Vox has a long think-piece about the potential for a war with Russia, which could include a nuclear conflict. I think the article is a bit alarmist but it’s worth a read. The essential point is that Russia trying to re-establish itself as a premier power and is consumed with the idea that the United States wants to weaken and topple its leadership. To that end, they are engaging in more and more provocative action and have lowered the bar for the use of nuclear weapons. There is a real fear that they might attack the Baltics to try to break NATO, with the threat of nuclear attack backing it up. And the lowering of nuclear thresholds has made an accidental nuclear war more likely.
A few scattered thoughts:
First, I’m old enough to remember when Mitt Romney was openly mocked and derided for declaring that Russia was one of the chief dangers we faced. There’s a part of me that wonders if Romney didn’t actually win the 2012 election and is keeping Obama in as a figurehead. We certainly seem to be, in the inept Obama way, pursuing every foreign policy initiative Romney advocated.
Second, the idea that the US would invade Russia and topple the regime is insane. But, as Robert Heinlein noted during the Cold War, the defining element of Russian foreign policy has always been paranoia. It still is. And we need to be careful in how we deal with them.
Third, I think this means that missile has moved from critical to even more critical, especially given the danger of an accidental war.
Fourth, we need to seriously think about what we’re going to do if Putin attacks the Baltic states. Do we let him take them and risk having NATO fall apart? Do we defend them and risk a large-scale war? This is the kind of issue that needs to be front and center in the 2016 presidential campaign.
I thought I’d repost this from the archive:
We came across a lad from A company. He was ripped open from his shoulder to his waist by shrapnel and lying in a pool of blood. When we got to him, he said: ‘Shoot me’. He was beyond human help and, before we could draw a revolver, he was dead. And the final word he uttered was ‘Mother.’ I remember that lad in particular. It’s an image that has haunted me all my life, seared into my mind.
-Harry Patch, The Last Fighting Tommy
No one wants to die. However gung-ho they may be, the instinct to survive is ingrained into our very DNA. It is a will so strong it can bring the near-terminally ill back from the edge of darkness. The success of any military depends on this—upon the willingness to kill rather than die. The men who struggled up the beaches of Normandy and through the fields of Gettysburg knew that their only chance of survival was in defeating the enemy. But to march into the fire meant being willing to die regardless of your desire to live. The willingness to sacrifice oneself means overcoming billions of years of evolution. Animals may do this for their young; only humans can do it for a cause, for a nation and for people they have never met.
I hope that during your drinking and barbecuing yesterday, you took a moment to remember what the day was for. The men who fell in our names would not mind the drinking and eating that happens on their day; they would doubtless wish they were there. Perhaps there is no better way of honoring the dead than to enjoy the life they have given us. But we should never forget that they are out there—silent, sleeping, shielding us even in death.
One thing we have learned is that not all of those who fall do so on the battlefield. Some carry wounds that eventually claim them: Lawrence Chamberlain lived to be 85, volunteered for more wars, became governor — all while enduring pain from his war wounds and eventually dying from them. Others carry their wounds inside: the haunting memories and searing trauma that drive so many to take their own lives or to bury their pasts in drink or drugs. All around us today are those who are slowly dying from the wounds they took for us, the soul-scaring terror they endured for us, the eyes of those they had to kill for us. Come some Memorial Day, we will be remembering them too.
One day, not too long ago, I was reading about J. R. R. Tolkein, who survived the trenches of World War I and drew on their horrors when describing the Dead Marshes. I thought of how the world would be different if a bullet had been a few feet from its mark and all he was to create vanished in a spray of blood and bone. I thought of Earnest Hemingway, who narrowly missed death from a mortar shell. I thought of my second cousin, who almost vanished from the world, along with the children he would have, on the beaches of Normandy.
For the United States alone, 1.3 million men and women have had their stories cut short — left their novels unwritten, their children unborn, their monuments unbuilt. A city of people roughly the size of San Antonio have seen all that they were, all that they could have been, taken away in an instant. But it is that loss, that sacrifice that makes all of our stories possible — that allows our children to be born, our novels to be written, our monuments to be built, our potential to be met.
The only way to repay that debt is to live the lives they couldn’t and be worthy of them. And to read the stories of those who’ve gone.