Ground War in Europe: One Last Darkness Before the Dawn?

Using war to get what you want is becoming a thing of the past  but a few people apparently didn’t get the memo.

In science fiction, time travel —  jumping forward or backward hundreds or thousands of years —  can make for a good story. In reality, though, we all travel through time every day. (Doing that can make for a good story too!)

What I find interesting is the opposite of time travel —  getting stuck in one set of ideas and beliefs while the world around us keeps moving forward. This is one of the side effects of certainty. Certainty is a way of thinking that’s rife with negative consequences, including ignoring or dismissing evidence that contradicts our certainty and believing bogus evidence that appears to support our certainty. The negative consequences of these certainty side effects are easy to see, but becoming stuck in time can have plenty of consequences too — especially when combined with a lot of self-serving beliefs in a person who wields enormous power. Vladimir Putin, for example.

One of the things I’ve heard several people say about watching Vladimir Putin invade Ukraine is that it feels like we’re back in the early 20th Century —  or even the 1800s —  when dictators and others in positions of power often invaded other countries, just because they wanted something the other country had. This used to happen all the time in Europe. But guess what? We’ve just lived through a stretch of 75 years of peace in Europe. That’s because a lot of things have changed —  including people’s ideas about what’s acceptable.

Those who are mired in certainty often miss such changes, even though the changes are happening in plain sight all around them. They believe they know what’s right and what’s true and what they’re entitled to, and their righteous certainty prevents them from adjusting their beliefs when the world around them moves on.

Things are very different today than they were the last time there was a major ground war in Europe, back in the 1940s. Before that war, European countries had never banded together for mutual defense, as they have now via NATO. Ideas about the value of human life were a lot more politically self-serving. Technology hadn’t made everyone aware of nearly everything that’s happening everywhere (in real time!). Nuclear weapons were not possessed by multiple nations, making war an infinitely riskier game to engage in. Countries couldn’t keep tabs on each other via satellites and sophisticated digital monitoring. The idea of humanity being one group with common interests had barely begun to catch on. The global village wasn’t digitally intertwined so tightly that the movement of money could be brought to a standstill by a consortium of nations standing up to a bully. And the idea that world peace might be possible seemed like a fairy tale. Today, the idea of world peace is catching on.

It truly is a different world today. But some people are still stuck in old-style thinking, courtesy of their certainty. When that’s true of someone like Vladimir Putin (or true of a political party in a democracy, for that matter), the consequences can be disastrous.

Apparently, Putin has been trying for many years to set up a puppet government in Ukraine. However, circumstances have allowed the country’s populace to vote into power a young man —  Volodymyr Zelenskyy —  with an entertainment background instead of an old-school, political (certainty-based) background. As a result, Putin’s attempts to use traditional tactics to install a puppet regime in Ukraine have repeatedly failed. When TV stations were set up to spread anti-Zelenskyy propaganda, Zelenskyy simply shut them down. When Putin’s friends used dirty tricks to try to knock Zelenskyy from power, he had them arrested. Zelenskyy is the product of a changed world, and as a result, he hasn’t played the game that Putin expects people to play.

Meanwhile, Putin has surrounded himself with hawkish advisors, who’ve been rubbing in the fact that he’s been thwarted. To an old-school, certainty-based mind, the next step was obvious: Resort to military means to get what you want.

Again, the problem with this reasoning is that the world has changed. Seventy-five years ago, a massive number of countries wouldn’t have united to respond to Putin’s aggression. The people in Ukraine wouldn’t have responded the way they have, putting up a far greater fight than Putin expected.

One report from the front said that a group of Russian soldiers surrendered to their Ukrainian counterparts, saying they hadn’t realized they were expected to kill Ukrainian citizens(!). Meanwhile, anti-war protests have sprung up in Russia, even after the Russian population has been bombarded with propaganda that the invasion is justified and righteous. (It’s impossible to keep other opinions out of people’s earshot in the 21st Century.) And those anti-war protests took place despite the protestors risking being locked away and tortured for suggesting Putin might be doing the wrong thing.

Over the past millennia, quite a few forward-looking individuals have predicted that an era of world peace would finally set in —  and that it would happen sometime in this century. Watching the current situation unfold, I can’t help thinking about other times when a great problem has nearly been solved, but at the last minute the problem happens again, one last time, forcing everyone to really, permanently solve it. Maybe that’s what this invasion will turn out to be: One last attempt to take down another country by force in a world that will no longer accept that. Maybe this aggression will be met with such rebuke that it will fail spectacularly (even if it takes a little while to happen). Maybe it will force the countries of the world to stand up and make it official:


Maybe, if we’re really, really lucky, this invasion will be the last straw that sets in motion that elusive thousand years of peace that’s been predicted by so many.

Back in the 1960s, during the Vietnam War, someone came up with a saying: “What if they gave a war, and nobody came?” We’re not quite there yet, but this could be a turning point in the journey to that reality.

CK—March 1, 2022