Monday, October 03, 2022

Shards from bleeding Ukraine

Putin's imperial war to conquer Ukraine could be the end of us all, so I can hardly ignore it. 

George Packer, usually a pretty hard-boiled journalist, felt he had to see for himself. He questions his own objectivity. His story is worth reading in full.

Journalism that waves the banner of moral clarity makes me uneasy. Moral clarity can be blinding, and most subjects worth writing about are complicated. But a few things are morally clear: slavery, and genocide, and Russia’s attempt to destroy Ukraine. ...
It’s absurd to approach this war from a position of neutrality. As a journalistic stance, neutrality is worthless, and usually spurious, because everyone is a partisan of some kind. Objectivity is different: the necessary effort, always doomed to fall short, of rendering reality exactly, like a carpenter striving for plumb, level, and square. What’s most crucial is independence: refusing to surrender your judgment of the truth for the sake of a political cause. 
Journalism doesn’t require an anesthetized moral faculty. It ought to be possible to want Ukraine to win this war and still tell what you see and hear there honestly. 
... Here was another motive [to go to Ukraine]—the strongest and most dubious of all. I wanted a gulp of Ukrainian air. I wanted to breathe its hope. What a thing to ask of people fighting for their lives. 
...I don’t know if Ukraine can win this war, but I know it must. Putin’s Russia is committing crimes that have not been seen in Europe since Hitler and Stalin—leveling cities, terror-bombing civilian populations, creating millions of refugees, using rape and torture to break the will of those under occupation, separating families, detaining and interrogating at least 1 million Ukrainians and sending many to far-off internment camps, preparing to annex entire regions, erasing their language and culture, burning crops, using vital food and energy supplies to blackmail the world. If Western leaders are too afraid of Putin and their own voters to stop him and punish him for these crimes, he’ll know that the West is as weak and pleasure-seeking as he’s always believed. ...
Packer's full-throated endorsement of Ukrainians' struggle to preserve their country and future is wonderfully attractive. I share his moral enthusiasm; I think he's right. But I don't know how many of us that conclusion will leave unscathed.

• • •

Pundits struggle to discern whether Putin is wily and/or evil and/or simply has drunk a disorienting Koolaid. In this tidbit, Susan Glasser wonders ...

... There is also the matter of Putin getting the West wrong. We in Washington hardly have a monopoly on misguided assumptions being a driving factor in international affairs. Many indicators suggest, in fact, that they were a major reason why this war happened. Putin not only failed to understand that Ukrainians would stand and fight against his aggression; he also failed to foresee the U.S. and its NATO allies remaining united and funding the Ukrainian resistance. Moscow’s bogus annexations of more Ukrainian territory seems likely to produce only more Western sanctions—and the possible extension of the war that Putin looks increasingly like he is losing. “The problem is, of course, us misreading him, but also him misreading us,” [security analyst Fiona] Hill observed. 

• • •

Click to enlarge. This is hard to look at.
Retired U.S. General Mark Hertling argues plausibly that the poor condition of the Russian military means "Putin’s recruits are heading for slaughter."

• • •

Kateryna Kibarova explains why she came Home to Bucha.

I'm Ukrainian. I have no children. I am not putting anyone in any danger. I can be useful to my country. I have a very close friend who lives in Great Britain. I had options to go to Poland. But if we all leave, who will defend the country? Who will support the economy? Who will sustain the belief that we will win? And who will make sense of the fact that we have had to endure it all? This is my home. I'm staying here.

• • •

This is still the disunited United States and there are millions of us who are suspicious of our country's repeated martial adventures. We've lived through decades of misbegotten imperial wars. Some caution about enthusiasm for our righteous endorsement of Ukrainian is certainly advised. Author Robert Wright brings a warning.  

Yet many American elites—politicians, journalists, even “think” tankers—have been reacting to this war as if it were a football game or some other purely zero-sum contest. They’ve celebrated Ukrainian gains on the battlefield with no ambivalence, blissfully unaware that dramatic Ukrainian military success was always bound to encourage Kremlin risk taking, raising the chances of regional or even nuclear war. 
Now, with Ukraine’s big battlefield success having been followed by Russian mobilization and Putin’s declared annexation, bliss will be harder to come by even if awareness fails to grow.
Wright published before Putin's current round of nuclear threats. I just know I don't know what to think, but I choose not to entirely look away.

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