Sometimes when I wake up in the morning, I wonder if I have been sucked back in time while I slept. Note, this is a historical post/reflection and not actually a political one despite the sentence that is going to follow this one (and the last couple of lines of commentary as I refuse to discuss the Russia investigation or Russia meddling in US elections or the conspiracy theory that the FBI is out to get President Trump). Anyway, I feel the time travel thing because my newsfeed is full of what Trump/Putin are saying while I sleep. It’s the first things I see when I turn off my alarm and as a historian, I have a pretty good grasp on what has transpired over the last century between the US and the Soviet Union/Russia.
Now a lot has changed in the last fifty years including the fall of the Soviet Union, but that doesn’t mean that to some degree we aren’t still squaring off against the Soviets… especially with Putin at the helm of Russia. Let’s all realize that Putin is what’s known as part of the Old Guard. He was KGB and he made millions on the rise of Capitalism in Russia following the fall of the Soviet Union, but as a KGB member that required him to be a true believer.
Contrary to popular opinion, the KGB was not the Soviet equivalent of the CIA and MI-4. It was in fact a mix of spies, secret police, and informants… It was more like the Gestapo (Nazi Secret Police). The KGB was responsible for rooting out non-believers, dissidents, criminals, spies, and everyone else that was considered a threat to the Soviet Union. The biggest difference between MI-5, CIA, and KGB was the limits. The CIA has fewer limits than the FBI – for example they are not supposed to operate on US soil, some of that has gone away in recent years with the rise of Jihadists (that is a post for another day though), but the KGB didn’t have limits, not really. They were authorized to use lethal force whenever necessary, as such one of the requirements to be a KGB Officer like Putin meant proving loyalty to the Soviet Union. And even though it feels like a long time ago, the KGB only disbanded 25 years ago or so, which isn’t all that long really… I have nephews and nieces who will never understand the Soviet Union the way I do because it had fallen by the time they were born. More interestingly, I will never truly understand the Soviet Union in the same way my parents did, because by 1980 when I was born it was already in trouble and I was only 12 or so when it famously collapsed.
Knowing what I do about Putin though makes me a little weary when I open my phone and see news that the US and Russian relations are souring a little more every day. I’m not concerned with invasions or World War III (although that is a post for another day too as we are getting much, much closer to it every hour). What bothers me about the souring relationship is that Putin is an oligarch leader who grew up under Communism in the Soviet Union and lots of Russians still harbor some resentments towards the US and Putin is one of them. Meaning the man we are antagonizing has the second largest nuclear arsenal in the world at his fingertips and he believed the US should have been nuked long ago.
Furthermore, if the US and Russia did go to war, it would not be pretty. The US has the bigger navy, bigger air force, bigger army, a more diverse group of special forces, and enough military intelligence infrastructure in place to fight such a war, however, the Russians were using Slash & Burn warfare long before Sherman did. This is where we tend to lose wars… We aren’t great at dealing with guerilla warfare or slash & burn warfare, both of which the Russians have used in the past with great success. To be fair, no military is actually good against either of those techniques. It’s where we had problems in Vietnam, it’s why we are having issues in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The thing is, it isn’t like the Russians have only done it a few times. They have a long storied military career of slash & burn and guerilla warfare. They were doing it back when Huns were still a real thing and not the German type, but Attila the Hun. Slash & burn works two ways. An invading army can use slash and burn which is where they just torch everything they come across as they make their way into a country or the people that are being invaded can do it, with Russians this means they advance East towards the interior steppes of Russia and burn everything behind them, entire villages have been wiped out over night by fleeing Russian populations and it was a huge part of the Nazi downfall when invading the Soviet Union in the 1940s. Between an extreme cold spell because it was winter (someone didn’t think that through by the way), the drought that had followed the year before and the fact that the Soviet citizens were participating in their own slash and burn campaigns as they fled Nazis, it didn’t work out so well for the Nazis who were actually the stronger military force than the Soviets and had a larger army. The result was the decimation of the Nazi army on the Eastern front and it worked. They had to retreat back into the less Russian parts of the Soviet Union and regroup, restock, and then rethink their desire to invade the Soviet Union.
This makes it so I feel a little different when the People’s Republic of China or North Korea rattles it’s sabers and comments on being annoyed with the US than when it’s Russia. A war with Russia is an unwinnable war. Plus, quite honestly a good working relationship with Russia means a better economy for the US as Russia has more oil in Siberia than the entire rest of the world combined and that’s just one resource we should be buying from them, as they also have an astonishing amount of areas that could be mined for diamonds, precious metals, and natural gas. Meaning if we stay on good terms with Russia we can lower the costs of all sorts of things in the US by simply investing a little money into the Russian economy, which would ultimately be good for everyone involved.
However, at the moment Russia is not accepting foreign investment, especially from the US. As Trump and Putin continue to land political blows against each other, we move closer to some of the things we worried about in the 1950s and 1960s. I don’t believe the US should be kissing Putin’s ass, far from as I believe he is a sociopath who believes the US is out to get them (of course, this may be true to some degree).
For the record, my primary complaint about the US President at this time is that he seems to be treating the White House like it’s the board room on The Apprentice and because of this he reminds me of the Red Queen from Alice through the Looking Glass as he seems to indiscriminately fire people on a whim… I can’t remember a single time in my life when a president has fired so many people from the offices he put them in. I keep waiting for Tweets to start saying “off with his head” when he announces he is firing someone. And please don’t post a bunch of comments that clog up my phone with announcements talking about the FBI conspiracy to get him (that actually sounds more like a paranoid rambling than most conspiracy theories I’ve heard in the last several decades and I don’t subscribe to it, regardless of the shaky evidence that has been shown to me; at this time, I believe more evidence of the Roswell cover up than the FBI being out to get our president).