“They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war anymore.” Isaiah, 2:4. 700 B.C. Could have fooled me!
For the past week or so, with the mercury north of 100 degrees, a small blue bird with bright orange epaulets (it is a grosbeak, I’ve been told) has spent its whole day, dawn to dusk, assaulting his reflection in the south-facing windows of our living room. He takes his own reflection for a foe/competitor and cannot stop attacking it. He’s really, really into it. I don’t know when he even eats. I’m pretty sure that if a gorgeous female grosbeak in her lingerie came waltzing by, our little macho feathered fool would be too occupied with his dumb war to even care.
There’s a touching, disheartening documentary on Netflix called Chimp Empire. We share most of our DNA with chimps; 98%. While capable of love and tenderness, the apes are very cognizant of who is in their clan, who is not. They hate and mistrust those who aren’t and do their best to murder them. The leader of each clan’s the toughest male, who with his friends and allies runs the show, while other, younger, tough-guy males, are always watching Number One. They yearn to diss and topple him. (Golly, they’re human, after all!)
The conflict in Ukraine is getting old. It’s easy to identify with those who lose their homes or lives, and to be horrified. I’ve always found Vlad Putin both unprincipled and mean. He is a small, corrupt, self-serving man, for whom justice and decency don’t count. (He poisons or imprisons those who don’t agree with him. That’s really rude!) Those videos of little Vladi strutting down the long red carpet of some vaulted hall, with dozens of armed guards lining the way, is mythic in its arrogance, recalling Hitler, Mussolini… Trump.
While Vlad must take most of the blame for ruining Ukraine, the war did not begin ex-nihilo. For 20 years preceding it he made it pretty clear that he was not a NATO fan. He said he’d try to live with it, so long as NATO and The West steered clear of Ukraine and the other severed pieces of what once was Soviet. But we, The West, could not resist rubbing his nose in it. We funneled money and support to those within Ukraine who hoped (and fought) to gain democracy – as was their moral, though, perhaps, not strictly legal, right.
There wasn’t much doubt that the bear would react if we poked. He needed to defend his turf and have his public think that he was tough – some sort of a modern-day Peter The Great or Sylvester Stallone, who circulated photos of himself without a shirt, astride a horse. Before the current war began, for well more than a month, El Puto massed artillery and troops along the border with Ukraine. “Invasion?” everybody said. “Oh, no, just ‘war games,’” we were told as we all dumbly sat there on our hands. We did not intervene at first because we wanted proxy war in which we could trash Putin’s army and economy while taking very little risk ourselves.
Now, both we and NATO keep sending cash and armaments to shore up poor Ukraine, as Putin mumbles about nuclear. But, like the rest of us, he knows that that would be the end — for us and him. We know he has no decency but do count on his sanity. Yet, no one really knows how thin that is, especially if he gets sick of being ganged-up-on. While, in the meantime, poor Ukraine gets screwed; a sacrificial bone destroyed by larger, feuding dogs. We’ve played this game before, of course. Think Syria, Iraq and Vietnam, dot dot dot dot.
It’s been almost 3,000 years since there was talk of smelting down our swords and spears and cluster-bombs, converting them to ploughshares, spades and hoes. But will that era ever come? Nobody really knows. Biologists contend that conflict keeps a species strong. We grosbeaks, chimps and humans sing our endless, bloody song. How come? Because The Other Guy Is always clearly wrong.
Martin Levowitz can be contacted at email@example.com