It appears, to my great sorrow, that the Cold War is returning. However, this is no time for despair. Rather it is a time for a renewed determination of men and women of good will on both sides to resist this drift toward confrontation, and to strive to restore the brief moment of friendship, respect and mutual cooperation that we experienced scarcely a decade ago.
For our part, we Americans are facing grave difficulties acknowledging the sources of this renewed conflict, and thus finding a remedy. Regrettably, a prominent cause of this difficulty is our corporate media.
The American news media, once the envy of the world, has recently deteriorated to a condition in which it can no longer be trusted as a source of international news, least of all of news and opinion about Russia. This is because the news media, a vast majority of which is owned by just six corporate conglomerates, has in effect become the propaganda arm of the U.S government and of the oligarchs and corporations which, in effect, own that government.
There are, to be sure, independent news media that freely present suppressed news and dissenting opinions, but their audience is small and their influence on official policies is insignificant.
The sorry state of American news media was vividly demonstrated shortly before the outbreak of the Iraq War in March, 2002. Then, with a single voice, the American news media broadcast the Bush/Cheney accusation that Saddam Hussein of Iraq posed an immediate threat to the United States; that, in the words of Vice President Cheney: “there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.” Leading that charge were the most honored and prestigious American newspapers, The New York Times and The Washington Post.
Dissenters were effectively banished from the corporate media. Prominent among these was Phil Donahue, a popular media figure familiar to many Russians from his trans-continental “Spacebridge” in the eighties with Vladimir Pozner of Gostelradio. Donahue dared to include on his television program critics of the Bush/Cheney policies and of the rush to war with Iraq. And so he was thrown off the air.
And so, a month before the outbreak of the Iraq war, more than four out of five Americans believed that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq military either had or was actively developing weapons of mass destruction. Thus, at that time, more than 70% of Americans believed that the war was justified. Now that it is an indisputable fact that there were no such weapons in Iraq, in 2010 belief in Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction dropped to 40%, with some 55% believing that the war was a mistake. It was a “mistake” that cost more than four thousand American lives and as many as a half million Iraqi lives.
It was a “mistake” that an aggressive, objective and independent news media might have prevented – a mistake for which the corporate media has shown little remorse or evidence of reform.
Today, much of this same corporate media is portraying Vladimir Putin as “the new Stalin,” eager to re-establish the old Soviet Union and threatening the peace and stability of the post-Soviet “new world order.” There is no mention in this media of the legitimate security concerns of Russian posed, notably, by the eastward expansion of NATO up to and beyond the borders of the former Soviet Union. (See Stephen Cohen’s “Distorting Russia”).
So how might the bewildered American citizen understand the emerging conflict with Russia, now that the corporate media has discredited itself? For my part, I look to history, and then to independent and foreign sources, and I critically examine the experience and qualifications of the reporters and commentators. What are their academic backgrounds? Have they published peer-reviewed studies of Russian history, culture, and politics? Have they spent significant time in Russia? Do they read and speak the Russian language? There are many such individuals, shunned by the corporate media, who can nevertheless be found and studied. Among them, Stephen Cohen, Ambassador Jack Matlock, Ray McGovern, John Mearshimer, the late George F.Kennan. Most of these individuals agree that historical facts will not support the account of the Russo-American conflict that is presented to the American people by its politicians and journalists.
Finally, as I search for an accurate account of Russian policy and opinion, I reflect upon my personal experience in my seven trips to Russia, and my personal encounters with many Russian scholars and ordinary citizens.
As a result, I have come to conclusions significantly contrary to “the official version” here in the United States.
Blame for the current Russo-American conflict, I believe, falls on both sides. I suspect that most of my Russian friends would agree. In international conflicts, rarely is one side blameless and the other totally culpable.
However, writing as I am to friends in Russia and faced with unreliable sources of information in our media, I am reluctant to set down a bill of accusations against Vladimir Putin and the Russian government. That, my Russian friends, is your task for which you are far more qualified than I am. Russia is your country, not mine. You are there, in Russia, reading the Russian press and directly acquainted with Russian life. I can only see Russia “through a glass, darkly,” from Russian and American sources that I have come to trust only tentatively. Thus, unlike too many of my compatriots, I will not be so arrogant as to pass uninformed judgment on Russia and its leaders.
That said, I have just three comments regarding President Putin and his policies. Following that, I will have much to say about American policies and attitudes which, I believe, are aggravating this unfortunate conflict and standing in the way of a just and mutually satisfactory resolution.
The Role of Foreign NGOs. I am told that Putin’s government has severely restricted the activity of non-Russian non-governmental organizations. Given the shameful and ignorant behavior of many American “experts” who visited Russia in the early nineties with open mouths and closed minds, I can well understand. I sat next to one of these “free market fundamentalists” on a flight back from Moscow, and I was appalled by his recitation of what he “told” the Russians, with scarcely a word about what he had learned from the Russians.
Even so, I sincerely hope that President Putin is aware that there are many unofficial American and European scholars and organizations eager to work with counterparts in Russia, to the mutual advantage of both sides. They should not be shut out of Russia, least of all while tensions are increasing between our countries. I am, of course, thinking most urgently of environmental issues. We share the same planet, which is now imperiled by a looming global climate crisis. There is much more that unites than divides us. So I hope that the Russian government will critically examine the qualifications and motives of foreign NGOs and welcome those that offer genuine benefits to the Russian people.
About Crimea. I am told that the vast majority of Crimeans are native Russian speakers, and approve of annexation with Russia. If so, then perhaps Crimea should rejoin the Russian Federation. My concern is how this was accomplished. It strikes me that it was too sudden. These things should take time, and should involve diplomatic negotiations and some treaty compensation with Ukraine. Unfortunately, the precipitous annexation of Crimea has provided rhetorical ammunition to the American “neo-cons” eager to restart the Cold War. And that is very regrettable.
The Obama-Putin Dialogue. I read that the weekly conversations between our presidents were halted by Mr. Putin on the grounds that he “does not negotiate under threat of sanctions.” This is an understandable response of a proud leader of a proud nation. Yet the break-off of personal contacts between opposing leaders can be perilous. If, as reported, Putin has ordered Russian troops away from the Ukrainian border and back to their bases, Obama should on his part remove the sanctions. Then let the conversations resume.
Progress toward a resolution of this conflict is severely complicated by the following five pervasive attitudes of many Americans and, still worse, a dominant faction of the American media and of American legislators and policy makers.
1. A failure to recognize that Russia has legitimate sovereign interests. This failure, combined with historical ignorance, accounts for the widespread inability of Americans to appreciate the Russians’ desire for a secure western border.
As few ordinary Americans realize, and still more knowledgeable Americans fail to fully appreciate, twice in the past century and once again in the previous century, armies from the west marched across the plains of Poland and Ukraine to devastate the heart of Russia. The last of these invasions took the lives of twenty-five million Soviet citizens and ninety percent of the male cohort born in the early 1920s. During that war, nothing remotely like this happened to the United States, which suffered a quarter million battle casualties (one for every one hundred Soviets), and on whose soil not a single Nazi bomb or shell fell.
And yet, many Americans seem astonished that the Russians should take offense when NATO, a military alliance, expands up to and beyond the western border of the former Soviet Union. And NATO did so in violation of an agreement between President Bush (Senior) and Mikhail Gorbachev. As Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, aide to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, reflected on a recent broadcast.
When … George H. W. Bush accomplished … the reunification of Germany … without a shot being fired, … one of the reasons [he] could do it was that [he] assured Gorbachev and later Yeltsin that NATO would be quiescent, it wouldn’t move. It wouldn’t threaten Russia. In fact I was there when we told the Russians that we were going to make them a member. Well that fell apart [when] they perceived right quickly that we weren’t really serious.
And then … we started to expand NATO, and stuck both our fingers into the Russian eye, so to speak. It’s clear to me why Putin responded in Georgia and why he is now responding in Crimea and Ukraine. This is what great powers do when they get concerned about their “near-abroad.” So we have as much fault here as anyone else in this situation. (The Real News, 5/9/14).
In 1997, George F. Kennan, the foremost American diplomat of the twentieth century, wrote that “expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold-war era.” (New York Times, 2/5/97) And yet, despite solemn assurances to Gorbachev and Yeltsin, NATO did just that.
“Why,” many Americans are heard to complain, “don’t the Russians trust us?” The reasons are obvious and part of the historical record. Yet few will pause to listen to a reply.
2. Historical Ignorance. Survey after survey tells the same story: most Americans are appallingly ignorant of world history – and of Russian history in particular. For example, American are very concerned about Ukraine. Yet in a recent poll, only one in six could locate Ukraine on a world map. When asked to name the decisive battles of World War II, you will likely hear Americans say first of all, “Normandy,” and then “Okinawa.” Mention Stalingrad, Kursk or Sevastopol and you will likely be greeted with a blank stare. Even some allegedly educated Americans persist in the belief that Russia is a cultural backwater, notwithstanding its enduring contributions to the arts, literature and science. (See my “Russia, An Appreciation”).
So how many Americans today are aware of the violated agreement not to expand NATO beyond the border of a unified Germany? How many are aware that about 25 million ethnic Russians now reside in the fourteen former Soviet republics outside Russia, often under hostile regimes? How many know that Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, is the historical birthplace of Russian culture? Regrettably, not many.
3. Americans lack a “mirror image” perspective – a capacity to appreciate what it is like to walk a mile in another’s shoes.
At the Nuremberg war-crimes trials, the U.S. Army assigned Dr. Gustav Gilbert, a psychologist fluent in German, to interview the Nazi defendants. What moral flaws, the Army asked, allowed these criminals to do what they did? Dr. Gilbert concluded that the fundamental flaw was “an absence of empathy” a failure to recognize the basic humanity of their victims, and to perceive the world as their victims see it.
“Absence of Empathy” is not only a moral failing, it is also fatally impractical. “Knowing the mind of your opponent” is essential to success in warfare, in games and sports, and in international diplomacy. A chess player incapable of “getting into the mind” of his opponent, will surely lose.
I submit that much of the conflict between our nations is due to an inability, deliberate or otherwise, to study and understand the mind of the opponent – to know, from our side, what it’s like “to think like a Russian.”
And so, in the American media and among our politicians there is a widespread failure to acknowledge that Russians are people very much like us, who respond to threats and insults very much as we do. Instead, our policies seem to assume that Russians and Americans are of different species.
For example, we often hear in our media that “Russians only understand strength” or that “signs of weakness such as negotiation and compromise will only encourage aggressive Russian behavior.” So if we send troops to eastern NATO members or impose sanctions, then the Russians will surely “back down.” And yet if the Russians treat us the same way – if they stand up against us with troop deployments and sanctions — we are resolved to “stand our ground” and respond aggressively.
Out policy makers also claim to be astonished at the Russians’ complaints about the eastward expansion of NATO, or of our involvement in Ukrainian domestic politics. But as Vladimir Pozner wisely points out, “try to imagine for a moment that a revolution occurs in Mexico, a new leader comes to power and invites Russia to place part of its armed forces along the Mexican-American border.” No need to imagine, just look back at the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1963. If John Kennedy would not tolerate Soviet missiles 90 miles offshore the United States, why should Vladimir Putin not complain of NATO missiles along the Russian border?
4. American policy-makers need an enemy. I believe that the American media and politicians are much more captivated to this need than is the American public, although this media and these politicians have persuaded many ordinary Americans to believe that the designated adversary of the moment is in fact an “enemy.”.
In a 1987 letter to The New York Times, Georgi Arbatov, then the Director of the Soviet Institute of the US and Canada, wrote: “We have a secret weapon … we will deprive America of The Enemy. And how [then will] you justify … the military expenditures that bleed America white?”
The simple and straightforward solution: If we don’t have an enemy, then we will invent one. Thus Saddam Hussein, Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and now, in the minds of many American journalists and politicians, Vladimir Putin.
This “solution” extends back to the administration of Harry Truman. When Truman’s advisers urged the President to strengthen the military in the face of threatened communist expansion to Greece and Italy, Truman replied that the American people would not tolerate a revived military so close to the end of World War II. Republican Senator Arthur Vandenburg replied, “the we will have to scare the hell out of the American People.”
I submit, along with most Americans, that during the Truman and subsequent administrations, the Soviet threat was genuine, and that a policy of “containment” was justified. Incidentally, the author of that “containment policy” was George F. Kennan who, as noted above, strongly condemned the eastward expansion of NATO.
Clearly, that deliberate “scaring” of the American public has now become a national and a global menace. Truman’s successor, Dwight Eisenhower, warned of the menace as he left office in 1961: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” Tragically, that advice was not heeded. And so today, almost half of all military spending throughout the world is by the United States, while much of the remaining half is by US allies.
Be assured that no Americans, including the “military-industrial complex,” want a “hot” war. All sane individuals realize that such a war would bring total devastation throughout the world. But that “military-industrial-complex” is quite in favor of nurturing a threat of war – a “cold war” – as a justification for their existence and prosperity.
And that “enemy” must be a credible opponent. If our presumed “enemy” is Al Qaeda, then we are building multi-billion dollar aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines to fight an “enemy” without a navy, and billion-dollar aircraft to fight an “enemy” without an air force. Absurd! And an increasing number of ordinary Americans recognize this absurdity. Enter, conveniently, Vladimir Putin and the Russians.
It is impossible to overstate the institutional and economic momentum behind the urge to resume the Cold War. There are, by design, military contractors in every congressional district in the United States. Enormous fortunes and millions of American jobs require national defense “business as usual.” And so Congress appropriates funds for weapons systems that the military insists they don’t want or need. Arms reduction is simply not on the Congressional agenda.
The implication? “We can’t afford peace, it would ruin the economy.” This is widely believed by politicians, economists, and the media. And it is false. The total American demobilization after World War II, with millions of soldiers and sailors returning to civilian life, was followed by unprecedented prosperity.
Moreover, there is an urgent need to apply military technology to common global emergencies, most notably the need for renewable energy and the mitigation of climate change. This is a crisis that calls for the cooperative endeavors of Americans, Russians, and industrial countries throughout the world.
If the America economy needs an “enemy,” the energy and climate crises qualify. With these realization, we can together “beat swords into plowshares.”
5. The United States is an “exceptional” and “indispensable” nation. Every American president, including the current president, proclaims that the United States is an “exceptional” nation. Throughout the land we hear, “American is the greatest nation on earth,” or even, “the greatest nation in history.” No one who says anything less is deemed qualified for public office.
I am not one of those Americans, though I nonetheless consider myself a patriot. Perhaps the United States was, at one time, “the greatest nation” – arguably in the decade following the great World War. But no longer. As a patriot, endorsing and celebrating the enduring moral and political ideals of the founding documents of our republic, I believe that it is my duty as a citizen to protect, indeed to restore those ideals. They have, in recently years, been seriously violated by our government without noteworthy protest by my fellow citizens.
But “the greatest nation?” By almost any objective standard of national excellence – health, infant mortality, life expectancy, crime, wealth inequality, education, even personal and civil liberty – the United States is not in the lead, and its standing has, in recent years, been declining.
We should not be surprised to discover that very few individuals outside of the United States agree that the US is “the greatest nation on earth.”
Nonetheless, these days American politicians, diplomats, journalists and corporate “think-tank” officials, roam the world preaching “The American Way” – a dogma of unregulated “free” markets and limited government. I daresay that you saw an abundance of this kind of activity in Russia in the years following the fall of the Soviet Union.
“The American Way,” these unofficial emissaries are convinced, is what is best for any developed or developing nation around the world, regardless of whether the people of that nation feel otherwise. After all, these preachers say, “we represent ‘the greatest nation on earth.’ And we will share our wisdom and our ‘way,’ even if we must do so by force of arms.”
Sounds insufferably arrogant, doesn’t it? I agree, and so too do many of my compatriots.
That arrogance was vividly displayed in a policy statement from the U.S. Defense Department, drafted in March 1992, the final year of the George H. W. Bush (Senior) administration. In that document we find the following proclamation:
The U.S. must show the leadership necessary to establish and protect a new order that holds the promise of convincing potential competitors that they need not aspire to a greater role or pursue a more aggressive posture to protect their legitimate interests. In non-defense areas, we must account sufficiently for the interests of the advanced industrial nations to discourage them from challenging our leadership or seeking to overturn the established political and economic order. We must maintain the mechanism for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.
The document, co-authored by Defense Undersecretary Paul Wolfowitz, was widely criticized and thus re-written and released with more moderate language. Even so, the original statement reflected the views of the “neo-conservatives” (or “neo-cons”), a group of policy analysts that would become very influential in the second Bush administration.
Prominent among the critics of the original document was the late Senator Edward Kennedy, who called it “a call for a 21st century American imperialism that no other nation can or should accept.”
Exactly! And so I would ask the defenders of this policy, “how would the United States government and media respond to such a statement issuing from the Russian Foreign Ministry?” If taken seriously, such a statement from the Kremlin would suffice to re-ignite a new Cold War. Yet those in the American government and the media who proposed and defended this doctrine of a uni-polar “New American Century” seem to assume that Russia, China the “Pacific Rim” and the European Union would meekly submit to this “Pax Americana.”
Such is the dangerous arrogance that arises out of the conceit of national “exceptionalism.”
President Putin, I believe, expressed the concern of national leaders throughout the world when he wrote last year, in a letter to the New York Times:
It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.
I have been severely critical of American attitudes and policies toward Russia. But please understand that these attitudes and policies come “from the top” – from “establishment” media and politicians and corporate “think tanks.” If many ordinary Americans agree with these misguided “leaders,”, it is because the public is awash in establishment propaganda. But, given the truth, time and again the American people have exhibited a fundamental common sense. As Winston Churchill wryly put it, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.”
Accordingly, it is the responsibility of cool and informed heads on both sides to get the facts to the American people. And so we turn finally to a few proposals.
IV What is to Be Done?
1. The American Public to the Corporate Media: Reform or Perish! The American people are unlikely to demand a change in the belligerent policies of their government toward Russia as long as they are bewitched by the corporate news media propaganda.
Fortunately, there are promising indications that this spell of official propaganda is weakening. The corporate media cannot survive without an audience, and that audience is deserting the news media. Many Americans are fully aware that they were lied into a disastrous war in Iraq. Today, the same individuals that led us into that war are scorned, even in the corporate media. It is now abundantly clear that the American public will simply not tolerate a renewed Iraq war.
Sadly, it is not equally clear that the public will resist a renewed Cold War. But the Iraq example indicates that such resistance is possible. But first some fundamental facts about Russian history, legitimate national interests and political realities must at last be presented to the American people.
Recent Russian history provides a vivid example of what is needed in the United States today. When the Russian people finally realized that the Soviet media were lying to them, the people turned to unauthorized sources – foreign broadcasts and publications, and samizdat. When the Soviet regime lost the ear of the people, the fate of that regime was sealed.
If the American corporate media is to survive, it must abandon propaganda and return to the responsible, verifiable reporting which, at one time, was the envy of the world. And if that is to happen, the people must demand it.
2. Citizens of both countries must take the initiative toward reconciliation. They must not wait for each government to act responsibly.
A dramatic and successful example of such an initiative by scientists on both sides took place some thirty years ago, and it succeeded in forcing the US government to agree to a mutual cessation of nuclear weapons testing. While I was not involved in this initiative, I was personally acquainted with several individuals who were.
In the mid-eighties, it was the firm policy of the Reagan Administration to continue nuclear testing, despite the voluntary suspension of test by the Soviet government under Mikhail Gorbachev. Central to the American policy was the insistence that compliance with a test-ban agreement was impossible to verify.
Seismologists on both sides knew full well that this official claim was flatly false. And so a few American scientists proposed to set up seismic monitors near the Soviet test site at Semipalitinsk in Kazakhstan. To their amazement, Gorbachev readily agreed. Soon thereafter, Soviet monitors were installed in Nevada. In the face of this fait accompli, official American resistance crumbled and an informal test ban followed. (For a fuller account of this Soviet/American scientific initiative, see my “Just Do It!” at my website, The Online Gadfly).
3. Economic links, and thus co-dependence, between Russia and the United States must be established. As noted above, powerful economic incentives are pulling us toward a renewed Cold War. Countervailing economic incentives can and must be established to pull in the opposite direction – toward peaceful accommodation. To quote a popular American phrase, we must seek to do well (economically) by doing good (morally).
Several European nations are leading the way. These nations, most notably Germany, are dependent of Russian energy resources. These same nations are resisting strong sanctions against Russia proposed by “hawks” in NATO and Washington. Perhaps, with significant investments and market potentials in Russia, American corporations and investors might think twice about promoting a new Cold War.
4. Americans and Russians must learn to perceive and treat each other as persons, and not as abstractions. It is much more difficult to target a personal friend than it is to target an alien “other.” War propagandists know this full well, as their over-arching task is to “depersonalize the enemy.”
Like David Hume, many moral philosophers (and I include myself), identify empathy as the foundation of morality. This fundamental principle is central to all the great world religions. And empathy presupposes the capacity to perceive others as human persons like themselves – as individuals with hopes and fears, with families that they love, with careers to which they are devoted, and with moral ideals which guide their lives.
Empathy is a human quality that is best engendered through a personal acquaintance with individuals. Consequently, if peaceful coexistence and cooperative prosperity is to be achieved between the United States and Russia, exchanges and meetings of students, professional colleagues and business partners across our borders must be encouraged. Cross-continental media conversations, like the popular Donahue/Pozner “Spacebridge” of the mid-eighties, should be renewed. Better than commentaries about Russia by Americans, our media should invite commentaries by Russians such Vladimir Pozner and Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, who have excellent video “presence” and can speak to us directly in their flawless English.
Do American diplomats, scholars and journalists appear on Russian television and publish in Russian print media? I encountered a few during my visits to Russia: a few, but not enough. Many of these Americans can speak to the Russians in their language which, I am confident, would astonish and impress that Russian audience.
At a time of increasing tension between our countries, personal exchanges and conversations are becoming more difficult, and for that very reason are more urgent. However much the new cold-warriors strive to suppress such exchanges, this suppression cannot succeed if people of good will on both sides insist upon promoting a mutually respectful conversation.
5. Reform NATO and then invite Russia to join. The objective of NATO was stated explicitly in its 1949 charter: “contain” the Soviet Union through the threat of military force, and prevent the spread of Communism.
But now that the Soviet Union is no more, what remains of that original objective? If nothing, then why the persistence of NATO?
The answer may lie less with an abiding Western hostility toward Russia, than with “institutional inertia” – the historically familiar capacity of established institutions to persist long after their initial objectives have become irrelevant. Monarchies in Western European countries are a prime example: politically inert and purely “ceremonial.”
So too with NATO. There are today too many military careers, corporate interests and personal fortunes invested in NATO and in the American military-industrial complex that is it’s primary support for one to realistically suppose that NATO will simple wither away and vanish. Nor is it feasible that the eastward expansion of NATO will soon be rescinded. Unfortunately, that is an omelet that cannot be unscrambled.
And yet NATO, now on the western border of Russia, is a major obstacle to a Russian/American detente. What then must be done?
The solution, I believe, is not the immediate abolition of NATO (impossible), but rather a transformation of NATO into an international alliance that is no longer threatening to Russia. This begins with a dismantling of forward missile installations and a reduction of military facilities. NATO then focuses its attention on economic, cultural and scientific research activities. Eventually, the “expansion” of NATO will include Russia. With the patent absurdity of hostility toward a member nation, the original objective of “containment” of Russia will then be lost to history.
But what then will distinguish the demilitarized NATO from the United Nations? Might not NATO simple be absorbed into the UN?
I have no problem with that outcome. Nor, I am sure, should any future Russian government. For with that outcome, the folly of NATO expansion in the nineties will at last be remedied.
6. Russia and the United States must unite in the face of common threats.
It’s a fact as old as recorded history, and no doubt far beyond into pre-history: sworn enemies and rivals unite in the face of a common threat. Thus the Athenians and Spartans combined their forces to defeat the invading Persians. So too capitalist United States and communist Soviet Union united to defeat Nazi Germany.
Today the Earth – our common home – faces a threat far greater even than the invading armies of Xerxes or Adolf Hitler. Our technological cleverness has set the Earth’s climate on a course which, if unaltered, will lead to the abandonment of all the coastal cities and to a global climate throughout much of planet’s surface that will be incompatible with human habitation and food production.
Unfortunately, much of the disruption of the Earth’s climate is beyond repair. Even so, significant mitigation of, and adaptation to, the coming emergency might be accomplished with a coordinated world-wide effort – the sooner the better.
Russia, the United States, Europe, the Pacific Rim – the foremost technological and scientific societies – must lead this effort. And it must be a cooperative and coordinated effort.
Moreover, the scientists and engineers enlisted in this effort need not wait for government leadership. In the United States, opposition by the fossil fuel industries has blocked effective climate legislation and executive action. And so, perhaps, like the seismologists three decades ago who led the way to a nuclear test ban, private and non-governmental innovators might have to create and apply new technologies that established commercial interests and their captive governments now proclaim to be “impossible.” Examples abound: renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, along with transportation powered by batteries and bio-fuels, would probably not be in place today if their development relied entirely on government-funded research and application.
For a brief historical moment, from the mid-eighties to the mid-nineties, Russian history and culture and the Russian people, were regarded by most Americans with respect, admiration, and even affection. No doubt, this moment was largely brought about by Gorbachev’s policies of glasnost and perestroika, by the reunification of Germany, by the Soviet peoples’ successful resistance in 1991 to the Communist counter-revolution, and by the mutual reduction of nuclear weapons. This was the era of the Donahue/Pozner “Spacebridge,” of numerous media programs accurately presenting the history and culture of Russia to an appallingly ignorant American audience. Clearly, a large majority of Americans, weary of a seemingly endless Cold War, had had enough and were eager to usher in a new era of peace and friendship with the Russian people. I trust that the same is true of Russian attitudes toward Americans.
And then, all too soon, it ended. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, American and NATO officials insisted upon treating Russia, not as a partner, but rather as a defeated “enemy.” With the arrogance that I have detailed above, NATO expanded eastward, ill-informed and self-appointed “advisors” invaded Russia with open mouths and closed minds, and the American corporate media launched a new campaign to demonize Russia and its leaders.
So today we face this choice: shall the Russian and American people be antagonists or shall they be partners? Influential people in both countries (most assuredly in the United States) stake their careers, their prestige and their fortunes on the prospect of a renewed cold war. Yet a vast majority of people in both countries demand peace and friendship between our countries – or would if the plain facts were brought before them. The darkening course of events suggest that the leaders, in my country at least, may well have their Cold War. But their success is not fore-ordained. They are few, and the people who want no part of a new Cold War are many. We can have our peace, but only if we demand it.
For my part, I will not abandon my friends. No pleas of “patriotism” will ever lead me to hate Russia or the Russians.