of sanctions may fail to deter Putin, yet it is subtly different from “appeasement.”

      2. Bryan Burroughs

        A gratuitous Hitler reference managed to survive! Never thought I’d see it happen here. The end times are clearly nigh

    6. B. McLeod

      I don’t think there is any historical evidence that the United States desires or intends to destroy Russia. While there was an abortive attempt to interfere with Russia’s internal affairs in 1918, there was never a design to end the existence of Russia as a nation. From 1941-1945, the United States was an active Soviet ally, and in the cold war era that followed, the United States focused its efforts on containment of perceived Soviet expansion. Remnants of the old containment philosophy persist with NATO today, but the alliance is not established as an offensive one and is not designed to achieve the destruction of Russia.

    7. Skink

      KP and Nyx-
      There’s presumption, assumption and reality. Of those, only the last has real meaning.

      At the end of WWII, the world faced what it thought was an awful potential future. A weapon existed that could eliminate all life in a large city in an instant and render the area unlivable for a good long time. Pretty soon, two countries had the weapon. It was dropped from planes, so having access from nearby countries mattered. There were chest-thumping moments of not putting them in east Europe or Cuba and things came close to calamity.

      Then the weapons got better. They could be launched on missiles and cover thousands of miles. The missiles held many warheads, each with the ability to go their own way. Everything living in most of a US state could be killed in a second from just one missile. But something remarkable happened. The countries figured this was a game best not played because playing would end everything. They knew a few hundred million would die initially, a bunch more millions over time and huge sections of the planet would be uninhabitable for about an eon. Why play a game with that probable result?

      But the tools of the game remained. The world sort-of ignored the tools and hoped no one would ever be so foolish to put them to use. We lived fat and happy on the belief it would never happen because no one would be fool enough to initiate the game.

      Now we have it. As Scott framed the reality, do we allow these people who have been independent for 30 years at the recognition of the Russian government to be overtaken and slaughtered? Do we act to eliminate that threat? The former is a given without the latter, but the latter means starting the game that cannot be played. These are hard times with hard decisions to be made. Those decisions aren’t to be made by short-thinking dopes.

      Scott, there’s hope. The nearly-universal condemnation and cancelling done by both governments and corporations leaves Russia in a hard spot. It can’t reclaim relationships by merely reversing course. Those with control have to see the only way forward is to remove Putin and convince the world it will never happen again. In a real sense, they have to deal with the prospects of the game beginning or their economy disintegrating. The world will get over whatever Russia provides.

    1. Hal

      “Morning Dew” is a great choice (I’d been wondering if you were going to go w/ “Morning Dew”, “Pride of Man”, or something else I might have overlooked).

      That said, how could you choose “Dew” and not a Dead version? They played it at Barton Hall, which our host might… or might not… remember. Some say that’s the best version, though others argue 10/18/74 at Winterland is better. 11/30/74 they opened the show w/ “the Dew”…

      My personal favorite was 10/8/89 at Hampton Coliseum. I loved that venue and was there that night.

      Bringing this back a little closer to the subject, I just heard that Russian media is not allowed to describe what is happening as “war”, but are to use the term “special operation”. Which, given Russians propensity for dark humor, inevitably led to people asking one another if they had a copy of Tolstoy’s “Special Operations and Peace” handy.

      Which in turn reminded me of the, oft quoted, observation by William Tecumsah Sherman that “Special operations are hell”.

      Maybe you can find a copy of the Bob Marley song where he sang about “Special operations and rumors of special operations” being the bane of humanity.


  3. JP

    If you’re not willing to risk pissing off a madman with nukes by blowing up his invading army, then South Korea should really be starting its own nuclear program right now. So should Taiwan.

    Russia’s military is seriously outmatched by NATO. A conventional war with Russia is not going to cost millions of lives. Do the nuclear threats really give madmen a free hand?

    I live in the UK. I don’t like the idea of fighting the Russians. I like the sound of screaming coming from the Ukraine even less.

    1. SHG Post author

      Some very bold assumptions. Are you willing to bet your life on it, or just other people’s lives?

  4. JR

    But in the meantime, we need to hear about, see, think about the flip side of reality, that our “doing nothing” beyond what we’re already doing won’t stop that convoy from reaching Kyiv.

    Consider interviewing US immigrants who fled oppressive countries led by killers like Vladimir Putin. We will tell you that Americans have no idea how these ”leaders” operate. Sen. John McCain stated, “Vladimir Putin is a thug and a murderer and a killer and a KGB agent” for justifiable reasons. See Matt Taibbi’s excellent historical summary of Putin on his substack, and how NATO enabled the rise of this killer. Fidel Castro did not stop with Cuba. He spread his “vision” to Angola, Nicaragua, Venezuela, et al. Recall China’s “salami slicing” with India, South China Sea, destroying Hong Kong and with Taiwan to follow. Recall too the Georgian war escalated under Putin, Putin’s indiscriminate bombing campaign in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad, attacking Crimea, etc.

    It would be one thing if these ruthless leaders did not color outside of their nations lines, and let the citizens within deal with them. To think these monsters suddenly become good citizens and stop their killing machines at a fixed dotted line is not supported by historical facts. Ukraine will fall. Which region will be next? Reality check: we already are engaged in a global war, with Putin now in a corner, and Putin will not admit defeat…ever. Better to eliminate Putin on NATO’s timeline instead of Putin’s.

    “And what country can preserve it’s liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure.”
    – Thomas Jefferson

    1. SHG Post author

      Your point about eliminating Putin on NATO’s timeline instead of Putin is a real concern, but begs the question. Somehow, we’ve managed to avoid a world war for quite a while. We managed to avoid nuclear holocaust as well. Is this because anyone is deluding themselves into believing Putin is a good citizen or because we shouldn’t be so cavalier about other people’s lives and deaths?

      1. JR

        Somehow, we’ve managed to avoid a world war for quite a while.

        Peace is not the absence of war.

        We managed to avoid nuclear holocaust as well.

        He has already gone on record and threatened the world with a nuclear holocaust.

        Putin is in a corner, with his country in economic ruin. His people are demonstrating against him. The world is increasingly against him (e.g. Japan, Swiss, Turkey, etc). To think he will suddenly back down is not supported by the historical facts. Take out Putin now with whatever methods NATO has (e.g. special ops) before he follows through on his threat.

        1. Rengit

          If “Peace is not the absence of war”, then what is “peace”? That hippie Coke commercial from the early 70s? “Peace” either means we’re not at actively at war, guns shooting and bombs dropping, or it doesn’t mean anything at all. That’s axiomatic.

        2. Richard Parker

          Got to find him first. How casually there is talk of the US getting back into the assaination business. Our assainations good, their assainations bad.

    2. B. McLeod

      The convoy will likely reach Kyiv. If the Ukranians had the resources to strike it at a distance, it would be done by now. Still, taking heavy mechanized units into a large urban center is a risky use of armor. At Stalingrad, Von Paulus lost the entire 6th Army. In the battle for Berlin, two Soviet army fronts went in with tanks and lost around 81,000 soldiers killed outright and another 230,000 wounded. The Russians can probably take Kyiv, but the price in Russian casualties may be exponentially higher than they have estimated.

  5. phv3773

    Of course, it’s not just whether Putin will see an action on the Ukraine side as undue escalation. “We” might see a Russian action, e.g. employing their hyperbaric thunderboomer as crossing the line.

    (Speaking with my military authority as an ex-Army band flute player, I’m not as worried about the tank convoy as some others. In the short term, it’s blocking major supply line, and its combat power diminishes by the day as food, water, patience, and maybe gasoline supplies dwindle. A single flight of planes bombing the head of the snake could halt it’s progress for quite a while. Formations like that are very vulnerable as illustrated by the Battle of the Mang Yang Pass.)

      1. Hal

        That’s because you don’t have the firm grasp of “strategery” that President George W. Bush did, and apparently all Army band members do.

        I recommend reading Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, and Dan Jenkins “Semi-Tough”. That last just because it makes me laugh out loud.

        You’re welcome.

        1. Bryan Burroughs

          Hey, be careful. Army flute players are one of the more formidable opponents on the battlefield, especially when deployed in pairs. Navy Bassoonists should be viewed with similar caution. And leave the Marine Band’s triangle player alone. That guy is friggin insane.

    1. Richard Parker

      Thermostatic bombs are in the news as a great evil. There wasn’t much commentary when used by the US in Vietnam and Afghanistan. In historical fact, the great firestorms deliberately started by Allied bombers in World War II were crude versions of these weapons. (‘Slaughterhouse Five’)

  6. B. McLeod

    From the beginning of the assault, the greater probability has been that Russian forces will eventually overwhelm Ukraine. Again. It also seems likely that it will continue to be very difficult for Russia to subdue Ukranian aspirations in the long term. After all, despite Catherine the Great, and the Bolsheviks, and the Holodomor genocide, Ukraine is fighting for its independence once again. Military conquest of Ukraine has repeatedly failed to bring the Russians permanent control, and there is no reason to think this time will be different. Through his war crimes and fanaticism, the megalomaniacal Putin may gain some perceived triumph at great cost, but it will not be many decades before it will again slip away.

  7. PK

    It might have been better had NATO announced what they were going to do ahead of time. “Invade Ukraine past the eastern provinces and Crimea, and you’re going to get bombed.” A no-fly zone would have been helpful as well. I wanted dearly that line in the sand established ahead of time, to avoid a situation like this which can escalate rapidly and less predictably. Putin might benefit from a NATO response at this point, as strange as that sounds.

    Then again, I’m just a keyboard warrior who reads history. Some say if Great Britain had announced beforehand that the invasion of Belgium would lead to war, Germany might have acted differently. Instead it merely stated it would act in accordance with its interests and let Germany plunge the world into the first world war over “a scrap of paper”. I’d very much like to avoid history repeating itself, but we seem doomed to it.

    Bombs now would be too little too late and risk escalating this all past a point of no return. It’s all the sanctions we can impose and all the arms we can give Ukraine and its allies for now. Also, we should be constantly reminding Russia that any use of any nuclear weapon will be met with its immediate demise and the destruction of the entire world, just to make sure everyone remembers what is at stake. The situation is a mess. Hopefully Ukraine can hold on long enough for something unexpected to happen in the line of the Miracles of the House of Brandenburg.

    Sorry idiots on Twitter were mean to you.

  8. Pedantic Grammar Police

    The “terrible choice” is this. Will you buy into the jingoistic war propaganda, or will you think for yourself. I think I know the answer.

  9. Michael Resanovic

    “We have planes. Start honoring ceasefires; let civilians leave: we’ll hang on to them.
    Do the opposite: Ukraine can have them”

    I think you do have to acknowledge that society today looks at risk/don’t risk questions through a fundamentally different (and more shy) lens than during the Cold War. The problem is, people know that – it’s like showing other people your cards.

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