? Russian invasion of Ukraine: latest pictures
— The Times (@thetimes) February 25, 2022
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When my grandfather turned 16, his mother threw him out of the country.
The country was Russia. And in 1886, it was a good place for a Jewish boy to be evicted from. Most Jews at that time lived under constant terror in what was known as the “Pale of Settlement,” a giant ghetto. Add to that, the Czarist policy of drafting Jewish men into the army for up to 10 years, a stratagem to “kill the Jew and save the man,” although considering the abysmal quality of the Czar’s army, it often killed the man as well.
So Mama Lehrman gave her son some food and money, and off he walked to Hamburg, Germany. He eventually sailed past the newly erected Statue of Liberty to realize the American Dream of his fellow immigrants.
And what of the country he left behind?
Rarely has a nation had so dismal a history as Russia. Since its inception, it’s been invaded by practically everyone with a horse and a spear; first by the Mongols (who left picturesque mountains of skulls) followed by the Teutonic Knights, Swedes, Poles, and of course, Napoleon. In order to get rid of him, the Russians burnt their capital to the ground, an act that tells much about the Russian character when facing adversity.
The dawning of the 20th Century did not give this long-suffering nation a break. In fact, the agony was just beginning. From the outset, she was trounced in a short but nasty war with Japan which coincided with an aborted revolution. World War I not only carried away 2,000,000 Russian lives but was followed by a ghastly civil war that killed another 3,000,000. Stalin shed more blood in the name of “The People” by murdering millions through purges and carefully engineered famines, including the 4,000,000 who starved to death in Ukraine, an atrocity they haven’t forgotten.
All this stood in prelude to World War II which began with the Soviet Union invading tiny Finland. The stalwart Finns lost 25,000 soldiers. The Soviets lost 1,000,000. The Russians won. But such a sorry performance led Hitler to believe that the USSR was an inept pushover, ripe for invasion. He was wrong.
During World War II, the Soviet Union lost 20,000,000 people, most of them civilians. They won. They not only won, but basically beat the Nazis all by themselves, losing in one battle, Stalingrad, what the United States lost in the entire war on all fronts. During World War II, about 70 percent of the German army was engaged on the Eastern Front.
So within 30 years, Russia lost 30 million souls to war, conflict, and mass murder.
Such cataclysms would pole-ax most countries. One cannot envision the United States bearing such losses and continuing to function. Instead, Americans whine about “tyranny” because we have to take a vaccine shot and wear a mask against a killer pandemic.
Having been invaded for so many centuries with such catastrophic results, one can understand why they get wary when hemmed in at their borders. Historical trauma also clarifies why the Russian people have always welcomed autocratic leaders and cared little for democracy. When they had the latter during the 1990s, the country nearly fell apart, the average lifespan decreased, and millions fell into abject poverty while a handful became billionaires.
Many Russians love Vladimir Putin, just as many loved Stalin, as long as they kept their mouths shut and towed the line. Putin’s aim isn’t to reassert communism.
Why should he when he and his corrupt oligarch buddies have gotten rich from predatory Capitalism?
His intent is to recreate the old Soviet Empire (he’s admitted as much) and to crush a democracy that threatens his authoritarian dictatorship. All while lining his pockets with whatever he can grab.
There is also no excuse for Donald Trump praising Putin’s “genius,” for Fox News’s tepid excuses blaming Biden, and for the deranged Marjorie Taylor Greene attending an American white nationalist rally where the entire crowd cheered Russia’s invasion.
It’s ironic, however, that Ukraine’s brave president Zelensky has transformed from a comedian into a leader, while Trump has done just the opposite. Except that his act is no longer amusing. He has showed his true democracy-hating colors, and his supporters had better take notice.