What Goes Around Will Come Around: Ukraine & Vietnam

Ideas and Issues Protests

            Pearl River     Civil war and various armed conflicts continue around the world in one area or another, but are often so remote and below the radar that they are easy for us to ignore in the United States.  Three men in Ohio and Michigan pleading guilty to terrorist conspiracy makes headlines as an aberration here, though it might be common elsewhere.  The surprise that the protest and rally last year on January 6th goes off the rails and becomes a violent occupation becomes an obsession polarizing the country still.

All of this pales when we are awakened to headlines of tanks rolling, bombs bursting, and street fighting in Ukraine as Russia invades the country.  Russia declared a nuclear alert.  War in Europe.  We saw it coming.  President Biden warned us every step of the way, but that still didn’t really prepare us for the reality.  Huge demonstrations against the Russian invasion occurred all around the world.  Severe sanctions have been announced.  Europe and Baltic countries have denied their airspace to Russian planes.  The ruble has fallen against the dollar.  Russia is now a pariah state.

Meanwhile Russia’s leader, President Vladimir Putin, has whipped up support in his country with various wild claims.  He recognized two smaller geographical areas in Ukraine where some Russian separatists had been active.  He claimed the invasion was at their request and to support them against discrimination and abuse from the Ukrainian government.  Of course, he claimed that Ukraine has started the war.  He attempted a number of false flag operations with operatives and others to attempt to create incidents that he could claim forced Russia to invade.  Russia’s control of the country’s internet and social media spewed this propaganda to build support.  The United States, Europe and NATO were accused to creating a security problem at Russia’s border.  Putin hectored the country with his grievances about Europe and the West, while making nonnegotiable demands on Ukraine’s sovereignty.

What a deadly and tragic mess!

Will he get away with it?

I happened to be dipping my ears into audiobooks to ease long stints on the road.  I was surprised at the huge time commitments required to listen to books rather than read them.  My maiden voyages were Empire of Pain about the Sacklers and the opioid crisis, and Braiding Sweetgrass.  Now I’ve started on Ascent to Power, one of the Robert Caro volumes on Lyndon B. Johnson that I hadn’t read.

I dropped out of college to organize against the Vietnam War.  I can remember where I was the night that Johnson said he would not run again, in the same way I remember where I was when Kennedy was shot or that Armstrong stepped on the moon.  I was delirious and saw it as life changing for me and millions.  I’ve softened on Johnson somewhat over the decades as I’ve watched the war on the poor replace the war on poverty, but Caro reminds the listener-reader quickly that Johnson just couldn’t keep himself from lying about things both small and large, like Vietnam, while trying to keep much about the war secret as he moved the troop count over a half-million Americans there.  58,000 Americans died and hundreds of thousands were wounded, but nothing could erase his lies.  What goes around will come around.

Now the globe has gotten smaller than it was then.  The internet distorts, but it also communicates.  Just as Americans eventually confronted the lies and came to grips with the truth in Vietnam, Putin will not be able to keep lying to the Russian people about Ukraine and hope to get away with it.  There are already Russians around the world spreading the truth of the invasion.

Putin will learn Johnson’s tragic lesson.  He may not learn in the short run, but just as Johnson was taught about lying, there’s no escaping that what goes around comes around in the long run.   Lying doesn’t work or can be drowned in blood.  The truth will out, and war can’t escape its power.  Small comfort now, but the ends never justify the means.