Brilliant strategic theorists since Joshua, Sun Tzu, several of the Roman Caesars, Attila the Hun and Alexander the Great have left us methods and advice on planning, equipping and executing a successful military campaign.
Some of these ideas worked, some of the time. Alexander’s tutor, the brilliant Aristotle, conveyed wisdom to the young prince, but could not restrain his 10 year bloodlust as Alexander drove his army across Asia Minor into India, ending as a weeping drunk when he believed there were no more civilizations of note to conquer.
He was not a diplomat but a warrior, and in absence of stellar diplomacy, only one side can be victorious. Those vanquished may choose to run, fight as guerillas or surrender and join the victors as semi-slaves.
Alexander fought a war of total annihilation. In the end it consumed him. Rarer than the warlike Macedonians are leaders such as Union Gen. Ulysses Grant and his statesman President of the U.S., Abraham Lincoln, the latter always inclined to show mercy rather than pursue “scorched earth”.
Grant and Sherman, two of his generals, faced a different prospect – war, as Von Clausewitz has written, involves “fog and friction” and detailed battle plans often become irrelevant at first brutal contact with an enemy in the field. Gen. W.T. Sherman, facing stiff resistance in the north Georgia mountains, finally did pursue total destruction of the enemy’s resources on his march through Georgia to the sea, speeding an end to the American Civil War. He felt he had little choice, as a practical soldier of intense patriotism and conviction: at any cost, get the job done!
His enemies feared and hated him but did not willingly run away. Sherman knew the Union was at stake; he had relatives in the deep south, but was unswayed during the bombardment of Vicksburg and later assaults on Jackson and Atlanta. “Do what you have to do” was his thinking.
God knows Ukraine needs him, and soldiers just like him and his friend General Ulysses Grant, though both would be horrified at the bestial atrocities which invaders of Ukraine are carrying out today on that suffering country.
We have gone back to a pre-civilized age in which in human animals walked the earth, devouring whatever stood in their path. This is acceptable to those who have no conscience and endless blood lust, as Putin’s mercenaries demonstrate. To fight for money alone has been done before,. But today utter brutalization of helpless non-combatants is unleashed wherever victims attempt hide in the basements and fields of Ukraine. One wonders if God weeps at the carnage. I expect that He does.
Every battle has its own brutal logic: when the object is to win back territory, as it is now in the Russian mind, objectives are clear – destroy enough property, kill enough Ukrainian children to make continued resistance impossible and obliterate the rival state: Ukraine.
This was Putin’s aim prior to ordering a blitzkrieg on the smaller nation, vowing to eliminate any free national identity in Ukrainians. Futile in February, 2022, and still so. There are thousands of Ukrainian fighters able to resist Russian assaults, but delays of executive leadership in the United States caused thousands more civilian deaths. We still have not given Ukraine the arms it needs most, for fear of Putin’s belligerent mood.
They lack long range planes and hardware, on the ground and in the skies. We have handicapped a nation friendly to us, and pretended it didn’t matter. In fact, U.S. executive leadership was prepared at the start of hostilities to look away and let a valiant but non-strategic Eastern European country go down, all in the interest of “peace” which now reads as appeasement.
All the success our caution has ever done is buy a few weeks’ time for a hostile, ambitious and bloodier aggression against Ukraine to emerge, as Russian politicians attempt to swallow a democratic nation of millions of people, whole.
England survived Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s well-meaning pacifist obsequiousness to Hitler by sheer native courage and endurance and the bulldog grit of the country’s new Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. It is noted that Great Britain was and is a highly diverse culture, both before and since WW II, consisting of men and women of every race and creed who are fond of Her Majesty the Queen, but who also love freedom, which Britain has and promotes.
So, on America’s best days, do we. In this last “great war” of 1941 – 1946, Germany’s outdated, rigid top-down command structure, coupled with Hitler’s arrogant mistakes at strategic warfare, contributed along with stiff-spined British character to defeat the Nazi hordes who were brainwashed into believing that Germany should rule the world.
Underneath this, and besides raw, ruthless ambition, was stark subconscious fear – if WE are not in charge and hold all the poker cards, what and who will rule US? It is inescapable that we recognize this same political fear in the U.S., today: NOW. This fear is driving President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin of Russia like a maddened coachman to force evermore unwilling Russian men into the killing fields of Ukraine, as he believes correctly that this is his last chance to restore the Mother Russia in which he believes and which never yet existed independently or unfragmented, on earth.
The many Tsars from Vladimir Monomakh and his descendants on through several ruling dynasties to the present have had one ultimate tool at their command: military or police destruction. The Gangster State is not a new thing, though the mask is now thoroughly off of what Russia, following evil leadership, has become.
Trained in the state covert spy group which was always up for sheer brutality, Putin is simply doing what his training and temperament incline him to do. He has taken to a barbarous approach for statecraft very naturally, and as an extreme introvert, his instinct to hide, even – especially - from the truth, has served him and his cohorts well for years.
What is done in secret, unacknowledged (shhhhh!) or in any way admitted to, can simply be forgotten. Or if it cannot, then the memory of poisoning, murder, or “disappearance” of an opponent may be safely tamped down during busy hours of running a large Euro-Asian country whose citizens are taught to fear any other political system than one’s own. Then came the pandemic; an enemy which one can see is frightening enough.
An unseen virus, ruthless as Putin himself, is not amenable to conquest by bluster, threats or missile-waving. Suddenly the Kremlin was in crosshairs. Anyone might die from a disease which was little understood but hugely feared. For Putin himself, many months of brooding isolation and quarantine in his mansion with his (probable) mistress and her children, thinking, thinking too much, with too many sordid choices including bodies over which he climbed to power . . . this slowly began to unravel any restraint in Vladimir Putin.
He is still unravelling, shedding credibility and straining his avenues of power, every day. And Putin is all about control, as his fanatic hubris continues to pull Russia further into a jagged whirlpool spiral of indiscriminate death, making Napoleon’s mistake of two centuries ago - trying to conquer Russia over endless miles of hard winter-frozen land, with his army’s food and supplies straggling far behind; the French who did not starve died of disease or froze to death along with their horses. Napoleon, having no more use for his conscripts, abandoned them and was driven back to Paris in a warm carriage with sound horses, who were fortunate to escape the cooking pots of his ragged “Grande Armee,” and were still of use.
Putin today has “horses” – servile subordinates - at his command, though they may well turn on him at a crucial time in his war with Ukraine. Like an angry child who threatens to break a toy, his threats of nuclear destruction are bombastic, but will never happen: There is no such thing as a “tactical” nuclear strike, and neither Putin, his family or his co-belligerents are inclined to commit suicide. With negotiating skills unimproved by his former legal education, Putin must wait out the result of his carnage to the end, knowing that Russia’s economy will end up in the minus column and take decades to rebound. All for conquest. All for war and greed. And all for nothing. May he eventually rest in peace, who has destroyed all peace for so many. His final judgment is too awful to contemplate.
Linda Berry is a Northsider.