Bread or Bullets

Mankind takes a lot flack for its propensity for war, but it’s not the first form of life to wage war. The annals of historic and prehistoric observation shows a world replete with countless animals fighting within their own species for territory and resources. Even seemingly docile plants crowd-out one another to the death over precious sunlight. Should it surprise us that mankind struggles to overcome eons of evolutionary nature? Probably not. What should surprise us, to the glory of all mankind, is that we might be the first to have a chance to forsake it.

World War I was referred to as the war to end all wars. The breadth of its horror was astounding. Trench and chemical warfare, the ghastly efficiency of industrial weaponry, man and horse skeletons frozen in barbed-wire laced mud, all combined into an assault upon the conscience of men. It was all on display, not just to the soldier of the distant battlefield, but in newspaper photos for everyone around the world. Never again, we crossed our fingers, and then proceeded to not even make it a generation before we were at it again in World War II.

Over and over again. We fight and we lose. There are no winners.

Thankfully, for many generations now, our wars have trended smaller and smaller (though certainly not to its victims). The reason for this might be the stakes. The weapons of the largest warriors in the arena are so profound that we seem, at last, to comprehend what it means to wage a war without any possible winners. This is the understanding we finally need to arrive upon regarding every war, no matter its size. I think most people are there. They understand that it’s better to exchange bread than bullets. But, not everyone has come so far. In walks Vladimir Putin, who, in his mind, is not starting a war, but seems to be continuing the same fighting of WWI, WWII and the Cold War. The common man struggles to move forward, while he looks backward.

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is despicable. It is brazen. It’s evil. I could care less about the corrupt Ukrainian government, but I do empathize with its people who just want to be left alone to live their lives and raise their families. Like the arrival of newspaper photos from WWI, smart phones afford us all a new level perspective on the true nature of war. We are all rightfully sickened by Putin’s war machine and it’s effect on civilian populations. Putin has become public enemy number one, not just in America, but nearly around the globe.

As much as Ukrainian valor inspires us, and as much as Russian atrocities repulse us, America and her allies are wise to refrain from intervening militarily in this conflict, for the closer I look, the less I see a need. Sanctions and boycotts, the likes of which the world has never seen, have been levied upon Russia. Banking, import-export, energy, technology all have been curtailed or cut off. As a result, the Russian economy has fiercely constricted, commerce has been handcuffed and the Ruble has tanked. In addition to these sanctions, we should offer asylum and citizenship to any Russian soldier who lays down his weapons and surrenders. While we’re at it we should do the same for any Russian citizen with scientific or technical abilities. Drain their brains, if you will. Even if Putin takes Ukraine (which would be as disastrous to him as the dog who finally caught the car bumper), these sanctions will cripple his country until he abandons it. What is the use of gaining Ukraine if you lose the world? In fact, Putin has already lost. There is no way Russia can come out ahead in the situation. Sure he can rule a hermit kingdom like North Korea or Venezuela, but that’s a poor consolation prize. And, when you include how poorly Russia’s military has performed against a much inferior Ukrainian military, you have to wonder what Putin and his oligarchs confidence level would be holding down Ukraine while also fighting a war against NATO military forces through an invasion of The Baltics or any other former Eastern Bloc countries they wish to return to their sphere of influence. In short, Russia is spent. Russia is done.

It is my hope that all other would be military expansionists (I’m looking at you China, looking at Taiwan) are witnessing what happens to a country when an interconnected world turns its back on you. Are the benefits to China in invading Taiwan a better return on the balance sheet to China, than the costs would be to invade it and have the world slap similar type sanctions upon it that Russia has brought down upon itself? China was a backwater until the West allowed it to join their system. If the West were to withdrawal access to our financial and trade systems, would it not turn China back toward such a backwater?

Of course, it would be mighty painful to us to impose such sanctions upon China. We rely on them for so much of what makes up our modern life; goods, parts, raw materials, minerals, etc. If rising fuel prices from halting trade with Russia is a splinter in our side, halting trade with China would be a crack from a two-by-four across the side of our skull. Prices of everything would skyrocket as supply chains crumbled. Both China and the West would suffer in such a scenario. Mutually assured financial destruction.

This interconnectivity between our different worlds terrifies those in both worlds who have not risen above mankind’s evolutionary impulses to war. They want each nation (or at least their own country) to be self sufficient in resources, finance and manufacturing. This is a recipe for disaster. It undermines any need for cooperation. The fact that our world economy has become so intertwined is a good thing. Like individual people (who don’t try make all their own clothes, build their own houses, and grow their own food), countries produce more when they specialize in certain areas and trade that specialization with others. You’d be hard pressed to find an individual better off who shoots his grocer or auto mechanic because he is angry over a trade deficit or pissed off because he doesn’t own the land the super market stands upon. Good luck to that person finding any other businessman willing to deal with them. If China wants to employ the productive energy of Taiwan into its own, then don’t do what Russia did to Ukraine by invading it, simply trade with them to employ that productivity. If Russia wanted greater access to the Black Sea or the Mediterranean Sea, than they should have invested in cooperation with the Ukrainians rather than just seizing Crimea. “Hey, Ukraine! If we invest time and money in your ports and pipelines, can we use them too?” It would have been an order-of-magnitude cheaper than the costs they are now baring for their alternative and unbelievably foolhardy course of action.

How many wars did England and France fight over how many centuries? How vitriolic was their hatred for one another? My, how things have changed a couple of centuries on. These two nations would never dream of going to war against each other any more. They have both come to understand how infinitely better off they are trading bread and beer, than they are sabers and bullets. How much grief, loss and death could these two friends have been spared had they known then, what they know now? What we need now is to get the rest of world to realize what peaceful neighbors we could all be in just a couple centuries. If the English and French can do it, why not the rest of the world?

Bread or bullets?

On the day we realize, at our deepest nature, we are happiest and most prosperous as trading animals, and not warring ones, then it might truly be the day when we might begin the ending of our wars.