Saturday, September 27, 2014

History Is History, Patriotic or Not

The WSJ op-ed by Donald Kagan says, "Democracy Requires a Patriotic Education." He cites Thomas Jefferson for support, not thinking that Thomas Jefferson was not a British patriot,  If he had been, the United States would probably not exist.  By his definition, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Bill Clinton, and most of the leaders of the late 20th century were not patriots.  They refused to fight for their country (the U.S.) during the Vietnam War.  They rebelled against their government, which wanted to send troops to Vietnam; they didn't go.  They had excuses, but they did not do what the government wanted them to do.  By Kagan's definition, they were (are) not patriots.

Kagan rails against the intellectuals in universities who encouraged their students to examine reasons why the 9/11 terrorists may have done what they did.  He mistakes the conflict of intellectuals versus regular people for the actual conflict between generations.  The baby boomers who avoided war in the 1960s are the professors whom he denigrates as intellectuals.  They are just rationalizing their own refusal to fight for their country years ago.  The new, student generation which does not have the draft to contend with is less concerned about sending some poor rednecks to fight a war for them.  And, yes, some are patriots who will go and fight, just as many young men in the 1960s went and fought in Vietnam.  Fewer go today if you compare the number of individuals who fought in the Vietnam War and the number who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The proportion of the population that serves today is much smaller that it was during Vietnam.  But the elites did not fight then and will not fight now.

This is relevant in my neighborhood.  The school board of Jefferson County, Colorado, wants to throw out the curriculum for the high school AP history course, because it is not patriotic enough.  The school board wants to remove history about dissent and resistance to the government.  They want to teach history as they wished it had happened, not as it actually happened.  They wish the rebellion against the draft in the 1960s had never happened, along with civil rights protests, prohibition, the Civil War, and many other unpleasant episodes in US history, but they did happen, and if you ignore them, you are not teaching history, but you are just distributing some sort of propaganda.  Welcome to the old Soviet Union!  Will history be taught from little red books like those Mao distributed in China?    

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Is Ukraine Putin's Cuban Missile Crisis

To what extent does Putin see the crisis in Ukraine the same way that Kennedy saw the Cuban missile crisis: a foreign military threat to the national security of the country?  It is not clear what NATO is going to do vis-à-vis Ukraine.  Ukraine is not a NATO member; so, NATO has no treaty obligation to defend it, although it does have treaty obligations to Poland and the Baltic states.  Who knows what Putin thought, but it would be reasonable to see Ukraine (and Belarus) as a buffer between Russia and the NATO allies, a kind of a Finland, as many commentators have described it.  He counted on his puppet rulers in Ukraine to keep the lid on yearnings to join the West, but they failed him while he was busy with the Olympics.  While there is a lot of talk about Ukraine never joining NATO, who knows what might happen in ten or twenty years.

On the other hand, it is arguable that NATO is not a threat to Russia,as long as Russia behaves itself and does not engage in aggression.  In the past there was some talk that Russia itself might join NATO.

This may be where the sense of Russian greatness comes in. Russia has always been on the border of Europe, not quite European, but always interacting closely with Europe, whether under attack by Napoleon or Hitler, or engaged in a cold war, or in a trade dispute with the EU.  Russia has historical justification for distrust of Europe.   Now Russia’s first capital city, Kiev, is looking to the West to join the EU rather than to the East as an ally of Russia.

Despite the historical and military consequences for Russia, does Russia have any right to interfere in the self-determination of the Ukraining people?  If the US experience with the Cuban missile crisis is relevant, them the answer might be yes, if there are legitimate national security risks for Russia.  The West says, no, there is no national security risk, because NATO and the West will never be an aggressor against Russia.  For Russia, the question is whether that assurance is one on which it can stake its existence for the foreseeable future.

Another national security issue is the Russian warm water port in Crimea.  This was traditionally Russian territory until Khrushchev transferred it to Ukraine in 1954.  Putin has already taken Crimea back for Russia, but it has no overland connection to Russia.  Contact with Russia must be over Ukrainian territory.  Putin may not find this acceptable, but so far it sounds as if there may be room for negotiation.  If the pro-Russian, eastern provinces of Ukraine were granted lots of autonomy by Ukraine, so that Putin felt he could rely on this for transport to and from Crimea, he might not feel that he has to annex them as part of Russia.  It remains to be seen what assurances Ukraine will give and whether Putin will accept them.  If not, he may feel that he has to take eastern Ukraine militarily. 

Discussing strategic access by Russia to Crimea avoids the issue of whether Russian has a special obligation to Russian speaking, Russia loving populations in surrounding countries.  This is the issue that brings fear to the Baltic republics.  They might prefer to see the Ukrainian issue resolved without getting into the question of what to do about ethnic Russians in countries bordering Russia.