The Crash of MH17 – What Century is This?

Well, what an awful week and this time the
offender is not America and the tragedies are not trivial, but on a much
grander scale – the scale of war. These events seem to highlight even more that
nations are not all living in the same century.

Russia and Ukraine are trying to fight a
19th century war in the 21st century. So we have on one
side this Russia with imperialistic motives; motives that most of us think of
as antique. Russia, as I understand it, needs a piece of Eastern Ukraine – an easement,
so to speak, so it can ship oil to Crimea for a direct route to Europe. Ukraine
became independent of Russia only recently when the Iron Curtain fell. Ukraine
doesn’t want to allow Russia to take over that portion of their nation. They
want to maintain their current borders. So Russia and Ukraine go to war. But
this is not the mid twentieth century when the last war was fought. The world
has moved on. We don’t want more wars starring any of the same participants as
the two previous European wars. Please.

So we have life as usual going on, or
attempting to, in a plane flying over that exact contested ground in Ukraine.
We have people high above Ukraine flying from a Dutch airport to a Southeast
Asian airport. They are flying for business reasons; they are going on
vacation, they have been away and are going home; they are a group of AIDS
researchers going to a conference in Australia. They are unsuspecting of the
activities below them on the ground. They don’t realize that other airlines are
avoiding this route, choosing to go around this battle. One minute they are
here, in life, with us, and the next minute they are falling to earth, fragile
and ruined, and they hopefully have no idea that they are no longer here, in
life, with us. And we are left, for the rest of our lives, with the memory of
this, another violent and totally unnecessary plane crash with no survivors.
We are all thinking that it was a mistake;
whoever did it. We want someone to admit his error and give a sincere apology
to the families of those killed. But since we have a leader involved who is
still stuck in the politics of the Cold War that can’t happen. We are all very
nervous about how we should behave. What does the 21st century do
when confronted with a devious and insecure mid 20th century man (a
man I thought to be much more modern than he is proving to be)? Well we don’t want to go
to war so let’s grieve and wait in the hopes that an apology is still possible.
Let’s entertain the wish that Ukraine would just offer Russia one of those 99
year leases which worked so well for China. Then Russia could transport its oil
and Ukraine would gain some income and Europe could use a century-old solution
to return to the business of the 21st century for good.
This week included another war – I said it
was an awful week – between Israel and Palestine with stories of children dying
(this is becoming a tough, tough world for children). I don’t even know what to
say about these two nationalities locked in such a sad dance of vengeance and
self-defense without an end to it in sight. Is there a 21st century
solution to this? We all want peace, but we are not going to get it, are we? I
don’t believe we are capable of a sustained peace, but I long for it.
Diplomacy, not war is the 21st century way. Please.

By Nancy Brisson

Tipping the Balance Towards Oblivion


Part One: Quick
quiz:  Find a pen and some paper. Take one minute and list as many
wars as you remember.


Here’s my
list if you want to compare:

The War of the Roses

The Peloponnesian War

The Hundred Years War

The Boxer Rebellion

The American Revolution

The French Revolution

The Russian Revolution

The French and Indian War

The War of 1812

Custer’s Last Stand

World War I

World War II

The Spanish American War

The Crimean War

The Crusades

The Iraq War

The Afghanistan War

Desert Storm

The Civil War

The Arab Spring

The Boer War

The War in Bosnia

The Korean War (military action)

It is very,
very difficult to imagine a world with no wars. Peace and prosperity that
persists over time is not something we trust or believe in, although it is
definitely something we long for.

PartTwo: Make
a list of countries you thought would likely upset our hopes for a peaceful


Here’s my
list (in no particular order):



Israel and Palestine







(many African nations)

China (expansion in South China Sea)


North Korea


Unless you
are Tom Clancy (Command Authority) you probably would not have placed Russia on the list of nations
likely to be troubled and troubling until just last week.

As I have
heard people say on the internet and television, you may have felt that Putin’s
behavior has seemed somewhat pathological recently, arrogant one moment, pouty
the next. President Putin makes me (and others) nervous. I don’t know if he
makes me more nervous than Ted Cruz, but I can’t think of a cartoon character
to compare him to and, for me, that’s a bad sign.

Who would
have thought, given all the other nations where unrest seems ready to explode
into violence at each and every moment, that Russia would add to and trump all
the rest of the world’s burdens – not because of any horrors that were
perpetrated, but because of what this action portends for the future. We don’t
want another monster on the loose. We already have Assad who would rather
obliterate “his” country and its people than let go of the reins of government.
We already have the prison camp drawings that came out of North Korea recently.
Crimea went to Putin easily, but if he goes on to try to annex Ukraine will they
prove to be as agreeable (scared)?

I understand
that President Putin wants a sea port. It seems clear that the people of Crimea
do not mind rejoining Russia. Why did Putin, who I wanted to put in the ranks
of modern, enlightened leaders, have to resort to using troops to scare the
Crimean people? This seems to be a case where diplomacy would have worked. Yet Putin
did not even try it. With all those foreboding troops around it is really hard
to guess if the people of Crimea are truly happy to rejoin Russia.

Now we have
to add Russia to that long list of countries with political stresses that could
affect the entire direction of the world. It looked like we were headed, slowly
and rather explosively, towards that peace and prosperity we all long for, that
modern, civilized global community where we all get along and work together to
explore the enormous universe that surrounds us. Now this goal seems even
further away than it did last month or last year. It would be so easy to fall
backwards into a new Dark Age. Now we have a new and really giant nation, with
plenty of nukes, to add to that list of worrisome nations who could send us
spiraling backwards at any ragged moment. Can we figure out a way to take a
long, long vacation from war? It sure doesn’t look promising.

This is the
view from the cheap seats.

This blog
post is also available at

By Nancy


President Putin Says “I Can’t Change”

The Ukrainian people held their Orange Revolution
(the most recent incarnation of it) behind the screen of the Sochi Olympics and
they pretty much had to wait for the Olympics to end to get the world’s
attention, or perhaps they considered using the backdrop of the Olympics because the
spotlight of the world media was already so close by in Sochi. Strategic or not
they really got our attention when peaceful Ukrainian demonstrators started to
die – killed at the hands of their elected President, Mr. Yanukovych.

They could see that their leader, who was living a
palatial life at the expense of his countrymen and women, was intending to lead
the country back into alliance with the Russian economy and therefore the
Russian government. As I understand it the Ukrainian people wished to join the
European Union and thus cement their emergence from behind that old Iron

Vladimir Putin is a man who seems to want to put the
old Soviet Republic back together, to restore the past glory of Mother Russia.
This is the second deposed dictator who has gone running to Mr. Putin. Each
leader obviously believes (probably for good reasons) that Putin will prop up each of these
regimes and lend whatever military support he can until these two men get their
“subjects” back under control. There is certainly the old air of empire in all
of this, and the will of the people hardly seems to matter to these privileged
men. But they don’t seem to appreciate their privilege; they seem to flaunt it.
These are the leaders of nations full of excellent people. They could afford to
actually listen to their people, now that the czars are gone, now that we have
central heating and have been to space.

Instead we have the sad and frightened Syrian people
sitting in tent camps around the edges of their beloved, once beautiful
homeland and they are not safe on their own streets and in their own markets.
They have had to leave their businesses and where will it end? How will Syria
ever be put back together again? Mr. Putin could help with this. He could have
a grateful neighbor state instead of a sullen subject state. I wish he would
not do that predictable thing that we expect him to do which is defend his
manhood and define his image in the world by brute strength, and that he would instead
use the intelligence of a futuristic global leader which is also, most likely, part of his nature.

Mr. Putin could show us how modern and
enlightened he is, no longer lost in the old imperialist dream. He could let
Ukraine be a bridge between Russia and the EU instead of turning it into a mud
and blood pit in an unequal tug of war. If the peers he backs as leaders do not
lead well he could tell them why he no longer has their backs and he could side
with the people who only want a national identity and a productive life.

President Putin is not acting like this because Obama is
weak as the media pronounced once again over the weekend. He is acting like
this because he has not yet grasped that strength in the 21st
century does not have to flex its muscles all of the time to show that it
exists; rather, it has to adjust, grow and change all the time to show that it
is a tensile and smart strength. This is not about Obama or the US. This is about Mr. Putin
and his neighbors and how they will give each other room to expand their economies
and grow their affluence, with both autonomy and interdependence, or not. Please
meditate on this Mr. Putin and friends (Yanukovych and Assad).
“If you love something,
let it go and it will come back to you.” OK, don’t gag, this is trite and naïve nonsense,
but I wish for once a cliché would prove to us how it came to be a folksy
truth. This is a test for us also. Can we stick with our new leaner, more
mobile military model? Can we hold back and push against our instincts to
rescue the world’s downtrodden and heroic people striving to be free? Have we
learned our lesson that the world is a complicated place and that by riding in
to save the day we often find that we have opened up a can of chaos? If we
regret our current military stance so soon after we have adopted it we will not
have given it a chance and we could get ourselves involved in the war to end
all wars when it could have been avoided. Just because Putin may decide that
America and Obama are weak, we do not have to lend our support to his view.
By Nancy Brisson
This is the view from the cheap seats.
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