Ukraine is on my mind. And its people are in my prayers. As well as in my reflections on serving the purpose of human life.
A recent news report on the death of Mikhail Gorbachev gave me an opportunity to reflect on his life and what he attempted to do with it. He was the last leader of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), with titles such as General Secretary of the Communist Party, Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, and President of the Soviet Union.
Gorbachev was responsible for dismantling the USSR and opening Russia to the world as a positive participant in the community of nations. That action brought him both admiration and disdain. Admiration from the world’s democracies. Hatred from many citizens of Russia.
Those outside Russia were relieved that a large and menacing nuclear empire had finally accepted an accommodation with nations that were once enemies. Including the United States.
But that era of good feeling did not last long. A friend of mine explained why.
Dr. Zoya Malkova was once equivalent to the American Secretary of Education within the USSR. After the USSR fell, she traveled the world to explain why that event was traumatic for Russians. In speeches while in the United States, she said that dismantling the USSR was equivalent in America to losing the Constitution and our entire system of government.
Even worse, it was like losing our history and great leaders, along with an intense diminishment of our religious institutions. Losing everything and everyone we once believed in as an American culture.
That kind of disintegration is what was happening in her home country. The Russia she even fought for as a fighter pilot in World War II.
What was left for Russian children to believe in? What was left for schools to teach beyond the basics?
To be sure, Russia’s history included excellent achievements in the arts. Composers, writers, ballet, and other symbols of achievement were enormous contributions. Its military defeated the Nazis after losing 20 million people doing it. And, partially through use of Nazi scientists, the USSR was first to send a satellite into space.
Even so, Russia as a culture worth revering and living in became nothing more than a shell of its previous stature. It had no reverential depth. Nothing that allowed people to proudly salute what had become a nondescript flag. Or identify with a cultural foundation on which personal achievements could be built.
Russia to many of its citizens became a shrunken facsimile of what was once a great power on earth, with its famous czars and czarinas fading into an irrelevant history. An intellectual and emotional vacuum.
Russians learned to cope with that reality. But had difficulty living with it.
Aristotle is thought to have said, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” I don’t know if that is accurate, but human beings have a hard time with vacuums. Both in terms of atmosphere and emotional survival. Breathing is necessary to live. Believing in something is essential for leading a full life.
The vacuum Russians felt and still feel was noticed by leaders following Gorbachev, including Vladmir Putin. Their answer, particularly Putin’s, has been an attempt to recapture what was. At least in territory and military dominance. To gain back the USSR using whatever techniques necessary.
Regaining the country known as Ukraine is a start, at least in Putin’s mind. Portions of that country were known as historically Russian in language and culture. But that smaller nation had moved away from its previous history, so Putin decided to just take Crimea and then everything else through military force.
Because of Putin’s actions many people are having to cope with unnecessary and horrendous losses. Their lives, homes, infrastructure, economic security, and peaceful living they once enjoyed are going up in smoke. Military personnel serving both Ukraine and Russia are being sacrificed daily, all in the service of one man’s ambitions. For a nation that once existed but exists no more. And never will.
I served the United States as a tank company commander. But was never deployed to a shooting war such as being fought along the border with Russia and inside Ukraine. However, it takes very little imagination for me to know what is being endured by both military and civilian personnel. The terror must be inexplicable.
All done in the name of something that is nothing more than the figment of a man’s imagination and longing, to make Russia great again. A man who gives his followers and supporters the same kind of fervor. Thereby taking many people over the precipice into oblivion.
An evil service we already know too well. Of the kind emulated in too many other countries of the world.
Mikhail Gorbachev tried to educate his nation and bring its people to an acceptance of a new way of thinking and acting. That their national pride could be restored in time through peaceful actions and cooperative attitudes. He spoke, wrote, and tried to convey a message that many heard. But others did not, mostly because they refused to listen or believe his ideas.
To them, war is an option. Even if it means disaster. Coping with the unthinkable. Extinguishing life along the way.
©2022 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved
1 thought on “TO COPE IS NOT TO LIVE”
The citizens of Ukraine are on my mind as well – and always in my prayers. Especially since my great-great grandparents are buried there.