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Memories of a Time When Murder Was Ordinary

The Other March Madness

by CLANCY SIGAL

I take seriously people like “jokingly” anti-Semitic mad conspiracist  Gen. Jerry Boykin who thinks Obama talks in code to Al Queda.  Usually but not always in retirement wild-man generals say openly what some of their more discreet officers may only think. Boykin’s fanatic mindset would be instantly familiar to Stalin and Hitler as coming from a blood brother.  Such craziness becomes a bit more urgent as the U.S. military expands it crusading mission to almost all the sub-Saharan African countries (Chad, Mali, Central African Republic etc.) in what Nick Turse (in Tomgram) calls “a new kind of expeditionary warfare”.  Backed by the old colonial powers like France, we have begun a major enterprise of dispatching “advisors” and “military aid” to Africa’s most explosive spots,  usually as in Libya, creating not calming chaos.  But it’s a welcome job maker in a depressed military economy.

With thousands of heavily-armed Russian troops occupying this perennially embattled peninsula, an overwhelming majority of Crimeans voted on Sunday to secede from Ukraine and join Russia, resolutely carrying out a public referendum that Western leaders had declared illegal and vowed to punish with economic sanctions.   What an opportunity for Obama, currently sweet talking the Ukraine’s new young prime minster while bumping chests with Putin, to get involved in Europe’s notorious “bloodlands“, the title of a book by a Yale history prof, Timothy Snyder.

Snyder explores how Hitler and Stalin, from the early 1930s through World War Two, between them caused the death of multi-million civilians.  The tyrants may have loathed each other but worked practically as a duet to cleanse the space between Poland and the now-disputed Donetsk of “undesirables” (Jews, gypsies, stubborn peasants, whole ethnic species, anyone who looked wrong at you).

Hitler deliberately – his Hunger Plan to feed German soldiers and civilians by starving Polish and Soviet citizens plus of course mass shooting the “untermensch” (subhumans) on the spot – and Stalin’s economic policy that killed millions of his own people by famine – drenched the soil with blood for generations to come. There is not a city, town or village in the Ukraine that was not Hitler or Stalin’s butcher shop in see-sawing wartime occupations and reoccupations.   If you lived there, what did it matter who brutalized you, a Nazi or a Soviet?

Memories of a time when murder was ordinary are like hand grenades that keep exploding if you tinker with them.

For Putin and most Russians this history is of this moment not something abstract you read about in a book.  There is no Russian family that was not affected (including mine).  Obama and hawks like Sens. McCain and Lindsay Graham have no idea what they’re dealing with because we Americans never suffered anything remotely like the blood lust in the bloodlands; our “social imagination” does not grasp the enormity of the war wound.  Not far from where I live in Plummer Park former Soviet soldiers proudly wearing their “Patriotic People’s War” medals gather every May 8 V-Day in dwindling numbers.

In the past we’ve made other people like the Vietnamese pay for our “innocence” (read Graham Greene’s The Quiet American).  We have 448 nuclear tipped missiles aimed squarely at Russia, and they probably have the same.  It wasn’t so long ago when the U.S. and Russia agreed to a slow mutual nuclear disarmament…up to a point.  But all it takes is a dropped wrench socket down a missile tube, as happened at Arkansas’s Titan Two site, or for a vodka-fuddled Russian soldier to press the wrong button…

I assume there are Gens. Boykins, Petraeuses and Jeffrey Sinclairs on the Russian side too.  Watch it, Barack.  Don’t be too hasty to take advantage of Putin’s justified paranoia, calculated fears and miscalculations to make matters worse.

We righteously opposed the Syrian dictator Assad and thus opened a Pandora’s box of faction-fighting jihadists who probably agree only on wanting to kill Americans.   We support the new Ukrainian government riddled with faction-fighting neo-Nazis, like Waffen-SS admiring woman-hating Svoboda and Right Sector, who probably agree on only one thing, kill the Jews.

Clancy Sigal is a screenwriter and novelist. His latest book is Hemingway Lives