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The Argument For Russia

I.Introduction

I begin this article not in the present, but seventy-seven years ago on a windswept North Carolina beach shortly before dawn. Overnight, commando units of the German Wehrmacht, launched from a large wolfpack of submarines offshore, have begun seizing control of the Barrier Islands. After nearly two years of planning, on June 22, 1941, German High Command is finally in a position to launch their invasion of the United States of America.

Before the United States Armed Forces, comprised mostly of soldiers from Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, Illinois, Iowa, and Michigan, can establish a stable eastern front, the Germans are able to penetrate all the way to the Appalachian Mountains in the west and New York City to the north. It is the entry of Canada into the war in 1942, and the subsequent failure of the Germans to take New York during the peak of fighting two years later, that finally turns the tide in favor of the Americans and the Wehrmacht is forced to evacuate by sea from Norfolk, Virginia on May 5, 1945. 

Four years of war on United States territory has, however, been devastating to the Americans. Although the German goals of repopulating America with a master race, seizing its heartland for a food source, and enslaving its population to contribute to the goals of the Fuhrer have failed, American industry along the East Coast has been largely destroyed and both civilian and military casualties are staggering. Final estimates place total fatalities at ten million men, women, and children. It will take forty years before America can finally shed the lingering effects of this cataclysm and restore its economy to pre-war levels.

The above history never happened...perhaps by the grace of a madman, the protective hand of God, or a simple accident of the compass. However, 5,000 miles due east from North Carolina, Russia was not so lucky. Real historical events for the Russians were even worse; total Russian casualties were estimated at twenty million, not ten. For purposes of comparison, at Pearl Harbor 2,403 Americans were killed. In the nightmare that occurred on September 11, 2001, 2,996 Americans perished. Given the profound impact both of these events had on the American psyche, it is almost unfathomable what change may have come to the American character had our country incurred a loss of life six hundred times greater. For the Russians, it has meant learning to think of life, death, and the survival of the state as an equation.

Following the "real" historical timeline for a moment, my grandfather once gave me a historical account of his experience attempting to train Russian pilots to fly B-17 bombers as part of the Lend-Lease Act enacted in 1941. For those unfamiliar with this Act, it was an attempt by the United States to avoid entering WW II by supporting its allies with supplies and logistical support instead of "boots on the ground." "The Russians came to the United States for training?" I asked. "Yes, they flew over the North Pole and down through Alaska...we only had one problem." he replied. "What was the problem?" I asked. "We could not give the Russian pilots a full tank of gas in the B-17 during the training flights. If we did, they would try to prematurely fly the plane back over the North Pole and would crash up in Alaska." he answered. "What did the Russians say when they saw you had only given them a half tank of gas?" I inquired further. "They would say, what is wrong with you we have to go back and kill Germans!" In short, the Russian pilots had applied the before-mentioned formula and made a conscious decision that their own lives were secondary to the collective Russian goal of expelling a foreign invader from their country.

In the 1990's, I went for a car ride with a former student at the "KGB school" who I will stereotypically refer to as, "Ivan." Before getting into the car, I had to ask Ivan to put out his cigarette. As we started down the road, I then had to ask him to put on his seat belt. "That is what is wrong with you Americans," Ivan exclaimed. "You want to live forever." Over the course of my contact with Ivan (whose father worked developing chemical weapons for the Russian government), the topic of anti-terrorism techniques came up. "We have a gas," he proclaimed one day, "that can quickly incapacitate terrorists with only 10-15% fatalities." "Only 10-15% fatalities, what happens if those 10-15% are women and children hostages?" I asked. "Acceptable losses," was his reply. In 2002, Russian special forces used a gas, identical to the one my acquaintance had described, to end a standoff with Chechen separatists at a Moscow theater. Of the 900 hostages, 130 were reportedly killed from inhalation of the noxious fumes --- a fatality rate of 14.4%. In another conversation, the topic of poisoning a municipality's water supply came up. "Hah, poisoning a city's supply is nothing!" Ivan bragged. "We have a pill the size of an Alka Seltzer that, if dropped in Lake Michigan, would render all of the Great Lakes undrinkable for 100 years!" To an American such a weapon is unthinkable; to a Russian, it is undesirable, but cannot be excluded as a possible solution were desperate, life or death variables plugged into the equation.

II.Historical Background

The Russians are the sum of their history and you cannot begin to understand the Russians without first learning about their past. A complete history of the Russian people is beyond the scope of this article. I would proffer to my reader that the Russian national psychological makeup is largely shaped by, a) oppressive government regimes arguably necessitated by the unwieldy nature of the country and its many, diverse, peoples, b) painful invasions by foreign armies, c) historical geographic sensitivities (primarily driven by security concerns, a lack of food sources, and a desire for warm water ports), and d) a feeling of being a pariah to the rest of Christendom.

Governing Russia is one of the world's greatest historical challenges. Russian leaders have swung back and forth through the years from the despotic and introverted to the enlightened and extroverted. Examples of the former are Ivan the Terrible (who terrorized the populace with secret police), Alexander III (who increased censorship, tightened controls in universities, and ignored Jewish pogroms), and Nicholas I (who established a new secret police known as "the Third Section.") The Russian czar Peter the Great was the first to recognize that Russia could not be a continental recluse. Reportedly traveling throughout Europe in disguise, Peter took what he learned from his travels back to Russia, committed to transform it from an isolated agricultural society to be a true member of the greater Western powers. Alexander II embarked on a program of Great Reforms after taking the throne which included the emancipation of the serfs; an act of importance similar to the freeing of the American slaves around the same time period. Although a controversial figure on the world stage, Vladimir Putin's ability to lead Russia out of the period of confusion and corruption that followed Boris Yeltsin's reign is an achievement that must be respected.

We have already discussed one horrific invasion of Russia; there have been, however, many others. An invasion almost as devastating as that in World War II occurred approximately 130 years earlier when Napoleon led his Grand Army toward Moscow. A hundred years prior to that, the Swedish King Charles XII had led an invasion from the North that resulted in a great loss of life. A lesser known historical fact is that, in addition to invasions by Germany, France, and Japan, Russia was also invaded by the United States on September 5, 1918. Ironically, the President who issued the order for America to put "boots on the ground" inside Russian territory was Woodrow Wilson, the father of the League of Nations (forerunner to the United Nations today). America's armed intervention in the Russian revolution placed a seed of distrust between the two nations which lingered into the twilight of the 20th century.

In addition to wars, Russian has also historically suffered from a lack of trade routes (specifically warm water ports from which to launch trading vessels), an extremely short growing season for most of the country (leading to periodic food shortages without careful planning), and a lack of natural boundaries to inhibit invasions. All of these factors have led to geographic sensitivities two of which are present in today's headlines; Crimea and the Ukraine. Crimea is important to Russian interests as providing excellent access to the Black Sea which eventually leads to the Mediterranean and beyond. Ukraine was known as the "breadbasket of the USSR" for its ability to produce a consistent supply of food to the surrounding Russian provinces. The Ukraine issue is a particularly sensitive one due to accusations of complicity with the Germans in World War II. In order to prevent a large loss of life to the Russian populace, it has been Russian strategy for many years to create a "neutral zone" of Russian-dominated states on the periphery of Russia proper. Should an invader come again, they would need to pass through this neutral zone giving the Russians some warning before Russian lives were lost. Placed into this historical context, it is easier to understand why the Russians do not want a member of the EU (which, in the Russian mind, is somewhat synonymous with Germany) on their immediate border and in control of one of the largest components of their food supply.

Depending on the age of my reader, you may not have not heard the term "Christendom" before. The term seems to have become somewhat deprecated, in favor of the nonsecular "Western Civilization." I myself recall seeing it only in my social studies textbook circa 1981. It has three general meanings; a) it can refer to the worldwide community of Christians or Christian majority countries, b) it can refer to the sum total of nations in which the Catholic Church is the established religion of the state or which have ecclesiastical concordats with the Holy See, or c) it can refer to the Christian world as a geopolitical power juxtaposed with both the pagan and especially Muslim world. For the purposes of this part of the discussion, by Christendom I intend the "a" or "b" meanings above. As Europe emerged from the Middle Ages, an elite club of royal families began to wield great power across the continent. Russia, largely undeveloped and what might be referred to as a "flyover state" today, was not admitted into this exclusive club. Russians were openly discussed in the European royal courts as ill-mannered and unsophisticated. These slights left the Russians feeling unwelcome and isolated, and was a driving force behind Peter the Great's reforms and his eventual decision to move the capital of Russia from Moscow to St. Petersburg so that a "window to the west" could be created. In the modern world, unpopular as communists and now struggling with their world image as capitalists, the Russians are undoubtedly wondering, once again, what they must do to earn an honored place on the world stage.

III.The Argument

Before I begin my argument for Russia, let me address some of the concern about Russian interference in our recent presidential election. First, it is important to understand what the commentators mean by the term "interference." They do not mean that the Russians penetrated our electronic voting systems and changed the vote count; there is absolutely no evidence of such an attack which, if it had occurred, would rise above interference to constitute meddling in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation. This is something approaching an act of war that no democracy could tolerate; we know that, the Russians know that, it didn't happen.

What the commentators do mean when they speak of "interference" is that the Russians used their intelligence agencies to gather, and then selectively disseminate, information detrimental to candidates, such as Secretary Clinton, who the Russians deemed undesirable. This scenario is a more likely one, as one of the first things you learn in surviving a totalitarian police state is that knowledge is power. However, this argument is a problematic one due to the Democrat Party's extremely poor efforts to secure its own data. Under Tennessee's Uniform Trade Secrets Act, a business must establish that it has made "efforts reasonable under the circumstances to maintain its [the trade secret's] secrecy." Although I am not privy to all the details, it does not appear from the emails that were eventually produced that any serious steps (encryption, digital signatures, etc.) were taken to protect the party's emails. As so little effort was necessary to access the Democrat data, it is hard to say whether it was the Russian government, a group of autonomous hackers, or, for that matter, whether it was the Chinese contracting with a private Russian company or even an American ally, such as Israel (who has a large Russian expatriate population and arguably more to lose from a Clinton victory) masquerading as the Russians. We simply don't know, nor is it likely under the circumstances we will ever be able to ascertain what level of official participation, if any, the Russian government had in the disclosure of Democrat campaign emails.

For the moment, however, let us assume that Russian intelligence did take advantage of the extremely poor security measures taken by the Democrat Party and made some effort to illegally gain access to the Clinton campaign's email accounts for the purpose of embarrassing Secretary Clinton. What should the moral of this story be? As it is not possible, under any scenario, for Mr. Putin to be penalized by the American judicial system, is the lesson not that better security measures should be taken in the future to protect sensitive data not only from the Russians but from other private and state actors who may find value in acquiring such data? Another avenue of reprisal would, of course, be to expel Russian diplomats (as the Obama administration did in the waning days of its existence) and impose economic sanctions. For reasons detailed below, this would not be in the long-term interests of the United States. Finally, isn't the moral of the story also that the Internet has opened a new theater for warfare, known as social media, and that all of America must be prepared to fight in this arena? I find it somewhat incredulous that the Democrat party would attempt to demonize Russia for funneling information (real or fake) collected by their intelligence agencies into the United States when the Central Intelligence Agency did the same thing for twenty-one years via radio transmitters along the Berlin Wall and an organization known as Radio Free Europe. Perhaps the most important take away from all of this, as technology moves from radio, to the Internet, to whatever comes next, is the importance of all democratic governments through their respective educational systems to train their citizens in the skills of independent and critical thinking so that the public can decide for themselves whether information being streamed to them is truthful or simply more of the disinformation so prevalent on the Internet today. I can remember sitting on a bench in an East German train station in October 1989 and hearing, off in the distance, some teenage girls singing. Although the German accents were heavy, I came to realize that the songs they were singing were not German folk songs but songs from the movie, "Dirty Dancing." The Wall fell approximately two weeks later.

A. As a Country, Russia Has Something to Offer

The first point in my argument for establishing closer ties with Russia is simply that they, as a nation, have something to offer. As rich and diverse as their history, Russian culture includes literature from Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and Chekov. Russian ballet has long been considered one of the best in the world. Russian composers include such greats as Tchaikovsky (1812 Overture) and Rimsky-Korsakov (Flight of the Bumblebee). In the sciences, Russia has excelled in the areas of physics, aerospace, and medicine. Finally, Russia is a country extremely rich in natural resources and is the third largest producer of oil in the world at an estimated 10,440,000 barrels daily. With an estimated population of 142,355,415, Russia is also the world's twelfth largest consumer market (almost 2% of the total global market).

B.When Americans and Russians Work Together, Great Things Happen

During the Revolutionary War, Russia was officially neutral. However, the Russian monarch, Czarina Catherine, quietly preferred the American colonists and provided them logistical support up to the point of compromising her professed neutrality. In one instance, Czarina Catherine went so far as to publicly embarrass the British by revealing King George's overtures and requests that Catherine convince the French to stop openly aiding the colonists. Without Russian aid, it is quite possible that the Revolutionary War would have turned out differently. Russia continued to aid our fledgling Republic through the Civil War as it saw a unified America as a necessary counterbalance to the British Empire.

American and Russian cooperation was never more important than in World War II. Although having incurred tremendous casualties, Russian soldiers continued to engage and harass the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front. By keeping Hitler occupied and distracted, the Russians gave the remaining Allied Forces the time they needed to prepare and execute Operation Overlord, the invasion of Nazi occupied France which ultimately led to the downfall of the Third Reich. America, by leveraging its industrial might to produce the weapons and ammunition the Russians so desperately needed, became an indispensable partner to the Kremlin. It is terrifying to think what sort of a world we would now live in had this cooperation not occurred.

Russian and American cooperation is, fortunately, not restricted to times of war. During peacetime, there has been significant cooperation between the United States and Russian space programs. In the early 1970's, the Nixon administration sought to reduce U.S. - Russian tensions that had built up during The Cold War. A suggestion was made that both space programs could benefit by standardizing their spacecrafts' air lock mechanisms so that either country could rescue the other's astronauts / cosmonauts in the event of an emergency. Eventually, talks led to the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project docking mission of 1975 in which an Apollo Command/Service Module successfully docked with the Russian Soyuz 19. U.S. - Russian cooperation continues into the present day, with NASA utilizing Russian rockets to transport astronauts and cosmonauts into space after the sunset of the Space Shuttle Program. For a more detailed discussion of Russian and American cooperation in this area, I strongly recommend reading "United States-Soviet Space Cooperation during the Cold War" athttps://www.nasa.gov/50th/50th_magazine/coldWarCoOp.html.

C.The United States and Russia Need Each Other

My third and final point for closer U.S. and Russian relations is also my darkest one. In the early 1990's, while working on a research paper for my International Relations class that involved a hypothetical Middle East war involving Syria, I had a telephone conversation with my grandfather during which the issue of militant Islamic Fundamentalism came up. I was stunned when my grandfather deadpanned, "They will win." My grandfather was a brilliant tactician and strategist, and I had never heard him even remotely suggest that the United States would not ultimately prevail in all conflicts. His logic was that militant Islamic Fundamentalists are a) more dedicated to their cause, b) more devout in their beliefs, and c) growing in number and will continue to do so in the current geopolitical environment. In short, we will eventually be overrun by a zealous enemy whose numbers are exponentially growing.

Although I do not agree with my grandfather's conclusion, the numbers are concerning. Current estimates place the population of the United States at 325,805,336. Although estimates vary, most statisticians would agree that there are approximately 1.5 - 2.0 billion Muslims in the world, or an amount roughly five times the U.S. population. Certainly, not all Muslims are militant Fundamentalists. Just as certainly, not all of the United States population is Christian. If even a small percentage, however, of the world's Muslims have been radicalized, that radicalization poses a clear threat to the United States. Should Russia partner with the United States in its efforts against terrorism, the numbers improve from five to one down to three to one. The analysis of the potential Chinese military threat yields approximately the same result as current estimates place the Chinese population at 1,382,323,332. (1,382,323,332 / 325,805,336 + 142,355,415 = 2.95).

Terrorism is not the only evil loosed from Pandora's Box, and may not be the most dangerous. Healthcare issues loom large on the horizon, and we should not forget Nobel Prize Laureate Joshua Lederberg's warning that, "The single biggest threat to man's continued dominance on the planet is a virus." In addition, the Earth is a closed ecological system which is coming under increasing stress by a rapidly increasing human population that is depleting more and more natural resources. Whether it is global climate change or a lack of available water supplies, we must rely on science to provide answers and America does not have the ability to always provide those answers alone. It is time for America to consider the third meaning of Christendom and bring Russia, once and for all, into the fold as a bulwark against enemies of our common interests and beliefs.

IV.Conclusion

The CIA World Factbook states that the U.S.S.R. was the principal adversary of the U.S. during the Cold War (1947-1991). A few nights ago, I heard General Jack Keane refer to the Russians as adversaries of the United States. In my opinion, the language we use when referring to the Russian Federation needs to change. We are no longer in a Cold War with Moscow, and cannot look at the Russians as global adversaries. We can, however, see them as rivals to keep us on our toes. It is simply not in the best interest of the United States at this time to demonize Russia, or to attempt to entangle it in our own political scandals and controversies. Both the United States and Russia must work cooperatively to further their own joint interests for the general benefit of mankind.

Recently, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev (who has spent considerable time working at the International Space Station) stated that, "Space unites us all," and that we must have, "more space projects that would make the people understand that there's no need for confrontation." Artemyev further stated that, "I lived in the American segment [of the ISS]...and I communicated with the US, European, and Japanese crew members, and it turns out that peace and family values are of prime importance to all of us." American astronaut Buzz Aldrin has stated that, "if we go back to the moon, we're guaranteed second, maybe third place because while we are spending all that money, Russia has its eye on Mars."

The Crimean and Ukrainian situations are problems that should be addressed through diplomatic channels. Dispensing with terrorism, global health issues, and diminishing resources are formidable endeavors that America should not face alone. Perhaps an initial avenue to inspire cooperation between the United States and Russia would be for Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin to announce a joint mission to Mars. If history is our guide, such a collaboration of Yankee ingenuity and Russian bravado would almost certainly result in a successful outcome.

The information contained in this blog is provided for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. No recipients of content from this blog should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any content included in this blog without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice from an attorney licensed in the recipient's state.

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