War, Power, Power Plays – Power Balance – The Cruelty of Politics

game of chess with fire in background
Image courtesy pixabay.com – Free license

Politics is about tactics too, the official definition in the Oxford dictionary states, as one meaning:
The activities of governments concerning the political relations between states.
Politics can be wise and be based on sound values – or they are cruel and serve a few with no values at all, except their bank account(s).

Others use politics as a means to heal wounds of vanity, retrieved some time during their lifetime. Like, dreadful example, though one of many, really, Adolf Hitler, ‘Reichskanzler’ (Chancellor of the 3rd Reich) during the Nazi dictatorship in Germany.

Famously applied at the Vienna Academy of Arts and rejected he spent the rest of his life redeeming a fragile self-confidence or rather image.

To this day dictators often are about this more than anything else: Many take the wealth in the wake of power as a means to an end – and bathe in any kind of public recognition and the approval of one part (usually the rich and extremely rich) of the respective society.

These patterns are recurring, and usually do so cruelly – as per latest example, in regard to Putin in his way to power – and the Ukraine.

The Ukraine is part of the power plays between nations and actually the former Soviet Union and its remnants – as well as a personality the likes of Putin who took over this vast country of Russia bit by bit in more than two decades.

His own motives may be hidden in biographical privacy yet – but they seem rather apparent when watching recordings of his public and private appearances: Extreme understatement standing out as the apparently simple guy, the almost nice, familiar neighbour who wears his business suit anywhere, even in parades among numerous highly decorated militia…

Yet, when seen driving big motor-cars and enjoying the fact that he is a ‘force to be reckoned with’, the purported modesty and neighbourly demeanour are revealed as so much window dressing.

In the long run educating people to the values that have proven to be vital to any civil, democratic society, namely the Human Rights Declaration, are the only real weapon we have against such populism and cruel repression.

In the short run, being aware of the balance of power and respect it early on might be the safe route around war.

“How Much Land Does a Man Need?” – Leo Tolstoy, War and Greed

photo of a mountain landscape in Russia
The Russian Steppe – Free License – Courtesy pixabay.com

War is not really about heroes in most cases: It is about people who die, cities that are destroyed and living conditions made unbearable.

War is also about greed.

Leo Tolstoy, one of the great Russians and a giant of literature for so many fine reasons I would not count them all, captured this concept in a compelling story:

How Much Land Does a Man Need?

If you never came across it yet, you may think that even by its title you would know anyway… ‘Try it out.’

The end may be easily predicted – but the whole ‘run’ of it is masterfully done and never misses a step…

Adam Smith in World Politics? – Diplomacy Beyond Popular Images

image of a world map and a compass
Diplomacy needs among other things these very basic skills: The ability to look beyond images, propaganda and popular opinion.

Politics of peace need them too.

The Western world in my eyes is blinded in their view of the world, politics and negotiations by something almost amounting to idealism:

It‘s about money, in any shape or form, we are about it – and everyone else is too.

This is perhaps the most tragic misconception that will endanger peace in all parts of the world again and again:

Indeed certain factions of the Christian religions in the backwater of the rise of civil society around the 13th / 14th centuries claimed, in principle:

Wealth is the sign of God‘s pleasure.

Ever since an ever larger part of the world – especially rooted in the beginnings of the US society with the first actual settlers on the Mayflower representing that idea – are exactly of that frame of mind:
Be wealthy and God is with you.

Most Eastern societies from Africa, over Russia all through Asia in one way or another – in principle that is – value the community and the dignity of the individual even more.

Dignity!

I have spent most of my adult life around all manner of extremely peaceful, knowledgeable and kind people from the Near, Middle and Far East.
I have studied Persian poems and literature and have met other people from around the globe.
I have had the privilege to call books my friends in childhood and adolescence and still do. I studied languages and culture at a prestigious university and earned my M.A. degree there.

The most tragic misunderstanding between the Western world – leaning towards Adam Smith‘s ideas of economy – and the Eastern world – leaning towards trade among dignified, respected and proud tradespeople is that:

Dignity

The European literature of certain times and people as well as later stereotypes about life in the Eastern world – or the ways and means of trade and politics – is practically steeped in this painful repetitive almost ridiculous contempt:
If you know about their ‚purse‘, you know about their interests. Anyone with a contempt for money is stupid.

This is not the real driving force of mankind: Indeed, wealth was always craved, if people had gone hungry or even starved; but dignity and respect in combination with extreme poverty can be thought of in the East – not so in the West.

In the Western world, respect and the consequential dignity of a person – or a nation – are closely related, if not tightly interwoven with their monetary means.

In most parts of the Eastern world this is not the case. Dignity is a fundamental possibility that can be envisioned easily with little or no money.

Among nations dignity is crucial. Treat them with respect, dignity and regard, let them safe face.

And remember this fine part of the Christian bible that actually was originally written in that Eastern culture:

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

(Matthew, 25:40)


Author’s Note (April 2022):

In view of the latest developments I’d like to enlarge on this, make it clearer yet. The question after motives and real reasons is not always easy to answer. But if we are really interested in successful negotiations we need to do that. Not always is the answer to ‘cui bono’? : ‘money only’ as stated above.
Usually the attributes associated with money, or more money are actually much more important:
Respect, attention and power in certain circles.
Bluntly put: If it was about taking the Ukraine, they would have taken it long ago.

The question “cui bono” needs to be researched and answered in all directions of cause or effect or impact. Basic human motivators.

The Russian Bear – War: ‘Strength’ or Weakness?

drawing of a schematic bear on green background

Russia and Ukraine – hopes have been shattered today. War has been started. I still believe that negotiation is the only long-term solution to keep the peace.

At the same time to understand motives can help. Looking at it from here in the middle of Europe the actual situation President Putin finds himself in is indeed that of a trapped bear in many ways:

  • He started his own journey down the road of dictatorship a long time ago: The first change of laws to enable his repeated candidacy and elections for him as president was the first sign that power indeed corrupts.
  • Internal affairs are at an all time low: More and more opposition has to be met with more and more arrests and violence, even political murder, also going on for some time now. A political leader who feels strong enough would not use such measures, indeed would not need them.
    • ‘Bullies’ always were like that – and will stay that way if we let them be: They feel weak and in consequence they do everything to appear strong – or what they take for strength.
  • The situation as regards NATO from a Russian point of view is less straightforward:
    The balance of power between the ‘superpowers’ always was a rather pointed one – not to say fragile –  since WW II and stayed that way after the Cold War had ended. As long as the  more verbal than actually written agreements on the limits of NATO expansion were observed there was some manner of peace.

Imagine yourself living in your house or flat attending to your own business – and suddenly a tall apparently friendly guy knocks at your door and when you open – you see him standing there with a ‘big ol’ smile’ on his face – carrying a machine gun…
Wouldn’t you become nervous, in spite of appearances?
I get the impression that for some time now Russia may have felt like that person in the flat, seeing all those friendly people – with weapons … right in front of their place…

Make Peace Not War – Korea, Vietnam, Irak – Ukraine?

Vietnam woman swatting beside coal fire
Image courtesy unsplash.com – Free license (Woman in Vietnam)

The recent US American history since WW II is fraught with wars and interventions practically all over the world. I have posted about their last but one president almost too often in some ways; not naming names can be important.

President Joe Biden is a representative of sanity and goodwill in the Oval Office and millions of people there and elsewhere are grateful, altogether.

Mr Putin may have just lost his way temporarily… or is seriously lost to the good cause.
Yet, even he knows what war means, one part being a dreadfully bitter truth about it: In the short run weapon arsenals and storage spaces will be cleared by it – to make room for new ones…

But one thing is true too:

Soldiers, armies, naval forces – they are not nameless masses – they are people!

Each and every one of them is the son to a mother and father, perhaps a brother or nephew, maybe uncle – and father himself some day; these days also often daughters and nieces, aunts and sisters, in many parts of the wold; beloved, cherished – and remembered for their smiles, their laughs, jokes, games and even arguments or fights.

Wars kill people!

Wars ‘create‘ enemies.
The Russian arts and crafts are sometimes just wonderful, think of Tolstoi, Dostoevsky, or in music, Tchaikovsky, to name only a very few.
There are things that are quite special about the US culture:
Although a very young culture yet, they have artists, writers, painters, poets, musicians: Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, Emily Wharton, George Gershwin, to also name just a very few; and a huge movie industry; their laws even allow major, high-budget movies be made that criticize their system and culture.

This is my own trailer version of the movie „Good Morning Vietnam“ that makes the bold move to show both sides of the story of a war and telling it from the only real perspective there is: the human one, the story of people, smart, kind, good or bad.

„War and Peace“? – War is the Ultimate Failure of Diplomacy

image of map of Russia, Europe Ukraine marked
Image courtesy OpenStreetMap, France

Ukraine, Russia and the US, Europe in between – it is not really new – it is once again the fight for power and money. Gas, weapons and influence on the continent are among the most prominent features of this conflict.
The global balance of power too is at stake, to some extent. Or so it appears.

But:
War is no option. It is no solution. War is driving a knife into the ‚Gordian‘ knot that others have tied – sometimes it‘s not even really ‚Gordian‘, just made to appear that way.

War is the ultimate failure of diplomacy.

War sometimes is just a means to hide even uglier goings-on.

Sometimes it is used as a means to make more money by selling weapons to both parties.

Sometimes it may even be a means to reinstate apparently lost pride. Which is perhaps the most pitiful of all reasons for war imaginable. In my opinion that reason would be sign of a severely disturbed mind.

History is full of examples for that too: Russian opposition in any shape or form is handled so cruelly and severely, not even murder being excepted in subduing any other than the official opinion; it‘s sad, tragic and dreadful all at the same time. Putin for quite some time now has become another sorry excuse for a man.

I consider myself extremely lucky to have been born and raised in peaceful and democratic surroundings, living in such a country where I can write what I think without having to be afraid.

That the expansion of NATO is viewed with vary eyes from all – others – concerned is only natural. Having Russian influence in Cuba for decades is one of the other variants of these opposing forces.

I could go on writing and perhaps not end till after another thousands of pages, because the principles involved are very very familiar.

Lets learn! Let‘s learn again and make peace. Not war!

Which means:
Learn and start realizing if not already done so, to understand each of the parties’ involved necessities to ‘safe face’. Which is probably the most crucial aspect of international diplomacy.
After that: Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate again, and again, and again. Perhaps that kind of patience can be learned from trade:
No trade, no profit; no agreements – no trade…

War is the ultimate failure of diplomacy – and no doubt about it.

The Oval Office’s Heavy Burden – The Fight for Internal and External Peace

image of planet earth ion space with dove of peace about to land on it

The last but one president of the US was a nightmare, a cruel and selfish excuse for a man, who does everything he can to regain power and a sort of reputation, even if the worst: A possible dictator who’s just good enough to influence people that are not well-educated enough to see the whole story – and understand the truth behind his ‘tantrums’.
One of the worst being the attack on the Capitol he initiated – directly or indirectly.

He also instated a couple of supreme court justices, let’s not forget that. Last, but not at all least, the impeachment process was not even properly started against him.
This means he could run a second time for another ‘go’ at the office – and if he succeeded he might fulfill what he seems to have tried once already: Become a modern ‘king’, in terms of a then void democracy and its rights and laws and freedoms – a ‘dictator’.
And in his case the freedom of the press would go first. No doubt about it.

It is a relieve every day to have someone like the present president Joe Biden there. In the place of a so-called ‘superpower’s’ most powerful seat.

Politics are no child’s game. Anyone making out they were, is a fool. To say the least.

In particular in the 20th and 21st century with a heavy historical burden, often left over for generations by all kinds of governments with very different, no to say multiple, secret agendas – left wing, right wing, right wing again.
So many actions and reactions just forced by industries in the background who provide money and thus the necessary media forces to ‘advertise’ one’s cause. Not least of all that sorry excuse for a man, Mr Trump, who wouldn’t be where he is in terms of actual infamy without those industries and conglomerates and banks.

‘Marketing’, ‘advertisements’: There is no way around them. In order to make an impact you have to use social media and the internet these days, just as TV appearances and talk-show discussions or have newspapers write about you.

A sad fact is too that traditional media such as TV or newspapers have to sell. So, to some extent, if someone does not offer much sensational ‘fodder’ for talk, it may become quiet around him – or her.

When all is said and done, anyone in their right minds should know how precious peace is, and equal chances for all – the best possible attempts we can make for a planet that will not ‘overheat’ after all – and that supporting all those who really are fighting for it is no less than an obligation.
Or, simply: A fine cause.

Afghanistan – Tragic Past and Present

Map of Asia showing Afghanistan and a dove of peace
Afghanistan’s recent past and actual present are fraught with death and destruction, inequality, and crime against girls and women, alas. But there is more to the whole than just that.

There are several reasons that I today treat this subject in some depth here, instead of posting somewhere else online:

    • Afghanistan not only through the past two decades was a platform for international power games.
    • Since at least the 18th century British interests made it the region considered the ‘gateway to India’.
    • Its geographic coordinates as well have made it a starting point and turnstile for almost any of the global powers of the last 200-300 years: Russia, England, France and the US.
    • For over 40 years, ever since I can remember starting to watch news and understanding them, Afghanistan has seen civil war, fostered by all those powers, sometimes at the same time, sometimes in turns, to make sure they kept influence and – power.
    • Natural resources around it as well are part of the overall interests and ‘games’ being played.

To try and live in Afghanistan is a challenge at least, and these days probably much more a daring enterprise for anyone concerned about a civil life
(Link above: World Happiness Report 2019, UN).

The influences and interests I mentioned are emulated by internal groups and traditional tribe systems that force farmers in some regions to a crop of drugs instead of livestock and agricultural harvest.

International politics have created – literally and figuratively – burned earth in many parts of this globe, be that in South America, Africa or Asia.

Almost none of the countries has been a stage of so much cruelty and death over such a long time, as Afghanistan has been.

Imperialistic politics over the centuries have a lot to answer for.

Making peace is a sometimes challenging task, not to say awe-inspiring. But it is worth it, any time and every time.

Note: As a German born and bred I have been raised to high education and a ‘social and political conscience’. Spreading knowledge and wisdom about such matters is my way of fulfilling this sense of responsibility. Recent German history of the past 100 years is fraught with some dreadful events. This sense of responsibility stems from there.

Exemplary links to start from for more in-depth information:

 

Picture of a dove of peace with olive branch in beak

“The Sabbath Is for Man” = Rules Are for People

Peace pagoda Nepal
World Peace Pagoda – Nepal

Rules and the law often are taken in cases of dispute among people, businesses or just neighbours, as a means to ‘fight’ for what one feels to be a right.
One’s own and individual right to do or be as one pleases.

To me, raised by parents who took ethics as well as clear thinking seriously and thus the enlightenment, the following adage of the bible is a fine example of how to treat rules:

The bible, large and ancient book of wisdom has it like this: Jesus as a grown-up and increasingly famous and respected preacher and scribe one day was asked about picking corn on the sabbath.
Many of my readers may know already that among Jews the sabbath is and was a strict holiday on Saturdays each week. To be observed with total obedience to the rule that no work whatsoever was to be done that day.
That’s what makes the answer so special, in those times.

His answer is recorded in Mark, chapter 2:

2:27 And he said to them, ‘The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath;
(The Jerusalem Bible translation)

Pure and simple this means that rules are there to make life better and easier among human beings, not to be observed at any cost even the risk of losing health or lives.
He goes on to say:

2:28 the Son of Man is master even of the sabbath’.

That’s one reason why I like the idea that rules are originally meant as a ‘crutch’ or a framework to support.
Not as walls or fences to divide, separate and make enemies. In my opinion the sense of a rule and the exact facts of the case should be taken into account. As well as a close look at people concerned and their needs, to try and find a way to live better and peacefully together in this world.
Peace in small matters can spread – to the larger issues and arguments among nations to eventually be solved without war.

“To Kill a Mockingbird”

photo of north american mockingbird
courtesy Wikimedia commons (R. Hagerty)

“To Kill a Mockingbird” – is the title of the Pulitzer-award-winning novel by American writer Harper Lee. The mockingbird of the title is used in the story as an image to describe how cruel it is to kill such a bird / creature:
These birds are there singing and thus providing joy to all who hear them, solely.

The death of the 13-year-old in Vienna the other day is dreadful.

It is tragic too, that these things happen at all. Although statistics show that rates are sinking at the moment, each and everyone of them is one too many.

My heart goes out to the parents and relations of such victims.

The story I mention contains more: It not only deals with killing, literally and figuratively.

It makes abundantly clear how dreadful the killing of any innocent creature actually is – by slander (‘word of mouth’) or actual deed.

Let’s not confuse issues. But be strict to any perpetrator of a crime, of any nationality.