One hundred years ago when the Archduke of Austria Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, most of the citizens of Vienna were not really worried. As was their wont, they continued to enjoy the famous music and wines of their native country. Yet this event signaled the beginning of an event that less than a year later found millions of soldiers bedded down in bone chilling, water-logged trenches, yards away from dead comrades whose corpses rotted in no-man’s-land.
How could these people have been so complacent?
The answer seems to lie in the fact that decades of economic progress based on international trade, had made it obvious that war was in no one’s interest. Thus, so the reasoning seems to have been, it would — somehow — be avoided. They were dead wrong.
Now, exactly 100 years later, there seems to be a spooky chance that this drama will be more-or-less reenacted. The seat of potential conflict now shifts from Serbia to the Ukraine and the two major parties are now the USA and Russia, with a disunited and ineffectual Europe in between. Rather than an assassination as a triggering event, we have the USA supporting an attempted coup with a Russian response of territorial annexation.
Here at home, memories of World War II have, as we have just been witnessing, melted into gauzy images of valor. Not so in Ukraine. There, folks in the East tend to remember the Red Army as saviors who defeated the Nazi fascists, while those in the West harbor grudges against the depredations of that same Red Army. Hatred abounds and smolders. And Russian troops are on one Ukrainian border while some NATO forces are on another. Furthermore Mr. Obama proposes a new $1 billion fund to bolster European security and a possible doubling of the 250 troops we now have in Poland (which borders both Russia and Ukraine).
Even as the USA proposes to spend more to step up apparent opposition to Russia, France is selling Russia several advanced naval attack ships! And we cooperate intimately and continuously with Russia in maintaining the International Space Station.
One feels like one is in the presence of hysteria: There is a need to slap or shake the hysteric to bring him or her back to reality. Every one repeat with me: “We are not the cops of the world; we have grave, unattended to problems at home; Europe now has ample resources to defend itself, if, indeed, it sees the need to do so; the U.S. bloated military budget is gobbling up scarce resources that are very much needed at home; the USA and Russia still have strategic missiles aimed at each other with enough combined firepower to destroy the world.”
Americans are as much asleep now as were the Austrians a century ago. If we continue to rattle sabers and throw down gauntlets, then yes, there will at some point be a war. Stop it. Stop it. Stop it. Just stop this right now.
John Palmer is a retired professor in Charleston.